Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010, Quite the Year

As we come to the end of 2010, I can't believe how much has changed this year.

At the start of this year, we were feeling like we would be moving in August to whoever accepted Paul into a PhD program. He had applied at 10 different schools, so we were pretty optimistic. It was a difficult time as the rejection letters started coming in. We had heard from almost everyone and started making alternate plans - to stay in Winnipeg, to travel, for Paul to find some temporary work -  when we finally heard from Memorial University in May. We went from "we're likely staying" to "we're definitely moving to St. John's" within the span of a week. It was an overwhelming time!
In the midst of this, we decided we wanted to have another child - a sibling for G that was close to her age. I assumed that it might take some time, but pretty much the moment we even considered trying, I was pregnant. We were (and are) thrilled, but in the future, I may plan a bit better then December!

If I could choose a word to describe 2010, it would be bittersweet. Leaving our friends and our church in Winnipeg was incredibly hard and emotional. Selling all our stuff (except what would fit in 11 boxes and 5 suitcases) was very hard, but also very freeing. It was painful to let go of our books, and those are the possessions I miss the most. We had brought together our two libraries when we got married, and had built it up over the past 6 years to over 300 books. We kept about 60.
I left my job of the past seven years with the library to move to St. John's. It was difficult to do, but it was a decision I had made years earlier when Paul started to pursue graduate work - so it's not a decision I regret, but I do miss the work and my co-workers.

Of course, this year also had the death of my grandfather, which I wrote about on this blog. I continue to mourn him, especially at Christmastime. One of the Sufjan Stevens Christmas songs that we play often this season has a line "Call your Grandma on the phone, if she's living all alone" and this year it made me cry. I have gone from three living grandparents to one in a very short time. 

In the "sweet" part of bittersweet, the birth of M was a wonderful event and as I wrote earlier, ended up having perfect timing. Being pregnant and now having a newborn has helped in fostering new friendships in St. John's. I went to the drop-in gym last week and two moms were very excited to see me with the new baby.   It has also been sweet to see the temperature in the prairies dip below -20C, while we were still sitting at a balmy +10C!
We have also found that God has been amazing at providing for us - we were shorter on money then we expected when we moved here, and somehow there were multiple small blessings to get us through. From finding a perfect apartment to our caretaker suddenly showing up with heaps of clothing for G to unexpected funds from various sources to our new church being extremely welcoming and friendly, we are in awe of how God provides and gives us more then we need.

And now, on to 2011, hopefully more new friendships in our new city, raising two girls and hopefully buying a car (and some freedom) soon.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Tomorrow is Christmas! We are visiting (most of) Paul's family in Ontario and it is beautifully snowy here. We traveled at the perfect time - just missing big windy storms in St. John's.

As Paul wrote in the previous post, it's complicated to make our own traditions when we are always visiting someone else's house, but we are trying to be active about what we want Christmas to be. One of the things we do every Christmas day is go for a walk as a family, a fairly simple tradition, but a necessary one to help us be just our core family. Our other tradition (decided a few years ago on one of these walks) is starting this year. We love the church year and the feasting/fasting aspects of that, so we are making sure that Christmas does not end on Christmas day. There are 12 days of Christmas starting on the day and lasting till Epiphany (the visit of the Magi). So, our tradition for our children (starting with G this year) is that they will get a tiny gift in their shoe every morning for the 12 days of Christmas.
We're really excited to start that tradition this year! It will be really simple - just a chocolate or two, but it will be a reminder that Advent has come to an end, and the feasting season of  Christmas keeps going.

Anyway - from our family (now of four!!) to you, Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Since it's Christmas let's be glad, even if your life's been bad

Every year, Jan and I travel at Christmas.  We alternate between spending Christmas with Jan's parents in Saskatoon and with my parents in Ontario.  This year we're going to Ontario.  We're leaving tomorrow, and we're looking forward to it.

I love my family, and it's very good to see them when I do.  But there's something a little bit unsatisfying about this travel arrangement.  It's not unsatisfying enough that we are likely to change anytime soon, but there it is.  When we're in somebody else's home--even our own parents--we are having their Christmas.  It makes it hard to make our own Christmas, our own traditions, stressing what we think are the most important parts and de-stressing other parts of the holiday.  Even though we are both pushing 30, and have two children of our own, Christmas in our parents house makes it hard to feel like grown-ups.  Also, Christmas time is so steeped in nostaligia and tradition that each of us becomes acutely aware of how our families are different from each other.  One simple example of this is in Christmas music.  Jan and I each grew up with music around Christmas time, and it's not the same music.  So when we each think "Christmas music", we're thinking of different things.

We've been making our own Christmas playlists for the past few years, and Sufjan Stevens' Christmas music is featured prominently.  Part of why I like Sufjan Stevens' Christmas music so much is that he hits a really good balance between joy and melancholy.  There's just a touch of sadness in his Christmas music, but not enough to overwhelm the fact that Christmas is a happy time.  It's a common thing for Christmas to be tinged with melancholy.  For some people it's mostly melancholic, and for others it's just the barest touch.  But Christmas naturally has a touch of melancholy to it.  Partly this is because to the degree that it's a secular holiday it's a bittersweet one.  Firstly because of the nostalgia; Christmas is a reminder of what we used to have and don't anymore.  We miss the sentimental (fictional) childhood Christmas of pure excitement, but we can't recreate it.  We try to make it for our own children, but it's not always obvious how.  Commercial Christmas is ultimately unsatisfying, because you can't actually buy your childhood back.  And non-commercial secular Christmas is almost worse.  We try to make some kind of transcendental meaning out of imminent things like family and friends.  But that just emphasizes what we have lost or are going to lose.  Friendships and families change, and attaching a deep transcendental meaning to family can really add melancholy to the season, because on some level you know that these people are not going to be with you forever--and because your family is never what it should be.

Even religious Christmas is tinged with melancholy.  It's not the outright, straightforwardly happy holiday that Easter is.  That's why the magi bring Jesus myrrh.  Myrrh is an embalming spice.  There is a hint of sadness, of loss, right in the Christmas story.  This child comes with tidings of great joy for all people, but he is also a child born to die.  T.S. Eliot grasps this in his poem "Journey of the Magi":

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

I can lose patience with the modernist tendency to make everything depressing--to act as though art isn't "real" unless it's forcing us to confront the sadness and brutality of our lives.  There's a lot of joy in real lives too.  I get annoyed when friends dismiss some styles of church worship as "happy-clappy", because though it's true that the Psalms show the whole range of human emotion, "bittersweet" isn't a range either, and we can sometimes rush through Joy to get back to modernist bittersweet melancholy.  But Christmas seems to me to be naturally bittersweet.  It's an emotionally complicated time, both as a secular holiday and as a religious Holy Day.

I think that part of what we need to do with Christmas is accept the bittersweet for what it is, like Sufjan Stevens does.

So this Christmas I'll be very glad to see my parents, and my brother J and his family, and my sister C and her family, but I'll be sad to miss my sister J and her family.  I'll eat lots of yummy treats, but I'll probably feel a little sick.  I'll enjoy the time off, but I'll probably feel a little stir-crazy.  We'll go to church on Christmas Eve, but not our home church.  We'll give and get presents, and we'll be glad.  We'll experience the nativity but not the second coming.  We'll celebrate the end of Advent, but we'll know that Lent is still coming.  And knowing all of that, maybe we'll be able to rejoice in Christmas more fully.

God bless us, everyone.
Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Early Days with a Yellowy Newborn

M's first days went fairly well.With G, I had trouble with breastfeeding after she was born and there was quite a bit of stress in the first week/month of her life, but with M, it has gone very smoothly.
Our only stress was that at 5 days old, she began to get a yellowish tint. She was jaundiced. It's fairly common in newborns and what had happened was that she was sleepy, so she wasn't waking up to eat, so she would sleep more because she was getting jaundiced, and it became a cycle of a sleepy, non-eaty baby. The public health nurse came to visit (SUCH an invaluable service!) and was a bit concerned, so I made sure to wake her to eat every 2-3 hours. The doctor checked her blood the next day, which made for a bit of stress.
But, by Monday, everything had cleared up and she was back up to her birth weight.

So far, she has been a very nice baby to us. She doesn't really cry much yet, and she sleeps in good chunks. I know this will change, but so far it's been great. It's amazing to have such a sleepy baby!

There are some things I really remembered about having a newborn - the lack of sleep, the constant feeding - but other things I had totally forgotten. I forgot about spit-up, pee that goes everywhere and dozens of diaper changes. I had also forgotten how teeny tiny they are, how they snuggle into you so nicely and how they stretch their arms out in an adorable way when stressed.

So far, so good.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Of Post-Partum wards, Breastfeeding and Newfoundland - a bit of a rant

Once again, a disclaimer to this post: I am an advocate of breastfeeding. I'm not a psycho-advocate and I'm not judging those who end up using formula. But I do have opinions and these are them. Also, some might not care at all about this stuff. Fair enough, feel free not to read this one either.

My birth story hospital experience was very positive. Aside from one pushy (literally) nurse, the doctors and nurses were really supportive of my choice to be natural. However, the post-partum stay was not quite as positive. For some reason, the hospital here is kinda stuck in the dark ages. In Winnipeg, they have these beautiful LDRP (Labour, Delivery, Recovery, Post-Partum) rooms, so you don't have to change rooms when you're in labour, rooming in with your baby is automatic (and the only option) and all of the nurses are trained lactation consultants who teach new moms how to breastfeed.
Here, not so much. I was in a room with four other beds - luckily only one roommate (there were three of us for a few hours at one point). There was quite a bit of pressure to put my baby in the nursery for the night, and the nurse in the morning was "shocked" that they let me keep her with me for the night. I am a strong believer in bonding after birth and there was no way I was going to let them take her away just to bring back every 3 hours to feed. I wanted to see my baby when I wasn't pressured to feed her! The best part was there was a big sign on the wall about how rooming in was the best way for mother and baby to bond and to get breastfeeding started. It's a shame the nurses don't read that sign!
Since I had breastfed G, I had very little trouble this time, so I didn't need much help from the nurses. I hated having to share a room and just wanted to get home, but I was okay in most respects.
However, the other woman in my room and the treatment she received made me realize why Newfoundland has the lowest rate in Canada of breastfeeding moms.
First of all, she was completely ignorant of breastfeeding to start with, so obviously the education needs to start prenatally. She assumed that since she didn't leak milk in pregnancy that she couldn't breastfeed at all (that's not how it works for 90% of women), so she was surprised when her daughter latched on and she was told she could breastfeed. However, she was not given any decent instruction in the hospital and by the time she left, she had fully decided to bottlefeed. I put the blame almost entirely on the nurses and the clear lack of education in the hospital.
The first nurse she had asked if she had "taken any classes" or "read any books" on breastfeeding, and when she hadn't, the nurse indicated that she might have missed the boat.
The overnight nurse offered to take her daughter to the nursery and she accepted, and when she brought her back to feed 3 hours later quickly asked "Should I just give her a bottle or do you want to nurse her?" Given these options, she asked "Oh, can I do both here?" and the nurse said she could, so she chose the bottle for the night.
In the morning, the next nurse asked her what she had decided, saying "Well, we don't pressure women either way, but if you bottlefeed we won't have to worry about bringing your baby to you every 3 hours and making sure you're properly feeding her." When the woman said she was thinking about bottlefeeding because her daughter was "so big" (at less then 8lbs) and "didn't seem like she was getting anything", the nurse made no effort to correct her about when milk comes in. The final nurse was the nail in the coffin of breastfeeding. She killed any chance of this woman choosing to breastfeed instead of giving formula.

It killed me to listen to these exchanges. I didn't have the guts to speak up, but I wonder if I should have. She went from "maybe I'll breastfeed after all" to "Heck no, formula is better" in the span of 24 hours.

I think this post is long enough, so... Coming Next: The First Days were Yellowy

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Birth Story

After a week and a day of having a newborn, I have some time to write out the birth story of M. If you don't want to read about dilation, contractions and a natural birth I suggest you don't read this. You have been warned.

So, I started having braxton hicks (false contractions) on Wednesday (Dec 1st) evening. I didn't have these at all with G's birth, so I thought it might be labour. However, they went away, only to return every evening for the next 3 nights. They were really irregular and didn't get worse, so I knew it wasn't labour.
On Saturday, my mom was due to arrive here in St. John's. Her flight was delayed from the 4:30pm to 12:30am. I went to bed at 10, then got up to greet my mom at 1am, thinking that the light contractions I felt were just more braxton hicks. With my mom settled in the living room, I went back to bed, only to find that I had trouble settling, as the contractions started to get more intense.

 [a slight digression] Actually, from here on out, I should mention that I didn't actually call them contractions. In (the wonderful) Ina May Gaskin's book on childbirth, she mentions that calling them rushes or waves can help in how we feel them. Contractions is a very medical and loaded term, and makes us think of pain. So, Paul and I were calling them rushes for most of the time I was in labour. [end of digression]

I drifted in and out of sleep, but had a hard time staying asleep, so by 5:30am, I got up and got into the bathtub. Paul was awake by this time and we spent some time timing the rushes and talking about how amazing it was that I was actually in labour - on my due date, and with perfect timing so my mom could take care of G for the maximum amount of time. By 7am, we had breakfast and called our doula and by 8:30 when she arrived, I was ready to go to the hospital, since I started feeling pressure.
I was checked at Triage in the hospital and was 5cm dilated. The doctor asked me about dealing with pain and when I mentioned I wanted to be as natural as possible, he was really supportive. We were sent immediately to a room, where I got in the bath again (yay for water!) and progressed fairly quickly to 8cm.
I mentioned early on that I was feeling pressure that might be to push, so the nurse kept asking me over and over if I wanted to push. It was frustrating. I finally, with the courage of my doula, had to just tell her to back off and that I would let her know when it was time to push.
Getting from 9 to 10cm dialted took me about an hour and it was the toughest part of my labour. The rushes were extremely intense and I could not find a position that would help. But, I took a short rest, laying down between contractions, which rejuvenated me to push. Pushing was a very different experience then my first birth. With G it had been a relief, but with M it was tougher. After about half an hour of pushing, little M had arrived at 1 in the afternoon on Dec 5th, her due date. She was perfect and beautiful (in that wrinkly, slimy newborn way) and both Paul and I cried. She weighed just 2oz more then her sister did.

I am so happy I got to have my natural birth again, and so amazed at the perfect timing of her arrival.

Coming next... the post-partum hospital stay (which was not nearly as good).

Friday, December 10, 2010


Wee little M has arrived! Sunday, Dec. 5th at 1pm. 6lbs, 3oz. 20 inches long. 12 hours of labour - 5 hours of active labour. Drug free!
She had amazing timing - she arrived on her due date and I went into labour just as my mom arrived in town.

More details to come when I'm not exhausted.