Winter in NWPA

Winter in NWPA

Reading Time: 2 minutes

January, February, and March are exceedingly tedious months in northwestern Pennsylvania. Cold temperatures and snowfall leading up to Christmas and New Year are acceptable, but after the holidays, the bitter cold and long, gray days start to all meld together and it feels as though we’ll never see the sun again. There’s not much to do but stock up on your vitamin-D supplements and trudge through.

Normally this would be the time of year my oldest son, Ben, looks forward to skiing and snowboarding. This year he went on opening night to our local, small ski resort and had a great time snowboarding. He was invited back the next day by his friend whose father is on the ski patrol there. We got a call about an hour after he left to inform us that he had fallen and was injured. After a trip to the ER by ambulance (which we had to wait over an hour for, thanks to our poor health-workers being so overloaded these days), we found out that Ben had indeed broken his left humerus. Thus ended his ski/snowboard season. This is his second broken bone from skiing/snowboarding; it makes one wonder if perhaps he should take up another winter sport.

We had our first major snowfall earlier this week. We got about 12-14″ at our house, but others just a few miles north of us got quite a lot more. Mike has yet to even test to see if our snowblower will run, instead subscribing to his mantra of “just drive over it–the truck can handle it.” Thankfully whatever brilliant person engineered our driveway built it in such a way that the snowdrifts OFF of it, for the most part, leaving only a few spots that get rather deep. So yes, we can drive through/over it. But the delivery people who bring my packages are NOT appreciative.

On top of that, our mailbox got wiped out by a PENNDOT plow again. This will be our third new mailbox in the six years we have lived here. The first time they took it out completely, pole and all. The second time, and this time, they just knocked the box off the pole. Argh.

On the upside, the days are getting longer and the additional sunlight (no matter how little it is) has substantially helped my mood and energy level. I’m anticipating every day to get just a little better incrementally as the days grow longer. (One can hope…) I also have lots to look forward to: Mike’s birthday, my birthday (the big 4-0, so perhaps not so much to look forward to after all?), Myles’ birthday, summer soccer for the kids, 4-H resuming (with Emily and I leading our club – eek!), and baby goats being born. Spring is MY SEASON and I keep telling myself that it is just around the corner. Just gotta keep on keepin’ on till then.

Year-End 2021

Year-End 2021

Reading Time: 5 minutes

1. What did you do in 2021 that you’d never done before?
Gave birth to a daughter. Supported my son through cyber school. Successfully assisted a goat with a breech birth.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I don’t really do resolutions, but I do set financial goals for my freelance work. Though I didn’t hit them (I set them pie-in-the-sky high this year), I did make more this past year than any year prior – so I still see that as a big win! I usually write down goals for home improvement and with the farm, but a lot of those went out the window this year with having a newborn baby midway through the year … so I’m just rolling with it.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Me! Our friend Kim also had a baby boy.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
My friends Dave and Jan, and a very good family friend, Billy.

5. What countries did you visit?
Travel isn’t a thing in my life with having a farm and a baby.

6. What would you like to have in 2022 that you lacked in 2021?
An end to the COVID pandemic. Better health. A more organized home.

7. What dates from 2021 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
July 7 – the day my daughter was born.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Being recognized at work for my contributions. It was nice to feel seen.

9. What was your biggest failure?
I let a lot slide with the housework this year because first I was sick through my pregnancy, then busy with a new baby, work, and home/cyber school. I need to get on top of things and create some new systems that work with the busy life we have now! I also probably overspent a lot in 2021 and need to buckle down to some better budgeting in 2022.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Mercifully, no. Unless you count childbirth. That’s always a trip.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Technically a gift, but I’ve very much enjoyed my larger, 8-quart Instant Pot! It gets a LOT of use.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Mike. He adapted to being a stay-at-home dad of three, supporting me while I pursued my career and hobbies.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Those who are anti-mask, anti-vaccine, anti-BLM, anti-LGBTQIA+, etc.

14. Where did most of your money go?
I have no data to support this, but I feel like it was mostly (a) groceries, (b) Christmas gifts, and (c) COFFEE. Lots and lots of coffee. I should own a Dunkin franchise by now.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
One of my biggest surprises that made us SO happy and excited was to find out we were having a baby GIRL. And obviously, we were very excited when she was born in July!

16. What song will always remind you of 2020?
I feel like I never listen to new music anymore, so probably Mike’s band (Northbound Soul) because I listen to them play/practice a lot or perhaps Walker Hayes – Fancy Like (thanks to TikTok).

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? It varies.
b) thinner or fatter? Thinner! I dropped a LOT of weight after Helena was born (I was very sick through most of my pregnancy and didn’t put much on)
c) richer or poorer? Probably about the same? Maybe a little poorer because we’re right at the cusp of having to make some major expenditures (some home repairs and a new vehicle). Bleh.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Travel and activities with my kids. Every day I feel like they’re slipping away and I only have so many more weeks/months/years to enjoy their company.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Stress. But would I be me if I wasn’t constantly filled with anxiety?

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Christmas day was at our house with my parents, Mike’s dad, and Mike’s brother and sister-in-law. We opened gifts in the morning with the kids. My parents arrived around 1pm and we did another round of gift-opening. After that, Dan and Caroline arrived for round 3 of gifts. Then Dennis came and we all had a ham dinner together. The next day we went to Dennis’ house for breakfast and so the kids could open their gifts from him.

21. Did you fall in love in 2021?
I don’t think Mike would like it very much if I fell in love with someone new – haha. But our love grew to include one more child in our lives!

22. What was your favorite tv show?
2021 was the year of catching up on PBS shows that I came way late to the game on. First, it was “Call the Midwife” and then “Downton Abbey”, both of which I LOVED.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
No. My extreme dislike of a few certain people remains the same, though there was one pretty good argument that put a period at the end of a long saga.

24. What was the best book you read?
I’m ashamed to admit I don’t think I finished a single book in 2021. I started several… but…

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Nothing new. Honestly, in 2021 I listened to a LOT of 70s rock.

26. What did you want and get?
A daughter.

27. What did you want and not get?
A new pair of winter/barn boots. A new MacBook Pro or iMac for work. A few hundred million dollars.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
I don’t remember the last time I went to the theater to see a movie.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 39 last year *cringe* – you know what that means. I honestly don’t remember how we celebrated. (Isn’t that terrible?)

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
The end of the pandemic and feeling comfortable enough to send my kids back to school full-time and allow them to socialize and participate in all the sports and activities they want without worrying constantly.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2021?
The first half of the year: Oversized pajamas and maternity clothes.
The second half of the year: Tight jeans because -omg- I could finally fit into “normal” (not plus size) clothes and buying things in the NORMAL section of the store was SO GRATIFYING.

32. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Kevin Smith. He’s my hero.
And Betty White. 😢

33. What political issue stirred you the most?
Showing loyalty to your political affiliation being more important than public health and caring about the people in your community.

34. Who did you miss?
My grandma and great-grandma. They’d love to meet their new (great) granddaughter.

35. Who was the best new person you met?
I didn’t meet them in 2021, but I feel like I got to know Mike’s friends Kyle and Chelsea a lot better this past year, and I’m SO glad that I did.

36. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2021.
I’m not a teenager or twenty-something anymore. I can’t mistreat my body and neglect my health and expect to keep going every day without repercussions. I need to put more care and more work in to keep myself healthy and strong.

37. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

Mother of 3

Mother of 3

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The infamous “they” say that the most challenging number of children to parent is three. I have to admit, that was one of the first things that went through my mind when I found out that I was pregnant with Helena. I’ve always been the type to think, yeah but that won’t be ME.

So far, I can’t say that I find three to be difficult specifically. I think our three are a little different because of the dramatic difference in ages (13, 8, and infant). Mike and I have talked before about how with our oldest two, it’s more like having two only-children. I wonder as Helena gets older if it will be like having three only-children?!

What has been challenging is having a newborn again. I’m one of those mothers that holds her babies “too much” and you can’t put them down. I have zero regrets about that because as my great gram always said, “babies don’t keep” – BUT, it does make it very challenging to get anything done. Some days I feel like we are barely treading water in terms of keeping the household going. Dishes done. Everyone is fed. That’s about it.

Laundry piles up. Dust is everywhere. Clutter is … cluttery. It’s driving me absolutely BANANAS.

I’ve had to accept that it’s OKAY to ask for help and that doesn’t somehow knock me off my “super mom” pedestal. This Friday I asked my mom to come over and keep me company and play with the baby so I can get some tidying done. She’s excited to play with Helena, and I’m excited to have my hands free to dust and vacuum. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to clean my house.

And you know, keeping it all in perspective — if a cluttered house is the biggest challenge we’re facing right now, we’re doing pretty well and should give ourselves some grace. Right?

I find myself constantly looking at our three kids and wondering HOW this is my life? I grew up in a very small family and always thought it would be really nice to have a big family someday. While three isn’t “big” by many standards, it makes my heart feel very full and happy. I also love to see Ben and Myles with their little sister. They both adore her and fuss over her constantly. I have no doubt that someday when Mike and I are long gone, that her brothers will be there to look out for her. ❤️

Helena Faye’s Birth Story

Helena Faye’s Birth Story

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Helena is almost 3 months old today. I started writing this weeks ago but never got around to finishing it. I’m scared now the memories have already started to fade a little, so I’m not going to go back and make any edits to the parts that I had already written in an effort to keep those things frozen in time when they were fresh. So if this seems like it jumps around a bit, that’s probably why…

Helena came into the world at 8:04 AM on July 7, 2021. She was 19″ long and weighed 6 pounds, 12 ounces.

It all started with this text message to my midwife:

I knew, as my midwife pointed out, that it could be days still–but I also knew if things went the same way they did with Myles, that I might be having a baby in the next 24 hours or less.

I tried hard not to get too excited. I can’t recall exactly when I went to bed (I think it was a little after 11 PM), but I didn’t rest for long. I started having contractions around midnight and started tracking them with an app on my phone. At first, I was able to lay in bed and track them, while flipping back and forth between TikTok and the contraction-tracking app.

Mike was asleep in our room upstairs, and I was in the spare bed downstairs. (I had been sleeping downstairs for a while because as I got VERY pregnant it was more comfortable to sleep alone with my huge pregnancy pillow arranged just so.) I figured I would let him sleep as long as I could. I thought surely–despite the app telling me repeatedly that I should go to the hospital (ha!)–that I wouldn’t need anyone till at more reasonable hour in the morning.

I was wrong.

Around 1:30/2 AM, I got too uncomfortable to stay in bed. I moved to my recliner in the family room. At first I sat and knitted, continuing my contraction tracking. The pains were coming steadily. It wasn’t very long till I couldn’t sit or knit anymore. I ended up on the floor on my hands and knees with my head resting on my chair instead. I had YouTube playing on my iPad, propped up next to my face for distraction.

Around 3:30 AM, I got up to use the bathroom and realized I was having a really hard time functioning through the contractions. I called Mike’s phone upstairs, planning to wake him and ask him to come downstairs to help me call our midwife and my mom. I felt like if I tried to make the calls myself, a contraction would hit and I wouldn’t be able to talk or think straight. His phone rang and rang–no answer. I called him over and over, and he wouldn’t answer. It sunk in that I was going to have to go up the stairs and wake him. (Yelling wasn’t an option, because I didn’t want to scare Myles who was also sleeping upstairs. Ben was in Arizona visiting his mother and wouldn’t return until July 8th.)

I gritted my teeth and climbed the stairs, using my phone as a flashlight. I shook Mike awake and he startled awake with a yelp. I’d been holding the phone under my chin like a flashlight at a campfire, and I guess it made for a pretty ghoulish vision to wake up to!

Thank goodness despite scaring him half to death, Mike was able to wake up and take charge. He made calls to the midwives and my mom. He moved the dog’s kennels to the garage and put them outside so they wouldn’t be a bother during my labor. He inflated the swimming pool and started filling it with warm water. I also asked him to plug in the twinkle lights … because for some reason, in the midst of labor, twinkle lights seemed VERY important to me.

I resumed my position on the family room floor, face buried into my recliner chair. I ditched YouTube, but still had my phone on the chair next to my head, and every time a contraction would hit, I’d tap the big “Contraction Started” button in the app to time it. After about an hour of tapping, my mother arrived. Another half-hour passed, and my midwives arrived.

I was only vaguely aware when the midwives came in. I heard them carrying in bags and setting up their supplies, but all I could do was rest my head on the chair and breathe and moan. I recall at one point asking if I could please stop tracking my contractions because having to concentrate on tapping the start and stop button over and over was getting very frustrating for me. Jenny laughed and told me I could absolutely stop.

Poor Mike tried valiantly to continue filling the pool. I had purchased a 100-foot long hose and an adapter that would enable him to hook it to the sink. Unfortunately, I had overlooked the fact that we have one of those fancy kitchen sinks where the main faucet is a sprayer, so that adapter wouldn’t work. Mike was filling 5-gallon buckets as fast as he could, but it was clear that the pool wasn’t going to be filled, or if it did get filled, the water would be too cold by the time it was full. No one told me outright it wasn’t going to work, but I noticed the buckets stopped coming. I was a little heartbroken and maybe a touch scared. I had experienced water birth. I knew I was capable of that. I wasn’t so confident about birthing without the luxury of being in water. But I was also worried about complaining; somehow even though everyone was there specifically to support and care for me, I didn’t want to come off as demanding if I asked about the pool. So I tried my best to let it go, and psyche myself up for a different birth than I’d previously experienced.

I also remember wishing Jenny would check to see how dilated I was, so I had some sense of a timeline. She didn’t offer, so I finally asked. I forget sometimes that with home birth midwives, they tend to be pretty hands-off and let the mother guide things unless there’s a medical reason to step in. I can’t recall now what my dilation was, but I do remember that it was less (I want to say 2cm less) than what I was when Valerie (my prior midwife with Myles) checked me. That hit me hard too: with Myles, I was 7cm by the time I was getting mildly uncomfortable. I was already in a lot of discomfort, and way less dilated.

What my mind kept coming back to is that the baby will come regardless. It’s a process and there’s no stopping it, so why fret? You just have to ride it out and be excited for the beautiful prize at the end.

I never really moved from my spot on the family room floor in front of my chair. I’ve read a lot of books about home birth and one of the things that has always fascinated me is the variety of places, when given freedom to choose, women seek out as safe and comfortable places to give birth. It reminds me of whitetail deer, and how mother does seek out dark, quiet thickets and if they are disrupted, their labor can actually stop. I think human mothers are a lot more like other mammals in the animal kingdom than what we care to admit. Most humans also seek out dark, cozy spaces too. For me, it was under the twinkle lights, resting on the floor against my favorite chair. And the funny part was, I had a bed all made up and ready in the room adjacent. I had two sofas to choose from. But somehow your brain goes into instinct mode and you go to where you feel comfortable in the moment.

So, the family room floor got covered in chux pads, and there I stayed until sometime around 7am or so. At that point, my midwives decided that I should try and go to the bathroom. They kept insisting that my bladder must be full, even though I was certain it wasn’t. So they managed to get me to my feet and walk me across our family room, through dining room to the kitchen, through the music room, and into our downstairs bathroom. This took several minutes because every time a contraction hit, I would have to stop till it passed.

Our downstairs bathroom is tiny. It has a toilet, a small sink, and a shower stall, and only about enough open floor space for two average size people to stand nose-to-nose. I obediently sat on the toilet and tried to pee while the midwives waited outside the door in the music room. Nothing happened, except another hard contraction which gave me visions of having to birth the baby on the toilet (it happens) alone with the midwives unable to fit into the tiny room with me. I was glad to get out of that room – but unfortunately, when I got up, I took about 2 steps into the music room and fell to my knees as the hardest contraction yet hit me.

At that point, I couldn’t pick myself up. My midwives were calm and encouraging, but I also could sense some urgency in their voices; they were trying to get me up and moving so I could get back to the family room where all of their supplies were located but they were also recognizing that I might not be able to get up and move, and they were discussing (quietly) if they should start moving their equipment into the music room. It was interesting in the moment because I was almost having this out-of-body experience where I was completely consumed by the pain I was experiencing, but I was also observing that they were being calm and gentle and encouraging with me, but quietly in professional-planning crisis mode simultaneously. (Midwives are incredible people. I’ll say it a million times over.)

It finally became clear to me that they really wanted me to move. A contraction eased up and I realized if I was going to go, I had to GO FAST or I wouldn’t make it. I asked Mike to stand in front of me so I could hold onto his arms. I said something to the effect of “Okay, GO.” Mike walked backwards, holding my arms, and I walked as fast as I could shuffle through the music room, the kitchen, the dining room, and back to my spot by my chair. I knew if I stopped moving, I wouldn’t get up again; wherever I dropped, that’s where the baby would be born. Thankfully, I made it back to my spot before the next contraction hit me.

That little journey across the house did serve to get my labor progressing a lot faster. Everything after that point was a blur. I do know that my dear friend Erica came walking in, ready to photograph the birth. I think I said hello to her, but I’m not entirely sure. I was pretty intensely preoccupied by that point.

Jenny felt that the baby was getting caught under my pelvic bone. We decided that I should try laying flat on the ground to see if we could get the baby to move around the bone. She kept apologizing saying that she knows that’s usually the last position most mothers want to birth in (flat on their back) but that giving it a try might just do the trick… and sure enough, it did!

With my only prior experience with birth having been in water, this was a whole different experience for me. I remember feeling like sharp bones were stabbing into me. At one point, I remember just asking that someone would HELP me because I had the sense something was stuck or wrong. (It wasn’t.) When I started to push, my water still hadn’t broken. As I pushed, I felt a sudden GUSH as she crowned and my water broke. The process was slower with Helena from there. With Myles, I felt a POP and he came out FAST. With Helena, her head emerged, then there were several seconds before she finally turned, then the shoulders, then the rest of her body. I’m actually very thankful, silly as it sounds, that I’d watched the entirety of Call the Midwife during my pregnancy, or I might have panicked over her slow arrival.

She didn’t cry much. I kept asking if she was okay, and of course, she was. She finally let out a few good yells to reassure everyone.

Myles had woken up and come downstairs sometime while I was pushing. He woke up worried when he heard my yells. My mother was there to intercept him and take him to the other room. A few moments after they placed Helena on my chest and we knew everything was OK, he came back into the room to meet his little sister for the first time. He was so excited and overwhelmed by the experience!

We spent the rest of the day resting. Erica’s daughter Amelia joined us and she and Myles played together. Erica hung out and kept an eye on things so Mike and I could rest and bond with Helena. She also was kind enough to put Helena’s very first diaper on her.

Welcome to the world, Miss Helena Faye. You are so loved.

35 Weeks

35 Weeks

Reading Time: 5 minutes

How far along? 35 weeks! I know for most people, 35 weeks just sounds like any other week in the 3rd trimester on the journey to 40 weeks, but for me, it’s a major milestone to have passed because I went into labor the day I hit 35 weeks with Myles. Here I am now at 35 weeks and 5 days (I’m writing this on June 23 and I hit the 35-week milestone on June 18), and Baby Girl has stayed PUT so far, and that’s SUCH an incredible relief. We have to make it to 37 weeks to continue on with our home birth plan, so I have to pass July 2nd and we’ll be good. I’m starting to finally feel confident we’ll make it. My intuition is still telling me she’s going to come a little early, but not too early. If I had to place a bet, I would say the week of July 11-17. I guess we’ll see if My guess is right!

Baby Size: According to the Baby Center app, Baby Girl is about 18.25″ from head to toe (about the size of a honeydew melon) and around 5.25 pounds. What to Expect says she’s as big as a spaghetti squash.

35 weeks and 5 days!
35 weeks + 5 days!

Total Weight Gain: Still negligible. I went up 2 pounds, lost a pound, gained a pound, went down 1.5 pounds … it’s all been mostly a wash. My midwife doesn’t seem to be worried about it, I guess because my fundal height (37.5 inches at my last checkup on June 17) and belly are growing just fine. She said with having such little weight gain, once the baby is born I’ll weigh LESS than when I got pregnant… so there’s that! I’m hoping with that and the calorie demands of breastfeeding, that I can get a jumpstart on a little weight loss in the second half of this year. (But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there!)

Maternity Clothes: Same. If I wear pants, it’s my maternity leggings or overalls. I wear a mix of maternity shirts and regular t-shirts/sweatshirts (XL or 2XL) with no issues. I’ve been mostly wearing cotton-jersey tank dresses that are just standard 2XL. They’re big and loose and breezy on hot days. It’s been nice not having to buy an office/work wardrobe in maternity clothes. It’s definitely saved me a TON of money.

Sleep: Sleep is very broken at the moment. I’m up and down to use the bathroom every 2 hours or so most nights. I also find that I wake up extremely stiff because rolling and moving in my sleep is so difficult that I just don’t move at all. Some of my 3am hikes to the bathroom are pretty pathetic-looking

Best Moment of Week: On Saturday, June 19 we had my baby shower – “sprinkle” – at my mom’s house. We kept it relatively small because I felt very weird asking people to attend a second baby shower for me, even if it HAD been 8 years between babies. I feel like people still went overboard with gifts, though…

Gifts at Helena's baby shower

I had SO much fun. Actually, I can’t remember a day I’ve smiled and laughed so much in quite some time. (Not that I’m grumpy frequently… but I was just having a really, really great time.) It was so good to see everyone and I definitely felt the outpouring of happy excitement people had for us… and that was kind of overwhelming to feel that love.

Melanie and me at Helena's shower

Miss Anything?: Just generally annoyed at my inability to do some physical tasks.

Movement: Lots and lots! I feel like this baby is much busier than Myles was. I remember in the last few weeks before Myles was born that some days I wouldn’t feel him move for a while, and I’d worry. This baby moves very consistently. She also tap-dances on my bladder and other internal organs quite a lot.

Food Cravings: Ice cream, ice cream, and more ice cream. I could probably eat it every day. Normally I’m not that big of a fan of ice cream (salty snacks are more of my “thing”) but it’s my absolute favorite right now.

Anything Making You Queasy or Sick?: Anything spicy or acidic makes me pretty miserable. I also seem to be going back to the coughing/gagging thing again. Random things make me gag, and then I start to cough, and then I wind up throwing up. Ughhhhh.

Happy or Moody?: Mostly happy and also very emotional (but not in a moody/grumpy way). I’ve been crying a LOT about every random thing. Not sad things, but like sweet, kind, happy things. My reaction is to cry about it. Hormones, man.

Labor Signs: Thankfully not really! I’ve had some Braxton Hicks but not much. We only have a little over a week till we are in the clear (37+ weeks) for our home birth so I’m counting every day WITHOUT labor signs as a huge WIN.

Shopping/Nesting/Preparation: Oh man… ALL the nesting going on! I tried my best to restrain myself till we got done with the shower. Now I’m buying all the last few “loose ends” items, washing all the newborn and 0-3 month clothes, and assembling all the things (glider rocking chair, stroller, etc.). I’ve been hanging pictures, taking tags off stuffed animals and arranging them in baskets, -oh!- and I got my label maker working and when I started folding and putting away freshly washed clothes, I was SUPER excited to label everything…

Looking Forward To:  At this point, I’m starting to get a little anxious to meet our baby girl. I’m also anxious for maternity leave. I’m not to the point of extreme discomfort, but I am getting very tired and very achy. I’m extremely grateful that I can work from home, so I can at least wear comfortable clothes and I suppose worst-case scenario, I could even prop myself up in bed and work if I had to be on bed-rest or something. So, I’m WELL aware how fortunate I am, but I’m still very much looking forward to a break where I can just focus on bonding with our daughter and spending time with other friends and family.