There are some rare moments in my current life when I have a little bit of quiet time when my non-mother self rears its head and for five minutes fervently wishes to be somewhere else, live something different with a whole other set of realities. It isn't new and has nothing to do with disliking my life, it's just a very long and deep cry for a break. It's been around for a while, I greet it like an old friend: "Oh hi. I know you. I know what you mean. But here we are, let's not look at the months and years, let's just take the next few hours at a time..."
The thing is, as much as I'm tired and overwhelmed, it is not the same feeling of sleepless despair from a few years ago, when everyone was small and I was still (still!) getting over the shock that that is my life, these babies, this work, this fatigue... Get up at dawn, run until sundown. Too little rest and then get up at dawn and run until... I'm still here, running at a pace that is always reaching some new high I thought surely was not possible. It seems all these years, these hours, these minutes have molded me, have hardened me and have softened me. This is my life, eyes wide open (figuratively only!), feet planted...back hurting. I have adjusted. The kids have grown and I have too. I am at peace with a lot more than I thought possible. I would like to think the kids can tell even if just subconsciously. I would also like to think that a lot of it has to do with reaping some fruit from all these years behind me. The babies are turning into people and it makes our lives richer in a million different ways. It's easier to do the work when the results are showing. It seems natural to want to tell my self from 5 years ago that things are going to be much better, but I know that is irrelevant at that time. Raising babies is the hardest.
People occasionally make comments when they find out that I have four children. It's rare because mostly I'm obviously barefoot and chained to the stove and not many new people pass by my kitchen. Actually people rarely say something, they just think it out loud for me to read it off their faces. "Well, that's one way to live your life." Why would I do this to myself? Nobody has asked me that yet, but it's usually hidden in the statement "Four kids?! I can't even imagine."
I've tried to answer this question in my head many times but I realize I'm sort of over it. I find it obvious. It's so obvious that I if I have to explain it, you won't get it. For me the question "Why have four kids?" comes down to the question "Why have kids?" Depending on how you think about that you'll either understand or won't. My children are not examples of children, they are each their own human being. Sometimes I feel like people are implying once you have two, why keep having more, why repeat the same thing again and again? I have no answer to that because it's...the question doesn't make sense to me. For me it's weird that in the here and now a young healthy couple having four children in the span of more than a decade is considered odd. And as polite people are I know it's odd to them. We are some strange family. Sometimes the wonder is positive and I get honest compliments and I like it. I'm not going to deny it. It's nice any and every time. I am tired and it takes a lot of effort and commitment and yes, it's hard. I love to get some encouragement. Yet there is always a little bit of a sting to it, because it also puts me on a pedestal that in the end very few people want to get even remotely close to. Good for you, but thank goodness it's not me!
That's one way to live your life...
I don't get nearly enough sleep. I am worn down at the end of every day and on many I'm worn down at the beginning already. Every lump on my body has sold its soul to gravity. My kids drive me crazy. But it's not really about any of that. I don't have to explain myself. That's exactly the way to live my life.Posted at 04:03 AM on June 21, 2013 | Comments (1)
Damian, 6 months
Dear son, before I start, I want you to know that I know what it's like. You are the fourth. Everyone had their own page by the time they were born. And here we are 6 months into your life and I hadn't written anything yet. No timely updates on your weight gain even! This has nothing to do with our love for you. In fact there is probably more excitement about your existence in this house than any other previous baby, simply because there are that many more people and your siblings are all old enough to express their fervent love for you on a daily, hourly basis. The fact remains that there are only 24 hours in a day and I am still only one person and therefore...
I am a fourth child myself. There are zero pictures of me before my first birthday. It is what it is. You'll be fine.
Damian surprised us all three days into his life by having already figured out nighttime. He started falling asleep in the evening on day 3, continuing through the night with 3-5 hour stretches of uninterrupted sleeping. It was amazing, glorious. It was short lived. I was anticipating sleeping through the night at 3 months, since that's the first point in time of a baby's life where significant changes/improvements happen. Well, a change did happen, not for the better. He wakes up every 2-3 hours now. A stretch of 5 hours is rare these days. I can handle it well on the days he goes right back to sleep after a feeding but on many nights he is up between 4 and 5 and doesn't go back to sleep for an hour. Or at all. My alarm is always set for 6.20 am when I need to get up and get the other kids ready for school. Those two schedules do not work well together. I'm a zombie on most days.
What has improve though is his daytime sleep. He started out with 20-25-minute naps during the day. It was killing me. Nothing can get done during that time. It took me longer to get him to sleep than he actually slept. The waking time he wanted to be carried. I'm glad there was no hidden camera in my home during that time. The daily episodes of bouncing a crying baby in my arms while doing - everything else! - were film worthy, albeit probably extremely stressful to watch. "What is your homework? What did you say? What is your question 58 times what is how much? What? What? Can you tell me later? Aaaah!". I also mastered cooking while holding a baby. The trick is to hold the baby so it doesn't get burned. Fun.
The biggest difference with Damian is the fact that he has so many older siblings. None of the others had that. Even Nikola, who had Ivan and Veronika did not really experience a different babyhood, because they were just too little to act as older brother and sister. Not so now. Everyone is just delighted with the baby. The baby! It's so sweet to watch. Damian is the most kissed and hugged little boy in the world. He knows them all and smiles the biggest smile when he sees them. Veronika is the only one that can carry him around - for a short period of time because he is now 17 lbs (7.8kg) - and he loves it. He's always had major stranger anxiety. He basically is ok with me, papa, Veronika and the current baby sitter. Everyone else is out. So Veronika is a major helper and he adore her.
Nikola has his very special relationship with Damian which is basically a constant attempt to make him laugh. He usually succeeds which is also fun to watch, although on many occasion ends up being dangerous for the baby. Nikola has not been known for his gentleness in general so this is a challenge. But no matter how violently he is being shaken or sat upon, Damian just complies and laughs and laughs... I suppose boys understand each other.
Now that he is six months old Damian has managed to take 2-hour-naps twice a day. What a blessing this is. He is much less cranky and so am I! I nurse him to sleep most of the time, although occasionally he will fall asleep on his own in the crib. It's remarkably easy. He has also started eating some solids and is absolutely thrilled with them. Thrilled! He wants it all and lots of it. He scarfs it down and reaches for it and generally just wants.all.the.food. So far it was cereal, carrots, potatoes, banana, apple and pumpkin. I'd say the cereal wins, but he'll take all the other stuff gladly as well. Again, Veronika loves to feed him, which is nice and gives me time to do something else in the meantime, because that is all that I (try to) do: do several things at the same time! It doesn't work well.
Damian also picked the wrong place of birth to develop his dislike of the stroller. He just does not want to be pushed in this cozy reclined contraption while the world passes him by. He doesn't see the point. He tolerates it for about fifteen minutes, after which he starts wailing. Occasionally we're all lucky and he falls asleep. As soon as he wakes up though and realizes where he is the wailing returns. Before I pick up Nikola from preschool I usually swing by the grocery store (called Billa) and he always always cries there. It's bad enough to be in the stroller, it's a million times worse to be in the stroller indoors. A travesty. By now all the store ladies know me. Last time one of them said with a sad voice: "Oh, this baby really does not like our Billa!" It was kind of funny, although I assured her it had nothing to do with that particular store. He doesn't discriminate and equally hates all indoor stroller activity.
One more thing. If I was anxious with Veronika to welcome any new milestone - for example rolling over at the time the book said she would - so I am now near-indifferent to any new development as I know it will come soon enough. And so Damian surprised me with a timely roll-over moment at around 4 months. Why, because he can. And he is perfect.Posted at 04:49 AM on January 30, 2013 | Comments (3)
There is never a good time
This four-children-thing is kicking my butt. I thought it was all kicked out already, but apparently not. I keep thinking the baby took all my free time, which is so unfair because - what "free time"? When was there free time? I must've missed it. I want to renegotiate!
I want to say I forgot what babies are like, but I didn't forget. I knew it, yet what difference does it make? None. I look at Damian's cranky face and I think: I am so over this! I am so over this babyish nonsense. Grow up already!
Damian is a sweet smiley high maintenance child. See how I packaged the resentment into some extra cozy words there? Just like a real mommy blogger. He naps about 25 minutes at a time. It takes longer to get him to sleep than he actually naps. The time in between he spends upset if he is not being carried by someone, preferably by a parent. He can tell if you are just a helpful 9-year-old girl and he doesn't like it. I don't want to go into more details here because thinking about it makes me tired and I'm already so tired, and over it. I'm so over it.
The other day I was waiting in the pediatrician's office and I could feel drops of sweat running down my lower back...again. It keeps happening and I can never do anything about it because I'm holding the baby or running to the tram or making food or... If I had to pick something to symbolize the last few months or more, maybe the last year, it would be that. My whole self being squeezed out of the last drops of energy. I don't even have time to notice how tired I am, I can't scratch my itch, I'm just going going going...
My life is full. Full of these people and I love it. I love them. It's a circus, but it's beautiful. Beautiful and so hard. Everything is wrapped in thorns. I wish I was an artist and there was a way to make something, some kind of poetic statement that would accurately express how difficult this life is. It would show its beauty at the same time and I could look at it and be reminded. I imagine this would feel like fulfillment...and relief. I'm not an artist though and so I am mostly expressing myself by being cranky and whiny and yelling at everyone because no one is sufficiently feeling sorry for me. I am at the end of my rope! Why is no one calling 911? Or better yet, the spa! Call the spa, I must go forth and relax!
Posted at 02:16 PM on November 12, 2012
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I had a boy. It's my third son. I have four children now. I have only begun trying to understand what that means. It's been six weeks since he was born and the reason I haven't posted about it? I have four children now.
This kid decided to come on his due date! His due date! Who's laughing now? Me! My water broke one 25th July, in the evening and I felt like I had just won something. They called and said it was my turn! I'd won the race, the prize, I had been chosen! I don't know who them is but my number was up! No more waiting. Except then we waited.
I opted for a hospital birth this time because there are no birthing centers in Austria. Or so I thought. I found out later there was one, but I pretty much would have had to pay for it myself, same with a home birth and it was not in our budget. It's my fourth baby too and I felt confident enough about the process that I would be able to set the tone in a hospital situation. I had picked a natural-childbirth-friendly hospital, which proved to be a very good decision. Anyway, my water broke and we called the ambulance which is a common way to get to the hospital in Austria. It's free and fast and incredibly uncomfortable. I live on the fourth floor and the two EMTs were required to carry me down all those flights of stairs in some sitting carrier contraption. I felt terrible about all that weight gain as the two were sweating profusely. They were so nervous and fidgety, it seemed they had never carried a pregnant woman before...which was not true, but still I found myself trying to calm them down and show how incredibly relaxed I was about it all.
"How far apart are your contractions?!" one of them kept asking me.
"Uhm, I don't really have any yet..."
"Ok, how far approximately?"
"Like I said..."
We made it to the ambulance, they packed everything up and started backing out with the back door wide open. What can I say, they were on top of things. We made it to the right hospital, and after hitting the wrong elevator and level, we eventually made it to the room. It was about 10pm and Lincoln and I were getting sleepy. There were no other women giving birth at the moment and so we felt into the hands of a very ambitious, very competent midwife (midwives run the show in Austria's hospitals), who was gonna deliver my baby that night, come rain or shine or whatever other obstacle. She inquired about the state of my contractions, which were still mostly non-existent and then asked: "So! What are we going to do?" I looked at her a bit confused: "What do you mean? Wait?" Oh, but no! She said we could try stuff to get things going! Because my water broke and now I was on the clock and I didn't come here to sleep, did I, and how about an enema or some acupuncture, maybe walk up and down stairs, how about, huh? Huh? She was exhausting. I played along for a while, but really all I wanted was go to sleep and for her to leave me alone. I gently and repeatedly talked about my previous THREE births and how my body worked and how it wasn't going to be fast and how I had given birth before, like THREE TIMES. Eventually she let out exasperated: "Why are you so negative? You keep saying how it's not going to happen soon, I'm beginning to think YOU are holding back and that's why things are stalling!" Whoa. Good thing I was so tired. I told her I wasn't being negative, but that I knew my body and that I wasn't going to stress out and put pressure on myself about something I have no control over anyway. You could tell she was disappointed. "Well. The good thing is" she said "if you're going to sleep, then I can sleep too!" I nodded vigorously. Go to sleep, lady! And we did.
Sleep was good, albeit short and light. For some reason this hospital had a radio station going on all speakers. It was very low volume, but sufficiently loud that you could still always hear it in the background. It was on 24/7. The nurses apologized that they could not turn it off, the radio was coming from some other apparently non-accessible office elsewhere in the building. They hated it too. Very strange.
The good thing in the morning was: shift change! Ambitious midwife left and new nice, laid-back midwife arrived. She had no suggestions but asked us what we wanted. So we proceeded to walk the halls, the stairs, we had breakfast (yay for eating during labor!), I even took a nap, but somehow my contractions just wouldn't amount to anything. I had a few, some strong too but they would come and putter out and then don't come back for another 25 minutes, then I'd have one or two and then they'd disappear. This was unusual for me and I was losing patience and motivation. I'm still a bit stunned about this part. My theory is that maybe since this pregnancy was so hard on me, my body just didn't have anything left to push the baby out. Eventually I asked the midwife about pitocin. I can't believe I did that, but I was worried if I waited any longer and arrived at their 24-hour-deadline (from when my water broke), they would break out stronger artillery to get that baby out and I did not want to let it come to that. What helped was that the midwife was very supportive and didn't pressure me and agreed to start me out on a very very low dosage and see how I reacted. I did not want to push my body into major contractions if it wasn't ready, but all the minor ways weren't working. So after having some food and a nap I decided to get the pitocin - at a time when I was still awake and rested and had strength to face it all. Luckily after she hooked me up, it took about 2 minutes for the first real contraction to hit and after that everything progressed as usual. She timed the dosage perfectly because it did not feel like an artificial labor at all. It took a bit over an hour and a half until Damian was here.
It was nice to see how it all fell into place and I instantly remembered how this birth thing worked. The midwife never had to check me as I could feel pretty well where I was and when it was time to push. Once the pushing contractions arrived though I experienced my usual panic. Why did I not want drugs? Why am I doing this again? The fourth time? Does no one realize how much this hurts? How do I get myself out of this situation, out of this room? Why does anyone ever think this is a good idea?
But the only way out is through it. The pain is awful, but it's just as hard to mentally stay on course. Obviously I never have the choice not to have the baby, but I do have a choice in my cooperation. This means to push into the pain, to stay with it and not let my fear paralyze me. It also helps, that the thought of staying pregnant any minute longer is equally terrifying. At some point in those terrible 15-20 minutes of pushing, I decided it was so bad that surely the baby must be born already and NO ONE IS TELLING ME! The midwife kept saying "almost!" and all that other reassuring nonsense. Somehow I kept going but later on she told me that he had turned his head while in the birth canal which had prolonged things a bit and also made it that much more painful. I had felt that, but obviously she chose not to tell me at the time. Smart.
When he was born, the midwife placed him in front of me, knowing I did not know the sex. He came out calm and quite unwrinkled for a newborn. It was crazy to find out the gender in that moment. As if the situation wasn't already completely mind blowing, it also revealed the identity of our family in those seconds.
We were smitten. Oh, how I love that moment. The relief, the new person, my husband, my baby, the relief, the love... and the mess! I've been there before, but I will never get tired of it and I will never get over how symbolic it is of ...everything. I don't care how cheesy that sounds. The most supernatural things in life are completely anchored in the most natural. A brand new person is here and someone's already cleaning.
The kids were thrilled. Preferences of girl or boy were immediately forgotten and everyone was delighted at how cute he was. He is still being smothered in kisses daily. I love to watch that. It's so much work to have kids and raise them, but these are the moments that really show me how the hours, days and years make a difference. So that now I have big kids who understand what it means to have a sibling and who can express that in every way. More than ever it is clear that more babies don't just mean more kids for parents, but more siblings for the older ones. It's awesome to watch that.
We chose the name Damian mostly because we like the sound of it. There is also a recent saint we had always associated the name with and wanted to use as a patron: Damian de Veuster. The first time I had heard about him was from my dad and since we were going to use Thomas as a middle name in honor of him, it all came together perfectly.
It's a new life. I can feel the weight of responsibility and work of four children acutely these days. Still I don't get tired of staring at this boy. It doesn't matter how many children one already has, with each one you think: You! You were the one we were missing! How could we have known you were coming? And yet we did. We knew.Posted at 10:30 AM on September 07, 2012 | Comments (1)
This was taken over a week ago. I'm not going to lie, I picked an all black outfit and took a few steps back for purposes of flattery. What to say. Things are not pretty. I may look fine but really... I don't know what doesn't hurt, everything is uncomfortable, I move at a snail's pace... and it is a million degrees outside and a billion inside because we live on the 4th floor and it's nice and sunny and there is no air conditioning of course and...well, I won't tell you how I really feel.
The heat has melted my few remaining brain cells into a hot watery mess. I think nothing, I don't care about anything. The pillars of my day are sleeping, meals and naps. I am surprised daily at the presence of my other children and their supposed "needs". Why are they here? What do they want from me? Can't they see how completely occupied I am with that other thing? Why do I have to make food? Why are all the chairs so tiny? Where is dessert? Do I really need to get dressed?
Oh, look! Chocolate!