Expecting a baby after years of struggle

Since 2009, Jen has gone through four miscarriages, an ectopic pregnancy, multiple rounds of fertility treatments, the loss of a fallopian tube, and her husband underwent urological surgery. Now, after seven years, Jen is happy to be 8 months pregnant with a baby girl, Emersyn. We spoke a few weeks ago about what it’s like to be on the other side of infertility after years of struggles.

Photo credit: http://ashleykemper.smugmug.com

Caitlin: So last fall you find out that you are pregnant, for the 6th time. At that point, are you cautiously happy?

Jen: Every time.

Caitlin: You feel happy and excited every time?

Jen: Yes, like you’ve said, I’m cautiously happy. I think, maybe this is the time. Maybe this is going to be it. But of course in the back of your mind, there’s always that constant paranoia. I worry I’m going to go to the bathroom and I’ll be bleeding. That’s the mindset. It took me a long time to feel relaxed with this pregnancy. When we found out it was a girl, I was like okay. Maybe I can relax.

Caitlin: Those milestones make you feel like, okay, maybe this really is going to happen?

Jen: Every ultrasound is huge. We had one at four weeks, we had one at six weeks. Then another at eight and then another nine, fifteen, and eighteen weeks. It’s wonderful to see her on that screen. She’s healthy and she is okay but at the back of my mind, I’m wonder, when is the other shoe going to drop or something bad going to happen?

Caitlin: Do you feel scared, even now?

Jen: Yes.

Caitlin: I think that every pregnant women does, to be honest. I didn’t have any trouble getting pregnant, but it was the same sort of thing for me. Every ultrasound it felt a little more real. I was like okay, this is happening. You’ve gone through so much, so I imagine why that anxiety would be just multiplied for you.

Jen: What a lot of people don’t realize is, 65% of first pregnancies end up in miscarriage. (With our first pregnancy) I said okay, maybe we were a part of that 65% and everything after will be fine. Maybe it was just a fluke, and then it kept happening. At some point you realize, something is not right. It was hard to want to try again. It was hard when we found out that we were pregnant this time.

I kind of had a feeling, we had ran half of a marathon over the weekend. Something just felt off. And my husband said, maybe you are pregnant. I took the tests and it was instantenous. It was one of those, okay how is this one going to go?

Caitlin: You’ve always been open about your struggles to have a baby. You share your story on Facebook and on your blog, kyleandjensmith.blogspot.com. Why did you make that decision and how did that work for you?

Jen: Well, we didn’t talk about it the first time that it had happened. That was really hard. Only our family knew. So, since then, I’ve tried to tell people what we were going through. I couldn’t imagine going through everything that we’ve been gone through and not talking about it. I think it makes it worse.

My husband said if you’re comfortable with sharing, I’m on board. I think when you haven’t been in the position that we’ve been in, it’s kind of hard to understand why we are so open. It’s a comfort thing. It’s something that happened. I don’t have to walk around with a smile on my face because people know what’s going on and and they understand. It just made it easier knowing that people did know.

I also think, it’s an educational thing. I don’t think people understand how common this is. They don’t realize, one in eight couples deal with infertility and pregnancy loss on a very recurrent basis.

We’re trying to help others that are going through the same thing and dealing with it. Not knowing where to go, what to do. What programs are available to help them? That’s helped me. If I  can help someone else by sharing our story, then I’m perfectly okay with that.

Caitlin:  For people maybe who have friends or family who are dealing with infertility. What do you think is important for them to know? For them to be the best support for their family member ?

Jen: Just be good at listening. If someone in your life is dealing with infertility, just listen. Let them cry, let them get their feelings out. For me, that was huge. I called my sister and she let me go off on a rant if I was having a bad day about it. The little things can make all the difference for someone who is going through it.

I think some of the hardest things for me was one of the family members or friends getting pregnant, and they were afraid to tell me. Don’t be afraid just tell me. It made things so much harder, if you apologize a million times.

Caitlin: I feel like that puts you into a really awkward position. You shouldn’t have to be reassuring the pregnant person.

Jen: My sister got pregnant when I just had had a miscarriage. She texted me, tell me to call her. I called her and said, “You’re pregnant aren’t you?” She got real quiet and she said yes. She began to apologize.

Being pregnant is not something you should apologize for. Just because someone else has problems doesn’t mean that we don’t have the ability to be happy for somebody else. People need to understand that. We don’t lose feelings for everyone who is able to have kids.

Caitlin: Now you are on the other side. You are one of the lucky ones to be able to pregnant. What has it been like for you switching roles here?

Jen: It’s very surreal. I wake up every day, I’m like okay, this is happening. I will say, though, it doesn’t take away all the pain I’ve been through. We have five babies that are not here. That kills me every single day. To wonder what could have been. I still think about those other ones. We are very lucky, but she doesn’t replace the ones we lost.

I want to be an advocate for those who are struggling. Yes, I am on the other side but at the same time, it doesn’t negate everything that has got us to this point. We’ll never forget that.

Caitlin: That’s a part of who you are know, I imagine.

Jen: It is, very much.

Caitlin: What are you most looking forward to now?

Jen: Everything. The next milestone. I have my glucose test coming up and people joke about how hard that is.

Caitlin: Oh, that’s nothing after what you’ve been through!

Jen: Yeah, I’ll sit there, I’ll be fine.

I’m excited about all the little things. Having her, teaching her, and supporting her. It’s the little things that we’ve wanted since we got married almost eight years ago. We are so excited and our families are so excited.

A lot of people didn’t think it was going to happen and I can’t blame them. I didn’t think either. I thought it was just going to be disappointment after disappointment.

Caitlin: What do you think you’ve learned about yourself on this journey?

Jen: I’m a lot stronger than I give myself credit for. With my first miscarriage, I was like, I cannot do this again. I can’t keep going, I can’t go through that again. I realized just how determined I was to make this happen.

I’m tough, I’m strong, and I can push through for myself and Kyle. It made us grateful. I wouldn’t change anything.

Image courtesy Jen Smith

Photo credit: http://ashleykemper.smugmug.com

A foster mom at 22

This summer I came across a blog post that immediately caught my eye. It was about a 22 year old woman named Allison and her fiance who had just become foster parents to a little girl. I think it takes extraordinary generosity and bravery for two people as young as Allison and her fiance to open their home to a child in need. As it turns out, Allison (pictured below) and I have some friends in common and she agreed to chat with me about her experience so far.

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Caitlin: So, you’re 22 and you’re a foster mother. That’s pretty unusual! What inspired you and your fiance to even be interested in being foster parents?

Allison: We had heard an advertisement for it on the radio when the House of the Good Shepherd was recruiting foster parents about a year ago. They had an orientation coming up, so we talked about it, and since we both love children it seemed like a great fit.

I particularly have a connection to children because I taught dance for years. Also, there’s ten years between my younger brother and I so I’ve really been exposed to children a lot and I love working with them. This seemed like a great way to help a child who was in a less fortunate situation.

So about a year ago we went through the training. This involved a 12 week course that included home studies, inspections, and background checks. Our initial goal was just to provide respite care, as needed. Respite care is temporary care for children who are in the foster care system when their foster family needs a short break, for whatever reason.

Since we became certified, we have cared for four children in respite care between the ages of 9 and 13. About four months ago, we had Sweet Pea* for respite care over a weekend and really enjoyed her company! She’s a young, outgoing girl, so you can imagine the fun and entertainment she provides. When we were told that she needed a new foster placement the following week, we decided to take her in full time.

Caitlin: So, how much time is there between finding out she needs a home, and her moving in with you?

Allison: We had a little less than a week. In this particular situation, we had great contact with her family which made things a lot easier. Typically, the agency is the middleman between the foster family and biological family. But, in our circumstance, we were fortunate to begin to build a relationship with her family to make sure that we were well enough prepared for the transition. I mean, as prepared as you can be.

Caitlin: What do you hear from people when they hear you’re 22 and a foster parent?

Allison: You know what I found, actually? When I’m out by myself with Sweet Pea, I understand what a young, single mom feels like. It was really hard to get over the way I felt people were judging me. I think people see me with Sweet Pea and make assumptions. When they find out I’m a foster parent, they’re attitude changes and they are very supportive of it. That’s great, but I think it should make people think twice before they judge someone.

Caitlin: This is probably such a broad question, but how did your life change?

Allison: It’s really difficult to prepare yourself for that transition. As much as I was around children growing up, there’s nothing that gives that preparation for taking on a child full time and, of course, there’s no manual that come along with parenting. So, you take a lot of trial and error.

But, I would say the biggest adjustment was time management. I work full time as Manager of Business Development for Washington Street Properties, I own a dance wear store, I own a photo booth business, I had just stopped teaching dance for the summer. I also won the title of Miss Thousand Islands a few weeks after she came into my care. And, of course, I’m engaged so I had that relationship along with family life and friends that I had to juggle with her and her schedule – day care, swimming, dance, gymnastics, etc.

I knew it would be difficult for her to be taken from everything she’s known so I thought distractions like dance and gymnastics would be a good way to help her adjust. To learn that change can be a good thing.

We got her on a Sunday so I took Monday off because I didn’t think it was fair to her to be sent right to daycare. I also was fortunate to have my Mom watch her the rest of the week to help with the adjustment. My parents are really supportive and are just as attached to Sweet Pea as I am. She’s just a doll. So, that week was just us getting to know her and getting used to a new schedule.

And, of course, with any child, you have to handle behavioral issues – especially with a child who’s been through several different homes. It’s mostly testing to see what the boundaries are. Sweet Pea didn’t have many boundaries in any of the homes she’s been in, so it was difficult for her to adjust to a schedule, stability, and consequences for actions. So that was difficult for her and for us to figure out.

Caitlin: So, you guys have done some really fun stuff. You took Sweet Pea to Disney World. What a dream!

Allison: Yes, before I took Sweet Pea in I was already planning to go on this trip so when she came along, it was perfect timing. I was so excited to be able to give her the opportunity to experience something so magical. She didn’t know where we were going until we got there. She said she had heard of Disney and had seen commercials for it on TV, but she didn’t know what to expect at all. She saw the castle and all the rides and was just amazed by it. My little brother also joined us for the trip. The best part about it for me was just seeing her reaction and watching her take in the whole experience.

Caitlin: Oh my gosh, that’s so cool. What’s been the most rewarding part of the experience for you so far?

Allison: Just having her in my life is an amazing experience that I feel very blessed to have had, but I am particularly happy to be involved with all of the progress I’ve seen her make. When she came into our care she wasn’t used to having any structure or stability so that’s something we’ve been working on. She’s come a long way and it’s so rewarding to assist in creating a better life for her.

Caitlin: Do you know what the future holds? Can there be a day that comes and she’s gone? Or could she be adopted at some point?

Allison: It’s difficult to say. Generally, across the board for foster care, it’s something that’s scary to think about. Things can change at any minute and you really don’t have any control over that. You can make suggestions, but you really have no way to sway things one way or another.

With Sweet Pea, it’s difficult to see what the future holds. I can say that if the opportunity for adoption was made available to me, I wouldn’t hesitate to move forward with it. But if it doesn’t, she will always remain an integral part of my life in some capacity. It’s very important for me to build a relationship with her family so that I will have the ability to stay involved.

Caitlin: How do you guard your heart in all of this? I mean, do you?

Allison: It’s something that’s been discussed a lot between my fiance and I. For me, it is natural to treat her as if she were my own, whereas he feels that she should be treated differently. I can’t replace her mom and I would never try to, but at the same time, she’s very young and needs the nurturing and care that a mom would provide. Because of that, I’ve tried to build a strong relationship with her to be sure she’s developing in a way that’s appropriate.

As a foster parent, you work hand in hand with a therapist and case workers who provide advice that is crucial in a situation like this. They’ve encouraged me to build that relationship so she has someone who is safe for her. Someone who is going to provide the safety and structure that she needs.

So as we’ve bonded and built up our relationship, I’ve realized that it’s impossible to guard your heart against the things that could happen. It’s important to take things one day at a time and trust that everything happens for a reason. It’s just my hope that by keeping a great relationship with her family, if she goes back to them, they’ll allow me to still be in her life.

Caitlin: I think being a foster parent is such a noble cause. When I think about whether or not I could be a foster parent, those are the things I think about. I mean, your heart might be broken at some point in the process. What advice would you give someone who was thinking about being a foster parent?

Allison: There are a lot of ways to be involved besides being a full time foster parent. For example, there are Court Appointment Special Advocates (CASA workers). In this position, you volunteer to be assigned to a child and become the eyes and ears of the case. You go to home visits and court cases and  try to access the situations in each case as best you can and then report to the judge. They attempt to be an unbiased source who is working on behalf of the child.

Also, when we first started, we just did respite care. This helps to ease concerns about attachment because you only have the child for a few days. However, if you really enjoy working with a certain child, you might be given the opportunity to have the same child for respite care multiple times.

There are also volunteers for transportation for children in foster care. Volunteer Transport Services in Watertown is very helpful when transportation becomes difficult.

But, if someone decides they want to be a full time foster parent, I think they need to realize your job is to do what’s best for the child, although that might not always feel like what’s best for you. You tend to see one side of the case, but there’s two sides to every story.

You still might end up with a broken heart at the end of the day if things don’t go the way you hoped, but you have to understand that there’s a reason for the choices that are made and everyone has the child’s best interest at heart.

Caitlin: How does having a young child in your home impact your relationship as you plan to get married? I guess you really get to see what kind of parent your partner will be.

Allison: Yeah, we have had different opinions on what a “mom” is versus a “foster mom” and a “dad” versus a “foster dad.” My fiance has been much more guarded with his relationship with Sweet Pea to try to protect his heart. So if the day comes that she has to move on, he wants to make sure he’s not attached to the point where it’s too difficult to let go.

Caitlin: He must be worried about your heart, too.

Allison: Yeah. I’m her primary caregiver so I spend a lot more time with her. I think that’s definitely a concern of both of ours. I’ve built up such a strong relationship with her that will not easily be broken.

You certainly do learn things about how someone interacts with children. Our approach is unconventional but is an eye opener before marriage.

Thank you so much Allison for taking the time to chat, and most of all, for your generous heart. You’re an inspiration to all of us to consider what more we can do in our own lives to help others. Best wishes to your family!

Image courtesy Allison

*named changed for privacy

 

10 years and 2 kids later

Think back to when you were 19 years old. What were you doing? What was important to you?

I was a sophomore in college. I had just chosen my new major and was just about to get together with my now husband, Rob. Thinking back on it now, a lot of the important puzzle pieces of my life came together that year. But, really, I was just a kid.

That’s where we find Jessica in today’s post. 19 years old, a sophomore in college. And pregnant.

Jessica shares what she felt in the moment and what’s she learned ten years and two kids later.

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Caitlin: So, you became pregnant when you were 19, unplanned and unexpected. Tell me about finding out you were pregnant for the first time and some of those details you’re willing to share.

Jessica: Yes! Well, I was starting my sophomore year of college and dating (my now husband) Kevin for about eight months at the time.  I had recently gone off of birth control because of mood swings, and we had unprotected sex once when I became pregnant. I can very vividly remember, haha. I obviously should have been protecting myself, but my first appointment with a gynecologist as a teenager determined I had a tilted uterus, which is not terribly uncommon, but my uterus was tilted at a different angle from most. The gynecologist told me it would lead to trouble getting pregnant.

Back to the unprotected sex, I had started training for lacrosse season that spring, and so when my period was late I kept thinking that it was because I was running more. One morning I decided to pick up a pregnancy test, my very first one, and immediately started crying when I read the positive result.

Caitlin: So, tears can mean so many things. What emotions were you feeling? All of them?

Jessica: Honestly, probably not any on the joyous spectrum, but instead mostly shock and confusion, with some “what am I going to do” thrown in there.

Caitlin: So, how did you decide what to do?

Jessica: I only told a few of my closest friends in an attempt to gain some perspective. I did not tell my mom though because I knew she would be supportive to the point of excitement, and I wasn’t processing the pregnancy just yet. You know, EVERY decision in that situation is life-changing. You cannot undo anything.  And so in hindsight I knew what my decision would be, but I wanted to get there myself.

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Caitlin: I think it’s a great way to explain it. Do you remember what your biggest fears were at the time?

Jessica: Honestly, very selfish fears, like how I would miss out on experiences and opportunities, how I was not ready to settle down, and how I had no clue what I was doing.

Caitlin: So, you and Kevin decided to get married. How did you make that decision?

Jessica: Again, I am going to be brutally honest, but I never made the decision.  It has been something that I have struggled with for years.  It was just sort of assumed by (I guess) our families and us that if I was going to have a baby, we were going to get married.  Sounds crazy, right?  But it all happened in such quick succession that it’s almost a blur.

Caitlin: I know you’ve struggled some with feeling like you’ve missed out on things that most young people get to experience because you were married with a baby at the age of 20. If you’re willing to talk about it, can you share some of that?

Jessica: Sure!  Actually, one of the first things my mom said to me when I told her that I was pregnant was that anything you can do without a baby can be done with a baby. It still astonishes me that she said this, because in my experience, there are so many things you cannot do once you have a baby. You are always considering someone else who is completely reliant on you. This can be very limiting if you are not ready to take on that responsibility. In hindsight I don’t feel like I missed out on any experiences, but that is perspective that I’ve gained over the years. At the time, the experience of young motherhood was isolating.

Caitlin: So, the important part, tell me about your baby girl and what it was like being a new mom so young?

Jessica: I realize how cliché it might sound, but she is the love of my life. She is a miracle, and if I would have never gotten unexpectedly pregnant, I would be missing out on this precious soul that brings so much quality into my life. Even when she was little I would say that I genuinely enjoy hanging out with her. She has such capacity for kindness and humor (although I have to hide my giggles when she cries during Disney movies).

Like I said, the experience was isolating, because no one around me was going through it. But in a way, I am actually incredibly grateful for that, because I never asked anyone else for advice. I approached everything with her from the perspective that she and I would figure it out together. This allowed me to evaluate my own comfort level with aspects of mothering; for instance, I breastfed Cambrie for eighteen months, and it gave me such confidence.  It also keeps me from giving other mothers unwarranted advice. My usual go-to is, “You’ll figure it out.” Everyone is figuring it out.

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Caitlin: Yeah I think that’s great. We’re at a time in our lives now where SO many people are having babies and I can see how easy it would be to compare yourself to the people around you. I think it’s great that you were able to just do your thing. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention your second baby girl. What was it like being a mother for the second time at a little more typical an age (although still kind of young)?

Jessica: Haha, yes, thank you for reminding me! Harper is the complete opposite of Cambrie. She is rough and tumble, and is still learning the empathy that Cambrie seemed to be born with. My dad actually calls Harper the Heartbreaker because of her personality. She is certainly my wild child, but it is so much fun because she adds such a dynamic to every situation, even the mundane.

One thing about having both Cambrie & Harper on the younger side is that I sort of took for granted getting pregnant and having healthy babes, whereas our friends who are having their firsts now have a completely different appreciation than I did.

Caitlin: Did you ever feel judged by other people for having kids so young? And getting married young?

Jessica: YES.  Absolutely. When I was pregnant with Cambrie I would never leave the house without my engagement and/or wedding band. I felt like it would give people the wrong impression about me, that I was irresponsible and what have you. But even that experience really encouraged me to decide what kind of person I wanted to be. In a way, I was projecting those insecurities because I felt them myself.

But the older I get, the less self-conscious and critical I am. People and circumstances are so complex, and there is so much gray in the world. It doesn’t serve anyone to assume anything. Nowadays I welcome any questions about how old I am, how old my daughters are, what I am doing in my life, because I am happy and content with those things, even if it took me all of my twenties to get there.

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Caitlin: Ah, excellent point to wrap up. What have you learned about yourself in the last ten years that you’ve been a mom and wife, however unexpectedly?

Jessica: I’ve learned that life has a way a giving us what we need when we need it, and whatever path you choose will serve you. There are no right or wrongs, just choices. It’s all about kindness and humor and deep breathing.

Images courtesy Jessica

 

The first day of kindergarten

First of all, I can’t believe some kids went back to school before Labor Day. I always remember Labor Day as the final day of summer and being equal parts bummed and excited that school was starting the next day (okay, mostly excited.) But, last week a lot of kids went back to school. So, I wanted to talk to a mom about her experience sending her little one off to school for the first time.

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Caitlin: Did you do anything special to help your son, B, prepare for kindergarten?

Jessica: We talked about kindergarten A LOT! B didn’t attend preschool so this is his first experience leaving me every day to go somewhere else.  We drove past his school a lot, and  we also would walk there in the summer and play on the playground.  We wanted him to be familiar with the school and I think it helped that he experienced some of those things with me and my husband, Hans. So, it was in his safe zone and he felt comfortable which I think helped him prepare to go up there for his first day.

Caitlin: Any trouble sleeping the night before?

Jessica: Haha, well B didn’t seem to have any trouble sleeping.  I kept waking up in a panic and looking at the clock to make sure we didn’t oversleep since we weren’t used to being on any type of schedule! Usually the mornings that we have something to do, my kids sleep in and we are late so I didn’t want that to happen the first time I was sending my boy to school!

Caitlin: So, tell me about that morning, getting ready and then finally, saying goodbye?

Jessica: Well, Monday was his orientation. The rest of the district began school on Monday, but kindergarten only came in with their parents and met their teacher. For some reason I was more emotional facing this day than I was on Tuesday when he went without us. We made a big deal about Monday. My parents came over in the morning and stayed with my daughters, Lila and Kensley. We took pictures out front and both Hans and I went with him to his orientation.

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On Tuesday, he was ready. We put the girls in the stroller and headed up to the school. Once we are there, we give kisses and B goes into the school yard and we stay on the fence and watch him walk in with his class!

Caitlin: Who was more nervous, you or him?

Jessica: Ha, well it’s funny. When B was little he would scream if we left him. We couldn’t leave him in church nursery without a huge fit when we walked out. Over the years, as he has gotten older, he has gotten better, but we usually only leave him in familiar situations (church, family, close friends), so I was really nervous watching him cause I didn’t know what to expect. B is typically pretty shy when he doesn’t know someone so watching him in a whole new world where he knew no one made me nervous for him because I thought he would be nervous. But, he totally played it cool and I was the one sweating it out!

Caitlin: What was the first day like for you, at home without him?

Jessica: My three year old daughter, Kensley, is loving the one on one time with me. There aren’t many days that I get to spend time with just her so now that B is in School and Lila (9 months) is taking her morning nap, Kenz and I get some quality time together. I am excited for this the most.  I really feel like it will be very valuable to her and also to me.

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Caitlin: What was the first day like for Brayden? Did he come home with any good stories?

Jessica: He loved it! He didn’t necessarily come home with any good stories, but he did come home with his shirt on backwards! After taking off a smock he must have gotten mixed up and put his shirt on the wrong way. Hans and I just laughed. He also was excited to let me know that one boy in his class had a Paw Patrol school bag (that’s his favorite show). It’s cute to see the things that he picks up on when I am not around!

Caitlin: That’s so funny he came home with his shirt on backwards. How cute! How was sending your first child off the kindergarten different than you expected?

Jessica: Becoming a parent has taught me more about myself than I ever would have thought it would. It’s hard letting go and putting your child in the hands of another person (or people) to teach them and help them grow. Naturally, I worry about how he’s doing without me. I wonder how he’ll interact with his peers since he isn’t under my wings. I’m learning a lot about myself. I’m learning what it means to give my cares over to God and trust that He has us where he does for a reason.

When B was little and scared to leave us we would always quote Joshua 1:9 to him. We actually have it hanging on his bedroom wall as a reminder. And whats funny is that I’m now reminding myself of that same verse that I’ve memorized with him for the last few years! “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Caitlin: I love that! It’s amazing how much we can learn through guiding others, and I imagine that’s especially the case with children. Now that you’ve been through it, what advice would you give other moms who are getting ready to hit this milestone or are going through it now?

Jessica: Embrace it! It is a really fun and exciting time. It may be a little overwhelming, but it’s worth it and soon it will be the new normal. Watching my boy come out of school excited and filled with confidence makes my heart happy. Watching him grow and overcome fears is so rewarding. It makes the hard times worth it! It all happens so fast so my advice for parents – especially myself- is to pause and take it all in. Enjoy the crazy because one day we will all miss this stage!

Do you have any advice for moms and dads sending their kids to school for the first time? Any funny memories? Share in the comments sections, let’s talk!

 

On expecting baby number two

To hear my friends tell it, expecting your first child is one thing, and expecting your second is a whole other animal. So, I was interested to talk to Colleen just a few days before she welcomed her second baby into the world (Colleen is already mother to 18 month old Nicky) about what’s different, what’s the same, and what’s the most exciting.

Caitlin: So, to begin, tell me about your first pregnancy and your first baby.

Colleen: So, I definitely always wanted to have kids. That was really my number one thing that I ever wanted in life. I was super excited my last pregnancy. I knew I was having a boy and we were just really excited. We didn’t know what to expect and I did have a pretty easy pregnancy. I don’t think anyone can ever have an easy ninth month, but all things considered, it was easy. So, 18 months ago today, I was nine months pregnant and feeling it.

Nicky was an easy baby when he was born. I had a c-section, that wasn’t easy, but nothing went wrong.

Caitlin: How was this pregnancy been?

Colleen: This time I was a lot more sick at the beginning. Last time I didn’t have any of that. Last time I did a lot of prenatal yoga and even regular yoga which I think really helped me feel better. I haven’t had any time this pregnancy for that. Not even once. Now, I’m dealing with a back issue that’s making it a lot harder to get around. And, not to mention, I have an 18 month old son that I spend all day chasing around. You know, so that’s a little tougher. But, this pregnancy hasn’t been terrible.

Caitlin: Does expecting a girl feel different from when you were expecting a boy?

Colleen: Well, yes. I am thrilled that we’re having a girl! I feel lucky to get to experience being a mother of a son, and a daughter as well. I’m the only girl in my family and just seeing the relationship I have with my mom, and even with my dad, I’m glad that our family will have that, too. And another thing that I liked about having a girl is that my husband, Josh, didn’t grow up with any sisters and he always seemed like he didn’t know what was going on with girls. It’s like I’m the only girl he knows.  So, I think it will be good for him, and also good for my son to have a girl around. I think it kind of softens a guy a little bit, and I’d like that for both of them.

Caitlin: That’s so funny and I think it’s very true. I heard someone say once that she was even more excited with her second baby because since having his first, he understood how wonderful it is to have a child. Have you felt that way at all?

Colleen: Yes, we both feel that way. We say all the time we can’t believe we get to have two. Especially right now our son is so funny, he’s talking, he’s doing all these crazy things every day and it is really, really exciting because before I couldn’t picture how much I would enjoy being a parent. And now I know and it’s almost like it’s going to be double the fun. I mean, not that we’re so naive to think it won’t be more difficult and more busy, but I don’t really focus on that part of being a parent. I know it’s busy. We can deal with it. In general, it’s just fun.

Caitlin: Have people been warning you about how hard life is with two?

Colleen: Yeah, I feel like people warn you about a lot of things. But, for me, when you have kids, you change, and you just do what needs to be done. And you don’t think, oh this sucks, and I’m missing out on all this other stuff. It’s just your life.

About having two, a lot of people warn us about finances.

Caitlin: That’s silly. What can you do about that?

Colleen: I don’t know. There’s nothing you can do with any of the warnings people give you. Oh, they’ll say having one is like… I forget the saying, it’s stupid. It’s something like, “Having one is like one and having two is like twenty.”

Caitlin: That person probably never had twenty kids.

Colleen: (laughs) Yeah, good point. So, yeah, we get a lot of warnings. Just like last time. It annoys me, but it drives my husband CRAZY. When I was pregnant with Nicky people would always ask him if he was nervous. And he would always say, “No, I’m not nervous! I’m 35 years old, I have a car, I have a job, why would I be nervous?” And it’s kind of the same thing this time.

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Caitlin: So, your son is really young. Does he have a clue he has a baby sister on the way?

Colleen: I don’t know. He points at the baby’s room and says her name and he does touch my belly and say baby and sometimes he’ll even give my belly a kiss, which I did NOT teach him. But, I can’t imagine he really understands what’s about to happen. And I would actually say that that is what is most different about being pregnant this time. Even though I know giving him a sibling is the best thing that I can do for him, I feel guilty all the time that he won’t know how much he totally changed our lives and rocked our world and I could cry right now thinking about it. But, people say that that happens all the time and then when they come home from the hospital they never think about it again.

Caitlin: Is there anything else that makes the pregnancy different from the last?

Colleen: One thing is I do worry about the health of the baby a lot more. When you never had a child, you can’t imagine how much you’re going to love it. And it would be a lot harder and more heartbreaking now that I understand that if the baby has health problems. That’s one worry I didn’t really have last time that I do this time.

Caitlin: Does it feel like the stakes are higher?

Colleen: Yes, that’s exactly what it is. The other thing is I hope I get as much one on one time with both of my kids as I have with Nicky.

Caitlin: What are you most excited about?

Colleen: I’m most excited to see what she looks like and to see how Nicky reacts to her and how my husband reacts to her. I don’t think he realizes what it’s going to be like to have a daughter.

I’m happy to share that Colleen gave birth to her baby girl, Anna, just three days after this conversation. Both Mama and baby are doing great, and big brother Nicky is adjusting well. Congratulations Colleen & family!

 

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What’s your best advice for expecting baby number 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on? Did you find you felt differently each time? Let’s talk!

Staying Home

If you read my post a few weeks ago called Which Way to Lean you know I am fully undecided on the topic of stay at home mom vs. work outside of the house mom vs. not being a mom at all vs. everything in between. So, it was interesting for me to talk with someone who is firmly in one camp.

I expect many people will read the following conversation and think, “Well of course she’s going to stay home with her baby. In her situation, she’d be crazy not to.” And others will think, “It’s nice she has the freedom to choose, but I would be so BORED not working.”  There are so many differing opinions on this issue, which is why it’s so interesting to talk about!

So, let me introduce you to Erika. She lives outside San Fransisco, CA with her husband, Tres, and has worked in Retail Marketing for the last six years or so. Erika is due with her first baby in December(!!) and has decided to be a Stay At Home Mom (SAHM). Here’s Erika’s story:

 

Caitlin: So, right when you find out you were expecting, you also found out that the freelance position you’ve been working for the last several months is being terminated. But, you were planning on being a SAHM anyway. So, tell me about that.

Erika: I don’t know if I was going to be a full time SAHM, but I was never going to go back to work fulltime. I was talking about going back, when the freelance position was still there, and doing monthly projects, instead of weekly project like I’m doing now. So, I’d have more control over my timeline and it would let me stay connected to the workforce.

So, for me, this is not the worst thing. My plan now is just to stay home and enjoy my child and to sleep when I can and not worry about trying to balance all that. I want to build my family when I’m young and have energy and figure out the career thing later if I want to. I don’t have to have a master plan right now.

Caitlin: So, how do people react when you say you want to be a SAHM?

Erika: Very mixed around here. It’s the land of Lean In and Marissa Meyer and Sheryl Sandberg. A lot of moms have their own unique businesses around here. It’s not necessarily the stigma of corporate America and power suits. You don’t need to be in heels and carry a briefcase, but most moms, unless their husbands are ultra successful, really do work and they have careers and they’re very proud of having careers.

I don’t want to say that people look down on me, but they definitely say, “WHY?” They’re like, “Ohhh, that’s interesting.”

Caitlin: Are reactions different from men to women?

Erika: Yeah, men love it. Men think it’s great. From women, sometimes I feel judged, like, “Why are you doing this?”

Caitlin: I would imagine the question you get a lot is, “Won’t you get bored?”

Erika: Yeah, you know, they say only boring people get bored. Even with the free time I have now, I’ve gotten more interests and hobbies. And when I was commuting all the time, I was exhausted. And I didn’t want to do anything because I was so tired. I don’t feel bored at all, I feel relaxed.

Caitlin: Is this something you always wanted to do?

Erika: No! When I was young, I wanted to be CEO of like, whatever, or like, Anna Wintour. But, I think living in New York and seeing all these power hungry women who had nannies raising their kids, and they didn’t really connect with their families, it made me appreciate the ability to stay home.

Caitlin: So, obviously, money plays a huge part in this and the fact that staying home is even an option for you is a great privilege.

Erika: We’re very fortunate. My husband makes a great living by most standards. When I was working full time, I was still a drop in the hat compared to my husband. So, when I decided to go freelance and then to have kids and stop working, it was more of like, okay, maybe we take a vacation or two less, rather than, how are we going to pay our bills? So that was fortunate that that didn’t really play into my decision.

Also, for me, daycare and commuting would take up about two thirds of my salary, so what are you getting versus what are you giving up? There wasn’t a huge perceived value for me.

Caitlin: So, your mom is a really accomplished career woman. What does she think about your decision to be a SAHM?

Erika: She thinks it’s great! My mom worked my whole life. She has two Masters degrees, a PhD, super smart lady. But, she says if she could do it over, she might have stayed home. She’s an educator and she says you can’t argue against the benefits of a SAHM.

I think my dad is probably more judgemental. He worries about the burden on my husband. He wants to make sure he’s okay with it.

Caitlin: And he is, right?

Erika: Yeah, he doesn’t care. He likes the benefits of me staying home, but if I wanted to work, he’d be fine with that.

Erika and Tres

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But, he definitely enjoys coming home to a dinner made every night and the laundry being done and the house in good order. He can call me at the last minute and say, oh a client is coming over, and it’s no big deal. His life is a lot easier, because when I worked, everything was split 50/50.

Caitlin: Did you ever wish as a kid that your mom stayed home?

Erika: I think I did a lot. My parents were always late for everything. They did their best and I was always taken care of, but they had another set of priorities. I always wanted my mom to be a room parent, that was a big thing for me.

Caitlin: What do you most look forward to as a SAHM?

Erika: I don’t know, I’m mostly scared by it. (laughs)

I don’t know, I guess I look forward to being home with my kid and being their for the milestones, and let them do things with kids their age, and having a community.

Caitlin: Are you going to join some moms groups?

Erika: Yeah, there’s a big mother’s club in the area that I plan to do, and I want to do swim classes and stuff like that. I have these grandiose dreams of being a mom on a schedule and having my kid be well adjusted, but who knows. It’s at least nice to know I’ll have the time to do it!

Erika is in a unique position and lucky to be able to make a choice on this issue. This Time Magazine story has some interesting statistics on who stays at home with their kids, and who doesn’t.

What do you think? Do you want to stay at home with your kids when you have them? If you have kids, what choice did you make? What advice would you give other women and men who are thinking about having children in the future?

Curveballs

Two and a half years ago, life threw A is for Adelaide blogger, Chelley Martinka, a curveball that completely changed the course of her life. I wanted to talk to Chelley about the way she not only handles, but embraces the unexpected in her life. I’ll keep it short here so Chelley can tell her own story, because she does it beautifully…

 

Caitlin: Can you begin by telling me what you were doing about two and a half years ago?

Chelley: This time 2 1/2 years ago I was just having my first child, Adelaide Eileen (Addie). I was concerned about “something”, chalk it up to mother’s intuition, but never really spoke up until her 2 month appointment- which was at 9 weeks. From that moment on, life has been a whirlwind.

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Addie was hospitalized for dehydration at 9 1/2 weeks, and during her stay at the hospital, they made the diagnosis of Achondroplasia, the most common (1 in 40,000 births) form of dwarfism.

Caitlin: So, for those of us who haven’t had children yet, I think a lot of us fear the unknown. What will it be like? How will my life change? I imagine having a child with special needs is THAT, times ten. How did that diagnosis change your plans?

Chelley: Ultimately, it gave me a calling- and that’s not even me trying to find some silver lining- the opportunity to write presented itself (in blogger form) and I ran with it. As far as the other plans…

I had a goal of rejoining my employer from temp to full time 6 months after Addie was born, but due to her weekly aqua therapies, specialists ranging from Boston to Providence to Wilmington (DE), it financially didn’t make sense for me to continue working. I always imagined myself this rockstar career mom in heels and Chanel’s, but that wasn’t my path. Many days I end up working with a napping toddler under my arm, and praying that another viewing of “Nemo” will keep her busy during conference calls… I consider myself a rockstar mom, still. It takes a lot to be a parent, regardless of your situation.

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Just being a parent changes life, but all the things you see in movies and commercials become something you still consider fantasies- even though your friends swear by those moments. Milestones are different, appointments are different, and your relationship with your partner becomes about survival of the family. Special needs are known for ripping marriages apart, and Dave and I work very hard to keep our love (and communication) fresh.

We also thought that Addie may be an only child because traveling for specialists and some of the stressors that come along with special needs can be overwhelming. But there are so many what-ifs, and Addie is such an amazing kid, that we decided to expand our family again. Everyone is so excited, so while I’m glad we put extra thought into it, I’m thrilled that we made the right decision that we could and would embrace everything life has for us, and do it with gusto!

Caitlin: Yeah, I think that’s great. You’re expecting in September!

Chelley: Yes. Camille Thea is due September 24th!

Caitlin: As you begin to imagine your life as a mother of two, how are you approaching this differently than when you were expecting Addie? What is the wisdom that comes from having a child with special needs? A life different from what you expected?

Chelley: I think I am researching more, but from a perspective of wanting to understand rather than a place of fear. My Google really runs the gamut from searches for typical milestone charts, to children who are diagnosed with different learning disorders, autism, Down Syndrome. I do light reading each week- just to know. At this point, with experience of being a mom of one under my belt, I’m more lax about being pregnant- but with a rare diagnosis, I know that all the prep work we do as parents can mean nothing to the child we have.

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I also do advocacy work, so I like to keep up to date on everything I can happening in the special needs world- it’s important to me, more so because I have a child who lives in that world.

And there’s my goal of not living our lives as perpetual victims of special needs. It’s just an aspect of Addie and our family. I try to focus less on Addie’s needs and more on her adapting from the go- which, for now, is her using stools and climbing safely. We don’t have a child-proof house because Addie can’t reach the things we don’t want, but as I watch her, I am learning where a child of average height will be and seeing that we need to move a few pictures and candles.

With parenthood comes wisdom- my best piece of it, is do your thing. No matter who your child is, you are the parent, and if it’s right for your family, then it’s the right thing to do.

Caitlin: Although it was unexpected, Addie’s diagnosis turned you into a stay-at-home mom.

Chelley: Being able to be with Addie and go to every appointment is the best perk. I know everything that is said by every specialist AND I get to see all the milestones! It’s not an “easy” job, but it’s fun to be home with her.

Caitlin: There’s some quote that you hear all the time, something about how God only gives you what you can handle. I think that’s silly and that the truth is, we find the strength we need to find. You mentioned that a lot of people ask you how you find the strength to handle the tough stuff that comes along with having a child with special needs. So, how do you?

Chelley: For this situation, it’s far simpler than one could imagine.

I look at her.

Rhode Island Cake Smash Photography, RI Cake smash Photography,

There are other things I’ve faced, like the death of my brother in infancy, the loss of my 18 year old cousin, father and uncle in quick succession, a major car accident, and recession in one of the poorest states in the country. But, Life’s curveballs are defined by what we think will happen because we only know about the “ideal”, but what happens to us, is also what shapes us. Life is just life, and ideals are just ideas on what would be super cool if…

For me, it’s way cooler to just live it and hope to the heavens I’m doing ok.

I think the best thing we can all do for ourselves, as people, is stop having “such” expectations, as I call them. Things that will be “such a way” because that’s how we think they will be from a book, or movie, or even a friend. Experiences are unique to the individual- I know my husband has a completely different experience with Addie’s diagnosis because I do a majority of the day-to-day. Expectations are healthy, but the disappointment we feel because something “has” to be a certain way to make it “right” is a pressure we put on ourselves.

Sometimes when things aren’t picture perfect, they’re still perfect.

I love that so much. “Sometimes when things aren’t picture perfect, they’re still perfect.” Now, everyone say it with me, “Sometimes when things aren’t picture perfect, they’re still perfect.” Whether it’s a surprise diagnosis, a change in relationship status, or an unexpected career turn, life doesn’t always go the way we plan. But, like Chelley said, those are the things that shape us into the people we’re becoming. And that’s a beautiful thing.