On Independence

Our delicious and patriotic fruit salad! (Personal Photo)

Happy Independence Day!

This sentiment is a day late for the 4th, but it’s really never too late to celebrate our independence. I’m very thankful to be able to raise my family in a country where freedom is celebrated. Yesterday, we enjoyed some quality family time, participating in several classically American activities: a parade, a hotdog cookout, a festival with games and music, and fireworks, of course!

Independence is something I’ve thought about a lot lately, and not just because of the holiday, or because it’s incorporated in the title of my blog. It’s because my baby is now eight months old, and he’s discovering his own independence. The tiny baby that used to fall asleep on me is now a big baby, triple his original size. Nursing isn’t his only source of food and comfort anymore. He eats just about any new food he can get his hands on. And he’s learning how to move on his own! Although he’s not quite crawling, he’s rocking and stretching out to get wherever he may want to be.

It’s a little scary to think that my baby is taking his first steps toward not needing me, but it’s wonderful to celebrate it as well. I’ve had a desire for autonomy for as long as I can remember, and it probably started with my first taste of moving by myself. I’m proud that I’ve been able to support myself independently in the past, even if I’m not doing it now, and I know I’ll be proud of my baby when he grows up to support himself.

For now, I’ll enjoy holding him as long as he’ll let me.

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My First Son

Picture of a mother holding a child's hand.
Photo Source
I’ve spent a couple of posts doting on my new baby, and since it was my first time giving birth, it makes it appear as if I’m a new mother. I’m not. I entered motherhood the moment I married my husband.
Some would argue that being a step mother is not real motherhood, but I disagree. It’s true that it is different. You don’t go through the pain of labor, you don’t experience that magic moment where you see you baby for the first time, and you don’t fall instantly in love. There isn’t a bond formed based on the child’s complete dependence on you as caregiver. No, you are a tentative acquaintance at first. And you’re certainly not the only woman in that child’s life!

I worked hard to earn the trust of my stepson. He was four years old when I married his dad, and over the following 7 weeks I probably spent more time with him than my new husband. It was awkward at first, and felt strange to suddenly have a kid tagging along with me everywhere I went. 
I never tried to be his Mom. I knew that role was already filled. But over time, we have developed our own relationship. 
I will never forget the first time he told me, “I love you.” I wasn’t expecting it, which made it all the more special. It was one of the last days of the first summer we spent together. The week before, he’d been playing around, and said, “Raise your hand if you love my daddy!” He raised his hand, but wasn’t expecting me to, and he expressed his surprise. I explained to him that I do love his daddy, very much, and that love is not limited just to parents and children. We were riding in the car together, just running an errand, when out of the blue, he said, “I love you, Kamille.” The only way I could possibly reply was “I love you too.” It was the truth.
When he’s not with us the house feels empty, even though it is, in fact, very full of love. My husband and my baby fill it up. But there’s still a missing piece: my first son.

Screen shot of text messages between my husband and me. Just talked to A, know the first thing he asked? What? Can I talk to Kamille?

A Memorable Journey

Or: A “Sequel” to the Chronicle of The Move

I’ve been living in California for about half a year now, and I’m just now getting around to finishing up my little summary of our move. Oops?
To be honest, I really don’t think there’s much more to it. I wanted to spend more than one blog post talking about the last leg of our trip, which consisted of a nice stay in San Diego, a longer-than-expected stay in Los Angeles, and finally, our drive up the coast to lovely Monterey. Most of those details have been somewhat lost in memory, though.
What hasn’t been lost in memory yet was a completely different journey, happening simultaneously. One that took place inside me, which was totally weird but kind of awesome at the same time.

Pregnancy certainly wasn’t what I would call fun, but I didn’t have a very difficult pregnancy either. I didn’t have a lot of morning sickness, but I was very tired in the first and third trimesters. I was also pretty uncomfortable the last month, but that was to be expected too.
Now that I’m three months in to my son’s life, and I’m mostly recovered from having my world turned upside down, it’s fun to reflect on just how much of a journey the two of us have made.
First, I got HUGE. I only took a few quick photos of progress, but the difference is pretty significant.

The difference that only 10 weeks time made shocks me now! 

I also had professional photos taken at 35 weeks, courtesy of my mother.

I had these done just barely in the nick of time, as my labor started less than a week later. What boggles my mind is what I would have looked like had we gone full term! Not to mention how gigantic my baby would have been!
What I think is even more incredible than the change in size is the change in my baby! He was so different from what I expected when he was born. The picture doesn’t really tell the story. He has a very real personality that is developing more all of the time, and of course, it’s nothing like what I predicted based on his little kicks and stretches that I felt while he was still on the inside.

I think he might be a completely different person every month!

An Announcement and a Story

My last entry, I said I’d be taking another 4-month hiatus, and people, I keep my promises. Actually, I’m 18 days short of four months, but who’s counting?
I could have posted in January, with big promises about better upkeep of the blog. But you, dear reader, can thank me for failing to do that. Because I would have failed miserably. It turns out, I’m busier this year than I was last year.
In 2013, I left out a pretty big detail of my life. You see, I spent a large part of the year pregnant. And on November 2nd, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy!
© Shelley Kemp Photography

I’d like to take this opportunity to share my birth story. I wrote it during the weeks after my baby was born, and I needed to get it out of me while it was still fresh. 
***

The following is the opening statement from our birth “plan”. I placed “plan” in quotation marks because at no point in the document did I actually call it a plan, and at no point in conversation with my doctor or nurses did I ever refer to it as my plan.
Thank you for taking the time to read our birth preferences. Our goal is a natural, unmedicated birth. We understand that changes may be medically necessary, but please discuss all options with us and allow us ample opportunity to give informed consent. We appreciate your willingness to work with us.
Throughout the vast majority of my pregnancy, I strived to be realistic and logical. Of course, I feel I was also naïve – I literally had no idea what I was really in for. Labor, delivery, and the first week of my son’s life have been nothing like what I imagined.
The “plan” pretty much went out the window when I woke up early on the 1stof November, noticing that it felt like I’d wet the bed. The bed itself wasn’t wet at all, but the pants I’d been sleeping in were very damp. I pried myself up, walked to the bathroom, and went to the toilet, where a small amount of fluid leaked out. Nothing very significant, but definitely unusual. I took note that it didn’t smell like urine, but actually smelled very sweet.
After cleaning myself up, I woke my husband. I told him that I thought my water might have broken. He later told me that I was very calm and matter-of-fact about it. I’d been instructed to call the hospital if my water broke so that we could remain in contact, so I found the phone number and called. They asked me to lay down and do a kick count to make sure the baby was still active, and to call them back in an hour with the results. I had no problems feeling Baby’s movements and this was very reassuring.
There has long been confusion about my due date, as throughout the pregnancy this had ranged between 26 November and 13 December. This put me somewhere in the range of 34 to 36 weeks pregnant. Pre-term no matter which date you pick. Because of this, the hospital asked me to come in so that they could perform a check to determine whether or not it was, in fact, amniotic fluid leaking from me. They said not to rush, so we took our time packing up a small bag just in case we wound up staying there. It didn’t have much more than the normal contents of my purse. Our drive to the hospital was pretty leisurely, though I did notice what felt like light cramping as we were driving. I really wasn’t worried about having to stay in the hospital.
Once we arrived, a nurse swabbed and tested the fluid, determining that it was, in fact, amniotic fluid. And then she told us we had to stay in the hospital. A 20-minute fetal monitoring session confirmed that baby was doing absolutely fine and I was, in fact, having very light contractions. I’d agreed to have a saline lock, so the nurse placed the line.
I was able to get up to go for a walk while we waited for my doctor, and I used that time to call my mom. “Surprise, mom! Your grandson is coming a month early!” She rushed to make travel plans for the following day.
After about 45 minutes of walking, our nurse found us in the hospital lobby and told us that my doctor was ready to see me. We went back to the room, hooked back up to the monitor, and the doctor came in and checked my cervix. I was 2cm and 50% effaced, and again, definitely in early first stage labor.
Because of the preterm premature rupture of the membranes, and was already starting to dilate, my doctor recommended starting me out at the minimum dose of Pitocin so that the labor would continue to progress. He explained that frequently, when the water breaks this early in pregnancy, it is indicative of another issue. And being in the hospital put us on a timeline. Not a crazy-strict one, but one that would require antibiotics at 18 hours after the rupture, and they strongly preferred that I deliver within 12 hours. I wanted time to decide. I did NOT under any circumstance want Pitocin. But, after going for another short walk and discussing it with my husband, we decided to let them start the Pitocin drip.
The Pitocin came with other things that I hadn’t wanted. First, IV fluids, which were at least set to flow at a fairly low rate. Second, continuous fetal monitoring. Fortunately, I was not entirely restricted when it came to movement. I couldn’t handle being in the bed, especially once the contractions kicked up, so I was able to walk around the room, stand through contractions, and sit on my ball. (My husband ran home and dug through the entire garage to find my birthing ball for me. I hadn’t had a chance to pull it out yet!)
My contractions gradually got more and more intense throughout the day, especially as they upped the Pitocin drip. They were very good about raising the Pitocin levels slowly. I appreciated that. I found that as the contractions became more difficult, the things that helped me relax and breathe through them the most were sitting on my birthing ball, where I could slightly move and rotate my hips, and just letting go vocally. Although I’d practiced it, and it was plenty relaxing before, the Bradley Method’s side-lying position was never comfortable for me during labor. I needed to be standing or sitting upright on my ball. When I got especially tired from either of those, I would get on my hands and knees or lean against the bed. What I really needed was a hug. 
At midnight, I was started on antibiotics because we’d passed the 18 hour window since my water had broken.
At the point when my Pitocin drip was upped from 7 to 8, my contractions went from being manageable (45 seconds, 2-3 minutes apart) to completely, ridiculously unmanageable (8-10 minutes, with maybe a 2 minute break). I’m pretty sure no woman out there is superhuman enough to withstand that kind of contraction. But, I continued to labor through them sans pain medication. I felt like I went well beyond my breaking point over and over again. I found myself saying things I never thought I’d say out loud, that I couldn’t do it anymore, and that I was going to die. The nurse said something about how if I was saying things like that, I had to be close.
At one point, when I was on my knees leaning on the bed, I felt a vague urge to push. Looking back, I’m sure I imagined it. My husband and the nurse helped me turn over so that she could check my cervix. Let me just break from the story here to say that I absolutely hated receiving vaginal exams. As much as I tried, it was nearly impossible for me to hold still during each one. I felt like I made it more difficult to check each time, but it wasn’t on purpose.
After this exam, instead of telling me I was ready, or at least very close, the nurse left the room. Another nurse came in to do another check. I was only at 7 cm, and everyone was shocked. It was well past midnight, and I still had a long way to go.
I kind of wish they hadn’t told me, because I felt completely defeated. They turned the Pitocin back down by one so that I could have a bit of a break. I think they may have broken hospital policy, since my water had been broken for a while, but they let me get in the shower. The shower was the most amazing thing imaginable at the time. The heat and the pressure made my contractions melt into almost nothing. I found myself thinking, “I can do this” again. But it was too soon before I had to be hooked back to the monitor, and none of that lasted outside the walls of the shower.
By 3am, I was exhausted and mentally defeated again. I asked for pain relief, but I did not want an epidural. I can’t remember the name of the medication given through my IV, but it was not effective. It made me feel dizzy, which distracted me only slightly from what felt like one constant, endless contraction.
After the second dose, I asked if I had any other options for pain relief. It was at this point that I was offered an epidural. I have to say a short kudos to the nursing staff here, because they were actually very good about respecting my wishes to NOT be offered pain relief. It was me who asked. And at that point, I badly wanted relief. I was exhausted and I needed a break, and I needed to relax, or there was no way I would be able to push the baby out later.
I hated almost everything about the epidural. On the positive side, I slept a few hours through what were probably the worst of the contractions. On the negative side, I was officially chained to the bed. I made a comment at one point that I felt like a beached whale. Everything felt tingly from my belly button down. Worst of all, because I couldn’t feel it, I was subjected to vaginal exams and internal monitoring. I hated that I wasn’t able to consent to these things, and worse, I hated that I didn’t care anymore.
I was vaguely aware for the first few hours after receiving the epidural that one side of my body was less numb than the other. Apparently this is a common issue. In the morning, I could feel the contractions on the left side of my body. One of the nurses pointed out that I could press a button for more pain relief, which they had not shown me before, but I didn’t want it. I wanted to be able to feel again. I knew I was going to have to push soon, and I wanted to know when.
I never did feel that urge to push. At around 7:30am, an exam showed that I was fully dilated, minus a small bit of the cervix that they felt they could push back if I started pushing. So, even though I probably wasn’t truly ready, my nurse started coaching me through some practice pushes at 7:45. My husband was dozing on the couch next to me, but he soon woke up and I was actively pushing by 8:15. Because I could feel my left side, I at least knew when I was having a contraction and I knew approximately when to push.
I spent about two hours doing this semi-guided pushing, and it was really tiring. Eventually, the doctor came in. It was not my doctor, but one of the doctors he had a partnership with in case he could not be there. I was sitting completely naked on the birthing bed, in between contractions. The first thing he said was, “Well, now that we have all of the formalities out of the way…”
I laughed. It was actually a very helpful light moment in the midst of everything else.Then, he said some of the scariest words possible: “We need to talk about your options.”
The first option wasn’t really an option in his book: I keep pushing, even though I was clearly worn out. The second was to attempt a vacuum extraction. The third was cesarean. I did not want cesarean, so I was very willing at this point to try the vacuum. He explained that I’d be allowed to push through three contractions, but if we went beyond that or if the vacuum popped off more than once, I’d have to go to the OR. He then discussed a little more with my husband and I was done with that. I remember saying, “Well, let’s stop talking about it and just do it, then.”
They got to work. The doctor gave me an episiotomy, yet another thing I hadn’t wanted, but I didn’t protest. He was making extra room for the vacuum and eventually the baby. I was surprised how little I cared about it.
Mom & Baby, shortly after birth
I pushed harder during those three contractions than I had been pushing the rest of the morning. I was determined to have my baby in my arms. Before, I’d pushed about 3-4 times each contraction, but during those three, I pushed 5-6 times, and with as much effort as I could possibly give. During the second contraction, the vacuum came off. It was repositioned for the third and final contraction. I knew that if he wasn’t born with these last pushes, he wouldn’t be born vaginally, and that thought gave me the energy I needed to finally push him the rest of the way.
I felt his head, and then his shoulders, and then the doctor was asking me if I wanted to pull him the rest of the way out. With surprise, but without hesitation, I reached down, pulled him out, and pulled him directly to my chest. He was glowing, he was beautiful, he was perfect.
***
I wanted to end right there, but I still have a little more to say. The “plan” may have gone out the window entirely, as there were so many things about this experience that I did not want. I think most of the reason for that was that my labor was pre-term. It is still hard not to wonder how things could have been different.

Feminism and the Homemaker

This morning, I opened up my blog feeds to discover this awesome post on A Practical Wedding, and I completely identified with it. As someone who currently selects the “homemaker” box when asked about employment simply because I cannot identify with the term “unemployed” …well, just read the blog post.
My husband has called me a feminist before, and it’s always with a bit of an eye roll. And before I married him and left my job to move across the Atlantic Ocean to live with him, I never would have though of myself as a feminist – I was just a career-oriented young person. Which probably made me a feminist simply because of my gender, but I really never gave it a thought. It’s funny how it took coming home full-time to really make me identify with the term.
This morning, I shampooed part of the carpet, baked a batch of mini quiche for our Officers’ Spouses Club (am I seriously a member of this?), and I’m about to head out the door to meet up with my knitting group. And aside from dealing with the carpet, I actually enjoy most of this. Granted, I think I’d rather be working on my PhD, but this is actually an enjoyable situation.
And now, for another 4-month break from this blog. Thanks for checking in!

Chronicle of The Move, Part I

We’ve been without internet for a few weeks, thanks to complications with the move. Sometimes, it just takes a few days (or more) to get everything installed in a new home.
We are (semi-officially) moved in!
Granted, we are still unpacking boxes, but they are more than half way finished, and we have all of our utilities set up! Most importantly, the KITCHEN is unpacked – which means we can actually cook here! Yes, I’d call that moved in.
I now feel that I have the time to go through our crazy moving adventure, which began a month and a half ago. Without further ado, here it is.
Personal Photo
Part I: The Road Trip.
We started in North Carolina, prepared for our 10+ day adventure to California with a caravan of my car, the Jeep hauling a camper, and the pets! 
Personal Photo
On Day 1, we made it all the way to the great state of…North Carolina! Although we intended tto go quite a bit farther, the camper trailer blew a tire near Asheville, and we had to have it fixed. Twice. We stopped for the night, and made it to Memphis after a long drive the next day…which included a stop for a THIRD tire! Apparently, these things come in threes.
Our road trip continued on through Oklahoma City, where we narrowly missed a tornado that overturned several trucks at a truck stop right next to the campground where we stayed!
Personal Photo
We also stopped in Amarillo, TX, where we enjoyed some amazing steaks at the Big Texan. The entire day, we’d seen signs advertising their “free” 72oz steak dinner…if you can eat it all in an hour. We watched two young men attempt it during our dinner. We weren’t about to try!
One of my favorite stops along the way was in Albuquerque, NM. We were lucky enough to catch up with one of my friends from active duty time, and it had been a year since I’d seen her! I was happy to enjoy some sopapillas while were there, too, and of course, we visited some of the sights while we were there.
We continued on to Arizona, making stops at the Petrified Forest, Painted Desert, Meteor Crater, and a full day at the Grand Canyon. Arizona provided some of the most amazing views of the entire trip. It was incredible. 
Unfortunately, it lead to our last border crossing of the trip, and our road trip wound to a close. Look out for the next part of our move. I’ll talk about our arrival in San Diego, a quick visit with my parents in Los Angeles, and finally, our arrival in Monterey!

Brought to you from a brand new location!

Far too much has happened over the past few months! So much, that updating this blog was not a priority in my life.
As is customary for us military families, we’ve moved! I’m not new to the PCS rodeo, but this was my first time moving as a spouse, and I have to say, it has been wildly different than any other military move I’ve experienced. More difficult? In some ways, no, in others, definitely.
Moving as a spouse was LESS difficult because:
  • I didn’t have to outprocess OR inprocess! That was my husband’s job. No trekking around base with a checklist, only to discover every office has TERRIBLE hours. 
  • I had someone to keep me company during the move! Thanks, husband.
Moving as a spouse was MORE difficult because:
  • I had zero control over any of the process. This drove me nuts. I hate it when I’m made to feel as if I cannot take care of myself, and there was a lot of that. When we got here, we tried to split up some of the transitioning tasks. Every time I made a phone call, I found myself asking if it was okay if it was ME coming in, and not the actual active duty service member. Because it sure is an inconvenience when you’re told you CAN’T actually accomplish what you set out to do!
  • Tricare was a pain in the rear end. Oh wait, that’s not just because of moving, it’s because of always.
  • I had someone to drive me crazy during the move! Sorry, husband.
There were many things that were comparable within this move. For one, I found that finding a house here has been similar to house hunting in Germany, of all places. (For reference, I consider my Germany move as my #1 most difficult move to date.) But that is a story for another day.
Another day that will come SOON, I promise! I have a lot more adventures to cover!

Baby Showers!

Personal Photo
I attended a baby shower this past Saturday for a friend that I’ve known since basic training and my first year of college. As chance would have it, we both separated from the Air Force within two months of each other, for many of the same reasons, and now live within two hours of each other.
I have to admit, a baby shower would never have been my first choice as a Saturday event*. But it turned out to be pretty great. She has an amazing support network of women in her husband’s unit that put together an amazing shower. It was beautiful. But they’re not only creative wives, they were all-around great people. I was very happy to share my Saturday afternoon with them.
About 1/3 of the women there were pregnant. It got me thinking.

Is that going to be me in a few months?
I want children. I really do. I’m conflicted, though, because I also would really like to go back to work.
Right now, when I’m home, I sometimes feel useless. But I also get a LOT done. I take care of the house. I walk and train our dogs. I shampoo the rugs when they track mud inside. I have time to do all of the grocery shopping, and I even bring my husband his lunch when he forgets it at home.
Even knowing I do all of that, I still feel useless. And I have to wonder – will it be any different when I have a child? I’ll be taking care of all of that, plus a lot more. It’s a lot of work, and it scares me a bit. Will it still be unfulfilling when I am taking care of my own kids? (I’m not asking for an answer, as I’m sure it’s different for every woman.)
Personal Photo
I do know that if I go back to work, I won’t have nearly as much time to make cute baby shower gifts like this one! (Thanks, Pinterest!)
* I actually really wanted to go to Nashville. Oh well!

The Job Search

I will not let the word “unemployed” define me.

Likewise, I shouldn’t let any other job titles define me. But it’s something that we, as human beings, have a very strong tendency to do. Our minds like to categorize everything – it makes the world we live in easier to understand.
But I’m not planning on talking about psychology today. I’m planning on talking about my personal quest for meaningful work. Right now, that comes in the very simple form of finding a job that pays enough to get me out of the house. I do believe that being a “homemaker” can be very important and meaningful, but at this point in my life (sans-children) I am pretty certain it’s not for me.

Source
Tomorrow and Friday, I will be attending the Service Academy Career Conference in Savannah, GA. I’m very much looking forward to it, and I’m also very, very nervous. One of the awesome things about this conference is that in order to pre-register, each applicant was required to submit a resumé in advance. I’ve already been contacted by several companies. Although I was already researching many of the companies that will be attending, I’ve been even more motivated to research the ones that expressed interest.
Everyone says that the best way to land an interview (and eventually a job) is to network, network, network. This is probably going to be the best place to do just that!
I’ll update you on how it went next week!