Monday, January 1, 2018

2017: The Year in Review

2017 has certainly been a year for change! A lot got packed into this one, namely getting married and having a kid. I suppose some other events happened as well, but those are the two main attractions. Here's a quick, bare-bones summary:

January: Kyle and I rang in the new year in Michigan with a group of his friends from college, then spent January 1st driving back to Durham. We also definitively decided to start a family, at the same time as doing some wedding planning.

February: So that was easy. We started having our suspicions that things were easier than we had expected: it wasn't going to take six months after all, like we had planned.

March: The doctor confirmed what we already knew to be true. It was official: we were going to have a baby!

Sunrise on our wedding day
April: Kyle and I were married on April 9 at Spruce Pine Lodge in Bahama, NC.

May: My mom and I met for tea at the O. Henry Hotel in Greensboro to celebrate Mothers Day, a first for me!

June: Kyle and I went to Mia Francesca's in Raleigh for Father's Day, where he got a free lunch for being a dad!

July: We took a week-long trip to Indiana over the Fourth of July to visit my sister in South Bend, his brother in Ft. Wayne, and my friend Leslie in Zionsville. We also started our go-out-of-town-every-weekend-for-four-weekends trips: the beach, my mom's house, Boone, and Washington, DC. We also started our 10-week Bradley husband-coached childbirth class.

August: I turned 35 on August 2nd. Also, see above.

September: Trying to accomplish as much as possible before being stuck inside with a baby forever, we attended a two-day Lamaze class, CenterFest Arts Festival in Durham, and the Apple Festival in Winston-Salem.

October: Our last month before our lives were changed forever! Kyle and I rented a cabin in the mountains with some friends and spent a beautiful weekend hiking around Boone. I tried to see all of my friends for dinner or coffee, and I threw a surprise get-together ("party" would be too big of a word) for Kyle's 31st birthday on the 21st. We did not, however, attend the state fair, which kind of bummed me out, but I also didn't feel like walking around at 8 1/2 months pregnant either. 

November: The rest of the world may have continued to exist, but for us, nothing else happened except for Isaac Henry's birthday on November 15.

December: A very busy month filled with visits from family and friends, all while trying to figure out this parenting thing. Kyle and I spent a quiet Christmas Eve together, and a relaxing Christmas Day with friends. We didn't do a thing for New Year's Eve, but hey, there's always next year.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Isaac's Birth Story

One of the perks of my awesome company is that they give 12 weeks of paid maternity leave to their employees. The only downside is that maternity leave starts the day the baby is born.

And because babies never come when you think they will, I didn't know how to schedule it. I knew I didn't want to work right up to the time I went into labor, but I didn't want to quit working so early that I'd run out of vacation days before the birth itself. I took a leap of faith and scheduled my last day for November 9, six days before my due date of November 15.

I'd heard lots of horror stories about women going past the due date and having to get induced (apparently labor pains during induction are worse than ones that come naturally), and I didn't want to have to go through that. I was prepared for a long pregnancy, though, since most first-time moms are at least a week late.

I had lots of plans for how to spend my time off work: I'd bake bread, clean the house, organize the office, prepare the nursery, walk several miles a day, and meditate my way into the calm, clear mindset I'd need for labor. But you know what they say about the best laid plans...

I woke up Friday the 10th feeling restless but unambitious. I spent most of the day just lying around. The next day, I felt a little more energetic and made bread and granola. I wasn't feeling either super "nest-y" like some people do, or super lethargic either; I was just ready for something to happen.

On Sunday, Kyle and I went to have our first "family portrait" taken. That evening (technically Monday morning), I started feeling slight contractions between 1:00-4:00 a.m. but went back to sleep after they faded. I'd heard enough about Braxton-Hicks contractions, so I wasn't too concerned.

I was tired when I woke up on Monday morning, my first day of vacation while waiting for the baby to come. I had many grandiose plans for how to spend my vacation while Kyle was at work, but the only productive thing I did all day was take a walk around the neighborhood. As the day went on, I felt cramps that would come and go, so I asked my doula what I should do. She recommended taking a hot bath and relaxing as much as possible to help me get some rest.

I took her advice, but the cramps kept coming every 5-10 minutes for 30 seconds, albeit mildly. Later that night, while Kyle and I were watching Twin Peaks, they started coming every 4-6 minutes, but again, nothing big. They kept up until we went to bed, then stopped.

I was awakened after midnight (the morning of Tuesday, November 14) by more contractions, and stayed awake from 1:00 - 6:00 a.m. on the living room floor, waiting for them to get worse. They would come and go, some lasting over a minute, but they didn't seem to be progressing any. All they were doing was keeping me from sleeping.

When it became a decent hour, I texted my doula again to ask her what she recommended. She suggested that I might be having prodromal labor (unproductive labor) and that I should try to take a bath, relax, and sleep better that night. She also recommended a visit to the chiropractor to realign my pelvis, and a trip to the herbalist for some calming tea.

So Kyle took off work on Tuesday and set me up an appointment with a chiropractor that our doula knew. We went for walk around Ellerbe Creek before the appointment, going slow since I couldn't move very quickly. At the chiropractor's, I got a very gentle adjustment that may or may not have had any effect.

That evening, my friend Jaimie came over and we sat around with the lights off and candles lit, talking about birth. I took a bath after she left, drank some calming tea, and wished for sleep to come.

At 11:00 p.m., after about an hour of sleep, I woke up with more contractions. I snuck out of bed and went into the kitchen, where I proceeded to sob uncontrollably for 30 minutes. I was so tired, and terrified of suffering through a third long night of not being able to sleep, with no idea how many more such nights were to come. And all this, seemingly, for NOTHING, because the contractions weren't progressing. I was miserable.

So I woke up Kyle, and we got ready to spend the night getting through the contractions together. We timed them, but they didn't seem to be increasing in frequency. Some were getting stronger, though, and we started using the tools we learned about in our birthing class: an exercise ball, deep breathing, a TENS machine, and massage. The contractions were coming every 5-6 minutes and lasting for about a minute. Kyle and I kept waiting for the "3-1-2" we had been told about (contractions coming every 3 minutes, lasting for a minute, for 2 hours), but it wasn't happening.

Exhausted, frustrated, and not knowing what else to do, we called the hospital. Kyle answered the nurse's questions while I threw up in the bathroom. Although I had always wanted a natural birth, at this point, I was hoping for an epidural just so I could go to sleep. The hospital agreed to have us come in to be checked. It was about 3:30 a.m.

We took a shower, got our suitcase together, and went out the door. Kyle jokingly added, "You know, the next time we come in our house it's going to be with a baby." Of course, neither of us actually believed that; we were both thinking that the hospital would send us home until we were further along in labor.

However, upon arrival at Labor & Delivery via the ER, I was told that I was at 8 cm and would not be sent home. "This baby is coming today," the nurse told me cheerfully. She asked if I wanted an epidural, telling me that since I was so far along already, it was either now or never.

"Well," I thought, "since I made it this far, I guess I can make it to the end."

I won't saddle you with the particulars, but I will say I am very grateful for the techniques that we learned in our husband-coached natural childbirth class. Kyle was amazing and provided me all the physical and emotional support I needed, making the doula we had hired almost superfluous.

Six hours and fifteen minutes after arriving at the hospital, at 10:45 a.m. on his due date of November 15, 2017, Isaac Henry was born into the world. He was red and screaming and absolutely beautiful.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Preparing for the Apocalypse

I'm not sure where this thought came from, but I've got it in my mind that once the baby comes, I'm never leaving the house ever again (or at least not until February). So Kyle and I have been preparing our place like it's a bunker in the 1960s and we're waiting for atomic war to happen.

We've got a nursery chock full of neatly buttoned cloth diapers (thanks, Jaimie L., for helping stuff them!) and baby clothes organized by type and by month (let's see how long that lasts). In the kitchen, the pantry and the freezer are full of food enough to last until Doomsday. 

Call it nesting, call it OCD, but I've been cooking and baking in the past month like a crazy woman. Here are some of my recent creations: 

Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuits

Round Bread

More Bread

Apple Cake from Cooking Light

Lemon Meringue Pie (most time-consuming thing on the planet -- but dang tasty)

Popcorn Balls

More Chicken Pot Pie & Chicken Soup

We only have a few days/weeks left until this little critter makes his appearance. The good news is, at least we won't starve while we're trapped in the house all winter. But he'd better come quick: we're running out of space! 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Doing It All

Stock Ultrasound Image (not mine)
Somewhere between November 1st and November 29th (the doctor says November 15th but I don't put too much stock in due dates), a little baby boy will come join the Irvan household. We are thrilled to become parents -- after all, we'd been planning this for a while! -- but also a little nervous. Having never been parents before, we're going into this thing like we're preparing for the apocalypse: reading every pregnancy book under the sun, taking a 10-week Bradley class and an 8-hour Lamaze class, and grilling our friends and family on best practices for labor and delivery. I stick to a healthy diet and exercise routine, take a prenatal vitamin faithfully, and annoy the hell out of my doctors with my never-ending list of questions. 

But here's the thing: we've only got about eight more weeks before the baby comes. It's time to quit stressing about the pregnancy and birth part, and start thinking about what's going to happen after the baby gets here!

Good and Bad 
From Google

If only we knew what to expect! Back in the '50s, you only ever heard of the beautiful and exciting side of having a baby. Moms stayed home, raised their children perfectly, and still baked a pie a week. 

(Note that families were also perfectly able to sustain themselves on one salary back then. With student loan payments as much as your rent or mortgage, two-income families are almost a necessity now.) 

Nowadays, the pendulum seems to have swung the other way: you only ever hear about the terrible side of raising children: the sleepless nights, the ceaseless crying, the thankless days of drudgery. I think there are more negative child-raising experiences on the internet than positive ones -- or at least, that's what it seems like. Talking with friends about their child-raising experiences have caused some shivers to go down my back!

I'm sure this backlash is in retaliation to the "everything's rosy" picture that mothers have had to hold up over the years. Raising children is not all sweet, and there are definitely times when you wish you could return to your pre-kid existence. But is it really all bad? It can't be, can it? Otherwise, why would anyone keep having them? 

(Seasoned mothers can insert here, "Oh, Jaimie, Jaimie, Jaimie, you have no idea . . . " You're right. I don't.)

Work or Stay Home? 

There's also the ever-present dialogue in the back of my mind: what happens after my allotted 12-week maternity leave is over? Do I go back to work or stay home with the baby? I know I'm lucky even to be able to consider the possibility of being a full-time mom. So many women don't have that luxury. 

If I go back to work (my only option is returning full-time; there aren't any open part-time positions now), I'll: 
  • pay someone to watch the baby for nine hours a day, which will essentially cut my salary in half
  • pump at work every couple of hours and maintain a stash of bottles
  • come to work sleepy those days he's up all night
  • feel guilty for leaving him in daycare 
If I stay home, I'll: 
  • feel guilty that I'm not contributing to the household income
  • potentially feel lonely and isolated and need to join a group of other moms to keep my head on straight 
Of course, those are just the negative sides to both options. I know there are positive parts to each, too. If I stay home, I get to raise my kid just the way I want to. If I go to work, I'll have a break from the "thankless days of drudgery". Luckily, I've still got five months to decide what to do . . . 

Because of all these issues surrounding new-motherhood (work, money, chores, sleep), I've been thinking a lot about the Big Picture. About how women have been doing it all since the 1970s. 

Plenty of books and articles exist about the issue of mothers working (just Google it) so I won't rehash too much. What's mostly been on my mind is the way women are told they can have everything: a lucrative and satisfying career, deep friendships, fast, healthy meals, a spotless house, perfectly behaved children, and great sex, too. (Or, as this article put it, "you need to be leaning in as far as you can at work and creating a Pinterest-perfect family tableau at home, replete with foraged-pinecone centerpieces and smiling tots happily eating their homemade quinoa cakes.")

I'm sure it's not impossible and millions of women do it. It's just that I'm not sure I want to try. It seems like too much trouble to try to have everything. It seems like you just hurry all the time. I want my children to grow up feeling calm about life, not like they just have to hurry from one thing to another, as they see their frazzled mother do. 

Where's the balance between the stuck-at-home 1950s mom and the stuck-in-traffic 2017 mom?! Do I go move to the country and make homemade bread every day, or stay in my trendy neighborhood and buy a jogging stroller? 

This much is for certain: Kyle and I will have another human living at our house in just around 55 days. We don't have to decide the rest of our lives right now. For right now, we just need to welcome him in and give him lots of love.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

10 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Go Beach Camping

Are you thinking about going on a romantic camping trip on the beach with your significant other? Sun, sand, love, and laughter? Don't do it. Go get a hotel. You won't regret it.

Twice (2015 & 2017), Kyle and I have gone to the campsite at Cape Lookout, taking the ferry across the water and spending the night in a tent. Twice we have had experiences that make us wish we would have gone somewhere else.

Here are the issues we encountered:

#1. The trek. You've got to pack everything you'll need for two days into bundles that can be easily carried by two people. The tent, backpack, and sleeping bags aren't too bad. But fill up a cooler with ice and food and suddenly the quarter mile walk over hot sand from the one side of the island where they drop you off to the other side where you camp suddenly expands by about 100,000 miles. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, you don't need a cooler. You're cool eating PB&Js and drinking 85 degree water for two days.)

#2: The trucks. If you don't feel like walking you can always drive your truck out on the beach. Until it gets stuck in sand and eight more trucks come to bail you out, and some of THEM get stuck. Kyle and I didn't drive. But some guy tried for an hour to get his truck out of the sand directly in front of our tent at sunset, and that sure ruined the mood. We ended up going for a walk instead.

#3: The wind. A beautiful day at the beach. All you want to do is lie on the warm sand, soak up some sun, read a book . . . except you can't because the wind is so strong it blows stinging sand on you like it wants to scrape off your skin. Even the birds are having trouble flying. And you don't have anywhere to go but in the hot tent or in the sand next to the tent, which does a poor job of blocking.

#4: The waves. OK, so you can't sunbathe. At least you can enjoy the water! Oh, just kidding, you can't get in the water because every wave is pummeling the shore with all the wrath Mother Nature could ever summon. No one is in the water. Everyone wades in up to their ankles but is afraid to get in deeper for fear of being swept away into a rip current. (Also because the ocean floor is covered in shells that will lacerate your feet.) High tide, low tide . . . the ocean keeps trying to bite you. 

#5: The wind at night. Neverending. Never ceasing. Constant, constant force shaking the tent, flapping the flaps, scurrying under the tent to lift your feet in the air. 

#6: The waves at night. Neverending. Never ceasing. Constant, constant noise that is inescapable. I don't know what decibel level waves are at in real life, but they seem much less calming in real life than the ones you listen to in your headphones.

#7: Your gross skin. After all day outside, you're sweaty, you're sticky from sea mist, and even if you jump in the ocean to rinse off, you just end up salty and sandy again. Even with showers on the island, you never feel really clean. 

#8: Sand in everything. Do you like your salad, apples, or water sand-free? Do you enjoy sleeping on blankets that aren't covered in sand. Then you're in the wrong place, because here, sand is ubiquitous. 

#9: Flies and mosquitoes. When we camped out in 2015, I thought I'd go crazy from the buzzing around my head all night (no tent that time). This time we brought insect repellent, but not until we'd been bitten incessantly by those big green flies that hang out at the beach in the evening.

#10: No escape. The ferry drops you off in the afternoon and doesn't return until 8 o'clock the next morning. There's no shade except your tent. If you forgot something (like, ya know, bathing suits), you're just SOL. 

A few good things can happen, though. The wind died down a little during our evening stroll at high tide, which made the walk much more enjoyable. (We also found an abandoned cooler full of empty beer bottles and dead fish.) The sunset was beautiful, and the sunrise, seen after a restless, sleepless night, was also spectacular. 

But honestly, mountain camping is so much better than beach camping. I don't mind sleeping in a tent: I've done it dozens of times in my life, more than I can count. But camping on the beach in July is just a bad idea from start to finish. 

I hope you have better experiences than we did! We will never do it again! 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Christians and the Environment

Tennessee, 2009
In preparation for our potential move outside of the city, I'm reading up on country living. I grew up in the country, but never had to do the decision-making myself there, so I feel I need to read up on how to can vegetables and feed chickens before we get there. We love the neighborhood we're living in now, but we are definitely priced out of buying here (by several hundred thousand dollars), so we're considering going somewhere farther out: Granville County, Person County, or maybe somewhere between here and Greensboro. We haven't quite decided yet. But I'll have to do some reading no matter where we go.

When I was a kid, I used to browse through my dad's copy of Carla Emery's Old Fashioned Recipe Book, leafing through the pages of how to dry greens, wash clothes by hand, raise milk cows, and keep warm in the winter with just a wood stove. (Although we didn't do all of those things when I was a kid, and I may never, I guess it doesn't hurt to be prepared.) 

As I was reading through the book today, I came across a passage that really struck me. Carla Emery first published her book in 1971. She's about the most down-to-earth person possible: rural, self-sufficient, confident. Salt-of-the-earth. I respect a lot of what she says, and I'd like to follow in her footsteps and live off the land some day. I love what she says about the world we live in (italics hers, bold mine) and pray that everyone who is lucky enough to have a tiny of slice of nature hold the same conviction:  


"I believe we should live morally and spiritually as if Jesus were coming in the next five minutes, but economically and ecologically we should live as if He won't be here for 5,000 years more. I think it's a crime against that precious heritage God promised Abraham and the rest not to cherish and try to preserve this earth -- His splendid creation. If it is going to come into destruction this should be no doing of any Christian hands. So please brothers and sisters let us struggle to preserve in health, beauty and usefulness this planet that God has given us and our descendants to be our home until that last day when we shall indeed be raised to be with Him. Let us be able to report our stewardship proudly" (1977 ed., p. 34). 

Amen, sister. Amen. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Gratitude to Mrs. K

I'm getting married in a few days, and it's all because of Mrs. L.K., my 11th grade Spanish teacher.

If scheduling hadn't prevented me from taking French in Fall 1998, I never would have taken Spanish.

If I hadn't taken Spanish class, I never would have fallen in love with the language.

If I hadn't fallen in love with the language, I wouldn't have wanted to study Spanish at Milligan College.

If I hadn't gone to Milligan College, I never would have reconnected with J.S., who never would have introduced me to J.F.

If I hadn't met J.F., I never would have gotten married in 2005.

If I hadn't gotten married, I wouldn't have gotten divorced.

If I hadn't gotten divorced, I wouldn't have moved to Japan.

If I hadn't lived in Japan for the same two years Kyle did (2010-2012), I never would have joined the Japanese Meet-Up when I moved back to North Carolina.

If I hadn't joined the Meet-Up, I never would have met Kyle.

And if I had never met Kyle, I'd never have married him.

Grateful I am for all of my life experiences that have brought me to where I am now.

As Kyle told me, "There is only one road that leads to the present, and we have traveled it."