Braxton Hiccup

It was around 6p.m. on August 7th, 2017. I was eating the chili I’d made, watching a soccer game with my husband, and the Braxton Hicks that I’ve been feeling all day are not going away with water and elevated feet. In fact, they were starting to hurt a little.

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Photo actually taken while I was in early labor. Pain level greatly exaggerated.

I looked at Tim. “Honey.”

He put a spoonful of chili in his mouth and mumbled a “Hmph?”

“Maybe we should start timing these. They’re hurting a little.” Then I added hurriedly, “Not a lot. Just a little. Like a dull far away ache.” I was still 38 weeks pregnant and in prime false alarm territory. The last thing I wanted was to be “that pregnant lady,” waddling into the hospital at zilch centimeters dilated. Though I suppose I wouldn’t have seen the maternity nurses shaking their heads derisively at me when I waddled my way back out.

Tim just nodded at me as he opened up the contraction app. He’d downloaded it over a week before and had already been playing with it when I had bouts of Braxton Hicks. But those went away when I drank water and put my feet up. These…

After about an hour he says, “They’re coming 6 to 10 minutes apart for about 30 seconds each.” We looked at each other for a minute.

“It’s probably nothing,” I said.

“Maybe,” he replied, his eyes beginning to brighten with anticipation.

I chewed my lip, and said slowly, “but still, maybe we should finish packing the hospital bag. You know, just in case.”

Tim nodded and we set to work. I stayed mostly seated with my feet up, telling him when the “not” contractions started. At around 8 o’clock, I was beginning to panic. I was texting the midwives, trying to sound calm, hoping they weren’t judging me, because clearly this was just a false alarm. Really! I mean, they were getting more painful, and closer together, but it wasn’t real. Statistics show that most first time mothers are at least a week late.

I called up my mother-in-law. My voice was shaking. “Hey Mom? How much longer are you going to be at Ikea?” An hour away. I felt like an idiot.

“We’re just finishing up. Why? What’s up?”

“Well…I…I mean it could be nothing. But we’re timing them and they’re pretty regular. And they kinda hurt. Just a little! Not a lot. Like a mild period cramp.”

“Oh Rachel!” I can hear the excitement in her voice and it turns my stomach. My fear unclenches a little when she assures me they’ll come right home. Even if it’s a false alarm, I’ll feel better if she’s in the house.

Two Benadryl and several hours later, I’m laying on the sofa downstairs in legit pain. Too much pain to sleep through pain. My mother-in-law and my husband are packing the car. I fall into a rhythm that only measures time in “how far apart are they now” increments. Then I’m getting down into the back seat of the car to start the ride I’ve been dreading.

The ride itself was not that bad. My contractions were still around 5 minutes apart, which means that for a 45 minute ride, I only had to deal with 9 of them. It was the mental part that plagued me. I was still terrified it was a false alarm (a ridiculous fear at that point based on all available evidence). Or worse, that it wasn’t, but I’d show up there and the midwives would tell me that I was only 1 cm dilated despite my increasing pain level.

This was all I could think about as they checked me in. This was all I could think about as I waited for the midwives to come and assess me. It sent my blood pressure through the roof and lessened my chance of coming off the monitors for a water birth. The exhaustion of already being without sleep since 5 am the previous morning was taking its toll too. These two things combined made me ask for an epidural and decline a room with a birth tub. I didn’t have the energy to “ride the waves” much longer.

After being assessed, I was told I was in active labor. No one told me how far dilated I was, probably because I’d told them I was afraid of not being dilated enough. I later discovered I was 4 almost 5 cm. By the time the anesthesiologist came in I was nearly 7.

Once the epidural was in place, I dozed through the rest of labor, but didn’t really sleep. It was hard to drop off when I knew that soon I’d be meeting my baby. I’d predicted that all those music playlists people insisted I’d want during labor would go unused. I wanted one of the two things I always knew I’d want. So Tim set up a soccer game, and we waited to the music of whistled off-sides and the faint cursing of spectators picked up by the cameramen.

At about 2:23 pm they handed me my screaming baby girl.

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I don’t remember what I said when they gave her to me. I think I may have told her I loved her. I know I tried to sing to her, but I was crying too much. I do remember thinking how shocked I was that her head was lovely and round. I had been warned that vaginal births often gave way to alien shaped heads. I remember thinking that she was massive and I couldn’t believe this huge, tiny person had been inside me until a moment ago.

And I remember noticing her hair. It was blonde. Very blonde. Platinum blonde. Everyone who saw her in the hospital remarked on it. Don’t ask me how, because I wasn’t aware I had any blonde genes. My husband has them, sure, but we’re all brunettes in my family, and more dark brown than light. Only time will tell how much it will change and darken, but right now it’s a remarkable mystery to me.

As they wheeled me from the birthing room to our recovery room, I passed the desk with the check-in nurses. They smiled at me. I lifted the baby a little and said in a tired voice, “Well, it wasn’t a false alarm.”

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My favorite blonde ❤
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It’s the Third Trimester, Little Baby!

And hip hip HURRAY for that!

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Us at 28 weeks

On the whole, I’m still not in love with this pregnancy thing. I have fatigue issues, mood swings, and a weird stress induced on and off again appetite. Though oddly enough, I have this wacky feeling I had all of those issues BEFORE I got pregnant. *tilts head and squints thoughtfully* 

On the positive side, she’s a healthy little monster, if her constant kicks and squiggles are any indicator. Timothy and I call her Squirmy Wormy. I love her so much it makes my whole heart ache.

After losing Little Baby number one, it was initially difficult to let myself love her the way I wanted to. At times I just would try not to think about her. I was afraid to hope that she’d stay. I was afraid to repeat what happened before, that my still childless arms would just forever dream of holding my baby. I would choke up with every attempt to sing her a lullaby, scared that I’d mar another song in my memory, so that every time it plays all I can think of is the little angel forever out of my reach.

This lessened after our 9 week ultrasound. After I saw Little Baby dancing on the screen, I let my heart go, but slowly, like a kite testing the currents in the wind. Once it caught the updraft, I began to soar and tears became part of the flight, along with a daily prayer of God please let me keep this one.

“I love her so much,” I say to Tim.

“I know you do. I do too.”

“Do you ever feel like there’s no more room? Like, I’m afraid when I see her, that I’ll just shatter.”

“You won’t,” he says. “You’ll just get bigger.”

On the days when the fear is bigger than the hope, I’ll hold onto Tim and cry.

“You really believe we’ll meet her,” I ask.

“Yes, I do.”

“How can you be sure though? Weren’t you sure with our first one? God took him anyway.”

He said, “I don’t doubt the sun will rise every morning. It’s the natural order of things. It’s the natural order for her to come out and meet us. That’s what I believe will happen.”

So I sing to her. Every day, at least one song. I try to wait until I feel her moving, hoping that she’s awake to hear. Sometimes she rolls to the sound, like she’s dancing along. Other times, she goes still, and I’ll wonder if she’s asleep. But as soon as I stop she’ll give me a few good thumps. Applause? Or maybe she’s learned that the music starts up again once she moves.

I like to think she likes listening to me sing. I like to think she’ll remember the sound in August when they finally lay her against my skin and I sing to her softly. I like to think she’ll stop crying, that she’ll know the sound of my heartbeat, and in that moment she’ll understand what I mean when I say, “I love you, Peanut.”

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Being Brave and Letting Go

Brave art is beautiful art.

My husband reminded me of this after I bemoaned the increasing number personal elements that seem to be creeping their way into the short story I’m handing in for my Fiction Writing class. About an hour ago, I finished my third draft and had so much of my own self and struggles leaking through my fingers into the keyboard that I literally started to cry.

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No, I screamed at me in my head. No, you can’t do this. You know why? Because what if they hate it? What if they say, “people don’t really do that” or “this scenario is so unrealistic”  or “why is she so upset about something so minor?” You know you’ll just run from the room sobbing. You could barely control your emotions BEFORE pregnancy. Now? Now you cry when Han Solo says, “I know.”

I know.

It’s like when that quiet girl from the back of the classroom stumbles in late to Intro to Creative Writing with a tearstained copy of her latest poem:

It’s Over

Weep, weep, weep
Weep on my unrelenting river of tears
Stream that red, red, red
from the bloody bleeding heart he left behind.
We’re done.
I’m undone.
My bosom is heavy with an empty chasm for a heart
Tears, tears, tears
I’m such a miserable fool.

Suck or not, who has the heart to tell her to trash it when you can barely hear her read it over her piteous wails. I mean, look at her bloodshot eyes! Do you really think she slept last night? *The moon shakes it’s head, for it has born witness to her lonely howling.*

Granted, my story isn’t so overt, and thank God I’ve not been told I must read it aloud, but I’m in there. I’m screaming through the characters mouths. I’m laying curled up beside the abandoned child, grasping and clutching at that empty pocket of warmth left behind in the blankets. And it’s scary to be so seen in such an unseen way. No one in my class knows me. No one will see me there in those words. Nothing will hold back their “this sucks” or “what the *&%$ is this #$%@?” That’s good in a way. I mean, the truth needs to be told to me, or I’ll never improve as a writer. But even as healthy as the truth is, it can also be terrifying and humiliating.

Maybe that’s why I hated this story so much when I started, because I always knew it would turn into something more.

Come Friday I’ll have to let it go; I’ll have to watch it fall from my fingers into the hands of 15 strangers who will be reading between the lines of my life armed with a red pen.

This is terror. This is bravery. This, I guess, is art.

Perfect Timing

While my pregnancy was a planned pregnancy, it was still a shock to me. I just figured it wouldn’t happen when it did, and while it’s still overwhelming at times, it’s become just another one of those times in my life where I can see how perfect God’s plans are when we submit to his will.

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17 weeks

First: My Crazy First Trimester

I mean, I was sick for my first pregnancy, but all these people kept saying to me that what I was feeling “wasn’t normal.” Since they never specified what part of it was so abnormal, I guess I just assumed that a heathy baby would be less horrible to carry. As wrong as I was, the miracle of it all was the impeccable timing of my bedridden stage. My morning sickness began the week of finals, but most of my finals were papers I’d already drafted and merely needed to hand in. After that I had the entirety of winter break to do nothing but rest and vomit.

Second: Returning to school

The oncoming spring semester was looming in the background like the malevolent flaming eye of Sauron. Every day that I spent laying in bed, incapable of anything more than watching Shawn the Sheep, the soft voice of anxiety whispered, “And how do you think you’re going to manage that?”

My early religious education emphasized the idea that once you’re a wife or mother the Bible allows for you to be nothing else. I’ve come to believe this as not accurate Biblical teaching, but I wrestled with what I was supposed to do next. Was God trying to tell me through illness that being a wife and mother was all he wanted from me?

No longer wishing to blindly follow the teaching from my youth, I prayed that God would make it clear what he wanted from me: finish my degree or quit for the baby. Maybe he’d let me finish my degree later, who knew? Only Him, and I just needed to know clearly what step to take next, one semester at a time.

There were so many times when I was leaning over the toilet bowl with Tim rubbing my back when I’d gasp out the words, “I think I should drop all my classes.” Tim, ever patient, ever wise, always said, “Just wait and see. There’s still time. Just wait.”

I waited. I saw. God provided me just the right amount of miraculous strength I needed to get to every class. Even the week before my first day I was too sick to go, but despite the fact I was still throwing up to and from school, and napping on a foam mattress between my classes, I have remained on my 15 credit class schedule.

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And Tim? Well, who could expect him to be anything but my guardian angel. He walked me to all my classes, carried my books, and for several weeks sat right outside the door to my class in case I needed any help, even though it made his butt fall asleep. Speaking of blessings from God, let’s not forget the man I wake up next to every morning. Him. Always. ❤

Third: The Due Date

The baby is due August 18, 2017. Even if I go late, I will still give birth this summer, before classes can start for next semester.

Fourth: Online Classes

One night, just out of curiosity, I looked over my degree evaluation at WPU to see what else I needed to graduate on time. The idea of returning to school with a two week old infant in tow is daunting, even if your husband doesn’t mind looking after him while you’re in class. I worried if it would even be healthy for the little one.

As I looked through what I needed to graduate, I saw a lot of online courses being offered. I grabbed a notepad and began to jot down courses. Soon, I had over 7 online course options I could take in the fall, all of which were perfect for keeping me on track to graduate Spring of 2018. I now fully believe that God will allow me to take most if not all of my courses online for my first semester after giving birth. My heart nearly burst with thanksgiving for this.

Fifth: Our Living Situation

I’ve never really been in close contact to infants before, except for bits of exposure during my time working the nursery at church. Basically, I’m terrified, and given my penchant for panic attacks and overreacting due to my struggle with anxiety disorder, I know that I’ll be as neurotic as any three new mothers locked in a dark tight space for 48 hours.

First on the emergency contact list will (of course) be my dear husband, eldest of 7 and widely recognized “baby hog.” His relatives know that when they bring their little one into the room, my husband will make puppy eyes at whomever is holding the baby until somebody lets him settle down with the little one so he can snuggle and play with it.

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Timmy with our nephew Emmett

But if even he should fail to calm me and the infant (both of us probably screaming), we will still be living with his mother, grandmother of my child and veteran parent of 7 children. Honestly, watching my husband’s parents raise the two little ones at home (6yrs and 10yrs) has grown me tremendously. Their grace and patience is something I pray I’ll have in my parenting, and it is truly a privilege to watch. If I could be half the mother Mrs. Svendsen is, my children will never suffer for love and acceptance, the two things I found most lacking in my own childhood.

I will have one full year under her roof, blessed by her wisdom and tutelage before my husband and I pack up and move across the country for him to complete his seminary training.

There is too much perfection in all the timing of this baby for me not to step back, look up and say, “Thank you Lord. Thank you so much.” ❤

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Quick First Trimester Recap

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It sucked.

It still does some days, but I’ve gotten enough of a lift to feel like my body is on the mend. My husband and I have gone out to dinner and taken a trip to Ikea in the past few weeks, something that would have been unthinkable a week before.

It wasn’t long after seeing those two blue lines that I began to develop aversions to smells, tastes, and sights. I was already vomiting once a day before I even missed my period. I still had this romantic idea that if I just boiled carrots until they mushed when you looked at them or ate saltines with a little bit of avocado, I could be gentle on my stomach while still getting solid nutrients into my body. *looks over shoulder at naive past self and laughs mockingly*

I lost about 20 lbs.

My first and foremost aversion was butter, one that still has not entirely abated. Quickly, anything associated with butter became partner in it’s evil salty oily fatness. That list begins with pasta, toast, rice, and potatoes, and ends somewhere with anything else that vaguely resembles butter in either its liquid or solid state. In fact, the aversion became so severe that when I started reading Tana French’s In the Woods, I ended up putting it aside to vomit because she had the audacity to use the word “butter” inside the first paragraph. I had to hide the book, because even looking at the cover put me at risk for another surge of nausea.

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In a moment of pure hysterical madness, I asked my husband to take a this photo. I thought the mineral water made it look more hangover than morning sickness.

With how easily my nausea was triggered over one aversion, it won’t surprise you when I say that eating anything at all was a battle. Add to that, I developed an aversion to water, and then I was battling fluid intake. My only hope for keeping anything down (and me out of the hospital) was to lay flat. I was absolutely freaked out by all the changes in my body. I fought my desire to shower twice a day, but lost the battle with my clothes which I changed frequently throughout the day, leaving mounds of laundry in my wake. I spent days in bed, hating every moment I was awake. I said to my husband, “This had better be the cutest damn baby in the whole world.” I also said, “I think this is by far the worst experience of my life, and it’s not even half over.”

Honestly, I couldn’t have done any of it without my husband. He was the ultimate caregiver. He cleaned up after my sick, did the laundry, straightened the room, made numerous runs to stores to get me food or medicine, and kissed away my tears. I hated seeing him working so hard with absolutely no help from me. It made it harder to rest in bed.

Whenever I expressed this frustration to my husband, he would always say, “You’re building a baby. You’re working hard.” Then he’d kiss my forehead and tell me to rest.

I’m excited for the reward at the end of this mess called pregnancy, though I still worry about my ability to be the kind of mother I want to be. Perfection is out of the question, obviously, but will I be enough? Loving enough, affirming enough, and enough of a guide to them that they will have the equipment to take flight into adulthood, wise and very curious. I doubt myself, but I never doubt that my husband is going to be the best father ever. Patient, wise, kind, affectionate, and fun? What more could a little baby want in a Daddy?

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Love ❤

A Love Letter to “Beloved”

I recently read Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” for the first time. I expected to be made uncomfortable, because facing the real life horrors of American slavery should make everyone uncomfortable. What I didn’t expect was a tangible reminder of why I love reading and writing as an art form.

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I had previously read about the horrific treatment of black slaves and been sickened by it. I had read before about the desperation of runaways on the underground railroad. I have read about segregation, seen its modern day equivalents, and lamented how long it is taking us to truly love and treat one another as equals. But as far as the past goes, I always kept those things separate. There was slavery in the South and freedom in the North. “Beloved” opened my eyes.

The quote below comes directly from Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece. The character speaking is Baby Suggs, a freed slave living among other free blacks in the free state of Ohio. In the face of all that “freedom”, she still says this:

“Here,” she said, “in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in the grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ‘cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream out of it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver — love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.”

I read this passage twice before I had to take a break and absorb the meaning of what I had just read. Most of the book took place in Ohio, and still the blacks were only given low level jobs, denied education, made to wait outside the store until the white customers left and forced to walk on the opposite side of the street when white pedestrians passed. This was their reality. They escaped slavery but the self-righteous-anti-slavery northerners still treated them like lesser beings. Essentially, they left worse for bad. I closed this book with my eyes and heart opened a little wider.

This is why I love to read. This is why I love to write. This art form, like many others, is not just about entertainment, it’s about pulling back the curtain to show truth, making people stop to consider their beliefs or actions, leaving behind people with eyes, minds, and hearts opened a little wider.

Thank you Toni Morrison, and not just for prose that smelled like poetry, but for writing something that made me uncomfortable, that made me think, and, ultimately, changed me forever.

Quote from Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” published by Alfred Knopf Publishing in 1987

© Rachel Svendsen 2015

My Library

Map of Hunterdon County and new cement sidewalk
Hunterdon County Library, complete with map and new cement sidewalk.

Everyone has a favorite place, a spot they go when they need to remember how to breathe. Mine was two miles away. It smelled like dust and paper. The silence inside echoed with the occasional interruptions of crinkled pages or fingers tapping on a keyboard. It was my library.

But it’s not mine anymore.

My husband lost his job. He was a music teacher and the only one in his department not tenured, so when cutbacks came, it had to be him. In the surreal fallout of the crashing words, “I don’t have a job next year,” God took hold. The dust is settling now, and the change I’d craved has found my husband in seminary and us moved in with my in-laws.

I was surprised at first how little I cared about it all. I’d been aching and struggling for months leading up to this and the whole event released a lot of pent up anxiety about life. We majorly downsized, getting rid of excess clothing, furniture, and possessions. Even books! Can you believe that? We unloaded nearly 150 books to the free shelf at the library. I kept wondering if the librarians would say something to me. I went in once a week with a bag full of books and loaded up their shelves. It may have been my overly self conscious nature, but I swear they were eyeing me maliciously after the first four bag loads.

I brought good stuff though, not your typical 50 cent paperback romances. I brought Shakespeare and Dickens and poetry anthologies. The kind of stuff that I used to greedily snatch up and drool/gloat over on social media. Some of my favorite finds were “Stardust” by Neil Gaiman, “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau, and “Joyland” by Stephen King. I always stifled a joyous squeal when there were classics and, more often then not, they landed cosily into my bag.

My new library doesn’t have a paperback exchange. It doesn’t have a lot of things.

It doesn’t have the same librarians. The faces that I recognize, that recognize me and call me by my first name. I used to work with some of them. I used to shelve books there (600s, 800s, biographies, and occasionally fiction) which, let me tell you, is a book lovers dream job. The bottom shelf of my cart began empty, and by the time I left work would contain a hefty stack of books for me to check out and take home. They know me. They know what I read. They watched me take out all those wedding books and congratulated me when I came in and changed my last name in the system. I know them. I can tell when they’re having an off day, or tired, or sick. I know when they move the furniture from one day to the next.

I took my last trip there about a week ago. My last trip with my last bag full of books for the free shelf. They got a new lady about a month ago and she was the only one at the counter. She doesn’t know me, if she had, I would have said goodbye.

I had no more books to return, I could not justify taking anything out, so I just left. I walked out of the atrium, making sure to hold the door for strangers walking in, a habit I’d taken to over years of patronage. It always gives me a satisfying split second of interaction with other locals who I felt a natural kinship for because we were there for the same purpose.

My feet hit the new cement sidewalk. They just fixed it. The brick walkway they put in when they remodeled shimmied and settled into a barely navigable minefield, dangerous to both the handicapped and clumsy. I looked over at the outside seating area with its four backless benches. I could close my eyes and see it, just a few months ago, when I sat there with a child’s picture book. Spring had just blossomed and flower petals dripped over the pages while the tree above me read over my shoulder. I blew them off before I turned the page. The pink raindrops fluttered to the ground into the sea of their fallen brethren, covering the sidewalk until it was invisible.

I’m a sickeningly sentimental person, but honestly, it’s a short list of things I’ll miss about where I used to live. Perhaps the list is so short because this place looms so large on my heart. It has been my haven for over 20 years. Those were my books, my librarians, my children’s room, my corner desk beside the floor to ceiling windows, where I would sit and write for hours. My scents. My sounds. My memories.

As I pulled out, I took one last look back at the stone edifice, at the metal outline of Hunterdon County screwed into the side, at the trees, sidewalk, and parking lot. And, just between you and me, I cried.

View from my cubby
View from my cubby
Outside seating area
Outside seating area
Their garden
Their garden

© Rachel Svendsen 2015