Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Birth Story. Warning: It May Take You Longer To Read This Than It Did For Me To Give Birth.

These are the facts you should know about me: I have had four children.  My first birth, a daughter, happened a month after my seventeenth birthday.  It was a hospital birth and while not a bad experience, not a great one either.  I gave my daughter up for adoption, and vowed to do things differently in the future.  My next daughter was born nine years later, followed by my son two years after that.  Both were unmedicated hospital births, with their own highs and lows.  I wasn't totally satisfied with my birthing experiences, but at that point, I thought we were done having children.

Six years after my third birth, I unexpectedly became pregnant.  I was already morbidly obese - during pregnancies #2 and #3 I weighed 250 pounds; now I weighed 300.  After researching and talking to the local natural birthing community, I chose a midwifery group within a hospital.  The midwives made it clear from the start that if I were to have any complications, they would have to turn my care over to the OBs.  However, they were also my biggest cheerleaders, encouraging me at every appointment to keep up the good work in maintaining my health.

Somewhat amazingly, I did it.  I did not gain any weight.  I did not develop GD.  I did not have high blood pressure.  I was fat, but I was healthy.  As weeks 37, 38, 39 came and went, I realized that I was basically in the clear.  Well, in the clear except for the itsy-bitsy detail of actually giving birth.  Yeah, I did still have to get through labor.  But oddly enough, I looked forward to it.  I felt empowered by my healthy pregnancy, and I couldn’t wait to meet my baby.  I knew, I just knew that I was going to rock my labor.

Five days before my due date, I woke up at 2:20 am, uncomfortable because I was sleeping on my stomach. I figured since I was awake, I should go ahead and hit the bathroom. As I was getting out of bed, liquid ran down my legs – just a little, not enough for me to know for sure that my water broke, but definitely enough for it to be a consideration.  All three of my previous labors started with my water breaking; contractions came later. I’m just contrary like that, I guess.  However, it stopped when I stood up, so I figured my bladder was just a little too full. Yes, pregnant women can and often do pee on themselves. It’s one of those awesome little secrets that no one tells you ahead of time.

After going to the bathroom, I had a contraction. It felt different from the ones I’d had a few days prior – this was deep inside, not painful but with the potential to become so. I knew that even with this type of contraction, things could still peter out, but it felt real. I immediately got my hopes up that today might be The Day.

I laid back down in bed and watched the clock. Sleep was out of the question – not from pain, but because I was too excited. Still, I wanted to rest and see if the contractions would keep coming. They did, every 5 minutes like clockwork. Nothing I couldn’t breathe through; I didn’t even have to change positions. At 3:00 am, I woke my husband Nathan up and let him know that it was looking more and more like I was in real labor. Then I called Lynn, our doula. When I told her I’d been having contractions for 40 minutes, she freaked out a bit: “You waited this long to call me?!” My previous two labors were very short – 4 hours and 2 ½ hours. I knew I should have called her right away, but with a false alarm the previous Sunday I was feeling hesitant. I wanted it to be the real deal before I called her in the middle of the night. Lynn lived about 40 minutes away, so she said she would drive to our area and just hang out nearby; I could call her again when I needed her and she’d be right there. Let me tell you people, that is an awesome doula.

I told Nathan to get some rest. Yes, that’s right, I woke him up just to tell him to go back to sleep. I rock. Since sleep wasn’t going to happen for me, I sat on my birth ball and played on the laptop at the kitchen table. When that got old, I tried to get more comfortable in my recliner to watch some TV. I don’t know if it was the position or just coincidence, but the very first contraction I had in the recliner took my breath away. All of the sudden I was not happy and did not want to be alone any more. It was 4:45; I woke Nathan up (yes, the rat bastard had actually gone back to bed) and called Lynn again. This was it, people. The real deal. Baby was on the way!

Lynn arrived in about 2 minutes flat. For the next hour or so, I was focusing through each contraction; I spent most of them on my knees leaning on my birth ball. I really liked this position, which did not come as a big surprise. My previous labors were spent almost entirely on my hands and knees; the birth ball just made the position easier on my arms. Lynn did this thing called hip squeezes that gave me amazing pain relief. Even in the middle of contractions, I found that amusing, since Nathan had tried to do hip squeezes with me during practice sessions and it hurt every time. Just goes to show that what seems to work during practice and what really works during labor can be vastly different.

Nathan held my hands and arms and helped me relax through the pain. That was an unexpected, and very nice, change. My previous labors, he was my only support person and he did it mostly from behind me, encircling my body with his arms or giving counter-pressure on my back. With no one else there, that was where I needed him most. This time, he was free to support me in a different way, to connect with me face-to-face, and it was amazing.

At some point during this time, we called in our baby sitter. Leslie came over and hung out in the living room with us. She was uncharacteristically quiet – I don’t know if that was out of consideration of me, or just because she was absorbed in watching the process since she wants to have natural births of her own one day. Either way, it was nice of her to remain an observer. I’m guessing her good instincts for reading people told her I was all set in the support department and didn’t need to deal with anyone else jumping in. I’m not really a “group party” laborer.

A little before six am, I realized that Kayleigh and James (my 8 year old daughter and 6 year old son) would have to get up for school soon, and it hit me that I did not want to labor in front of them. Mild panic set in, since I didn't need or want to go to the hospital yet, but it wasn’t practical to have Leslie take the kids out of the house. On school mornings, they need an hour to get ready and get out the door. Leslie’s house was too far away to be an option. If I had considered it beforehand, I probably would have said to hell with it and allowed them to skip school for the day. However, I hadn’t given it a bit of thought. This was my first labor with school-age kids around and it just wasn’t something I’d considered ahead of time. Instead, without a plan in place, I was stubbornly fixated on getting them to school that day.

What to do, what to do. I really, really wanted to labor as long as possible at home. My previous in-hospital laboring experiences weren’t stellar. In those instances my water had already broke, so my doctors were seriously focused on moving things right along. I wasn’t sure my water had broken that morning (I wasn’t noticing any leakage that would have convinced me otherwise), but I was still hesitant about going to the hospital this early on. It was less than 4 hours since labor started, and just barely over an hour since what I thought of as “active labor” (i.e., painful contractions) had started. Lynn, God bless her, reminded me that the midwives at MCV (my hospital) wouldn’t push me to get through labor or put me on a clock. There was also the possibility that if I checked in and was found to be not far enough along, we could leave and go walk in the park near the hospital. Coupling that with the fact that I didn't want to be in the car when labor was really bad, I decided to head out.

Being anal-retentive and a list-lover, I had made an awesome “Leaving for the Hospital” checklist. (This included such items as “Put Jenn in car”. I kid you not.) Nathan was in charge of completing the list, seeing as how I was a little preoccupied. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, Nathan disagreed with the list order. My very first item? Call MCV for pre-admitting. Nathan decided that should be the last thing he did. And so of course we walked out the door without actually calling. Awesome!

The twenty-five minute car ride wasn’t too bad. I had four or five contractions on the way, but I was kneeling on the passenger seat with my arms wrapped around the back (again with the hands-and-knees thing). I highly recommend this position for the drive to the hospital. I remember at one point, Nathan sat at a red light waiting to turn right. I was having a contraction and still looked over at him to say, “You know, you can turn right on a red here.” God, I’m such a bitch some times. It rolled right off of him, as he reassured me that he was only waiting for my contraction to be over before moving the car again. Sweet of him, yes, but I was anxious to just get to the damn hospital already.

Not calling ahead meant it took a while to get through the front desk. And man, the lady at the reception desk was not interested in making friends! We got there a little before 7 am, and it took forever – forEVER – to get checked in. The receptionist was 10 kinds of icy toward me, but I heroically maintained my good mood <insert sarcasm font here>. I had a few more contractions while getting through the paperwork, but things had kind of slowed down. Apparently I wasn’t acting like I was in much pain, because the woman never asked about my contractions, length of, time apart, or otherwise. She did not even admit me as being in active labor; I think she put me down as needing an exam or something. After we finally got past the front desk and were walking down the hall toward my room, the nurse noticed that we were carrying a crapload of laboring stuff – birth ball, suitcase, cooler, etc. She asked me if I was in labor and was mightily surprised when she heard that my contractions had been 5 minutes apart for hours. There was a scramble to find out if my room could be changed, so that I’d get the awesome, “mid-wife patient” corner room, with lots of space and a shower. The nurse made it happen and we trekked to Room 14. Sweet.

Another consequence of not calling ahead meant a delay in the midwife’s arrival. It gave me plenty of time to tease Nathan about failing to complete The List. Don’t you just love a silver lining? Out of the four possible midwives, one of my favorites was on duty - yay! Kathryn was the first midwife I had met at the beginning of my pregnancy. She made me feel comfortable at that initial appointment, and meeting her convinced me that MCV was the right hospital to be in. So maybe it was fate, destiny, kismet that she was my midwife for delivery. Or maybe it was the midwife on-call schedule. Who knows.

My nurses were Stacie and Shakia. Lynn knew Stacie from previous births, so there was an instant feel of camaraderie in the room. Or maybe I imagined that. Either way, it was nice. They needed to draw blood and asked if they could place a hep lock at the same time, to which I replied that it was fine as long as it didn’t hurt. During my first labor, I swear the hep lock hurt more than contractions. It made a big enough impression on me that “Remove hep lock if requested” was on my birth plan. Stacie tried to place it in the back of my hand and something went wrong; it hurt insanely bad right away. She finished drawing my blood and took the needle out – no hep lock for me. I wonder if my hands are weird or something. Anyway, my hand was immediately bruised and continued to hurt for the next couple of days. Freaking hep locks.  Never again, I swear.

Stacie and Shakia also checked my blood pressure. I had issues my entire pregnancy with the automatic BP machines not being able to read me. The things would inflate, deflate halfway, then re-inflate, rinse and repeat a few more times, then error out. By the time the nurse would give up and go get a manual BP cuff, my BP would be through the roof – those dang machines hurt. Especially when they’re inflating 3 or 4 times in one go. Thanks to this experience, my birth plan specifically requested my blood pressure be taken manually. I was reassured, however, that the machines in the hospital were much better than the ones in the clinic (um, good to know?). However, the first reading was 153/115, which is high. Really high. Seeing as how I didn’t have any other signs of pre-eclampsia, however, they took this in stride and ignored the number for the moment.

Kathryn arrived at around 8:00 and asked about checking me to see how dilated I was. I was a little iffy about this. Check that – I was a lot iffy about this. I knew I had come to the hospital early and really did not want to hear that I was only 1-2 centimeters. Kathryn reassured me that I did not have to get checked if I didn’t want to, but she would like to know where we stood. Of course, there was always the option that she could check me but not tell me where I was at. Yeah, right. Like that was going to happen. Seriously, has any pregnant woman ever agreed to that?

I waffled about it for a bit and then gave in and told her she could check me. I wasn’t too happy with my decision, to be perfectly honest. However, the Labor Goddess smiled upon me – I was 4-5 centimeters, stretchy, and 100% effaced. Yay! And the best part was I didn't have another internal check until I was pushing. I love midwives.

With Kathryn’s arrival, the nurses re-took my blood pressure. With the machine. Again. What the hell, dudes. This time they used a larger cuff and the numbers came back in a more normal range. Whew. One less thing to worry about. I’m not sure why – maybe standard MCV practices, maybe the awesomeness of my midwife – but that was the last blood pressure check of my labor. That was one of the minor but important details truly helped make my l&d experience great.

It was about 9:15 when I found I could no longer deny my urgent need to pee. To those of you who haven’t gone through labor, or haven’t labored drug-free, you may not understand why I really, really did not want to go sit on the toilet. Let’s just say that the porcelain throne is the perfect instrument for encouraging a baby to move down the birth canal, causing major contractions. And since I personally feel that having to sit through a contraction without any options for changing position is pretty much torture equivalent to being water boarded, I was desperate to avoid putting myself there. Unfortunately, my bladder was not cooperating, so I headed in with a plan to pee as fast as possible. I was aiming for that gold medal pee, the mystical one that would allow me to finish my business between contractions. I almost, almost, made it – but alas, it was not to be. Luckily I just had one contraction while in there, because it was bad. The wounded cow noises coming out of my mouth must have gotten my husband’s attention, as he was almost instantly at the door asking if I was okay. I was not okay. Contractions on the toilet are not my friend. Still, I was coherent enough to notice that I lost my mucus plug. And yes, it was ahem as ~lovely~ as it sounds. It was the first time I’d ever experienced that, so it made quite the impression on me. I was very, very glad to get out of there.

Thanks to my husband’s Zune, Lynn’s awesome little travel speaker, and my 200+ playlist, we kept the party going to a very eclectic mix of music – eighties hair bands, pop, nineties grunge, current rock, oldies, etc. At one point, Stacie made the comment that it was nice to hear something that "wasn't all rainbows and unicorns for once!" That made me laugh. Apparently us hippy, granola birther types in the midwife room are notorious for playing soothing, Zen trancy-type stuff. Yeah, not so much with me. I found myself apologizing for a couple of my song choices that made prominent use of the f-bomb (“Shut the F#!k Up" by Cake is an excellent labor song, by the way). Because my birth team was awesome, everyone laughed it off. Music was another thing that had been overlooked in my previous labors. It was an important part of this one, and really kept my mood light. There’s nothing like singing along to your favorite tunes in-between contractions.

Labor continued to move right along. Looking back, I find myself proud that I was open to suggestions; when Lynn would say, "Do you want to try XYZ?" I'd respond, "Okaaaaay ... " I wasn’t jumping for joy at any of her ideas, but I was willing to try them. My previous labors were so fast and so chaotic that I really didn't have time to do anything but try to breathe between contractions before whoops! there's my baby! This time, I labored in several different positions, tried things like the heat packs, counter pressure, etc. I drank water and juice even though I didn't want to. I walked and moved even though I was comfortable just sitting on the birth ball. I wanted to keep labor progressing, so I listened to the wisdom of those around me and it was a lovely thing.

Have I mentioned that my birth team was amazing? Because I feel like maybe I haven’t emphasized that enough. The biggest surprise, to be honest, was my midwife. I’d had a midwife during Kayleigh’s birth and an OB for James’s – in my experience, they were about the same. Came in at the end, delivered the baby, and that was about it. That was so not the case with Kathryn. She was there with me the entire time, seamlessly blending in to my support team. Her hands were blessedly cool and felt wonderful on my forehead and the back of my neck during contractions. (I wonder now if that’s natural or if she was sticking them in a fridge somewhere … hmmm …) She had worked with Lynn before, and together they were a Godsend when it came to physical support. Nathan had me covered on the mental side – we were so connected, every time a contraction hit I blindly reached out for him and he was right there, solid as a rock. I felt like I wouldn’t make it through if I wasn’t holding on to him, and he seemed to sense that. He somehow managed to walk that tricky line of being close enough to be there as soon as I needed him, but not so close that he annoyed the crap out of the lady in labor. A girl couldn’t ask for a better husband when it comes to child birth than him. Hell, a girl couldn’t ask for a better birth team than the one I had. Gold stars, all around.

I started to feel sick at about 9:45. I was familiar with the process of puking while in labor. It’s not the most awesome thing ever, let me tell you. It’s also one of the signs that you’re in transition, which I did not remember in the moment. All I knew was that I really, really did not want to throw up. I mean honestly, you’re just adding insult to injury at that point. Luckily, my body cooperated this time around and I got to keep my breakfast in my stomach. It was then that I asked Kathryn if I could get into the tub. Sadly, MCV does not have a labor and delivery tub; it’s labor only, and then you have to get out to give birth. In my dream world I would have had a water birth, but since that wasn’t an option I at least wanted to spend some time in the dang thing. My previous two labors (not at MCV) I couldn’t use the tub because my water broke before I got to the hospital. I was determined that this time around, I would spend at least a portion of my labor floating in aquatic bliss.

As Stacie and Shakia went to fill the labor tub, transition hit in full force. Holy hell, it was rough. Really, really rough – harder than any of my previous labors. I was having quadruple and quintuple contractions; they just went on and on and on for what felt like forever. I couldn't move, couldn't change positions, couldn't find relief. Nathan and Lynn tried different things to help and had to just go by how my moans sounded, as I wasn't coherent. In my mind, the pain was obliterating everything but my need to be in in the water, the consuming feeling that everything would be okay if I could just get in the water. What I didn’t know was that the tub should have been ready pretty quickly, but whomever turned it on never came back in the room to tell Kathryn to move me. So while I waited (and waited, and waited), it almost overflowed. Then they had to drain quite a bit of water out, which with a tub that big takes time in and of itself. All in all, it was thirty hellish minutes of transition before we got word that I could get in. It took a few more minutes before I could actually move. Luckily the tub room was literally around the corner and once I got up, I didn't have another contraction until I was in the water.

Looking back, I am convinced that my labor would have been picture perfect if I could have gone through transition in the tub. Because it turns out that my instinct was right – I loved being in the water. I don’t have words for how much I loved it. The tub was pure magic.

I’ve read a lot of birth stories in which the mom says getting in the water relieved most or all of her pain. I’ll be the first to say that was not the case for me. However, being in the water meant I didn’t have to worry about my body any more. I didn’t have to find the perfect position to help me get through contractions, I didn’t have to worry about not tensing my muscles while still maintaining that perfect position. I could just relax and float. Float and relax. It was so freeing that I was able to focus exclusively on each contraction, and getting through them was infinitely easier.

We put our candles (electric – they have really nice ones these days!) to good use, since the tub room was windowless. Lynn set up two large ones and several small ones all around the tub, and we kept the fluorescent light off. That was another one of those small yet important details … lighting. Sunlight I love. Candlelight I love. Fluorescent lights, not so much. Hooray for bringing a suitcase full of crap! Oh yes, and a person whose job it is to make sure your environment is perfect. Once again, that would be our phenomenal doula.

I’ll tell you a secret … I was pretty damn determined to screw the rules and have a water birth. Other women have done so, and their baby’s footprints are inked on the wall above the tub. Isn’t that cute? Pretty much if you stay quiet and get to a certain point of the pushing stage while in the tub, the midwives aren’t going to make you stop, get out, and go back to your room. Instead you can just plow ahead and voila … water birth. I was totally down with that scenario – and yes, I’ll admit it, I wanted to see my baby boy’s little toes on that wall.

Unfortunately, my magnificent plan was shot all to hell by the damn Doppler. Back in the room, the Doppler worked just fine, but Kathryn had to switch to using a waterproof one in the tub and it wasn’t working. She couldn't find the baby’s heartbeat. For 30 minutes she moved the Doppler around, trying to find a spot on my belly from which she could pick up the heartbeat while being careful not to disturb me. I was vaguely aware that something was going on because she kept moving the probe, but I refused to focus on anything but my contractions. Kathryn never said anything, just kept trying to find that sweet little drum beat. The stress level of my birth team continued to slowly rise with each silent minute while I stayed oblivious.

I’d been in the tub for close to half an hour when it came time to push. I put my plan into motion and pushed for a few contractions without bothering to tell anyone what I was doing. In my head, I was sure they all knew I was pushing because my vocalizations completely changed. No one said anything, though, and I forged ahead. Then for no apparent reason, while resting between the third or fourth push, I quite suddenly and fully became aware of what the problem was that had Kathryn so absorbed. No heartbeat. The unrelenting movement of the Doppler without a single result. This was not a good thing. I immediately announced I needed to push, knowing that she would make me get out of the tub and hoping that doing so would somehow magically make everything okay.

(I later learned that at the time, Kathryn thought the new Doppler wasn’t working because I had too much “adipose tissue”, which is medical-speak for “lots of fat”. Being obese means that the extra layers of fat get in the way of the Doppler, and sometimes it doesn’t work with us bigger women. This is why she let me stay in the tub for 30 minutes – she wasn’t convinced there was truly a problem with the baby. In reality, the farking thing was actually broken. It didn’t work on her next patient either, one of those stick-skinny, basketball-under-the-shirt-types that we all hate.)

The reality of what I’d done – announced that I needed to push, effectively eighty-sixing my water birth – hit me when Kathryn told me we needed to go back to my room. I immediately retreated, responding, "Never mind, I don't have to push! I'm fine, I'll just stay here. Not pushing. Not moving." The idea of not only getting out of the water, but also having to walk back to my room, completely overwhelmed me. I was fully convinced that I couldn’t even stand up in the tub let alone get out of it. Thank God for Nathan and Lynn. While I was busy feeling positive that I couldn’t move, they somehow they got me up, out, and in my room. I was so caught up in my own head that I don’t even know how they did it. One minute I felt like there was no way in hell it was going to happen, the next I was out of the tub, down the hallway, and on my bed. There’s no way on God’s green earth I could have done that on my own.

We left the tub room at about 10:45. I’m not sure how long it took me to actually get to the bed; it didn’t feel long but I’m a little blurry on that whole trip. A contraction hit me just as I was climbing onto the bed, so I reassumed my beloved hands-and-knees position. Afterward, I lay on my left side, resting while Kathryn checked me. You could not have paid me a million dollars to lay flat on my back at that point. She found the baby’s heartbeat right away, alleviating a ton of stress. We all cheered to find out I was 10 centimeters and +1 station (for reference, +1 means the baby is engaged in the pelvis; +4 is the baby’s head bulging out). I was officially cleared to push.

By the way, have you noticed that I haven’t talked about my water breaking? At that final check, Kathryn announced there were no membranes. That meant my bag of waters was completely gone. At some point during the day it snuck out unnoticed – ninja water! My best guess is that it broke while I was in the tub, probably while I was sneak-pushing.

Because I was already on my left side, I pushed that way for about 10 minutes. It wasn't a super effective position, but it gave me a chance to rest between pushes. Then Kathryn suggested using the birth stool. I had never used one before, but it’s exactly what it sounds like: a stool with a cut-out for the baby to emerge through. Using one means you’re almost in a squat position, but supported by the stool instead having to rely on your own strength. It was awesome, and totally made pushing much more efficient (yay gravity!). The stool was placed next to the bed, so I could sit on it and lean against the mattress. Nathan sat on the bed behind me, hands on my shoulders, and in-between contractions I leaned my head on his chest. I pushed like this for another 10 minutes and that was all it took.

(Side note: I can totally see how the birth stool would be overwhelming if you pushed on it from the very beginning. It's very, very effective, and could easily be too intense for early stage pushing. But for me, being near the end, it was awesome.)

At our request, Lynn took a video of the birth. It’s the only reason I have details for this next part of the story. I am not a silent birther, by any means, but I only truly screamed twice. The first time was when my baby boy’s head was crowning (technically, a little past crowning, just before his ears made an appearance). At that moment, my body decided to slow things down and paused with his head right there. For almost a full minute, nothing happened; I just trembled and breathed and made pain noises while my body took stock. Then in one push, his head came out. Again I paused, while Kathryn checked to make sure the cord was not around his neck. Having verified that everything was fine, she asked me if I was ready to push again. I responded with a tremulous, “No,” but in less than 10 seconds I was doing that very thing. My second round of screaming hit when his shoulders came out. That shit hurts, y’all. Just plain hurts. But half a second later, I was holding him in my arms, pain and screams forgotten.

My first words to my baby were, “Breathe, breathe! Breathe honey, breathe!” followed by, “You are a boy!” Awesome. Lynn said, “Happy Birthday!” and Kathryn said, “Welcome.” Me, I’m bossing him around and checking his genitals.

He did seem very blue to me, but Kathryn reassured me he was fine. We sat there, with our baby in my arms and Nathan holding us both, while they cleaned him up with warm towels. I was naked, so we were skin-to-skin, heartbeat-to-heartbeat, in the ultimate new-baby moment. (You like how I slipped that naked detail in there? You’re welcome.) When he was all clean and shiny, I stood up and scooted backward into the bed. From there, I continued to hold him and marvel at his beautiful face while my body went about the business of delivering the placenta.  It didn’t take too long before that was done. I was given an intramuscular shot of Pitocin to help stop the bleeding, which is pretty standard these days. Nonetheless, Kathryn cleared it with me first, because she’s the bomb. I was fine with it – my baby was safely delivered, so whatever they needed to do to get my body back in shape was okay with me.

When the placenta stopped pulsating, Nathan cut the cord. He’s a pro at it now, with three under his belt. I had a very small tear that ended up needing one stitch. By the time that happened, I was on the phone with my mom and dad, telling them they had a new grandchild. That was a little awkward: “Hi Mom, hi Dad! You have a new grandson! He’s adorable, and … OW. Ow ow ow. Okay then, sorry about that, the midwife was just stitching me up. Anyway …”

I held our baby boy for almost two hours before the nurses took him to be weighed and measured. Yes, I held him while delivering the placenta, held him while Nathan cut the cord, held him while making phone calls and being stitched up. Just held him, skin-to-skin, reveling in him. There is nothing in this world more miraculous than the face of a newborn baby.

Also, it’s pretty fun to call your family and tell them you had your baby, but no, you don’t know how much he weighs, or how long he is, or even what his name is. That was a big source of amusement for us post-birth. We have a large family. Lots of phone calls.

It took us a day or so to name him. We hadn’t decided on a name before he was born, but after seeing his face, Nathan decided it should be Grayson. Um, what? Grayson wasn’t even on our top five list. I loved it, had lobbied hard for it, but Nathan had solidly vetoed it (along with about a dozen other names I loved, because he likes to be difficult like that).  I doubted his sudden conversion and spent the next 24 hours bringing up every name we’d ever considered, trying to shake his new-found conviction. He remained unshakable, but just to make things fun he admitted he also really liked the name Evan. So we went back and forth between Grayson and Evan for hours. I’m still not sure what made us go with Grayson in the end. I think the only reason we even made a decision in one day was to avoid having his birth certificate issued as “Baby Boy D”. I continued to feel unsure of our choice even after coming home, but within a few days I knew we’d picked the right name. Grayson is perfect for our littlest boy.

Grayson Matthew was born May 23rd, 2012, at 11:20 am. He weighed 7 pounds, 8 ounces, and was 20 inches long. He came home the next day and instantly added his big sister and brother, along with the family dog, to his fan club. He continues to try to recruit the cat, who has resisted all efforts to this point.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bread*!

People. Have I told you that cooking is not my forte? Don't get me wrong; I can follow a recipe, make basic dishes, even occasionally turn something out that makes my family ask for seconds. But throw in something like "capers" or "reducing" and all of the sudden I'm no longer in my comfy world of crockpots and cream of soups.

Just know I speak the hand to God truth when I say this will never, ever be a cooking blog.

But I have discovered this fabulously easy, holy crap that's freaking good recipe and I am feeling the need to share it. Trust me when I tell you that you need to make this recipe. Want to impress your family, friends and neighbors? Need to soften up your boss before asking for that raise? Longing to have a cooking one-up on your mother-in-law? This is it, people.

Bread.

Yes, bread. Simple, heart-warming, delicious, bread. Bread that you can make with your very own hands in your very own kitchen, no fancy tools required. Bread that will elicit moans of delight from the mouths of those you deign to share it with. Bread that you will want to make in double and triple quantities, because, hey, it really is that good.

I bow down to Trent at The Simple Dollar for posting this recipe. Trent, you have my taste-buds' undying love and devotion.

For those of you who are anal retentive detail oriented bakers such as myself, I am reposting the recipe here in easy-to-copy-and-paste-into-Word format.

I give you ... Bread.

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Ingredients
¼ cup milk
5 tsp sugar (or 1 ½ tbsp)
1 tsp salt
5 tsp butter (or 1 ½ tbsp)
1 package active dry yeast (21g or 2 ¼ tsp)
2 ½ to 3 ½ cups unbleached white flour
Corn starch or nonstick cooking spray (just used to prevent the bread from sticking to the bowl or pan)

Equipment
One large mixing bowl (a second one is useful, but optional – you can get by with one if you’re willing to wash it in the middle of the process)
One spoon to stir the dough
One ¼ or ½ measuring cup
One 1 tsp measuring spoon
One bread pan (i.e., meatloaf pan)
One hand towel to cover the bread dough as it rises

Directions

Warm up your mixing bowl – the best way to do that is to just fill it with hot water, then dump out the hot water, leaving the bowl rather warm. Mix up the yeast according to the directions on the packet (normal instructions are to add 1 c. water). Stir this until there are no lumps in the yeast. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Melt the butter in the microwave, then add it, the milk, the sugar, and the salt to the yeast liquid and stir it up until everything looks the same (a very light tan liquid). Then add two cups of flour to the mix – don’t add the rest yet. Your bowl should look something like what’s shown below, where the spoon is in the bowl.
















Start stirring, and then add the flour about 1/4 cup at a time every minute or so. It will stick to the spoon big time at first – don’t worry about it. Keep stirring and adding flour until the dough is still slightly sticky, but it doesn’t stick to your hands in any significant way. Also, it should largely clean the sides of the bowl, leaving just a thin layer of floury stuff. It’ll look something like this:
















Now comes the fun part: kneading. Take a bit of flour between your hands and then rub them together over the top of an area on the table where you’re going to knead the dough. Do this a few times until there’s an area on the table lightly covered in flour. Then grab the dough ball out of the bowl, slap it down on the table, and start beating on it. Do this for ten minutes. Just take the dough, punch it flat, then fold it back up into a ball again, and repeat several times. You can also take it in your hands and squeeze and twist it.
















When the ten minutes are up, shape it into a ball (like shown below), then either clean up the bowl you were using before or get out another bowl. Coat the inside lightly with either corn starch or nonstick cooking spray, depending on your preference, then put the ball of dough inside the bowl.
















Put a cloth over the bowl and sit it somewhere fairly warm for an hour. If you have a warming area on your stove top, that’s a great place to put it – set the warming area on as low as it will go, as I’m doing in the picture above. This is a good time to clean everything else and put the stuff away, but leave the flour out and the floured area on your table untouched.

















Here’s what the dough looks like before rising ...
















... and then an hour later after rising, still in the bowl:
















It should be roughly double the size that it was before, but don’t sweat it too much if it’s larger or smaller than that, as long as it rose at least some amount.

Punch the dough down (three or four good whacks will cause it to shrink back down to normal), then lay the dough out on the floured area and spread it out in a rectangle shape, with one side being roughly the length of the bread pan and the other side being about a bread pan and a half long.
















You may need to put a bit more flour on it and on the table to prevent sticking. Then, roll it up! The roll should be roughly the same size as the bread pan, as shown below.
















Tuck the ends of the roll underneath, with the “under” side being where the seam is. Then spray the bread pan down with nonstick cooking spray (or coat it with cornmeal) and put the loaf inside of the pan.
















Cover that loaf up with the towel, put it back where it was before, and wait another hour. This is a good time to clean everything up, then go do something else fun. The loaf should raise some more:
















Put the loaf in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius) for thirty minutes. When it’s done, pull it out and immediately remove it from the pan to cool. It’ll look something like this, hopefully:

















Let it cool down completely before slicing.

(If you copy this into Word, you're going to have some extra spaces. But once you delete them, it should be ready to print!)

****************************************

It's so easy to tweak this recipe just a bit and get some unbelievably good variations. Prior to the roll-up step, add cinnamon and sugar to turn your bread into a mouth-watering dessert. Or replace the salt with garlic salt, and prior to roll-up add Italian seasoning (and maybe some parmesan cheese) for the perfect pasta accompaniment. Personally, next time I'm going to add sugar and cocoa because really, you can't go wrong with chocolate.

Let me know how yours turns out ... bon appétit!




*Props to Marcus for cementing this word in my mind forever, along with the laughter and good memories that come with it. Long live D&D nerds! ;-)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Tale of The Bed and The Condom (it's not what you're thinking)

Memory foam is a fabulous invention.

Memory foam mattress pads are even better. Like sleeping on a wee bit o' fluffy heaven.

Until, that is, you add children who like to sleep with their parents but still occasionally wet the bed. Oh, and cats who act out in stress by peeing on your sheets.

At that point, your wee bit o' fluffy heaven becomes a big effing piece of shit from hell. It sucks up the pee smell and it's impossible to clean, and when you try to clean it anyway it's impossible to dry, and it's OMG WHY THE HELL DID WE EVER BUY THIS THING?!?

So.

After one episode of goddamn-it-why-aren't-you-in-your-own-bed child pee and three episodes of stressed-out cat pee in the space of exactly 6 days, we decided that we needed to either really clean the thing or just get rid of it already. I don't know about you, but sleeping with the enchanting smell of urine under my toes is just not high on my list of best ways to spend my down time.

After pouring about a gallon of Nature's Miracle on it, the pad had evolved into smelling like chemical-treated urine. So. Awesome. We made the last-ditch decision to pull it off the bed and clean it in the bathtub, using the shower head to soak it thoroughly in the desperate hope that we wouldn't have to throw $125 of "innovative, hypo-allergenic, temperature-smart, open-cell therapeutic foam*" out the window. Or, out the slider and off the deck, if you will.

We spent about an hour wrestling the damn thing into the tub and soaking it down. I'll tell you what, if I ever live in a house where basement flooding is a problem, I'll just line the floors with memory foam. That crap sucks up water like nobody's business. We did our best to (very, very carefully) dry it out, but after almost another hour of employing every drying technique we could think of, we still had a water-logged, 500-pound behemoth on our hands. Oy.

But! A genius plan came bubbling up out of the depths of my foolhardy brain. For the sake of fun and adventure**, we hefted the dripping pad back in the bedroom, on top of the bed. No, we did not put it directly on the mattress. Come on, do you really think we're that stupid?

You know what? Don't even go there. Do not even go there, people.

Anyway, we laid it on top of a couple sheets so that we could spread it out nice and flat. Then we proceeded to suck every last drop of water out with our fabulous, industrial-strength steam cleaner. Quick as a wink, our pad was good as new and ready for us to lay down for a stink-free good night's sleep.

Or, maybe - just maybe - my genius plan of using the steam cleaner did not work out quite so well. And maybe - just maybe - it took us another hour of hard labor to admit that. And maybe - just maybe, people - we ended up dragging it back into the tub with the admittedly stupid idea that it would just dry on its own. For thirty two days. But whatever.

Either way, in the end, we had ourselves a clean, dry, non-smelly mattress pad.

{pause for applause}

(Hey, I applauded, okay?)

(Quit looking at me like that.)

The night we declared the pad to be bedworthy, I announced to my husband that I had purchased a new mattress accessory. VoilĂ ! Enter the queen size vinyl mattress protector! We had a huge fight loud argument heated discussion nice chat about the pros and cons of topping memory foam with a layer of vinyl. Despite his reluctance, N gracefully bowed to my request that we try putting the vinyl on top of the pad, where it would actually do some good in the event of yet another urine-fest. Or, I may have possibly said something snotty along the lines of the vinyl would go on top or the pad would go in the trash right then and there. I'm not really sure. Details, they slip my mind at times.

Lying in bed that night, after weeks of sleeping on an incredibly uncomfortable mattress, I blissfully reveled in the return of my beloved wee bit o' fluffy heaven. Sleepily, I turned to N and cuddled close. He lovingly put his arms around me before speaking.

"This mattress protector ... "

"Yes?" I yawned. "It isn't as bad as all that now, is it. Admit it, you can barely feel the thing." Even 90% asleep, I feel the need to not only be right, but also have the last word about it.

"It's ... it's ... it's like we've put a condom on our memory foam."

I laughed so hard, I peed.




*So says the Product Description on Amazon***
**aka, sheer stubbornness
***I may have manipulated the Product Description a smidge for the purposes of this post

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Red


Beyond Snapshots is giving away a gorgeous red Lola epiphanie camera bag. They asked for photo entries that represent red.

This is Kays, warming up after a couple hours of Christmas tree hunting. To me, this is what red means ... holidays, soft sweaters, cute hats, sweetheart lips, and that hint of color in the cheeks of a child who has been playing in the crisp, cold winter air.

Go here to enter your own snapshot for a chance to win the bag - but know if you do, I might be forced sneak into your house one night and steal it. 'Cause, yeah, it's that awesome.

You can see a much clearer copy of this pic on my Flickr page. Blogger is not so hot on the uploading of the photos.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Please Call Back When Someone Nicer Is Available To Speak With You

Ring ring ...

Me: "Science Department*, this is Jennifer."

Old Man: "Yes, can I speak with Barbie Balooma?"

"I'm sorry sir, I don't know who that is; there's no one in our department by that name."

{Confused laugh} "Oh, okay, sorry, bye."

"Good bye."

(5 minutes later)

Ring ring ...

"Medicinal Chemistry, this is Jennifer."

"Hi, I need to speak to Barbie Balooma."

"I'm sorry sir, you just called here and I couldn't help you. Are you looking for someone in the Higher Education Science department?"

"No, she's in the Finance department."

"Well, this is Science. If you have internet access, you can go to www.collegename.edu and look up her name in the search bar on the home page."

{Very confused Old Man voice} "Hmmm, I guess I'm just doing everything wrong here! Okay, well, then, good bye."

"Good bye."

(2 minutes later)

(Conscience gets the best of me; I look up 'Balooma' and 'Barbie' before hitting paydirt on 'Barby' - it's Bamahloo, by the way)

Ring ring ...

"Hello?"

"Hello, sir, you just called me asking for Barby Bamahloo. I was able to look up her number and would be happy to give it to you."

"Oh, if you would look it up for me, that would be great!"

"I already looked it up for you sir; I have it right here."

"Oh, well, just let me get a pen, hold on just a second ..."

(click)

*headdesk*

(2 minutes later)

(Feeling pissy)

{Sigh}

{Grab phone}

{Begin dialing}

{Phone rings on my end}

{Switch to ringing line}

"Science Department, this is Jennifer."

"Hi, you just called me but I disconnected you."

"Yes, yes you did. Are you ready for the number?"

"I'm ready, go ahead."

"It's 555-123-4567."

"55 ... what?"

"555. 123."

{repeats} "555. 1 ... ?"

"1. 2. 3."

{repeats} "555. 123. Okay."

"4. 5."

{repeats} "4. 5."

"6."

{repeats} "6."

"7."

{repeats} "7?"

"Yes, 7."

"555-123-4567?"

"You've got it sir."

"555-123-4567. Okay, thank you so much sweety!"

{eyeroll} "Mmm-hmmm. Have a great day."

"Buh bye!"

(click)

I get karma points for that, don't I? Please tell me I do.



*Names have been changed to protect the bitchy

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hello, My Name is Jenn and I'm ...

... ? I don't know about you, but I just can't finish that statement with a few pithy words. I'm pretty sure that I'm not alone in my multi-facetedness - doesn't everyone have a lot going on with their personality? No? Just me? Well, alrighty then. Why don't I list a few things that make me such an *ahem* interesting person, and you can pick and chose whichever ones make your skirt fly up, mmmkay?

... a reader. And I don't just mean someone who reads books, I mean someone who would breathe the printed word if possible. I took a test today (yay for the Internets!) and learned that I read at 750 words per minute. If that doesn't mean anything to you, well, we really can't be friends now, can we.

... a smidge bit stubborn. And by smidge, I mean unbelievably. Don't tell my husband I admitted that. I blame my dad. Don't tell my dad I said that.

... an overly proud parent. I'm sure all my Facebook friends are tired of hearing about my two incredible, smart, beautiful, talented, amazing children. Too bad. That's what the hide button is for, guys.

... a dog trainer. Part-time only, due to the necessity of having room for another job that actually pays the bills. I love dog training. I hate people. Surprisingly, this does not cause problems as often as one might think it would. Clients tell me I'm great (shut up! they do!), but after 3 years of training, working with hundreds of dogs of all breeds, ages, and behavior issues, I still occasionally feel like I have no idea what I am doing. Please do not read the previous sentence if you are interested in hiring me.

... a full-time executive assistant. And I just got interrupted by work. Really, the things they expect of me around here.

... a fallen-away Catholic. Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, and Church Marriage all under my belt, and here I sit, feeling completely apathetic about ever going to mass again. In my world, being gay is not a choice and everyone deserves the right to get married. I think that abortions within the first 4 months should be legal, because it's not my right to impose my religious beliefs ("life begins at conception") on anyone else. Yeah. Not so much fitting in with the Catholic crowd these days.

... a person who believes in ghosts, psychic powers, and aliens. After seeing Sheena as a child, I spent years believing I could talk to animals. Some days, I still do. What?

... a pill-popping downer. Don't worry, the pill-popping cancels out the downer part. That's what my doctor says anyway.

... an obsessor, with no ability to let things go. Especially when those things are me doing something stupid and/or embarrassing. Or when I get utterly screwed over by random store employees. Have I told you the Hollywood Video story? Let's go with the short version, which is that I am on year 10 of my Hollywood Video boycott. Fuck those fuckers. (Mom, if you're reading this, please edit the last sentence to 'darn those meanies.' And put the bar of soap down, okey dokey?)

... a statistic in the 'morbidly obese' column. I don't know what the hell I'm going to do about that. Lord knows I need to do something.

... a dreamer. I dream of being an author, editor, crazy cat lady, and lazy woman of leisure. I dream of having a home with built-in bookcases in every room, including the kitchen and all bathrooms. I dream of getting 9-10 hours of sleep per night on a regular basis. I dream of the Pacific Ocean, Magic Mountain, and Claim Jumper. I dream that I am sitting at work and all of the sudden get this overwhelming urge to ... you know what? Never mind.

... a woman with little tolerance for females of the happy clappy persona. I am not interested in befriending someone who farts rainbows and shits sunshine. Come now, sit here on the bitchy bench with me. Isn't that better?

... a straight-arrow. The anti-partier. Bor. Ing. I'm just too old/tired/fat/broke to be fun.

... an odd duck. I can't listen to someone's voicemail without leaving a message. I only like even numbers, especially when it comes to setting my alarm or the microwave. I'm anal-retentive at work but a complete slob at home, even though the results of my slobbiness drive me insane. I want to be more liked, and am seriously annoyed with myself for the wanting. My Sahara-Desert-dry skin sucksass but I can't be bothered with lotion. Random smells make me gag, but I can handle my kids' vomit without blinking. Oh, did I go a bit too far there? Oops.

... a girl whose brother is dead. It's been seven years, and I still haven't learned to live without him.

... a wife and mother. Most days, I feel that I am not particularly good at being these things. My husband and kids kind of got screwed. Sorry guys.

... a Pampered Chef hostess currently having a catalog party. Want to buy some cookware?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Diary of a Snow Shoveler

Being a So Cal transplant here in Virginia, I rather enjoy the snow. The majority of my friends and neighbors hate it. We don't usually get much, but this winter there has been a lot more than normal. So I'm sending out this little piece of humor to all my local friends who tell me I'm crazy for loving the snow, and my back-home friends who are jealous that we are getting snowed-in :-).

DIARY OF A SNOW SHOVELER

December 8 - 6:00 PM It started to snow. The first snow of the season and the wife and I took our cocktails and sat for hours by the window watching the huge soft flakes drift down from heaven. It looked like a Grandma Moses Print. So romantic we felt like newlyweds again. I love snow!

December 9 - We woke to a beautiful blanket of crystal white snow covering every inch of the landscape. What a fantastic sight! Can there be a lovelier place in the whole world? Moving here was the best idea I've ever had! Shoveled for the first time in years and felt like a boy again. I did both our driveway and the sidewalks. This afternoon the snow plough came along and covered up the sidewalks and closed in the driveway, so I got to shovel again. What a perfect life!

December 12 - The sun has melted all our lovely snow ... such a disappointment! My neighbor tells me not to worry- we'll definitely have a white Christmas. No snow on Christmas would be awful! Bob says we'll have so much snow by the end of winter that I'll never want to see snow again. I don't think that's possible. Bob is such a nice man, I'm glad he's our neighbor.

December 14 - Snow, lovely snow! 8 inches last night. The temperature dropped to -20. The cold makes everything sparkle so. The wind took my breath away, but I warmed up by shoveling the driveway and sidewalks. This is the life! The snow plough came back this afternoon and buried everything again. I didn't realize I would have to do quite this much shoveling, but I'll certainly get back in shape this way. I wish I wouldn't huff and puff so.

December 15 - 20 inches forecast. Sold my van and bought a 4x4 Blazer. Bought snow tires for the wife's car and 2 extra shovels. Stocked the freezer. The wife wants a wood stove in case the electricity goes out. I think that's silly. We aren't in Alaska, after all.

December 16 - Ice storm this morning. Fell on my rear on the ice in the driveway putting down salt. Hurt like hell. The wife laughed for an hour, which I think was very cruel.

December 17 - Still way below freezing. Roads are too icy to go anywhere. Electricity was off for 5 hours. I had to pile the blankets on to stay warm. Nothing to do but stare at the wife and try not to irritate her. Guess I should've bought a wood stove, but won't admit it to her. God I hate it when she's right. I can't believe I'm freezing to death in my own living room.

December 20 - Electricity's back on, but had another 14 inches of the darn stuff last night. More shoveling! Took all day. The dam snow plough came by twice. Tried to find a neighbor kid to shovel, but they said they're too busy playing hockey. I think they're lying. Called the only hardware store around to see about buying a snow blower and they're out. Might have another shipment in March. I think they're lying. Bob says I have to shovel or the city will have it done and bill me. I think he's lying.

December 22 - Bob was right about a white Christmas because 13 more inches of the white crap fell today, and it's so cold, it probably won't melt till August. Took me 45 minutes to get all dressed up to go out to shovel and then I had to pee. By the time I got undressed, peed and dressed again, I was too tired to shovel. Tried to hire Bob who has a plough on his truck for the rest of the winter, but he says he's too busy. I think the butthole is lying.

December 23 - Only 2 inches of snow today. And it warmed up to 0. The wife wanted me to decorate the front of the house this morning. What is she, nuts?!! Why didn't she tell me to do that a month ago? She says she did but I think she's lying.

December 24 - 6 inches. Snow packed so hard by snow plough, I broke the shovel. Thought I was having a heart attack. If I ever catch the son of a bitch who drives that snow plough, I'll drag him through the snow by his balls and beat him to death with my broken shovel. I know he hides around the corner and waits for me to finish shoveling and then he comes down the street at 100 miles an hour and throws snow all over where I've just been! Tonight the wife wanted me to sing Christmas carols with her and open our presents, but I was too busy watching for the darn snow plough.

December 25 - Merry frisking Christmas! 20 more inches of the darn slop tonight - we're snowed in. The idea of shoveling makes my blood boil. God, I hate the snow! Then the snow plough driver came by asking for a donation and I hit him over the head with my shovel. The wife says I have a bad attitude. I think she's a frisking idiot. If I have to watch "It's A Wonderful Life" one more time, I'm going to stuff her into the microwave.

December 26 - Still snowed in. Why the hell did I ever move here? It was all HER idea. She's really getting on my nerves.

December 27 - Temperature dropped to -30 and the pipes froze; plumber came after 14 hours of waiting for him, he only charged me $1,400 to replace all my pipes.

December 28 - Warmed up to above -20. Still snowed in. My WIFE is driving me crazy!!!

December 29 - 10 more inches. Bob says I have to shovel the roof or it could cave in. That's the silliest thing I ever heard. How dumb does he think I am?

December 30 - Roof caved in. I beat up the snow plough driver, and now he is suing me for a million dollars, not only the beating I gave him but also for trying to shove the broken snow shovel up his BUTT. The wife went home to her mother. 9 more inches predicted.

December 31 - I set fire to what's left of the house. No more shoveling.

January 8 - Feel so good. I just love those little white pills they keep giving me. Why am I tied to the bed?