Categories
Dirty Laundry

Sugar Jets and Horse Feathers

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Well, it’s happened. My son is not even two years of age and I’ve already heard him curse. My husband and I (mostly) watch our language around the children, but there are times when you just need to swear, and substitute phrases just don’t feel the same. Things like “sugar jets and horse feathers” seem promising until you try to say them with conviction and it’s like singing your favorite song out loud to the Kidz Bop version of it.

You know those sweet tales new parents tell of their children’s first words? The “milestone moment” when a baby graduates from babble to actual speech? This is not going to be one of those stories. Instead, I’m going to share the swear words my son has learned and the context for which each one happened. It’s my way of taking my mom guilt and making it into something a bit more lighthearted!

The word: Dammit

The Context: Our senior dog shitting.on.floor.again. What makes “new life” in the home wicked awesome? Managing “old life” around it at the same time. I’m a mom to two under two, and a 13-year old pug. All three of them weigh under 30 lbs, but probably produce 60 lbs of crap each day. I’m lucky if half of that makes it into a diaper. Mostly it’s presented on the floor, the wall, everyone’s clothes and my bare hands.

The day it happened: I was feeling strong in the poo-pocalypse because I’d successfully walked the dog until she gave me a #2 outside while the baby was napping and my son was enjoying the rest of his cheese stick in the high chair. Then suddenly, as we came through the kitchen door, the dog tore ass all over the rug. The door swung over the warm steamy nuggets spreading them over the floor like a knife gliding over butter cream frosting on a sheet cake. Needless to say, there was vocabulary involved. My son picked it up, and proceeded to say “dammit, dammit, dammit” in every tone and inflection he has while playing with magnets on the refrigerator.

The word: Jesus Christ.

The Context: One of the first things I noticed when I became a part-time stay-at-home-mom is the loss of urgency people have on the road between the hours of 9:00AM-4:00PM. The go-go-go traffic of rush hour just isn’t happening in the middle of the day. Nobody seems to care about getting anywhere quickly, and this means Type-A mommas like myself might freak out if they get in the car and get stuck behind “Sunday drivers” on a Tuesday.

The day it happened: I was cleaning the house in the morning because I had this fantasy that I could get it done and then use my entire afternoon to do work during the kids’ naps. Story time always ensures a long nappies so though I was pushing it on time that morning (there’s always just one more thing you can get done, right?), I raced to get the kids out the door and to the library. Of course we ended up behind an old man in a pick-up truck who was zero concerned about my ability to advance the car any faster than 30MPH on a 50MPH no-passing road. Since putting my foot on the gas and driving like an asshole isn’t an option with my kids in the car, the alternative is shouting curse words over my steering wheel. I shouted “Jesus Christ,” and while that’s bad, I think I deserve points for not adding, “Are you fucking kidding me?” The moment we walked into the library, my son hit me with a “Jeez rice.” I’m hoping other moms just thought he was hungry.

The Word: Mother-F-er. Only it wasn’t “F-er” that he said, it was the full version. I can’t even bring myself to type it out.

The Context: Ever have to empty an overly-loaded, broken diaper genie? Let me tell you something. It’s an experience. From the soiled diapers spilling forth and unfolding so their contents go rogue everywhere, to the sharp bits of plastic inside the “craptraption” that scrape your freshly-pooed hands. And did I mention the stench? Febreeze couldn’t even.

The day it happened: My son (22 months old) came up with me and the baby to change her diaper in the nursery. He was on the floor stacking some blocks and I was dealing with sweet potato surprise on the changing table. Everything was going swell until I lifted the lid to the diaper genie and tried to push the dirty diaper down the tube. It was getting stuck on something, and on a particularly forceful push, the diaper retaliated and sort of popped like a water balloon. Yes, it was awesome. As I used one hand to manage a curious toddler to stay away from the mess and stifle the writhing of the baby who continued cranking out #2 goodness directly onto her receiving blanket, I used the other hand to “repair” the diaper genie by forcing my fist through the hole to clear the blockage and ended up scraping myself on a chard of plastic. And that’s when the “MF-er” burst forth from my lips like the steed of all swear words, pausing time as my son looked at me sweetly. “Mucker,” he said. And we never spoke of it again.

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Dirty Laundry

Dear Fit Pregnancy, Let’s Get Real.

During my first pregnancy, I was fresh off my third Ironman race and used to training 17-20 hours a week. Naturally, I was interested in maintaining my fitness (at an appropriate level) and keeping my body in the best shape possible as an expectant mom. I gravitated to the “Fit Pregnancy” magazine as soon as I saw it in the doctor’s office, thrilled to discover a resource that promised to help me maintain some sense of my old self as my new self began to take shape.

And take shape it did.

Like every new mom, I grappled with my changing body during pregnancy. It wasn’t just my belly that got rounder, but just about any part of me that had a curve before, got curvier. And softer.

As a “fit” person, I wasn’t expecting to gain weight everywhere. I wasn’t expecting to go from my “peak season” race weight of 133 lbs, to a first trimester weight of 160 lbs. Luckily, most of my pregnancy took place over the winter and I was happy to hide my body under sweaters and layers of scarves. I felt detached from Fit Pregnancy and its “polished prego” motif. It seemed that the pictures of the women in the articles and the magazine’s Facebook stream were always thin, tan, glamorous, trendy… It was as if a fashion magazine got all of its models knocked up and reassigned them to baby-bump photo shoots for a year before they (probably) shrank back down to runway-shape (in like, a month post-partum).

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Pictures taken from Fit Pregnancy’s Facebook Page

 

Now I’m pregnant with my second baby. I’m not fresh off an Ironman, but fresh off a Little Man as my son just turned one year old. My body immediately went into bump mode around the “10 week” mark, and I’m rolling (literally) into my second trimester through “uncharted pregnancy wardrobe” territory. I’ve always been a “less is more” kind of girl when it came to summer clothing. Long runs in shorts and a sports bra, nights out in a mini skirt and strappy tank-top. That was before the surface area of my body tripled. The maternity sweater collection doesn’t pair well with the 80-degree, humid days of June, July and August. Where would I hide my evolving body? And more importantly, why do I feel like I SHOULD be hiding it?

Last summer I was melting off the pounds with breastfeeding and power-walking. This summer I’m melting under the pounds as my body balloons out with each passing week. I’m not “Ironman fit,” but I think most who know me would say I’m still “fit.” I’m currently teaching three spin classes per week, and only recently gave up teaching a weekly Group CORE fitness class because being on your back after the first trimester is a no-no. I walk three miles every day with my son. I break a sweat when I clean my house. It’s not 140.6 miles of swimming, biking and running, but I know that my “pregnant” activity level rivals what the average non-pregnant American does for exercise each week.

So this brings me to my point. I’ve been feeling really annoyed with Fit Pregnancy lately, as it populates my Facebook stream with unrealistic images of a pregnant woman’s body. The women don’t physically represent what most of us actually look like when we’re carrying a child. It’s as if they’ve hand-picked the most attractive representations of the “mother to be” and put them out there for the rest of us (who debate whether the “pregnancy glow” is actually some bullshit urban legend) to “aspire” to.

In my day job, I work at an advertising agency as an account planner where I’m responsible for representing the “voice of customer.” In other words, I make sure that our clients know what their target audiences are truly thinking and feeling so that when we reach out to them through marketing, we know what kind of message will resonate best with them. We know their goals, pain points, what motivates them and their attitudes and perceptions about certain things. I can’t help but to think about Fit Pregnancy through the “voice of customer” lens and come to the conclusion that they DON’T GET IT. I’m the target audience, but I’m not feeling like they know me or understand what I’d like to be exposed to as an expectant mom.

In my “not day job” I’ve worked for nearly a decade as a fitness instructor and triathlon coach. Part of my responsibility in that role is helping people of  all shapes, sizes and abilities feel good about themselves and their bodies as they push through physical challenges to meet their goals. When I look at Fit Pregnancy through the “coach” lens, I feel the image they’re portraying is setting an unrealistic example for women who are pregnant. For those of us who don’t naturally look like Gisele Bundchen when we have a bun in the oven, we might see images of airbrushed women and model baby bumps as the “bar” we must meet—the “look” we should go for. It could be dangerous for women who fall prey to that kind of pressure, who may stop eating an appropriate diet for pregnancy, or may start working out at intensities that could be dangerous for their babies. As a coach, I know that “fit” means “being healthy in your context, within your unique circumstances.” A big part of being successful at fitness is setting realistic goals.

As a hormonal, pregnant woman? I might see Fit Pregnancy and think, “I’m missing the mark. I’m fat and unattractive.” Provoking a woman’s self esteem during such a sensitive period of her life is not a great idea. This kind of emotional stress can harm mother and child, and works against Fit Pregnancy’s mission.

According to the Facebook page:

Fit Pregnancy guides women through the most exciting ride of their life—becoming a mom. We provide the news, workouts, style and shopping coverage, and supportive service readers need to take stellar care of themselves, nourish their baby, relish their pregnancy and feel calm and confident as a new mom.

Fit Pregnancy, I beg you. Start showing us images of real pregnant women—I know your models ARE real women, but can’t you feature a variety of body types? Can’t you show us that a beautiful and fit woman can carry a child AND some extra weight?

The last line of your mission talks about making women feel calm and confident as they become moms. I don’t know about other women, but comparing my body to the images of your moms does not make me feel confident. It makes me feel crappy. And I’m a pretty freaking confident woman overall. I’m comfortable in my own skin, even when there’s more of it. But give me a break—can you please stop shoving the image of an airbrushed, smiling woman caressing her perfectly round baby bump down my throat? I’ve already had my share of morning sickness and I’m tired of gagging.

Real women in their real bodies want to read your magazine—we want your news, workouts and style tips. We want to nourish our babies, and relish our pregnancies.

And we want you to show us that it’s possible even if you’re sizing up in clothing and rocking a 5’3″ frame.

Let’s get real. I’ll go first…

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This is what a three-time Ironman finisher on her second baby in less than two years looks like. I’m no Alessandra Ambrosio, but I don’t think fitness and beauty only reside within supermodel bodies, and I think you’re doing women a disservice by choosing to show so many examples of this kind of “fitness.”  This isn’t a photo shoot. It’s an impromptu selfie of a real woman straight out of the shower with no make-up, wet hair, wearing a sports bra and bathing suit bottom.

And there’s back fat and cellulite. And most importantly…

A smile.

Help us be happy and embrace pregnancy by showing that fitness is about more than just conventional good looks.

 

Categories
Dirty Laundry

A Mama at Gaga

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Pregnantly rocking Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP shirt

That awkward moment when you realize you’re stashing a breast pump under your seat at a rave.

That was me earlier this week, while attending Lady Gaga’s artRAVE, The Artpop Ball. Long a fan of the eccentric pop star, I’d been to see her at Madison Square Garden years ago at the Monster Ball—her first-ever show at Madison Square Garden in her hometown city, Manhattan. It was a fantastic show. So when ARTPOP came out, I strongly hinted that I’d like to see her in concert again and Santa (Krispin) made it happen. Smartly, he made arrangements to send me off to the city and attend the concert with my friend Danielle who lives in the area. And so our adventure began.

Arriving to MSG, we took stock of the parade of “Little Monsters” dressed up in their favorite iterations of Lady Gaga. Suffice it to say, I saw more parts of more people’s bodies than I needed to. I had contemplated dressing up myself, making my emerging baby bump look like a giant blue mirror ball in honor of the ARTPOP album cover, but I convinced myself I was too old for that (and too lazy, as I’d have to try and find a way to get everything I needed for a costume AND an overnight into a single carry-on bag for the flight). Meh.

We got to the security gate, and a male guard began going through my bag, which was a Medela Pump-In-Style bag that looks like a normal purse, except for there’s a huge motor built into it with some tubing and dials hidden in a zip compartment on the side. I watched his puzzled expression as he tried to make sense of the bag’s weight while sifting through the few items he could see in the top (a scarf, a lip gloss, etc.).

“It’s a breast pump, that’s what you’re feeling.” I offered as his hand cupped the large square shape that concealed the motor. His hands released from the bag in a flash. “Okay, you’re all set,” he said. No eye contact, no concern, just the little “yucky” dance of a grown man who had the heebie jeebies from touching a breast pump. Alright then. With the bag slung fashionably over my shoulder, I mommed my way into the venue with Danielle, and stared lustfully at the beer taps in all the vendor windows en route to our seats. I had no idea how badly I would REALLY want a drink once the show started.

The opening act was a “vocaloid” named Hatsune Miku, an anime-like cartoon with long teal hair who sings Japanese pop music. Yes, a cartoon was on the stage entertaining us (didn’t I take this mini vacation away from my son to NOT watch cartoons!?). It took Danielle and I about 20 minutes to realize it was the actual opening act and not some kind of funky, expensive advertisement. All around us, tweens were rocking out to the music. I leaned over to ask the girl next to me what “it” was. Her mouth said, “Hatsune Miku.” Her gaze said, “You’re old as hell, why are you here?” Danielle and I pondered the reasons why someone like Lady Gaga would choose such a horrible opening act. “Maybe she’s trying to be innovative by showing a different kind of medium in the performing arts space, that artists don’t have to be actual people,” I offered. “No, I think we’re just using our adult marketing brains to try and justify this,” Danielle said. Shit, she was right. We were simply NOT the target audience for this kind of thing, but it amused us all the same for different reasons.

After the cartoon was over, we thought Gaga would be taking the stage soon. We were SO wrong. Next up was Lady Starlight. Wikipedia will tell you she is an American musical performer. I will tell you she is a complete waste of your time. From what I can tell, her claim to fame is collaborating with Lady Gaga in the very earliest years of her career, when the pair did go-go dancing at local festivals and lit hairspray cans on fire to liven up their stage presence. That would have been loads more entertaining than what she did for nearly an hour as the second part of Gaga’s opening act. Armed with two drum machines (and WAY too much time), she “dazzled” the crowd with her tribute to techno. Looping random beats and sounds together for 10-minute blocks, teasing us with “this sounds like the end of the song” before going into another seemingly identical “set” of terrible, awful techno. (Full disclosure, I LIKE techno… I do not like watching someone attempt to fist pump off beat to a drum machine that’s being poorly operated. For 45 minutes). Danielle and I spent most of the set discussing whether or not she used to be a man (after some Google research, we determined she had not). But her outfit and wig (?) made her look like a drag version of Cher.

One hour and forty minutes after the opening acts began, Lady Gaga FINALLY took the stage. At this point the many empty seats around us were filled (people must have had a heads up about Hatsune and TechNO), including a row of young girls seated with their parents in front of us. Danielle, (unfamiliar with Gaga’s latest album), said she thought it was nice of the parents to bring their children to the concert. Later she would retract that statement. Somewhere around the song “Sex Dreams,” or perhaps it was one of the dozens of times Lady Gaga impulsively shouted the F-word into her lyrics or stage monologues. At any rate, the show began and it was pretty awesome.

The stage was always morphing into one captivating scene to another thanks to the vibrant lighting, and she wore a lot of great costumes (or not, at one point she did an on-stage change letting her breasts fall into plain view as three attendants fastened a clear plastic top to her, and some furry knee-high legwarmers with sneakers). But the best part of the performance was when she stripped down the actual music to SING. It was obvious that she wasn’t going to hit any of her high notes or put too much passion into her lyrics while she was on the move. Dancing seemed to take the priority in most songs, where strong back tracks and “masking” beats saved her from having to sing too much. Her piano-only version of “Born This Way” reminded everyone that she actually CAN sing, which I appreciated. And to her credit, she didn’t appear to be lip-syncing to her other songs, she just seemed to be (tele)phoning them in (she’s ka-kinda busy).

Did you get that last line? It was a Gaga pun. Just checking.

Another thing I’ll give her credit for is being comfortable with her body. Dressed in midriff-baring, skin tight outfits for the majority of the evening, Gaga treated the audience to the visual of what I would say is a pretty normal female body. You could see cellulite at times, muffin top, and “junk in the trunk.” It was all great, in my opinion. Given the struggles she had with her body in the past, and the message she has been promoting to love the skin you’re in, I thought it was refreshing to see a pop star performing with supreme confidence, without looking strained to try and meet some kind of “acceptable standard” in the process.

She also took the time to read a few of the letters that fans were launching onto the stage. Some of them were very touching, and my hormones definitely got the best of me when they showed a happy fan crying tears of joy while having his moment with Gaga reading his letter and inviting him back stage after the show.

As the concert came to a close, I had to muscle my way past drunk teeny-boppers to get a soft pretzel and some juice (it was 11:00PM after all, and a pregnant woman needs her snacks). My lust for the booze subsided, as I watched a pair of girls tripping on their way into the bathroom. Someone would be going home and laying down with the “spins” later, but it wasn’t gonna be me. Ah, the simple pleasures in life.

Back in my seat, Danielle and I discussed a game plan for beating the crowds (especially now that the crowds were intoxicated and stoned—the smell of weed was omnipresent). We decided to skip the encore performance. Since GAGA came on so late, it was getting close to midnight now and I was quickly fading as PREGO began to trump all. I just needed bed and to not have my pants on anymore. Point of fact, I don’t think anyone would have noticed if I took my pants off at that concert.

Danielle and I are old pros when it comes to “barely” catching forms of public transportation. Prior to living in Manhattan together as roommates years ago, we’d also spent six months together studying abroad in Europe. We’ve dived through the closing doors of many a train in our time together. And we succeeded again that night—catching the PATH to Hoboken with seconds to spare, giving us a tentative bedtime of about 1:30AM.

I don’t know which we were more excited about—that Lady Starlight had finally stopped pushing buttons on those damn drum machines when the evening started, or that we were getting home to a cozy bed and some sweatpants before 2:00AM.

We crashed that night with smiles on our faces, amusing ourselves with all the moments we felt “old” at the Gaga show. We compared notes on how many times (and for what reasons) we caught the alarm in the parents’ faces who brought their 9-year olds to the show. We made fun of Lady Starlight some more, and we swore to each other we’d brush up on the latest Hatsune hits before we got together again. (And yes, for good measure, we also talked about how great the show was overall. Lady Gaga is talented and I was happy to see her live again, and thrilled that my husband surprised me with the tickets).

The next morning, I got up with Danielle as she got ready for work and I set off on my adventures of mass transit to get back to the airport. I scrolled through pictures of my son on my phone, eager to see him again. It was the first time I’d left him overnight! When I got home, my husband was waiting in the car outside the airport, and my son was in his car seat smiling and laughing. I realized right then that THEY are the real rock stars in my life now. Nothing makes me as happy as spending time with them, and nothing is as entertaining as watching my son learn something new (he just learned to wave, and was giving me his very best hello as I approached the car that afternoon).

I might be feeling “older” these days, but it actually felt pretty damn good to be a 35-year old woman walking into Madison Square Garden with a breast pump in one hand and a ticket to Lady Gaga in the other. Like wearing a new pair of shoes to my old stomping grounds.

And I love me some new shoes.

 

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Dirty Laundry

Mother’s Little Helper

helperWell here it is. The post I’ve been avoiding. The post I said I wouldn’t write, but the post that needs to be written.

Because I didn’t start a blog called “Dirty Laundry” to keep things neat and tidy, right?

I have a confession to make: For almost eight months, I’ve been taking Zoloft, following a diagnosis of postpartum depression. I’ll never forget how low I felt sitting in the doctor’s office during a follow-up appointment with my OBGYN, as he explained to me that this—like so many other aspects of my son’s birth—was something I had no control over. I was prepared to lose control of my body while I was pregnant, smiling through each bigger jeans size. Giggling to myself as I ate a large container of fries from McDonald’s with ZERO shame. Crying over anything from bent paper clips to text messages I read the wrong way.

And I accepted it when I suddenly realized I would have no control over Emmett’s birth. The day he was born, I actually brought a copy of our natural birth plan along with me to the doctor’s office. Hours after arriving to that appointment, I was sent to the hospital for an emergency C-section.

But postpartum depression? That I did not see coming.

I am a fitness instructor. An Ironman. A coach. I am can-do attitude personified. I preach positivity. I write a blog about mojo and mental skills training. I wield the power of my mind like a light sabre, so how could I fall prey to postpartum depression? And worse still, how could I continue being a poster-girl for “embracing the suck” when I was losing my grip on this particular “suck”?

It took me a while to process the idea that my brain could push me through three 140.6-mile races, totaling literally years of rigorous training and sacrifice, yet it could not get me through more than two months of “bad days” as a new mom. On one hand, I refused to believe that I couldn’t just FORCE myself to feel better. On the other hand, I really couldn’t manage the emotional landmines and total exhaustion that came with feeling so down and out all the time. While filling out the “wellbeing” questionnaire at my postpartum appointment, I answered the questions honestly, and watched the pen ink smear as giant tears bombarded the clipboard. I knew I’d likely be leaving with a prescription. I wouldn’t be able to fake my way through this.

No “smiling at mile 20!” of the marathon this time…

In the exam room, I sat in my napkin dress ashamed of myself. Not because of the hugeness that still lurked beneath the flimsy paper (feeling fat was oddly the LEAST of my problems), but because I couldn’t muster the pride to sit tall. I was defeated, and I knew it.

The doctor entered and we discussed my state of mind. I told him about the mood swings. I never had urges to hurt my child, but my imagination would torture me with “What if?” scenarios focused on Emmett getting hurt, or struggling to live. Honestly, his birth was so shocking and scary to me that the imagery and emotions from seeing him in the NICU will always be with me, and always haunt me in some way. Even now on the drugs, I cannot shake the helplessness that I felt when I saw how small and fragile he was in his first few weeks. I still hear the alarms that went off when he stopped breathing. And I still treasure the immense relief that washed over us when we learned he would be okay and it was time to go home. He’s nearly 20 pounds now, and not even considered a preemie any longer at the rate he’s been developing. He’s moved on, and I need to do the same. Truly, I’ve always been bad at that.

The Zoloft has helped. I liken it to a filter. It enabled me to catch the “noise” that was coming into my life and left me with just the things I should be focusing on. I can spend time helping Emmett learn how to use his sippy cup now rather than imagine what would happen if I fell down the stairs with him 100 times. And much to my husband’s amazement, I can also leave a few dishes in the sink or forget about vacuuming for a week or two (but not three!) Zoloft is also used to help with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I don’t think of myself as being crazy or “on drugs,” and I’m done feeling embarrassed about it. A part of me believes that I was conjuring up the same remedy through 20 hours of triathlon training every week. There were few stresses that would last through a five-hour bike ride or a 20-mile run. My bad moods fell behind me in the wake of a two-hour swim. The exercise high is real—and studies show that our brains do become altered when we work out. No pill can replace that feeling (nor should it), but I can’t deny that the Zoloft leaves me in a similar state of calm.

I think there’s still some taboo around postpartum depression and what we do behind closed doors to treat it. It throws a wrench in the “I’ve got it together” image new moms want to portray. My Instagram feed is filled with captured moments that would lead anyone to believe I’m a happy, fulfilled and successful mom.

And I am.

And so are most of us. It’s just that there’s an unexpected mania that comes with motherhood. It’s a combination of, “Pinch me, I can’t believe this is happening!” and, “Punch me, I can’t believe this is happening!”

We all deal with it differently. I don’t think we should regard one way as being more right than any other way. The goal is to be a good parent.

Do what needs to be done to be a good parent. Period.

I might not be able to get out the door for those soothing long runs as frequently as I used to, fueled by the need to move and process the mish-mash of thoughts and emotions floating around in my brain, but I still catch a few miles here and there. And I swallow my pills with pride, because I know I’m doing what’s best for me to be the healthy mom Emmett needs me to be. When things really get bad, we turn up the music and dance. We smile. We take it one step at a time. Sometimes to Mick Jagger…

Things are different today, I hear every mother say. Mother needs something today to calm her down. And though she’s not really ill, there’s a little yellow pill. She goes running for the shelter of her mother’s little helper and it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day.

And that’s okay.

Categories
Dirty Laundry

10 Ways I’m a Better Mom at 35

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I would have been a terrible young mom.
When I was 25, I was fed up with being the only single girl among my friends. The grass looked greener on the other side where the lawn was always decorated for a wedding or a baby shower. I used to stand in front of my bedroom mirror and push my stomach out to see what I might look like with a baby bump (should I ever find Mr. Right), and imagine what it was like to be in a steady relationship.

It would be nearly 10 years later before I’d really see my baby bump, and in hindsight I’m thankful to have found love and motherhood later in my life.

In honor of my 35th birthday and being an “older” mom, here are 10 reasons—one for each year of the past decade—why I’m a better mom at 35 than I would have been at 25.

1: I’m comfortable in my own skin. All of it. Because there’s more of it than there was when I was 25. And while this skin has been stretched and dimpled and cut open with a scalpel, I’ve learned to appreciate beauty that goes far beyond what I can see in the mirror.

2: Uprooting my life doesn’t have to mean upheaval in my life. At 26, I was unexpectedly laid off from my job, broken up with my boyfriend, and my roommate was moving out. I left Manhattan to go back home with my parents in Central New York. At the time, I was devastated. Looking back, this was a pivotal moment of change in my life that led to many great things—I became a fitness instructor and started doing triathlon. I’ve learned to embrace changes in life as opportunities, not obstacles.

3: There’s always time to make the right choice. I was engaged at 27, to a wonderful guy that would have made a great husband. Just not my husband. A year and a half later, I would call off the wedding—even though I’d bought a dress, paid all the deposits and was about to send out 200 Save-the-Date cards. I felt a lot of pressure to try and make it work because so many things were in motion and “already done,” but I broke it off anyway. Breaking up with my fiancé taught me that there’s always time to do the right thing, even at the last minute.

4: I’ve proven that patience really does pay off. I had a job at an NYC agency before I graduated college, and truly believed that my passion and preparation for advertising as an undergrad meant that I’d find success quickly and easily as I entered the workforce. It wasn’t until I was 28 that I landed the job that would actually become my career. My patchwork resume wove bits of experience together from a variety of roles in writing, editing and marketing. Despite my ongoing persistence to find new opportunities, nothing happened quickly. It felt like things would never turn around. Only in my late twenties did I see how all of those experiences eventually led me to success. I became a regular contributing writer for Ironman.com, and an Account Planner in a successful advertising agency. And, it would be at this agency where I met my Mr. Right.

5: I know that having the right attitude is everything. I celebrated my last year in the twenties with my first Ironman finish—140.6 miles of blood, sweat and tears (and at the 2008 Ironman Lake Placid, a LOT of rain). There was nothing better suited to represent my twenties than the journey over 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling and 26.2 miles of running. But what became my sweetest victory was almost my biggest failure. Getting off the bike after six hours of body-numbing, cold monsoon-like rain showers took its toll on me and I literally wept with pain and frustration in the transition area. I decided that I needed to at least try and run one mile before calling it quits…I owed that much to myself, and to the many athletes I trained at Gold’s Gym every week who constantly heard me preach about “can-do attitude.” One mile gave way to another, and before I knew it I was running the final mile into the Olympic Oval in Lake Placid, 16:30 hours later to become an Ironman.

6: Age is just a number, it doesn’t define me. Turning 30 was bittersweet. Our society gets caught up in milestones, and when you’re a woman there is an expectation that at a certain point you will settle down and start a family. For some reason, 30 is the cut-off age when people go from a “Take your time!” approach to marriage and motherhood, to “What are you waiting for?” With a broken engagement just a year behind me, I’d already messed up my milestone timeline and embraced 30 as a chance to saddle up for new adventures rather than settle down with old mistakes. I’ve learned that age doesn’t have to burden me with what I SHOULD be doing. It’s a demographic bit of data, not a built-in dictator.

7: I expect to push my limits—in sport, in life. I could have stopped at one Ironman—all I ever really wanted was to prove to myself that I could do it. But I knew I was capable of more than I did. There was a nagging voice in my head that couldn’t let my Ironman experience be tainted with the idea that I almost quit. I needed another go to make peace with my psyche, so at 31 I did just that—besting my time by more than three hours. That was when I learned that pushing my limits would be a lifelong tool I will never put down. I seek discomfort in all areas of my life, because I know it will motivate me to grow as a person.

8: I had time to love myself before I loved my husband. I married my Mr. Right at 32, with zero hesitation or fear. The twenties taught me what I didn’t want in a relationship. But entering my thirties taught me to appreciate more things about myself. I learned that I was stronger than I imagined, and came to enjoy the hundreds of hours I spent alone swimming, biking and running to do triathlon. I’ve always been an introspective person, but getting inside my head would sometimes lead me to feel more self-destructive than self-actualized. Taking the time to really explore new goals and interests as a young adult allowed me to become a person who was ready to make the kinds of compromises and sacrifices that marriage requires.

9: I’m good at setting (and reaching) goals. In my twenties, the concept of a goal was more like a “wish.” I’d think of something that I wanted then imagine what had to happen for my wish to come true. There was no concept of actually doing anything to make it come true, save for a few half-assed first steps that I hoped would lead to a serendipitous intervention of someone or something that would speed things along. Over time, I realized that wishing sucked—and DOING is where it’s at. As I got older, I started to see how success was engineered by people around me and learned that I could chart a course to my own success in whatever I wanted to do. Naturally, I signed up for a third Ironman to mull the concept over while going for yet another personal record. That spring, we bought a house. I planned my training around moving, working a full-time job and being a newlywed, and at the age of 33, I became a three-time Ironman finisher with a new best time of 13:07 hours. And a kick-ass house.

10: I’ve learned to let people go, and let people in. As the years go on, the invincible feeling of the twenties gets diluted little by little while life unfolds in unpredictable ways. Having a baby made this feeling exponentially stronger. At 34, with a preemie newborn in my arms, recovering from an emergency C-section, I realized that we are not superheroes after all and it takes a lot of energy to find real strength in life. I no longer give myself to people who don’t give back to me, and I don’t waste energy holding grudges or putting up walls. The ebb and flow of people coming in and out of my life is not as dramatic as it was in the past. Within my heart, I have an open-door policy. See yourself in if you’d like to be part of my life, see yourself out if you don’t.

No matter what age you are when you become a mother, the beautiful part about the experience is getting to help shape and guide the energy of new life—and feeling that energy guide and shape you, too. I hope that my 35 years on this planet will help me raise a wonderful man. His 9 months here have already made me a better woman.

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Dirty Laundry

The Park-n-Cry (Post-Partum Fun)

keys
Sometimes you just need to park it out.

I have a secret parking lot. It’s where I go to cry.

The last time I visited my concrete oasis was following an argument with my husband over who would answer the door when the pizza delivery man arrived. Yes, that’s the kind of thing that can send a hormonal woman to her secret parking lot to weep.

Five weeks after Emmett’s birth, I’m not sure if that particular bout of sensitivity could still be classified as the socially acceptable “Baby Blues” or if it was a sign of the bigger, more taboo issue of post-partum depression. I’ve read the symptoms for each a dozen times, just to make sure I don’t wake up one morning with the uncontrollable urge to harm my child. So far, I’ve wanted to harm a lot of things (like the container of baby wipes that seems to malfunction exactly when Emmett starts to urinate on my forehead), but never my baby.

I’ve allowed myself to shift the expiration date on “Baby Blues” slightly based on Emmett’s birth. The week before he was born, I had already spent many days in the hospital as the complications of HELLP Syndrome started to unfold. I already rode the emotional roller coaster of “possible delivery/”just kidding, you’re fine!” So when things suddenly changed at the end of that week and Emmett was born, I was going into my first post-partum week with a bit of baggage. In the second post-partum week, when “Baby Blues” should begin to subside, I was overjoyed to be home with my healthy baby, but just beginning to see what life was like at home with an infant.

I thought I wasn’t getting sleep during his first week because I was trying to catch Z’s in a hospital bed. Now I know that the reason I’m not sleeping has nothing to do with the surface underneath me, it’s because of the shrieking infant rooming with us. I used to complain about camping in a tent — too many gnarly roots under my ass, the bugs, the chirping birds at 4:00AM, the sweaty film that encases your body after spending hours outside with no air conditioning… It’s all CAKE compared to sleeping with an infant. I’ve thought about going to my parking lot just to curl up for a nap one afternoon.

Some days, the idea of having gravel bits stick to my face as I drool into a much-needed slumber seems more favorable than sitting on the couch in 90-degree humidity with a fussing baby who is determined to crank out ear-piecing wails for hours on end.

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Dirty Laundry

Self-Doubt and Creativity

chapstick
In this sixth week of motherhood, my Chapstick—and my dignity—seemed to have gone missing.

I’m a new mom. I’m not sure I’m doing this right, but we’re both still breathing so I’ll go with it.

My son, Emmett, has two ages. A gestational one: five weeks, and a corrected one: zero. Preemies get to have this kind of “leap year” status for a while until they develop to the same benchmarks as their full-term peers.

Emmett seems to know he arrived early and underweight, and has been enlisting the help of my boobs to get on track as fast as possible. I used to have nice nipples. Pre-pregnancy nipples are small and round like funfetti . These days, they look more like a couple of beat up Chapsticks that went missing—you know what I’m talking about. The ones that eventually turned up in your car one random afternoon in July. THOSE Chapsticks.

This round-the-clock “cluster feeding” as my parenting books refer to it, is really putting a dent in my sleep. I knew this would be part of motherhood, but what’s surprising me is my ability to sleep through breastfeeding. Despite my son’s forceful latch and the fact that my breasts feel like they’re running over a cheese grater every time he feeds, I actually catch myself dozing off and have to snap-to so I don’t drop him onto the floor. I’ve heard women talking about being able to lay down while their children lay beside them feeding peacefully, so I thought I’d give it a try.

It was going well until I heard some congestion. In my snoozy state, I made a note to myself that I’d spend some time in Emmett’s nostrils with the nose plunger the next time we did a diaper change, but then I realized the sound was coming from the breast milk that was running out of his nose.

Dear Lord.

I was waterboarding my son with breast milk. Worst.mom.ever.

We quickly got ourselves sorted out…I blotted up the milk with the edge of my shirt (note that shirts are just bibs fashioned into garments you can wear over a larger surface area of the body). I pulled Emmett into the familiar football hold, cursing my attempt to innovate the tried and true ways of breastfeeding. In a wave of shame, I glanced around the room as if a jury of experienced moms might be lurking in the shadows of 5:00AM, waiting to revoke my maternal rights.

This cocktail of self-doubt and creativity seems to be a familiar feeling as I head into my sixth week of motherhood.

 

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Dirty Laundry

Get Your Stro-jo On (Say what?)

The newest tool in my fitness arsenal? My stroller.

I’ve been working out for four weeks now, after having to recover from my emergency C-Section 12 weeks ago. Sitting the bench (er, couch) for two straight months took its toll on my fitness level, but ironically I’m feeling more alive and healthier than I’ve ever felt before as I exercise these days.

Last week I did my first real run — five miles looping through my neighborhood, averaging just over nine minutes per mile. Honestly, I was shocked to be running anything under 10-minute miles. I’m 25 lbs overweight, was running in the middle of a hot summer day, and have logged most of my workouts post-surgery off the handle of the stroller. Truth be told? I think that baby buggy is my secret weapon. It’s forcing me to change my perspective on fitness (five miles of walking with a stroller can be just as taxing as seven hours riding a bike!), and pushing me to get more creative with workouts (you say stroller, I say portable gym!).

Sharing is caring, so I thought I’d put together a list of tips for anyone who finds their hands tethered to the toddler-mobile these days. All hope is not lost — you CAN get an effective workout in with your stroller, and it doesn’t have to be boring.

Stroller Workout Rule #1: Lose your ego

Before you read the rest of this, make peace with the fact that you will look slightly crazy you will look like an over-caffeinated psycho trying to stifle a deluge of nervous ticks as you walk around your neighborhood doing your workout. Why? Because in order to make walking into an effective aerobic workout, you have to werk that walk. I follow two rules when I’m walking for a workout:

1) When walking at slower paces, take the biggest step you can by placing your heel on the ground as far away from your body as is comfortable, then rolling through the foot and pushing off on the toe. Focus on squeezing every muscle in your leg as you step the body forward.

2) When walking at quicker paces, think of each step like a sharp, precise dance move. Snap your gait into a rhythm and keep the speed consistent like a metronome.

I usually have music on while I’m walking, so I let the song dictate which pace to go with. It promises you some variety over a series of miles, and will force the body to switch gears as you move along. Try to channel your inner speedwalker. If you’ve never seen actual speedwalking, do a Google search on it. It’s not your leisurely shuffle through the neighborhood. It’s actually much harder (and more aerobically effective) than a slow jog — but it will make you look straight cray.

Stroller Workout Rule #2: Change the way you see your neighborhood

You see Stop signs, I see “Challenge Stations.” In my neighborhood, there are a series of streets that connect in a big figure-8 pattern. Each figure-8 is approximately one mile, and there are several Stop signs along the route. In my attempt to be less bored with doing the same figure-8 over and over again to complete a five-mile walk, I started to weave in some challenges to be completed every time I encountered a Stop sign. Some of the challenges include: Running sprints between every other Stop sign; Stopping to do 15 squats every time I pass a Stop sign; Doing 20 burpees every time I pass a Stop sign.

My favorite challenge workout involves LOTS of lunges. I’ll walk a brisk warm-up mile to start, then do more mile-loops with the following rule: On the first mile, I must do 10 walking lunges at every Stop sign. On the second mile, I must do 20 walking lunges at every Stop sign. On the third mile, I do 30 walking lunges at every Stop sign. And in between Stop signs, I must walk with the pace of whatever song is playing (See Rule #1). The key to a good walking lunge is to make sure you bring the body up from the lunge position while keeping the weight in the heel of the foot on the standing leg. You’ll know you’re executing the movement correctly if you find yourself squeezing your glutes tight at the top of each lunge. Burn, baby, burn!

Stroller Workout Rule #3: Don’t forget your upper body!

It might seem impossible to engage the upper body in a stroller workout, since you need your hands to push the unit forward. Truth is, you only need one hand for that. The other hand can hold an eight-pound hand weight and give you the opportunity to tone your arms as you cover mile after mile. The trick here is to focus on high rep work, so you shouldn’t go much heavier than a 10-lb weight at the most. You can time your reps however you’d like to — stick with bicep curls for a full street, then switch to tricep kick backs on the next street, or count reps before switching muscle groups or moving the weight to the other hand. Whatever you do, keep the balance equal on both sides and be sure you’re using a weight that you can control as you’re walking. The moment you find yourself swinging your arm around all willy-nilly is the moment you should decrease the weight factor or lose the hand weight totally. You can still tone the arms simply by squeezing the muscles!

And what about the core? That can play too. Find a flat grassy patch to stand in, and turn your body so that the outside edge of your hip is perpendicular to the back of the stroller. Grab the handle bar with the hand that’s closest to the rig, then take a big side step away from the stroller so your arms form a “T” and one hand is holding the handle, while the other is outstretched away from you. With your hand gripping the bar, lean the body to the side, away from the stroller, then lean the body back toward the stroller using your core to push it forward and backward. This side-to-side motion works the obliques, and uses the weight of the baby and the stroller to challenge the muscles. Do 15-20 reps, then flip your body to work the other side. To make this harder, you can also do the exercise with the stroller on an incline (I like to stick to grass to create more resistance, but you can do it on pavement if you’d rather).

Stroller Workout Rule #4: Stay hydrated

When I first started “working out” with the stroller, I didn’t think I’d be taxing my body the same way I do when I’m really working out. I was wrong. Many of my stroller workouts take place between 10:00AM-3:00PM, during the hottest part of the day. “Just five miles with the stroller” didn’t seem like anything I’d need to manage with nutrition or hydration. If you’re breastfeeding, you NEED to keep fluids and snacks handy especially when you’re working out. The good thing about working out with your stroller is that you have a great place to stash this stuff, so there’s no excuse to let your body get depleted on your walkabout.

The stroller might not be the carbon-fiber sexy rig I’m used to using when I go out the door for a workout, but the change of pace has been exciting for me and the challenge of making workouts work in the context of motherhood was one I was happy to accept. One year ago, I completed my third Ironman, crossing the finish line in just over 13 hours. It was a personal best for me by more than a half hour at the 140.6 distance. A month after that, I became pregnant and had to change the way I worked out (I stayed active throughout pregnancy, but had to really dial back on the intensity). I’ve missed the feeling of pushing and challenging myself.

While I don’t have an A-race that I’m training for, or any specific goals to accomplish with my workouts at the moment, I have enjoyed these past four weeks of getting to know my body as “mom.” Getting to look down and see my son’s smile as I push the stroller mile after mile reminds me that the sacrifice of faster mile splits, smaller bras, and shorter shorts is well worth the reward of his presence in my life. He makes me feel 10 times more alive than any workout ever could.

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Dirty Laundry

A New Kind of Mojo

These days, my mojo is for the Little Man rather than the Big Race

I never expected to feel so lost without a big race to train for.

I’ve been training for big races for more than 10 years, and I haven’t had a summer in as much time where most of the weekends weren’t earmarked for hours-long workouts. As my pregnancy was coming to an end, I remember feeling giddy over the idea that this summer I had NOTHING on the calendar to feel accountable for. No races, no work. I’m on maternity leave until September and my only focus is on being a new mom.

The nice weather arrived and people began posting status updates on Facebook about long rides and runs, open water swims and the first triathlon races of the season. Though excited to be a mom, there were moments I stared longingly at my pink bike in the basement, sitting idle in a corner where it was promptly stashed after completing Ironman Mont-Tremblant last August. What I wouldn’t give to have my body back for one Sunday to soar over the scenic miles of the Syracuse 70.3 tri course with sweat glistening on my shoulders and delicious pain in my legs…

Then, in a shocking turn of events, Emmett came five weeks early. (There was plenty of pain to enjoy!)

And I never expected to feel so “found” when I held him in my arms.

I’ve heard about mom love. The “infinity times infinity” level of emotion that women realize when they have babies. Before holding Emmett, the only frame of reference that I had for feeling that level of love and protection over something was with regard to our dog, Reilly. She’s 22 lbs and spends most of her time draped upon my lap, staring at me adoringly with squinty eyes while I pet her six ways from Tuesday. Everybody warned me that when the baby got here, I’d feel one thousand times more attached to him than I did to the pug, and that my affections for the family pet would be redirected to my son.

“Yeah, yeah,” I thought. “I have enough love for my dog and my baby.”

My husband used to joke with me (I say joke, but his tone usually suggested he was on the verge of initiating a borderline serious talk…) that I gave the pug more affection than I gave to him. It was probably true. I’ve always been kind of a loner…someone that doesn’t need people around to be entertained or feel okay in moments of weakness or sadness. Historically, I’ve relied on experiences or inanimate objects to fulfill passions and find a sense of security, not people. Over the years, I’ve learned to find this affection with people. My husband will tell you that I’ve come a long way. I will tell you that I’m just your typical independent Aquarius that is being broken down by the maturing emotions of one in their mid-thirties.

On May 24, whatever barriers were still left standing were broken down by all five lbs and three ounces of my Little Man. He is almost a month old now, and I have gone from Ironman to Ironmush. I’d love to blame all the sobbing and sensitivity on hormones, but the truth of it is that I am forever changed. I’ve realized that I am part of him and he is part of me and that my husband and I have created a family that is so much more compelling and meaningful than any finish line in any race. That isn’t to say that I’ve lost my spark for multisport and fitness, just that I’ve found something that exceeds those passions for the first time in my life. And I’ve found it in people.

People scare the hell out of me. They can change, die, move, grow out of you, turn on you, break you. I think that’s what has always made me wary of letting “people” in. People can’t be measured in distances, prepared for through training, or a be a means to an end. People ebb and flow. They are unpredictable. They are deep. You can fall into them and lose your way. I never wanted to feel lost in that, because I’m a planner. I’ve always got a destination and road map to get there. People aren’t like that. People don’t come with maps. And people don’t always care where you’re going, or if you ever get there.

But I’m learning to be okay with that.

I’m learning to measure life in moments now, rather than miles.

I’m gauging progress by heartstrings, rather than heartrates.

I can spend an hour staring at my son sleeping in my arms and it has the same calming effect as a recovery swim across the Jamesville Reservoir.

This isn’t to suggest that I was void of any emotion or human connection before my son was born, it just didn’t come as easy to me before now.

As an athlete, mojo is that X-factor that helps me to be mentally present in the moment in order to perform to the best of my ability in a workout or a race. It sets the tone for every stroke in the swim, every pedal on the bike, every stride in the run. Without mojo, the body merely goes through the motions. With mojo, you allow all five of your senses to absorb an experience and maximize it for body and mind.

As a mom, I find that I still have that mojo… The same stuff that has powered my pink bike over thousands of miles, will power me through the rest of my life as Emmett’s mom and Krispin’s wife. It’s okay that I’ve got 20 lbs to lose as I recover from the C-section. It’s okay that my mascara is running because of tears rather than sweat. I’m alright with pushing the stroller as opposed to pushing the pace.

Maybe the most daunting thing about this new mojo is that I know I will never be able to turn it off. There is no finish line, no race day.

There is EVERY day. And if there is one thing that having HELLP Syndrome has taught me (other than morphine is awesome), it’s that EVERY DAY counts. EVERY DAY is what matters.

 

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Dirty Laundry

The Birth Plan: LOL

Emmett Lester Dolbear | Born 5.24.13 | 5lbs 3 oz

I had a birth plan.

What Type-A, OCD expectant mom wouldn’t?

My husband and I were going to shoot for the most natural birth possible. We registered for a spot in “The Birth Place” of our local hospital (St. Joseph’s in Syracuse, NY) where the goal is to go through labor and delivery with as few interventions as possible.

Being an athlete, I was actually looking forward to the challenge of a little pain along the way and using the body and mind to manage the experience as it unfolded. In fact, it was nearly expected of me. As a three-time Ironman finisher, everyone in my world reassured me that I was well prepared for the rigors of childbirth thanks to the thousands of miles I’ve put in over 10+ years of training for endurance sports. You say “contractions,” I say “intervals.” Ready to push? I’m on it. I’ll go to the same place I’ve been so many times to get my weary, cramped up legs to give me just one more mile to make it to the finish line. Sure, it wouldn’t be quite the same. My vagina was never torn or stretched during an Ironman, but I’ve been on the pain train in other ways. I knew how to cope and turn pain into push, and turn push into success.

Body and mind. That’s where I would be focusing, as our due date June 30 got closer.

But on May 24, my birth plan went from body and mind, to body and morphine.

Things changed quickly, and in retrospect, in a sort of comical, ironic way.

The weekend of May 18, we were in the hospital for a two-day orientation on natural birth techniques. We learned how to incorporate water, stability balls and breathing into the labor process. We watched videos of natural births. We dabbled in conversations about dilation and timing the drive to the hospital and mood lighting. During the tour, we saw the rooms that we’d be in if we chose to stick with the Birth Place, and the traditional labor and delivery rooms where things were less “sway and breath” and more “give me the f*cking epidural.”

We saw the big double doors that would swing open in the event of an emergency.

“Moms, you’ll be rushed into this operation room where we can remove a baby in less than 10 minutes. Dads, you’ll have to wait outside,” the nurse explained as we looked through the small square windows at the bright fluorescent lighting that was the exact opposite of what I outlined in my birth plan. I’m all about low lighting anyway, but this would especially apply to any situation where I’m to be laying spread eagle with no clothes on.

Ain’t nobody looking for fluorescent lighting in THAT scenario.

The tour ended with a walk through the NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit). It was a heartbreaking scene that made all us expectant moms hold our breath and silently pray that we wouldn’t need to be there again. At this point in my pregnancy, I had no reason to believe that I would be. I was 34 weeks along and passed every prenatal appointment with flying colors. My pants still fit, my baby was growing perfectly, and I was in a great mood. I’d just retired from teaching three hours worth of spin classes every week. Aside from some swelling feet, I had little to be concerned about.

One thing that was highlighted over and over in the orientation was the idea that if ever we felt that something wasn’t quite right, we should always call our doctors. There were no stupid concerns, no dumb questions.

On Monday, May 20, I woke up feeling like something wasn’t right. I had a lot of clear liquid between my thighs that was unlike anything else I’d experienced yet. It was like water, but I felt it was too soon for it to be THAT water, and I wasn’t sure what it could have been otherwise. I had chest pains that seemed like heartburn, but weren’t going away when I took heartburn medications. And even after eating a yogurt and having a glass of juice, I didn’t feel my baby moving. That wasn’t normal. I called the doctor’s office to describe everything and they made arrangements for me to come in that morning.

In the doctor’s office, I was hooked up to a fetal monitor that measures the baby’s heart rate and my contractions. These were just small contractions that weren’t of the “active labor” variety, but going on nonetheless. It was news to me, I hadn’t felt any contractions in my pregnancy at that point. Then the nurse gave me a clicker and told me to click the button every time I felt the baby kick. Over the course of forty minutes, I clicked it only twice. I had my urine tested and blood drawn, and the end result of that visit was that the doctor wanted me to head to the hospital for extended monitoring.

Extended monitoring at St. Joe’s Hospital. Due Date: June 30

At this point, the hunch was that I had preeclampsia. At the hospital, I went on the monitor again for a couple of hours and started a 24-hour urine catch (saving all of your urine for 24 hours in a big jug. It’s as sexy as it sounds). The doctor also checked to see if my cervix had dilated — not surprisingly, it had not. Zero centimeters. This baby was staying in the womb, thank you very much. Since my blood pressure was okay over the course of the afternoon, the doctor released me that evening and said I could complete the urine catch at home, with the caveat that if ANYTHING felt weird or like it was getting worse, I was to call her. That night, things were fine and we breathed a sigh of relief, as it seemed that all was well with mom and baby. Around 4:00AM on Tuesday, May 21, I woke up with the chest pain again and it was worse than the day before. We called the doctor and were asked to return to the hospital.

The plan was that I would be back under the monitors again until 3:00PM that afternoon, when the 24-urine catch would be completed and they could test it. So we grabbed a few things to keep us occupied for a “long day” and headed back to the hospital where I was ordered into a gown and given a Hep Lock. I have a REALLY big phobia of veins, and was really queasy at the thought of this tube structure being inserted into my hand and left there for “whatever” for any length of time. Little did I know, the Hep Lock would be the least of my worries in the near future. To better tolerate the invasive wad on my hand, I asked the nurse to cover it completely with tape so I could not see it. And I named it “Charlie.” I proceeded to hold that forearm in a straight position like a robot so not to bend Charlie around in positions that would flex or stretch my veins.

Gah.

Being in the hospital from 4:00AM til 3:00PM means meeting a parade of new nurses with every shift change. I did my best to convince every single one of them to remove the Hep Lock seeing as how the only thing I was really doing all day was peeing into a giant cup and getting my blood pressure taken every hour. Nobody would take Charlie out though. He had to stay there “just in case.” Meh.

At 3:00PM, the urine catch was complete and the nurse said she thought it looked good enough for me to be discharged home. She had been dipping test strips into my urine all day and found nothing of concern. Sure enough, the doc was just entering the room to tell me the results were good, when the fetal monitor alerted the nurse that the baby’s heart rate had dipped. Nobody was certain if it was actually the baby’s heart rate dipping, or if the monitor had momentarily picked up my heart rate instead of his. Whatever the case, it was certain that the mood changed in that room. I locked eyes with my husband, and tried to focus on him through the chaos.

A team of nurses rushed in and the light banter that had been going on was replaced with doctor lingo going back and forth around the room as Charlie was hooked up to an IV, my underwear were stripped off, and the doctor’s hand went whoosh into me, followed by the words, “Two centimeters.”Come again? The day before I was zero centimeters dilated. Now I was two?

Needless to say, between the dilation and fetal monitor meltdown, I was not released from the hospital that afternoon. Things got a little bit crazy from that point on. We ended up spending the night on Tuesday, and a whole bunch of “fun” was ordered for me.

“Order” is a term that I learned to hate while staying in the hospital because it usually translated to, “a request for someone to come in the room and stab you with something.” Before this week, “order” was what you did to get Chardonnay or burritos to appear in front of you. “Order” was a way to get shoes in the mail from Zappos. “Order” was not about making a fist while a giant rubber band cut off the circulation in your arm.

By Wednesday, May 22, my blood pressure and lab work was good enough that the doctor ruled out preeclampsia, and the fetal monitoring showed no more abnormalities with the baby’s heart rate. The silver lining for Wednesday was a) ruling out my chest pain as a cardiac condition, b) ruling out my chest pain as a gall bladder condition, and c) having a full-fledged sonogram of the baby to determine if his motor skills and development were on track (they were). I don’t know what I would have done without my husband in the hospital with me for all these tests. Though most of them were just precautionary, I knew better than to think that everything would be okay anymore. For twenty-four hours I’d been poked, prodded, lubed up, checked out and woken up for various tests. Eye contact and hand-holding with Krispin were necessary, simple pleasures that helped me to leap-frog from one scary, crappy moment to the next.

We had two sonograms of the Little Man that day. In the first one, he was happily sucking his thumb. In the second, he had his foot in his mouth. The nurse said those were good signs, because the “sucking” action was an advanced skill for that age. I felt my motherly pride kick in when she said that, and in a weird “foreshadowing way,” felt relieved that if he were to come out early, he would be okay because he was doing so well with his growth in the womb.

We were released that night, and I was “ordered” a follow-up appointment with my doctor in the regular office on Friday morning. Thursday, May 23, I went back to work as usual. Co-workers asked how I was feeling, and I told them I felt good and was happy that I didn’t have preeclampsia, and that I would be sitting at my desk with my legs crossed for the rest of my pregnancy so that my baby would stay put until he was full term.

Thursday night, I didn’t sleep. The heartburn struck again and we tried several things to relieve it. Heartburn medicines didn’t seem to do anything, but Greek yogurt took the edge off. Krispin started a food diary for me, jotting down the time I was eating and what every item was. We were determined to pinpoint the source of the problem. I had three Greek yogurts that night, and I’m not sure if it actually relieved the pain or if it was a placebo effect — but I went with it. I slept on the couch for a precious hour with my body propped up at a ninety-degree angle, waiting for dawn to break so I could just be awake and feel normal about it. At 7:00AM on Friday morning, May 24, I got myself into the shower and focused on having a normal day. I had a client meeting at 9:30AM, after which I would leave work to go to my follow-up doctor’s appointment. Since the heartburn was feeling better, I was anticipating a brief visit — bang out a good blood pressure, pee in a cup, and get on with Memorial Day weekend. I was thinking it would be a good night to go catch a movie — The Great Gatsby, or maybe the new Star Trek.

I got to the doctor’s office at 11:00AM, with a freshly printed Birth Plan in hand. One of the prerequisites for the Birth Place was to draft such a plan and review it with the doctor prior to submitting it to the hospital. I also had a food log that Kris wrote down. Since I was expecting a ho-hum appointment, I told my husband to stay at work and that I could go on my own. I was called back to the exam room to get my blood pressure taken, and knew within about 30 seconds that things were going to be crazy again. And that I wished Krispin was with me after all. As soon as my blood pressure registered on the device the nurse’s face twisted into a “holy sh*t” expression and she immediately said she would redo it because it was so high. In an effort to calm myself, I explained that I’d literally just run from work to the appointment, and from my car into the office not 20 minutes ago. Plus, I’d forgotten the folder with the Birth Plan and the food log in it, so I had to quickly run back out to the car to grab it before I was called back to the exam room.

See? There was a perfectly fine explanation for my astronomical blood pressure.

She took it again in 10 minutes, and I was still high. This is when I felt my face getting scrunchy and my eyes burning. Normally, Kris would be with me and be able to quash these seeds of emotion before they became visible to the outside world, but as I was alone this time, I did a piss poor job of holding back the tears. I was brought back to a little room where a fetal monitor was set up  — gear that I was overly familiar with at this point having just spent a few days attached to it in the hospital. Once again, I was told to click a button every time I felt any movement in my belly. As tears streamed down my face, the nurse assured me that everything was okay.

This was just a fetal monitor! No big deal. I don’t think she realized what I’d gone through in the past few days, and that to me, it was obvious my “ho-hum” appointment was sprouting red flags like dandelions in a summer lawn.

She offered me a juice to ease my fears, which I gulped down in a fury to inspire the fetal movement I so desperately hoped to feel this time around on the monitor. Luckily, over the course of 30 minutes, my Little Man was kicking up a storm as if to say, “See Mom? I got your back. I’m doing well in here, don’t worry.” I breathed a sigh of relief as I continued clicking and clicking through the session. “Take my blood pressure now, “ I thought to myself. “Now, I am calm.”

After another 15 minutes, the nurse returned and took my blood pressure again. “Lower than before, but still high,” she said. Then she ran her fingers over my swollen feet and the concerned look on her face told me that we were not out of the woods on this, not even close. “I’m going to have Dr. Bowen see you now,” she said.

Dr. Bowen was one of my favorite people in the practice, and the doctor that discharged me from the hospital the day before. He said my son looked strong and that everything was going to be okay with my baby. He had the demeanor of Mr. Rogers and the most soothing voice in the whole world as he described medical situations. When he arrived in the room with his stethoscope and blood pressure cuff, he was all business that morning.

At this point, I could do nothing to stop the building deluge of tears that were forming behind my face. They were streaming down my cheeks when he came into the exam room and he said nothing soothing, no reassuring words, no “it will be okay.” He did the blood pressure twice, and told me that I needed to get to the hospital again for monitoring, that the numbers just weren’t going in my favor.

I left the office sobbing, and called my husband. In short bursts of speaking, I explained that we had to go back to St. Joe’s for more monitoring. He came home to get me, and we packed a bag. This time, we brought a few more things — power cords for the iPad, our own toothbrushes, a change of clothes, etc. I was prepared for an overnight stay, but didn’t think it would come to that. I certainly wasn’t packing as if our baby would be arriving in a few hours.

In my mind, we were still going to see The Great Gatsby later.

Things changed quickly once we arrived to the hospital. The blood that was drawn at the doctor’s office earlier was evaluated and a doctor came into the labor and delivery room I was assigned to. Based on my blood work, they determined that I had HELLP Syndrome. HELLP is a life-threatening pregnancy complication usually considered to be a variant of preeclampsia. HELLP stands for H (hemolysis, the breaking down of the red blood cells), EL (elevated liver enzymes), and LP (low platelet count). Looking at websites with information on the disease, I can see how the week’s worth of symptoms and monitoring FINALLY gave the doctors a clue as to what was going on with me. While HELLP shares some of the symptoms of preeclampsia (protein in the urine and high blood pressure), it doesn’t have to include those and can be present even when urine and blood pressure are okay. So when the doctors were monitoring me for preeclampsia and thinking that I was improving as my urine and blood pressure got better, I was actually getting worse with HELLP and part of the key to my diagnosis was the ongoing chest pain which was never heartburn, but my liver being inflamed. Chest tenderness, pain in my right upper quadrant and shoulder pain while breathing deeply were all HELLP symptoms and all things that I was experiencing and believing to be some combination of heartburn or the baby taking up so much room within my petite frame that I was having trouble breathing because my diaphragm was being pressed.

We were all wrong, but Friday morning the pieces came together.

The doctor stood before me and outlined the options, with the caveat that once another set of results came in, she might make a call on what would happen based on my current platelet count. As it stood in that moment, not 10 minutes after I arrived to the hospital to get a new Hep Lock inserted into my already Hep-Lock bruised hand, we were having our baby. The plan was to induce me, but if the blood work wasn’t great, I would get a C-Section. Neither option thrilled me. I was still nervous about having the baby so early, but I could tell that the situation was dire enough that we didn’t have a choice. While the baby was absolutely fine, it was me — my body — that was not fine.

In the five minutes or so of sitting in shock over the idea that we were having the baby more than a month early, I thought about the irony of my friends and family reassuring me of my ability to experience birth because of my years of endurance training.

I’m not going to lie — I had visions of my baby breezing through the birth canal on or about June 30, sliding into the doc’s hands as he crowned in the aero position. I’d been healthy and active throughout my pregnancy. I ate the right things. I did the right things. His head was already down and in position. I completed orientation and had a birth plan all typed up, proofread and printed up for the big day! I couldn’t help but think that my body was letting me down in this moment, that if I didn’t get my baby out of me quickly, I would be putting him in danger because my blood wouldn’t be able to clot once the labor started and the delivery occurred.

How could my body make it through three Ironman races, but shut down before my first birth? It was a jarring feeling for me.

The doctor returned, and the mood changed yet again. “The number isn’t what I was hoping for,” she said, in reference to my platelet count. The new option — the only option — was an emergency C-Section. A normal platelet count is 150. Mine was at 50, and rapidly declining. They start to worry with anything lower than 80.

What happened next seems like a blur. A lot of people came into the room. My parents hadn’t arrived to the hospital yet, so it was just me and my husband and a lot of medical folks. I was being hooked to an IV of magnesium which I kept confusing with an IV of “magma.” Might as well have been, it made my whole body burn as if there was fire in my veins.

The anesthesia guy came bedside and proceeded to give me the spiel on signing the consent form, which boiled down to “you might die, now sign this.” On the other side of my bed was my husband who was trying desperately to make the situation feel less scary than it was. Just before I was whisked away, he reminded me that this is how we do things…fast, crazy, out-of-the-ordinary. A true statement for the couple that got engaged, married, bought a house and became pregnant all within about a year and a half. The idea made me smile — our crazy life together was just proceeding in a normal fashion. Our son wasn’t going to be a June baby, he was going to be May baby. And while I’d been joking throughout the pregnancy that I’d be happy if he came a little early (because I would prefer a Gemini to a Cancer for optimal mother/son relationship potential), I didn’t want him to be five weeks early. June 21 was the cutoff for Gemini…but my Little Man was comin’ right now, and it was time for mommy to buck up and get to the OR without being a Sally about it.

One of the nurses, Laurie, made the experience much more calming for me. She had the quintessential nurse vibe. A pleasing tone, just the right amount of fact and detail when she explained what was about to happen to me and why, and a happy confidence that things would be okay no matter what she was talking about with me. This was all very important as we bonded over the next few days. She gave me a catheter, a sponge bath, and took a lot of blood. She was with me for the surgery from start to finish. I couldn’t imagine her ever using profanity, which is why I was embarrassed to learn that the first words out of my mouth as I came to from the anesthesia were “my uterus feels like a f*cking Jack-O-Lantern.” But what are you going to do? It was an apt description when I felt like the incision was a smile that was being burned into my flesh with a blowtorch.

I was told that Emmett was screaming when they took him out of me, and Kris got to see him within minutes of the procedure. Then he was taken to the NICU. I was relieved that things were okay, but sad that the expectation was for him to be in the hospital for the next four to five weeks.

Emmett, moments after birth. He’s screaming, mom is swearing.

By the time I saw him, I was happily hooked up to a morphine drip and thankful that I hadn’t died during the C-Section. My throat felt sore from being intubated, but other than that it was as if I’d gone from the conversation about being induced to the baby being in my arms. Not exactly the natural birth experience we had hoped for, but it really didn’t matter to me how Emmett got here as long as he was healthy. And despite the IV and leads that were attached to him when he was placed in my arms for the first time, he was just that — perfectly healthy.

Daddy and Emmett

 

It was tough to see my baby with a big splint on his arm and the same little Hep Lock in his hand that I had in mine. The beautiful thing about babies is that they don’t have all the mental baggage and negative associations that we adults form as we go through life. I looked at Emmett with cords and lights fastened to his body and told myself that these were just his superhero accessories — the little red light on his foot that detected how much oxygen was in his blood was just a sign that he was thriving. The leads were just picking up numerical representations to show the world what his spirit was made of. When I held him in the NICU, I tuned out the sounds of beeping monitors and alarms all around me and pretended instead that we were in an arcade. My Emmett wasn’t a baby that was sick in the NICU, he was my little fighter and he was acing the game of “premature baby” despite all the odds.

While I was falling in love with my baby for the first time, it felt like I was falling in love with my husband all over again. Like any couple, we have our share of stupid fights and nitpick each other over annoying habits. It’s funny how having a premature baby in the NICU can change all of that. Krispin dropped everything to care for me. Wheeling me to and from the NICU to feed Emmett, wiping away the ever-flowing batch of tears that seemed to generate out of nowhere thanks to zero sleep, crazy hormones and the fear that our situation would worsen before it would improve. And waiting on me without question. During the week we were in the hospital he happily got his hands on whatever snacks I wanted, kept my Nalgene bottle filled with water and ice, made sure I was comfortable in every possible way, and even made a few trips out to our house so he could get things in order before our eventual return home. All of that aside, I have to confess that watching my husband become a dad also had a profound effect on me. There’s just something about seeing our soft, new baby nestled against the tough exterior of my man. I know that he will be there for him in every possible way from here on out, just like he’s been here for me. Emmett has an amazing dad, I have an amazing husband. The Dolbears would get through this.

Naps on daddy’s chest are the best.

All through my pregnancy, people told me that I was an Ironman…I HAD this. But the real Ironman is my son. He’s the one that rolled with the punches on “race day” and crossed the finish line successfully despite the obstacles. Mom’s low platelets and all. Can’t stop my Little Man.

 

 

All superheros have lights in their feet, duh.

And he had already won more than just my heart along the way — the NICU nurses were quite fond of him. He was getting a reputation for exceeding expectations as they finally decided after four days (not weeks) that he was okay enough to be released from the NICU and move into the normal post-partum delivery room with me, though he’d still have to be under the blue lights for jaundice and have a monitor hooked up to alert us of any abnormalities in his breathing patterns.

I’ll never complain about the sound of my alarm clock ever again. When you’re woken up to the sounds of a monitor going off to tell you that the oxygen in your son’s blood is too low, you quickly reassess what it means to be annoyed in life.

Monitors in the background, making sure my Little Man stays on track.

Moving into the new room was bittersweet. It was an upgrade in terms of environment — we got a window with an awesome view of the Syracuse Dome and city skyline, and the overall décor of the room was very upscale and modern. The previous room had no windows, and looked as though it could have been the set for a 1970s medical show.

But the new room didn’t have Laurie, the nurse that I had become very close to in the first week of our hospital stay. I wasn’t ready to let Laurie go, and I don’t think she was really ready for it either. I can’t really articulate why we bonded so quickly, other than to say that she was on the front lines in the most serious and scary situation I’ve ever faced in my whole life. I clung to her hope and soothing outlook on our prognosis. Next to my husband, she was the only person that had any ability to make me feel calm in the situations we were going through. She helped to move my things to the new room, and Krispin told me that he’d overheard her explaining to the shift nurse in the new room how things should be set up.

“She likes a little fan right here on the bed, but not pointing at her, just around her. She likes her blanket folded up and placed on the end of the bed,” Laurie explained. I didn’t really compute the fact that my move to the new room meant good-bye until she leaned in for a hug and told me that I’d made her weekend really great. The moment she left the room, I sobbed into my husband’s shoulder. I was sad that Laurie was out of the picture now.

In the days that followed, life seemed to get a little easier. Instead of being woken up at 1:30AM by someone who needed to draw more blood from my arm, I was woken up to feed my baby. Though I tired of hearing the parade of nurses do their own unique song and dance every time the shifts changed and I needed my vitals to be taken, I was relieved that “vitals” were the most pressing thing on my radar. I had given so much blood in the previous days, that the regular nurses were no longer able to find “good veins” to draw from any longer, and I would routinely get a visit from the phlebotomist (a person’s whose sole job is to find a good vein and get blood out of it). I was also shocked to learn that the phlebotomist is not really a medical person. Every one that I talked to had taken the job because it was easy night work. By day, these people were in bands, worked the day shift at Tim Horton’s or sold cars at Hyundai. Okay then. That wasn’t the most reassuring dossier for someone who was regularly probing my arm for a place to jam a needle, but whatever. At this point in the week, I was pretty much over my fear of needles and even stopped giving people my usual speech.

One of the many blessings of the week, our immediate success with breastfeeding.

“It’s fine if you want to say ‘here comes a little poke,’ or, ‘here we go,’ but please do not describe what you’re doing beyond that,” I’d say. The very first nurse who took blood from my arm that week was overly verbose while she took the blood. “Nice, juicy veins you have here,” she said while tying the rubber band around my arm and tapping my inner elbow with her fingers. I nearly passed out. I’m not a vein girl.

By Thursday, May 30, we had cleared most of the major hurdles and were hopeful that with one more overnight, Emmett’s monitor would show that he was well enough to go home. By this time, I had been discharged as a patient but the hospital allowed me to stay in my room with my baby, considering him the patient and me his guest. I can’t express how great the staff was at St. Joe’s hospital in accommodating us during this whole ordeal. Typically, when the mother is discharged as the patient and the baby still needs hospital attention, the mother can try to stay in the guest room that is near the NICU — but she must share it with another woman, and your partner cannot stay there with you. The hospital really went out of their way to make us as comfortable as possible, and it really made such a huge difference in our spirits as we continued to process what was happening and how we would handle it moving forward.

On Friday, May 31, one week since Emmett’s birth, we were told that he was being released and we could all go home. Since we had him on a monitor for two days that would sound an alarm any time something wasn’t right with his breathing, we were slightly nervous over the idea of bringing him home. There would be no monitor, no leads and no nurses. The doctor explained to us that as they were observing him over the past few days, they were sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop. He was doing so well, it was almost too good to be true.

“But the other shoe doesn’t have to drop,” he finally explained. “He’s a healthy kid. We have no reason to keep him here. Get out of here already,” the doctor said with a smile. We couldn’t believe what we were hearing. It felt like a miracle, and it was just one of the many blessings we counted that week.

Everybody was a little sad when it came time to leave the hospital. Kris and I made friends with several of the nurses and with so much happening in such a short period of time, the people we interacted with while staying at St. Joe’s felt like a part of our family now, and they were definitely a part of Emmett’s success story.

As we wrapped up Emmett’s stay on the blue beach, we grew excited to get him home.

As I finish writing this, I’m sitting in my dining room watching my baby sleep peacefully, almost one week out of the hospital. We already took him to his first pediatrician’s appointment, and he was perfectly okay. He’s back up to his birth weight of five pounds, and we continue to breastfeed with no issues (another blessing). We’re adjusting to our new life with a newborn, and though everyone says the hardest part is coming home that first week, we’ve found it to be pretty easygoing in comparison to our two weeks in the hospital.

My health continues to improve. My blood pressure is still a little bit high, but otherwise the HELLP Syndrome seems to have been cured with the delivery of Emmett, which is what was supposed to happen. I’m finding it much harder to adjust to “recovery” from a C-Section than to get up at 2:00AM for breastfeeding. It will be a while before I can get back to my long runs and bike rides, but I know my body needs this time to heal, and I’m okay with that.

Right before we left the hospital, one of the nurses told me that it might be hard for me to process the idea that I was robbed of my birth experience. After all, I was knocked out for Emmett’s official arrival into the world. I am saddened that I didn’t get to see how the “Ironman” in me would have held up to labor and delivery, but another part of me feels lucky in a way to have had the experience that we did. In an odd way, being in the hospital for almost two weeks felt like a sort of forced retreat from the go-go-go lifestyle I normally lead. After the major medical issues subsided, Krispin and I actually found a lot of time to connect to each other and the idea that our baby was here five weeks early. It felt like being away at camp or something, as we tucked ourselves into the small twin bed in our room to watch Arrested Development on the laptop and eat Oreos under a blanket while our baby slept just a few feet away from us in the crib. Emmett’s time in the NICU was special too…the nurses kept a little scrapbook for him with his milestones for the day, and we know that someday he’ll love to hear the story of how he was born and all about the adventures he had as he powered through everyone’s expectations as a premature baby.

Home at last, sans wires but with plenty of smiles.

He stole my heart in his first week here. I’ve always considered myself a fairly emotional person, but I feel like I’ve never had any real emotions until now.

I didn’t get to feel my uterus tighten as Emmett prepared to enter the world, but I felt my heart squeeze the moment we knew we were having a C-Section and would get to hold him so much sooner than we expected to.

My water didn’t break, but I made up for it with a steady stream of joyful tears.

I didn’t get to breath deeply and count the seconds between contractions, but I got to exhale a sigh of relief and count my blessings between test results.

It doesn’t matter to me how Emmett Lester Dolbear came into this world, just that he arrived safely and we get to have him home in our arms.

Our Little Man has changed our lives in a huge way, and we’re excited for the adventures ahead, no matter what they might include.