Four to Seven Months

So I forgot to do photos onto the blog (though they made them on facebook) of Annabelle from four to seven months. So now I shall do them all at once with the captions I wrote for facebook.

Four months old Annabelle in a mommy-knit sweater.

Four months old Annabelle in a mommy-knit sweater.

Four months old! Annabelle has improved her reach and grab to almost 80% efficiency. She has added a third step to this process: reach, grab, put in mouth. But that is only about a 50% success rate. When all else fails, she will just chew on her hand and drool drool drool. She’s still not a great sleeper, but she loves music and tries to sing along with us. She also loves to grab her crinkle paper, cloth wipes, and taggie fish and wave them around. (PS I knit that sweater)

5 month, super happy Annabelle!

5 month, super happy Annabelle!

Annabelle is 5 months old! She is really good at reaching, grabbing, putting into mouth. She can hold her own bottle, (or mommy’s face when breast feeding), suck her thumb, and put her pacifier back into her mouth. She is extremely socially aware and has trouble sleeping when there are people around to watch. She can almost stay sitting up (if you put her there). And lastly, she has learned to cuddle her stuffed toys, especially Hedgie her stuffed hedgehog who helps her fall asleep. We love watching her, she learns something new every day.

6 month baby Annabelle! (Photo taken a little late)

6 month baby Annabelle! (Photo taken a little late)

Annabelle is a very happy and active 6 month old. She is really good at sitting and eats a mix of purees and solids she self-feeds. Her favorite food is butternut squash. One of her favorite things to do is blow raspberries (as she is doing in this photo). She can sleep through the night, but she doesn’t always choose to. She is just starting to get stranger danger, but warms up to new people pretty quickly. Her least favorite thing is having her face wiped and taking a nap when she could be looking at interesting things. She is however becoming a reliable night sleeper. Once she has slept through the night, but regularly she only wakes once.

7 month old baby!  (Taken on her actualy 7 month birthday, January 17, 2015)

7 month old baby! (Taken on her actualy 7 month birthday, January 17, 2015)

Annabelle is 7 months old today! I have now realized my folly in choosing a month marking method with removable parts. We tried moving it out of her reach and she kept reaching for it and crying if she couldn’t get it. She reaches for everything, is so curious, and tries to put it all in her mouth. She’s teething and chews on everything. Except actual teethers. Those are poison and should be avoided at all costs. She’s fantastic at sitting (though she is lounging in this photo), is starting to show preference for the color green, self feeds and eats really well. Her favorite foods are banana pancakes, butternut squash, and salmon. She’s just starting to get separation anxiety and stranger danger, but still loves to smile and charm the pants off everyone she meets. After a bit of a rough patch during holiday festivities, she is back to being a fairly reliable night sleeper. Most nights she will wake up once or not at all. Love our little bellabug!

Annabelle’s first holidays

I made a Thanksgiving tutu for Annabelle. We may have to make that a tradition. I think it helped her balance since sitting was still knew and hard at that point.

I made a Thanksgiving tutu for Annabelle. We may have to make that a tradition. I think it helped her balance since sitting was still knew and hard at that point.

Here are photos, with some limited captions, for Annabelle’s first holidays.

For Thanksgiving we were blessed to have all of my family join us from the Lower 48. Mom and Dad stayed extra because of the leaving for a month for the World Series so Susan, Jonathan, and John decided to join us.

Annabelle, me (Elizabeth), and her young Aunt Susan, the first time she had met my siblings.

Annabelle, me (Elizabeth), and her young Aunt Susan, the first time she had met my siblings.

It was the first time my siblings got to meet Annabelle.

Annabelle meets her Uncle John for the first time.

Annabelle meets her Uncle John for the first time.

Moreaus, Holleys, Nicolais, Thanksgiving 2014.

Moreaus, Holleys, Nicolais, Thanksgiving 2014.

It's a baby at a fancy grown up party and a super proud daddy who loves to show her off.

It’s a baby at a fancy grown up party and a super proud daddy who loves to show her off.

After Thanksgiving, we went to Alyeska for the Coffman Christmas party (David’s employer). Annabelle got to show off her fancy party dress during cocktail hour and then hang out with her babysitter, her Aunt Anya. (Actually I had the stomach flu so I didn’t get much more either.)

We did get a nice family photo out of the whole thing though.

The Nicolais, all fancy and dressed up, Christmas 2014

The Nicolais, all fancy and dressed up, Christmas 2014

Now we fast forward to Christmas. We didn’t want to overwhelm her with gifts when she

Christmas Day I fixed breakfast at home. But Christmas Eve we went out for breakfast. Annabelle wants you to know she is on the nice list.

Christmas Day I fixed breakfast at home. But Christmas Eve we went out for breakfast. Annabelle wants you to know she is on the nice list.

was too little to understand them. So we each bought her one thing that meant something to us. I got her a dolly with a soft body and a rattle in it since when I was six months old at Christmas I got one and it was my favorite toy, my comfort object, for years. David got her duplos since LEGOs and building mean much to him.

Tastes yummy! All toys, all things within my reach go into my mouth.

Tastes yummy! All toys, all things within my reach go into my mouth.

The thing that David really wanted for Christmas was to put our baby in the middle of a giant pile of wrapping paper and let her go to town. We did. She had a blast. There are a million adorable pictures of it. I only shared one. Notice how much better she is sitting now than Thanksgiving. At turkey day, she could only sit for a minute or so without toppling, now she hardly ever topples over.

This is amazing! Do I get to keep it all?

This is amazing! Do I get to keep it all?

There was tons of family, so much food, and presents. We were blessed beyond measure in all of our holidays. Annabelle may not remember her first Christmas, but we will never forget it. And here are a few more pictures to end this entry.

Annabelle and bell lights made by her great-grandmother.

Annabelle and bell lights made by her great-grandmother.

Lights and bells! My favorite things!

Lights and bells! My favorite things!

Love and family. Christmas 2014

Love and family. Christmas 2014

Our family, Christmas 2014

Our family, Christmas 2014

The Nicolai siblings and the next generation.

The Nicolai siblings and the next generation.

Annabelle and Santa got along famously

Annabelle and Santa got along famously

Breastfeeding, pumping, and work

One of the things that was very important to me from the get go was that our baby be breastfed as much as possible. I’m not planning on extended breastfeeding (past one year), but I wanted to breastfeed exclusively for at least the first six months.

I knew that these things don’t always work out exactly as we want and I tried to make it so that I would be okay if we had to do formula or supplementing, but part of me knew I would be heartbroken.

Because this is a long text heavy post, I’m inserting several unrelated images of Annabelle sporadically to keep it interesting.

This is Annabelle on a bison robe with said bison's skull beside her. For what it's worth that bison was humanely hunted and fed my extended family for two years.

This is Annabelle on a bison robe with said bison’s skull beside her. For what it’s worth that bison was humanely hunted and fed my extended family for two years.

We didn’t get off to the strongest start with breastfeeding, but not the worst ever. My milk took four days to come in and Annabelle kept falling asleep on the breast so she wasn’t getting enough of the colostrum. She lost too much weight. I resisted the doctor’s suggestions of formula. Then my milk came in, I got better at encouraging her to eat, she gained weight and we did well.

Throughout my maternity leave I was able to do some pumping to build up a small stash. I never was extremely consistent about it, but toward the end I tried to pump at the same time most days. I knew I needed a stash as back up for work and I needed to get my body used to the pump.

Before returning to work, I did a lot of reading about pumping. The basic set up is simple, what I pump on Monday is fed to my daughter on Tuesday and so forth. It’s a neat system that hopefully evens out.

However it doesn’t work for a lot of women. I knew that. I also knew that if anyone could make it work, I could. I have a fairly ideal situation: a private office with window blinds and a door that locks, a really supportive boss (who used to be a nursing and pumping mom herself), and a decent amount of control over my schedule to fit in pumping breaks. With all that going for myself, I feel guilty when it doesn’t work. So many women struggle through so much more to make it work.

This entry has a lot of me talking about emotions, particularly guilt, around breastfeeding. The culture, dialogue, and mommy-wars are so charged around these issues that it becomes a maelstrom of emotions for an already hormonal time in your life. Guilt and pressure are leveraged for a mother to breastfeed because anything less is inferior, but don’t do it in public, or do it in public and be proud. The hits come from all sides and it can be hard to deal with all the conflicting messages.

Any way you feed your baby is the right choice for you, your family. No one else knows your circumstances or your life, make the best decision for you and your family.

Genetics ed? Sex ed? Good thing she can't read yet!

Genetics ed? Sex ed? Good thing she can’t read yet!

We had given Annabelle a bottle of pumped breast milk at five weeks with no issues. I had several brands of bottles to try since I knew some babies were fussy about that, but she liked them all. She takes bottles very well and usually goes back to the breast with no fuss. She’s a good baby like that. (Occasionally in the evenings if she is really tired she won’t take the breast because it’s more work than a bottle and we have to use a pumped bottle while I pump more.)

For the first month or so, it worked really well. In fact I even made an excess to add to, stash or to use for a date night. And then about three weeks ago, it stopped working as well.

I upped the amount I put in each bottle since she didn’t seem satisfied. I was gauging how much to give to her based off articles from Kellymom. I don’t want my child to starve, but I don’t want her overfed to the point of vomiting either. It’s surprisingly hard to tell with an infant. There are no ounce markings on the side of my boob so I don’t really know how much she drinks from me.

As my supply started to not being able to meet what I knew she would need for the next day, I grew desperate. I unfroze from stash and tried every trick in the book to up my stash. I drink milkmaid tea daily (which is hard for me as a tea snob; it tastes slightly better than it looks is the best I can say about it), ate oatmeal, got lots of water, added a pumping at work, etc.

Someone commented on how Annabelle smiles in all her photos. So I took a photo of her crying.

Someone commented on how Annabelle smiles in all her photos. So I took a photo of her crying.

A few things really worked for me: watching videos of Annabelle during my pumping, really trying to make pumping sessions go 20 minutes to get the second let down, trying to still pump at least once a day on the weekends too, and massaging breasts while pumping. Also I learned that instant oatmeal doesn’t have the same supply building effect that old fashioned oatmeal does, but cookies made with old-fashioned oatmeal totally work. And if you don’t have a video of your child, listening to a different baby have a meltdown in the library outside your office is surprisingly effective.

And yet none of it was working consistently. I was so stressed which wasn’t helping production. I had an in case of emergency formula stash. When I tried to give Annabelle a bottle of it, she wouldn’t take it. Freaked me out. Later I gave her a bottle that was mixed breast milk and formula, she took that. By gradually doing mixed bottles, she will now take a bottle that is just formula.

However I didn’t know at first if I could mix formula and breast milk. As I googled around, all I could find was articles about how important it was to breastfeed. Even consumer reports, on their guide to formula, spends the first half of the article telling you why you should breast feed. What I wanted was practical, helpful advice about supplementing, mixing bottles of formula and breastmilk, that sort of thing. What I got was a huge heaping of mommy-guilt that only served to make me feel like more of a failure. If I couldn’t do it with my private office and supportive environment, what type of lazy failure of a mother was I?

Every day was a struggle and I would look with dread at the bottles I pumped. I hated going home and prepping the bottles for the next day, especially if I added frozen milk or formula. More than once I had to hide tears as I did it so I wouldn’t freak out my husband or mother (who was live-in child care at the time).

Once I cried over spilled milk, literally.  Despite my OCD levels of safeguards, a bottle spilled at work. It wasn’t much because I caught it quickly, only a couple of tablespoons, but it was a day when I was having trouble pumping enough. And the level of my reaction would have been more appropriate to being told a beloved pet was gravely ill. That was the moment I knew I had to do something. The googling started again in earnest.

Batman called  he said i didn't have to take a nap today.

Batman called he said i didn’t have to take a nap today.

Finally I read this article, while pumping in my office, and I burst into tears. I texted it to my mom and David who knew my struggles. What the author described is so exactly my situation, it was such a relief to see someone else write about it.

I am giving Annabelle everything I can. When she nurses in the morning, at night, on the weekend, she gets nutrition and to reinforce our bond. When she takes a bottle of pumped breast milk, she gets that best nutrition/antibodies/etc and to bond with someone else. When she takes a bottle of part or all formula, she gets that bond and she still gets great nutrition designed for young babies. Always her needs emotional and physical are being met.

Pumping is a mixed bag for me. It’s hard on my body and leaves me extremely sore. I admire women who pump exclusively, I couldn’t do that to my breasts. However pumping forces me to take breaks when I tend to be a very single-minded focused workaholic in the library. Even though I have a hands-free pumping bra (in which I feel like a cow hooked up to a milking machine) and I do keep working often during pump sessions, I also force myself to take a break. With each pumping session, I stop, look at a photo or video of my baby, read an article I want to read, and take a moment to breathe. That is helping my overall stress level and making me a better librarian and a better mom.

As I type this, I’ve done really well pumping in the last few days/week. I haven’t had to thaw breast milk at all this week and no bottles since Tuesday needed topped off with formula. It’s Sunday afternoon, the sun is streaming in, my four-month old daughter is napping on me, and there is enough breast milk in the fridge for tomorrow when I go to work. It’s an ideal situation and yet I still have tears in my eyes thinking about it all.

Some days everything my daughter has was made by me without a problem, some days I’m pulling from the from the freezer to make that true. (I’m trying to be better about pulling from the freezer. That’s what a stash is for and I need to stop thinking about it as a do-not-touch-emergency-fund.)  Some days she gets bottles that are partially or all formula.

So far the most she has had of formula in a single day is 1.5 bottles out of the four that she drinks when I’m at work. I refuse to set a minimum level of breast milk that I want her to have in those four bottles because it would be an arbitrary number and I would live and die by it. It’s my type-A mentality. In fact it’s a struggle to not make a line like that, even in my head.  But someday if I couldn’t make that, it would be another way I failed. Another time I broke down in tears at my desk or at night while pumping milk.

I’m done with tears over milk, spilled or otherwise. I’m giving my family everything I can. Her current mix of mostly breast milk, occasional formula is fine. If in the future I can’t pump at all at work to produce milk and she has formula during the day and nurses at night, that will also be fine. If my milk dries up entirely, plenty of babies (including myself and my siblings) were formula fed, it will be fine. It will be more than fine because we love her and will always give all we can to make sure she has what she needs to grow and thrive.

Mommy I have a secret to tell you: you're doing okay.

Mommy I have a secret to tell you: you’re doing okay.

3 months already!

How has it already been three months?

I’ve not been great about posting, but work and baby are exhausting.

Annabelle is 3 months old!

Annabelle is 3 months old!

Here’s the caption I wrote for Facebook:

Annabelle is 3 months old! (I took the photo a couple days late.) She smiles, giggles, reaches for things, grabs thing (though mostly still by accident) and loves to look outward at the world. She enjoys spending days with Grandma Cleta while mommy and daddy work and is starting to respond to her name. Her favorite things are her baby activity gym where she plays “kick the fox”, being sung to, reading, and snuggles at bedtime. She’s not a great night time sleeper yet, but she is all giggles and play in the morning so she usually gets forgiven.

She’s doing well with me back at work and takes a bottle like a champ. I’m still able to pump enough, but we tried her on formula. That was rejected soundly. Breast milk with some formula mixed in was accepted though. Hopefully we can keep her on breast milk, but if not we will do a gradual formula introduction.

Other things she loves.

Her swing:


Her family:

Top: Margaret and Matthew Nicolai Middle: Cleta and Ray Moreau Bottom: Elizabeth, Annabelle, and David Nicolai

Top: Margaret and Matthew Nicolai
Middle: Cleta and Ray Moreau
Bottom: Elizabeth, Annabelle, and David Nicolai

And pretty much the entire world. She’s a happy baby.

Days 21 to 24, democracy, friends, and family

Playing some more catch up on happy day things. I like taking the photos, but updating with a newborn is more of a challenge.

Day 21, Wednesday July 23

I’m a board member of Alaska Common Ground. It is an organization that encourages civil discussion on political and policy issues. This fall there are four ballot initiatives going before the Alaskan electorate (one in August and three in November). We are hosting a series of forums/debates on each of them. The first one was on Wednesday July 23rd and was about the oil tax restructure. We weren’t sure how they would go. However we had a completely full house, standing room only, and turned away a lot more people. Hundreds of Alaskans showing up to become better informed. Few things make me happier.

A very well informed group of experts on both sides.

A very well informed group of experts on both sides.

Day 22, Thursday, July 24

On Thursday, we (Annabelle and I) joined Hilary and her mom’s group at the Loussac Library’s summer concert series. It was a beautiful day to sit on the lawn, chat with other moms, watch kids play, and just relax. Lovely time.

Kids dancing, sunny skies, picnic lunches, live music. perfect day.

Kids dancing, sunny skies, picnic lunches, live music. perfect day.

Hilary and Annabelle hanging out in the sunshine.

Hilary and Annabelle hanging out in the sunshine.

There was a skywriter who was advertising the airshow. He tried three times to write AIRSHOW but it was too windy and the words kept blowing away, he never even tried to make the W. It was possible we decided he didn’t know how to spell Airshow or how to make a W.

The skywriter finally gave up on spelling out words and drew a happy face.

The skywriter finally gave up on spelling out words and drew a happy face.

Day 23, Friday July 25

It rained on Friday and Annabelle and I snuggled. I love wearing her in the sling.

Rainy day snuggles in the sling.

Rainy day snuggles in the sling.

And we also did some tummy time. Mostly a low key mommy and baby day.

Day 24, Saturday July 26

Dave, Annabelle and I went to the Saturday Farmer’s Market for some fresh veggies. I love that place, I love those veggies. I bought a bunch of amazing spinach and various other veggies and treats. And we ran into a ton of people we knew because of course we did, that’s how Anchorage works.

This bunch of spinach is bigger than Annabelle, locally grown, super fresh and yummy, and only cost $5!

This bunch of spinach is bigger than Annabelle, locally grown, super fresh and yummy, and only cost $5!

That evening we went to Mary and Tom’s house for Tom’s birthday. This tends to happen when Annabelle is around her family.

No shortage of admirers for little Miss Annabelle.

No shortage of admirers for little Miss Annabelle.


Days 17 to 20

Let’s go through some more 100 Days of Happy. Some are duplicate photos that Dave already posted.

Day 17, Saturday July 19th

She’s a cloth diaper baby! I knew we wanted to cloth diaper before we were even

Lifting up Annabelle's onesie to show off her cloth diaper.

Lifting up Annabelle’s onesie to show off her cloth diaper.

pregnant. It makes more sense environmentally. I don’t like the idea of our daughter’s poop being wrapped in plastic and preserved in a landfill for a thousand years. And I was extremely blessed that my mom learned that you can sew your own cloth diapers and took it as a personal challenge. She has sewn us so many diapers (I actually got a box with some more today). Annabelle was too small for the diapers at first so we started out with using disposable ones. Her little legs are still a bit too skinny for them so we use disposables at night, but for the last week, starting on Saturday the 19th, we have been a cloth diaper family. Loving it.

She's got so many different diapers in different stylish fabrics. I normally don't like naked baby photos (with only a diaper) but I can't resist a few.

She’s got so many different diapers in different stylish fabrics. I normally don’t like naked baby photos (with only a diaper) but I can’t resist a few.

Day 18, Sunday July 20th

David already posted both of these, but on Sunday we finally got photos of our daughter’s beautiful smile.


We also got to spend some time with our twitter friends. Dave and I met at a twitter party organized by Valette and Marian Call. This rather makes them her twitter godmothers. Marian was in town so we had fun at a happy hour and got to show off Annabelle.


Day 19, Monday July 21

Days as a (temporary) stay at home mom aren’t exactly what I thought they would be like. I’m much less productive than I thought I would be, but cuddles with this snuggly little bug make it all worth while.


This picture is right side up if you consider I was also laying down when I took it.

Day 20, Tuesday July 22

Yes I'm aware it is probably not a good idea to immediately coat clean teeth in sugar but I don't care.

Yes I’m aware it is probably not a good idea to immediately coat clean teeth in sugar but I don’t care.

I had to go to the dentist on Tuesday. I’m a really REALLY bad dental patient. For my pregnancy, I had skipped the dentist entirely. There were a variety of reasons with differing degrees of validity, but mostly it boiled down to: pregnancy was hard enough that I didn’t have enough will power left to do the dentist as well. As a child, after dental appointments, my father would take us to get a doughnut; there was a good local doughnut shop near the dentist. (Mom didn’t do this.) So sweet treat after dentist became a tradition for my sister and me. To reward myself for surviving the dentist, I stopped at Carl Jrs to get a milkshake. I’m obsessed with their milkshakes, they are made with real ice cream and are delicious. I earned that milkshake.

After my dentist appointment, I went back to Margaret and Matthew’s house where they had been watching Annabelle and we were having a dinner for some people who were in town.

Annabelle sleeping with her Uppa.  Babysitting for us is hard work, clearly.

Annabelle sleeping with her Uppa. Babysitting for us is hard work, clearly.

A Baby Story

Warning: this is the story of our labor and delivery. No graphic photos or details, but if it isn’t your thing, skip them. Also it’s long.

Friday, June 13th was the first day at work I’d really felt like there was a good chance I wouldn’t make it back to work on Monday and I got as many extra ducks in a row as I could. The last hour and a half of my work week was crazy productive, a flurry of activity.

Saturday we’d had various plans to do things around town. After sleeping in, I woke up still exhausted. We had a lazy morning and more naps. We finally made it to some evening social things, but I couldn’t remember a day when I’d been so tired or so lazy without being seriously ill. In retrospect, my body was making me store up some rest and I am really glad that I listened to it.

Sunday (the 15th of June) I started feeling cramps. They were intermittent and not too severe. I’ve never been in labor before and I didn’t know what it was so I ignored it. We had another lazy, full of naps day. Again so glad I took the chance to rest.

Sunday night we were at family dinner (once a week at Dave’s parents’ house all of the extended family that is free gathers for dinner) and I felt something that was a lot stronger than just a cramp. There was also an early birthday cake for me. By the time we made our excuses and got home (8pmish), I was pretty sure that I was in labor, or my appendectomy was failing at 20 minute intervals.

This is me about an hour before I was sure it was labor. So the most pregnant photo I have. Also it was Father's Day and 4 days before my birthday.

This is me about an hour before I was sure it was labor. So the most pregnant photo I have. Also it was Father’s Day and 4 days before my birthday.

And the cramps continued every 20 minutes for the rest of the night. At our childbirth class, they told us if you go into labor at night you should try to sleep as much as possible; you’ll need the energy. So we did. It’s far easier said than done. I didn’t get much sleep between contractions, David got a little more. Once during the night we called OB triage who reassured us we were doing the right thing and to come in when we hit active labor.

Monday (the 16th) we got up (or David got up and I stopped pretending to sleep), determined I was still in labor, definitely real labor not false labor, and called our bosses to tell them we wouldn’t be in. The entire time I had been afraid that it was false labor and they would send me home if we went to the hospital. I’d heard so many stories about people being sent back that I was determined to wait until it was absolutely active labor.

Primer for the uninitiated – early labor they want you to do at home, it’s the beginning part of labor and can last for 8 to 12 hours, or longer. Active labor, when you’re 4 cm dilated and/or contractions are 5 minutes apart for an hour or longer, is when you’re supposed to go to the hospital. So my 20 minute apart contractions weren’t going to cut it.

All day Monday David and I hung out, timed contractions, and tried to speed up the process. We took walks, warm baths, everything. And the contractions never got closer than 10 minutes apart, but usually hung out at 15-20 minutes apart. It was frustrating.

On dealing with the contractions – we had taken a class but I swear I didn’t remember most of the breathing exercises. I did remember the poses and those helped. We had an exercise/birth ball that we had ordered that was helpful to sit on. And heating pads and such.

About mid day, I began to suspect that my water had broken but not in a gush, in a slow leak. But I couldn’t be sure so I held my tongue and kept timing contractions. (Actually David was timing contractions with an app so every time one would start I would yell TIMER at Dave and he would wake up and hit his phone.)

I also kept eating all day. Again the class told us to eat since (many) hospitals don’t allow you to eat when you get admitted because they don’t want anything in your stomach in case of emergency c-section. So eat at home while you can, you’ll need the energy. I didn’t have much appetite but I tried to eat. The popsicles were the best.

By 5pm I was so frustrated that we were at nearly 24 hours of labor and no visible progress, but it started to pick up. For most of the day we had avoided starting laundry because we didn’t want to head to the hospital and leave a load of laundry in the washer molding. About 6:30pm I told David to start one. (He claims it was his idea, but he’s wrong.) My theory was the umbrella theory. You never need an umbrella if you’re carrying one. Starting laundry would be enough to kickstart labor and insure we wouldn’t be there to finish it. By 8pm that night my contractions were 5-7 minutes apart and a LOT more intense. After I threw up (multiple times) from the pain, I declared that even if it hadn’t been a full hour of 5 minute contractions, we were going in. I was exhuasted and done. We timed the drive to the hospital (a 7 minute trip) to be between contractions.

Fortunately we had finished packing the to go hospital bag on Saturday and just had to grab iPhone chargers. Or at least, I thought we had finished the bag, I had put a couple of go-home outfits in the bag for the baby (multiple choices since we wouldn’t know her size) and called it good. The car seat had been installed in my car for a couple of weeks – thank you Anchorage Fire Department! However on Monday as it became clear that we were going to the hospital, David started frantically packing the diaper bag. He added in diapers, more outfits, wipes, etc. I tried to convince him we were covered and the hospital would have diapers, but I think it made him feel better to do something. We’re both over-packers so I understood where he was coming from.

We had written a birth plan, but forgot to print it out and bring it with us. It’s okay because from this point on not everything went exactly how we hoped. But that isn’t too surprising. I was mostly glad we wrote the birth plan because it let us talk through things and make decisions together, many of which (delayed cord clamping, immediate skin to skin) we did do at the hospital. And since we’d already discussed these with the midwife previously, they were in our record and we reiterated them to staff during labor.

Our perfectly timed 7 minute drive to the hospital worked and I had a contraction in the parking lot. And then at about 9pm I waddled into ANMC (Alaska Native Medical Center) to have a baby. After 9pm, the hospital is closed to visitors and you are supposed to check in with ER/triage who will send you up to OB triage past the security check point. I’d just had a very painful contraction, I’d been doing this for over 24 hours, and I was exhausted and in a lot of pain. So forget those bureaucratic rules. I waddled right past security who was wise enough not to argue with the hugely pregnant angry looking woman. They just told David to come back and register for an overnight visitor pass when I got admitted. When we got to the locked security doors for OB, I just pressed the button and said, “Baby! Help!” and they buzzed me in.

OB triage checked me in, determined my water had broken (partially, slow leak), and tried to hook me up to the monitors to measure my contractions. They hurt bad enough that I was throwing up (again) and not really able to lay still so the monitors could work. Originally I had planned on trying to go without pain medicines if possible. But I didn’t count on over a full day of labor with no sleep. I was too tired and I wanted an epidural and I wanted it RIGHT NOW. The nurse told me that I didn’t get an epidural until I laid still and they got the monitor readings (she said it nicer) and I tried my best.

At this point we learned it was a very busy night in baby-town. They weren’t sure they would have a labor room for me. I could have the baby in triage, no problem, but I wouldn’t get an epidural. According to David at this point, I basically stopped just short of grabbing the nurse by the lapels and demanding an immediate epidural.

Apparently Native women are very good at having babies. They don’t scream, don’t often need pain medicine, have quick labors, etc. In other words I know there were other women in the other triage cubicles, but I was the only one I could hear screaming. I think that I might have gotten bumped up faster to get a labor room before the women who were farther along than me because of my screaming. Whatever, at that point I wasn’t proud. I was exhausted and in a lot of pain.

About midnight we get transferred to Labor and Delivery and 12:30 I got an epidural and tried to get some sleep. The midwife determined my water was only partially broken and finished breaking it. We slept for less than 2 hours, but they were lovely. At 2am I could feel things despite the epidural and I called the nurse. She brought in the midwife who checked me and determined I was fully dilated (10 cm) and ready to start pushing. 26 hours to get to 4cm, less than 2 hours to get the next 6cm. Dave came out of the bathroom and I told him we were going to start pushing. He was really surprised and blurted something about him just going to the bathroom. (Also operating on almost no sleep.)

Side note: ANMC is midwife led. All the midwives are nurse practitioners. I had a great experience there. All my prenatal care was with a midwife except for two appointments with an OB until they determined that my gestational diabetes was under control with diet. During labor there was always a doctor/OB available, but the midwife/nurse practitioner, and labor nurse took the lead. I didn’t see the doctor because I didn’t need him. Because the clinic and hospital are all in the same computer system, all my records were always there. I was really impressed with our care and glad I was eligible for Native medical services because my husband and child are Alaska Native. I am covered for up to six weeks after. Of course the best part of ANMC care is that it was all free. They charged my insurance but never sent us a copay or other bill. There were some oddities going through as a non-Native person and some inconveniences since Dave and I aren’t the average clientele. But there’s one thing that can’t be beat: Free Baby!

And we started pushing. Some women, especially Native women apparently, push for about 15 minutes and out pops baby. That was not me. They turned down and eventually entirely off my epidural (so I was feeling everything by the end). After an hour of pushing, I got my first dose of pitocin. Twenty minutes later they gave me another dose of pitocin. They just needed me to make more progress during this last transition stage.

It was now 3am, I’d been pushing for an hour and David was doing his best to be supportive. However he also had had almost no sleep for over 30 hours and was falling asleep between contractions. The nurses looked at him and offered him juice to keep his blood sugar up. He refused, but I accepted on his behalf. I knew I needed him. He drank the orange juice and it did help.

For the most part, I never went rude and yelling and mean during labor. There was one thing during early labor at the house that I said that caused David to give me a hurt look before remembering I was in labor and allowed to say whatever I wanted. And neither of us can remember what that was. During the pushing stage I was mostly too focused on pushing to say anything at all. Plus they want you to focus all your body energy on pushing and not to scream or moan. Maybe they just didn’t want to hear me scream. However everyone has their own idiosyncratic phrases and one of David’s is “you gotta want it”. Normally this is after I can’t do something like open a jam jar. During one contraction he was encouraging me, “you’re doing great, keep going, you gotta want it.” I waited until the end of the contraction before telling him that no one in that room wanted this baby out more than me and he could not use that expression again.

As I said before, I didn’t remember my breathing exercises. The midwife asked if I preferred word encouragement (you’re doing great, you’re so strong, etc) or if I preferred counting. Definitely counting. It’s weird and geeky but I love counting things. I always count stairs as I climb them. It also really helps me to know what is happening, how long it will last and what will happen next. So during a contraction, I would push for a count of ten, take a deep breath, and push for another count of ten. Four pushes (four counts of ten) and that was a contraction. Knowing that kept me focused and helped a lot. At one point I started pushing and no one was counting and I screamed at them to start counting. The nurse kept saying “you’re almost done” when I knew I had 2 pushes left and that was irritating me. Don’t tell me rosy lies, give me a countdown.

I've got some more immediately after birth photos, but we are going with the ones where I brushed my hair. This is our family of three and some of the happiest moments of my life.

I’ve got some more immediately after birth photos, but we are going with the ones where I brushed my hair. This is our family of three and some of the happiest moments of my life.

After almost two hours of pushing, they started using words like crowning and telling me they could see that she would have hair. Dave (briefly) left my side to look at the hair. I knew we were getting close because the midwife put on her serious baby catching outfit over her scrubs and the baby nurse stopped looking bored. Those last few pushes were the most intense pain of my life. In the videos during childbirth class, they asked the mother to stop after pushing out the head so they can do their thing before the body comes out. I think they asked me not to push after the head, but I was too focused at that point and just kept pushing. I was also screaming for the first time since the epidural.

Then the nurses and David had to tell me to open my eyes and see my daughter. They brought her up to my chest and everyone was crying (well David, Annabelle, and I were, the nurses seemed fine). After a few minutes, when the cord had stopped pulsing, they cut it. (They offered but David did not want to cut it.) We were allowed to hold her skin to skin and do immediate nursing for as long as we wanted before they took her for the bath/weight check/apgar score, etc. They also offered the placenta, but we chose to let 20140617-073356-27236414.jpgthem dispose of it as medical waste. By that point, we had eyes for nothing but our daughter.

Those first few hours will forever be some of my happiest memories. Watching David hold our daughter for the first time, and just laying there, feeling her, smelling her, holding her. At one point he carried her over to the window and softly talked to her. We made calls and shared our joyous news with the world. If I could have yelled it from the top of a mountain, I would have. (So super cheesy, babies make you cheesy.)

The rest of the hospital stay was more difficult. The mother/baby recovery area was under construction, loud, and crowded. The first night we were on our own in our double room, but we got roommates the next morning. With a roommate your husband can not spend the night. David was NOT going to go for that and as soon as day shift came on, we asked how to get home. We got out at 1pm Wednesday afternoon, 30 hours after birth instead of the required 36 hours. At the hospital they wake you up every two hours to take your vitals and the babies, it’s noisy, the bed is uncomfortable, and it isn’t a restful environment. Great care, amazing staff, but I was happier at my home.20140618-020327-7407132.jpg

I will say that I had sushi and a cookie cake brought to me by my sister-in-law. Delicous. I waited a year for that sushi. I’ve eaten a lot of sushi since then and probably will continue to. I’ve got ground to make up! Also breast feeding means you are starving most of the time. I feel like I can never eat enough.

Since she was losing weight and we were having trouble with breastfeeding, we had to come back for weight checks and to meet with a lactation consultant on Thursday and Friday. While she had lost weight on Thursday, she had gained a few ounces on Friday and was back to her birth weight by her one week appointment.

Everything didn’t go exactly as I wanted, but a lot of good things did. I didn’t need a ton of interventions and I got to hold my daughter immediately. Mostly at the end of it, we had our perfect healthy daughter, I was healthy, and that is all that matters.

Days 12, 13, and 14

I feel like it is so easy to find joy in our new daughter that I’m almost cheating at this 100 Happy Days challenge.

Day 12 (Monday, July 14)

I didn’t get a photo of this, but we have a milestone! On Monday morning as we were playing with her before David went to work, we saw Annabelle’s first social smiles. Not gas, but actual emotion! Now if only I could get her to do that on camera…

We’ve been blessed to receive so many wonderful baby gifts. And some of our favorites are the handmade gifts. On Monday I received a box from my longtime friend Beth with an adorable baby outfit and a fantastic owl she had crocheted. Annabelle seems to really like it. It’s pictured with baby A on a lovely quilt made by one of David’s longtime friends Becky. Becky also made a beautiful quilt for our wedding. We are so blessed to have such talented friends who share their talents with us!

Annabelle likes her new owl friend made by Beth L!

Annabelle likes her new owl friend made by Beth L!

The quilt Becky made may look too big now, but she'll grow into it.

The quilt Becky made may look too big now, but she’ll grow into it.

Day 13 (Tuesday July 15)

Annabelle is not overly fond of tummy time. I know it is important for her development so we do small stretches of it. On Tuesday, I assembled her baby activity gym. The cats liked it, she was less impressed. I tweeted some photos with the phrase, “So far the cats like the baby activity gym more than the baby.” I realized that thanks to the vagaries of English that could have two meanings. One: the cats like the baby activity gym more than they like the baby. Two: the cats like the baby activity gym more than the baby likes the activity gym. I meant the second, but both are actually true.


That evening Annabelle got all dressed up in a fancy outfit for a party to celebrate her Aunt Ellie graduating from art school.

All dressed up and ready to party!

All dressed up and ready to party!

Day 14 (Wednesday, July 16)

Wednesday was Annabelle’s first trip to the library. She got to meet all my coworkers. I was meeting a new librarian whom I hired before going on maternity leave. We’ve read almost all of Annabelle’s books to her multiple times so I picked up a read with me bag. The read with me bags contain 10 board books on a theme, a toy, and some rhyme sheets and reading tips. It’s a great grant funded program and collection and I’m glad to be a part of it. I chose the baby faces bag because Annabelle loves staring at people’s faces. From other early literacy training, I knew that developmentally faces are of the most interest to her right now. And sure enough she tracked on the photos of the baby faces far more than she has any other book illustration. She even smiled back at one of the books!

Lots of new books to read! (Posed on a quilt made by her Grandma Cleta who took her kids to the library every week.)

Lots of new books to read! (Posed on a quilt made by her Grandma Cleta who took her kids to the library every week.)

Days 10 and 11 – bottles and balls

Even though I’m not working during maternity leave, weekends are extra special because David is home with us. He i so good with her, such an amazing father, I love watching them together.

Day 10, Saturday July 12
We’ve been exclusively breast feeding and plan on continuing to do so for quite a while. However we will have to introduce pumped milk in a bottle when I go to work or if we ever want a date night again. On Saturday, I pumped a little to try out the bottle and to mix with her vitamin drops. She doesn’t like the drops straight from the syringe. David gave her the bottle. It was magical to watch him have that experience and bond with her in a new way. As for Annabelle, she was trying to take it all in. It seemed to confuse her that she was getting her familiar food from a different person and in a different method. I love breast feeding so much, it’s an incredible experience, but I’m glad someone else gets to have the joy of feeding her too.

David gives Annabelle her first bottle. The cats observe.

David gives Annabelle her first bottle. The cats observe.

Day 11, Sunday July 13
During the first two weeks at home we got to watch lots of World Cup. I’ve never paid much attention to soccer (excuse me Futbol) but David loves it. And it was a lot of fun to watch with him. We watched the first US game during my labor and most of the games that were on when he was home. Only during US games did we determine it was best if he didn’t hold the baby. I even watched the last US game when he was at work because I’d gotten into the entire thing. Sunday was the finale and we watched Argentina and Germany play. For David it was a perfect day, he got to hold his baby, have a beer, watch soccer.

Beer, baby, soccer. Perfect Sunday for David.

Beer, baby, soccer. Perfect Sunday for David.

I also made us some soft pretzels (one of my favorite things to bake) in support of Germany. Someday soon, I’ll post my recipe. I love to bake, especially breads, and I hadn’t done any baking since Annabelle was born. It felt good to be baking again even if it did take a lot of energy and planning around a newborn feeding schedule!

Yummy pretzels. I made these with whole wheat flour.

Yummy pretzels. I made these with whole wheat flour.

Four more years until the next World Cup. But there’s women’s World Cup next year in Canada!

Day 6: Aunt Ellie and a Picnic

On day six of my 100 happy days, Eliana, David’s youngest sister, came into town and got to meet Annabelle for the first time.

Aunt Ellie meets her niece Annabelle for the first time.

Aunt Ellie meets her niece Annabelle for the first time.

Then Ellie, Annabelle, and I met David’s parents and David downtown on the park strip for a lunch time picnic during Dave’s lunch break.

First lunchtime picnic as a family!

First lunchtime picnic as a family!

After lunch was some less than happy times as my car would not start. However instead of being a very expensive repair as we thought (an alternator for example), it was fixed with just a new battery after being towed to an auto repair shop. Still, breastfeeding my crying daughter in the back of a broken car in the middle of downtown as all of my husband’s coworkers walked by on their lunch breaks was not my finest hour. The car is slated/budgeted to be replaced in the next year or so, but I am really glad not to have our hand forced by deciding between an expensive repair and an immediate replacement. Not fun, but ultimately a good outcome and therefore a happy.