In & Out of Mom Mode

As I dive deeper into motherhood, I feel like I’m growing further and further away from my carefree, 20-something former self. Ryan just kindly informed me that we are closer to Maisley’s first day of high school than to our first day of high school. He loves saying shit like that.

My favorite little sister** is getting married in less than a month to a guy who’s had her heart since day one. We celebrated her, and their upcoming “I do’s” with one last olé in Santa Barbara a couple weekends ago.

Going to a bachelorette party as a fresh mother of two felt like worlds colliding. Diapers, breastfeeding and “please don’t climb on the counter” became girl-talk, cocktails and pin the smooch on the penis. It was a blissful, refreshing, 48-hours of fun. But I felt like I was a little rusty on remembering how to live freely, let go and not worry about the clock or how many times I refilled my red cup. I kept picking up small items from the floor and moving scissors away from the edge of the counter.

It’s hard to jump in and out of lives and old selves and new selves. Like bags of breastmilk sitting next to bottles of tequila in the freezer. Or pumping while sitting at a lingerie party (opposite ends of the sexy spectrum).

Each child has rocked my existence in a new way. With Maisley it felt like an identity crisis. With Coura it feels more like a new opportunity for self discovery.

As mothers, we tend to get caught up in mom mode – wearing mom jeans, talking in a mom voice and doing other mom things; all the while forgetting about our other identities. Sometimes it takes a bachelorette party to remind us that we are also the girl who likes to let loose (or even just the girl who showers and has normal conversations with other humans).

I hope that as my girls grow up, I continue to foster all sides of myself so that they can clearly see: “I’m not like a regular mom, I’m a cool mom”.

** Just making sure you are both reading this

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I Lost My Train of Thought

Sometimes I look at the date and am surprised by it. Like my circadian rhythm is permanently set to another timezone. It’s summer, but I don’t really know what time of year it is. The sleepy postpartum fog takes me out of everyday life. It’s hard to make normal conversation with even close friends and family, let alone the chummy cashier at Trader Joes. I stare into space more than I should. My mind feels sporadic and consumed by feeding schedules, diaper changes, sunscreen application, laundry…August 20th. My mind goes into a quick panicky review: Is it someone’s birthday? Did we miss preschool orientation? What have I forgotten? Who is awaiting a return text or call? I always wonder the best time of year for having a baby. As if there’s a certain season that is better suited for turning your world upside down in the best and hardest way. Summer is nice because it’s warm and there’s always something happening. It also makes me feel like I’m not doing enough and too much at the same time. The fourth trimester is coming to a close, but I’m not ready to jump back into being “normal”. And what is normal? Normal has shifted again. I need more time to piece our new life together. Maisley’s constant whining feels like tiny ice picks to the brain, amounting to the loss of our minds. As Ryan so astutely observed, if I even look at cheese right now, Coura becomes an explosion of gas and fuss. Tomorrow I will look at my phone and it will be a new day. This too shall pass.

Act Like a Two-Year-Old

Dear ZuZu,

You are now at the age adults refer to when calling someone (of any age) out for irrational behavior. “Stop acting like a two-year-old!” or “You’re acting like a two-year-old!”

While your strong-willed tantrums give me a front row seat to the two-year-old stereotype, there is a whole, vibrant person starting to emerge from your tiny body that makes this age – like every age so far – one I never want to forget.

The other day I saw a shirt with a smirking condiment bottle on it that read: Bet you can’t ketchup!

That shirt defines you at two; one step ahead of us and always traveling at top speed.

I will never forget you running down the cul-de-sac, leading the flying v of five older neighborhood kids chasing after you; your top knot bouncing in the wind.

Your toes are always dressed with a Finding Nemo bandaid and your knees scraped up or bruised, which makes me proud. It tells me you’re living.

We tried to keep you contained in your crib by putting you into a large sleep sack, but somehow you still found a way to fling yourself out like a gymnast on the pommel horse.

While I love how active you are, I don’t love that we’ve now lost two out of your three perfect leg rolls. You are becoming less and less of a baby everyday.

When you were first born and babbling nonsense, I remember wondering what your voice would sound like and what you had to say. Now that you’ve discovered some words, it’s as entertaining as I could have imagined.

I hope I never forget the cheeky way you say, “Oh my goodness gracious, that’s insane!”. I love that you confidently say, “Sooooo cute!” every time you get dressed in the morning. And your sweet I love you mama’s make you easy to forgive; even when I’m on the brink of quitting motherhood.

You ride the highs and lows of every day with reckless abandon, vulnerable to the present moment. 

Before becoming a mom, if someone had told me that their two-year-old was compassionate, I probably would have rolled my eyes in disbelief. Now I’m that mom because you are truly bursting with empathy and compassion, always making sure that everyone around you is okay.

So today, I say act like a two-year-old. Dig your hands into the sand, run around naked, drink the hose water and eat all the “popcorns” you can. You’re only here for another year, and then onto three. Might as well make the most of it!

I love you more than you’ll ever know.

xoxo
Mama

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The Time We Took Two Under 2 to Italy

“Would you do it all over again?”, asked my youngest sister. My mind quickly recounted slamming my hands into the mattress in a sleepless fury, while yelling, “I can’t do it anymore!”. And then I flashed to our self-guided nighttime walking tour through Rome, gelato in hand, engulfed by the romantic magic of a brand new city full of monuments older than Jesus.

Like life at home right now, traveling to Europe with an infant and a toddler was hard. And it was magical.

We had been planning for our Italian family reunion for the last year and also loosely planning our second baby around it too. September was our last month of trying where I wouldn’t be too pregnant or have too young of a baby to go.

As you might have guessed, I got pregnant. Our little seed of hope turned into a little baby girl and our family became four just two months before we would take off.

I was pretty anxious leading up to the trip; there were a lot of unknowns about how our independence-seeking, runaway two-year-old, and fresh into the world two-month-old would react in a new country. Germs, logistics, passports, schedules and other fear-based obstacles took turns making me question the plausibility of this trip.

There’s a Mark Twain quote that goes something like: when you look back over your life, you’ll regret more of the things that you didn’t do, than the things that you did.

So we went. For Mark Twain’s sake and for that vow we made to each other when we got married; to see the world together.

My mom dropped us off curbside at LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal. She kept saying how brave we were for going. Brave, or stupid, I kept thinking to myself.

I reminisced briefly on the last time I was in Italy. I wore an SDSU college sweatshirt, drank gin and tonics, and traveled spontaneously around with nothing but an oversized backpack. Here I was 10 years later, returning a slightly different version of myself. I wore Birkenstocks, drank beer (and also electrolytes) and traveled with four backpacks (and that was only our carry-on luggage).

We reserved the bulkhead seats and didn’t have too many annoyed eyes staring at us just yet.  After a few hours of airplane food, Daniel Tiger, Fancy Nancy and sticker books, Maisley reluctantly fell asleep on her makeshift bed below our feet. Coura took turns sleeping in her bassinet and wrapped to one of our chests. It definitely wasn’t relaxing, but also wasn’t as crazy as I had imagined.

We stayed in Rome for the first two nights and then took a NASCAR style ride out of city and into the countryside of Tuscany, settling into a farmhouse outside of the small hilltop town of Cortona.

28 of Ryan’s Dutch, American and Russian family members ranging from ages 5 to 75 all met us there for a week of family bonding, site seeing and gelato eating.

The first few days were an adjustment. I had that “out of my comfort zone” pit in my stomach, coupled with jet lag, cranky babies not sleeping, and 4th trimester surging hormones. Things that helped me get through those first days: time, meditation and focusing on my breath, talking and connecting with Ryan, sleep, prayer and staying present.

We went on a few day trips to surrounding hilltop towns, organized a fun game of water polo with all of the cousins at the farmhouse pool, and ate countless pizzas, all under the 100-degree tuscan sun. 

Maisley had a blast playing and swimming with her dutch cousins.  She even learned how to say her favorite word in dutch: nee (pronounced nay). She can now refuse us in two languages!

Coura slept, cried, smiled and drank her way through our Italian adventure, seemingly growing from a newborn into a baby during our 11 days abroad. “Unique Places I Breastfed Coura” is probably a blog of it’s own, but two highlights were the refreshingly cool floor of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican and hilltops with expansive views of bright sunflower fields. 

Ryan and I took turns losing our mind, so that at least one person remained positive and calm at all times. We were saved by kind people at the airport who lead us to shorter security lines, quiet drives with napping babies, afternoon thunderstorms, and an amazon fire tablet holding our mini savior; a tiger in a red sweater.

After 20 hours of return travel, we arrived home with thankful hearts and extra tired eyes. We asked Maisley to tell us her favorite part of the trip. She replied with, “Sleeping on the airplane.”

While neither of the girls will remember this trip, it will forever be part of their essence and one Ryan and I will never forget.

We gained far more than we lost on this trip, and I’d do it all over again every time (although probably waiting until all kids are old enough to hold their own head up before we go). 

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In Maisley’s Backpack:
Pipe cleaners
Painters tape
Under the Sea & Zoo Sticker Books by Usborne
Traveling pack of Fancy Nancy books
Moana doll
Buckle Toy
Amazon Fire Tablet full of Shaun the Sheep, Daniel Tiger and Moana

In My Backpack:
doTERRA – On Guard Essential Oil Protective Blend
No Jet Lag Homeopathic Jet Lag Remedy
Bach Flower Rescue Remedy Drops (for anxiety)
Lavender essential oils
Cozy airplane socks
Ultima Replenisher Electrolyte Hydration Powder

Other Secret Weapons:
Mother and father-in-laws
Packing cubes
Family members who can calm your crying baby
Snacks, so many snacks

Loving My Second

“To fall in love you have to take the risk of changing yourself for that person. You have to let go. Let go of who you thought you were before you loved that person.” – Father Richard Rohr 

Sometimes the hardest thing about being a mom isn’t the long days or the sleepless nights.

It’s the love. A love so big and beautiful that it requires terrifying vulnerability. A love not conditional to outside forces; holding up fiercely to projectile vomit and tantrums in aisle 4.

My first love with Maisley was intoxicating, wild, unknown and full of firsts. After the shock of birthing a human had worn off, and within about 10 minutes of holding her on my chest, I felt this extreme rush of love. It was overwhelming and I remember bursting into tears, exclaiming to Ryan, “I just love her so much!” My emotions sat right at the intersection of extreme fear and extreme joy. My world was now her world. I carefully examined her every move, every inch of her teeny baby body and stared at her in awe most hours of the day.  It was innocent, a little like a first high school love (or in my case college, because God knows I only talked to boys on instant messenger, not in real life while in high school).

My second love with Coura has been slower, more mature. She emerged from the water and onto my chest completely at peace. With her warm, soft body tucked close to me, I felt immediately like we were made for each other. But our love story has been scattered in between making dinner, reading stories, tired tears, and the big one’s bedtime routine. It has come in quiet moments, not a rush all at once. It’s authentic and growing into a big love I could never explain in words. She loves to cuddle close and needs her mama in the sweetest way.

I sat in the shower the other morning feeling completely overwhelmed with now two incredible mother loves. My mind started wandering to worry…if something ever happened to one of them…

It made me want grab them, hold them and never let go. My worry, fear and anxieties came creeping in like a bad habit.

But big love is always worth the letting go and after seven weeks of sleepless nights, I could really use the makeover anyways.

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Life with Two Kids

Now seven weeks into life with two kids, I often get asked how things are going.  “It’s hard,” I reply honestly. “Two kids is no joke!”

We are in it.

Having two kids is the hardest honor I’ve been blessed with. Somehow two feels like triple the work and I feel like I should need less help than I do. But I need help, and it’s chaotic and sometimes in the middle of the night while rocking an inconsolable, crying baby I’ll swear I can’t do it. But then the sun comes out and Maisley crawls into bed with the three of us and all is somehow alright.

I shower at strange times like two in the afternoon and “morning” is an abstract concept. One handed diaper changes and bouncing while eating have become the norm. Chasing Maisley (also the name of my next novel) with a Coura bear wrapped on my chest while our dog escapes to harass the neighbors is my new workout routine. There are significantly more highs and lows and we often experience an entire day of emotions before 10 am.

Maisley and Ryan have been spending more time together.  Our relationship is changing and my attention is now split, but I keep reminding myself that the gift of a sister outweighs my absence at a few pool days and night-time routines.

It’s hard, but it’s the good kind of hard. The kind of hard that makes the good moments feel great.

Ryan and I are working as a team, more in sync than ever before. Rather than a zone defense against Maisley, we are now man to man. We zip around like two carefully trained soccer players, anticipating the other person’s next move (got the World Cup on my mind if you couldn’t tell). “I got the big one”, he’ll say.  “I got the little one,” I’ll say.  We each always have a job, ain’t nobody sitting on the sidelines.

We went to the park the other day and Ryan walked ahead of me with Maisley’s hand in his and a purple bubble wand peaking out of the back pocket of his Chinos. I told him he’s arrived as a dad. The other dad at the park chimed in, “I was thinking the same thing.”

Coura and I are as close as we could possibly be right now (aside from having her inside of me). She’s attached to me most hours of the day, but I sense that she’s enjoying it and needs me in a unique way. We both know it’s not forever, and I love getting to know her more and more everyday.

When Coura cries, Maisley comforts her saying, “It’s ok Coura Joan!” and sings her a special song: “Coura, Coura, Coura, Coura, I love you. I love you. You’re my little sister, you’re my little sister, I love you. I love you.” (Maisley also sometimes whacks Coura for no reason, but we’re focusing on the great moments in this half of the blog, right?).

We are in it. So if you need us, this is where we’ll be for a while (and I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else).

June 1st

The four of us lay in bed. Sitting comfortably on a cloud of hormones and pure joy. We couldn’t stop smiling and staring at her, FaceTiming our families to share the happy news. I had thought a thousand times about what her birth day would be like. June 1st now held her story forever.

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My water broke on May 31st at 10pm; 15 minutes before we finished the finale of The Americans and two hours after my ferocious need to wash all of the bath mats in the house. Ryan and I both leaped up from the couch, too distracted to continue watching, and began the final preparations for our planned home birth of baby girl number two.

Ryan kicked things into high gear. He pulled out the hose to begin filling the Aquadoula tub, put the plastic sheet on the bed, and gathered all of our prepared birth goodie bags full of things like towels, a baby hat, washcloths, a thermometer and a cookie sheet (who’s purpose still stumps me to this day).

I walked aimlessly around our bedroom, trying to combat my intense anxiety and excitement with meditation and deep breathing.

Our birth flags strung across the wall, illuminated by the bedside lamp. Positive affirmations from the strong women in my life decorated each flag.

I am strength. A warrior. Courageous. Sunshine.

“It’s Go Time!”

“I can do hard things.” 

The bright, teal colored Aquadoula had been setup in the corner of our room now for two weeks, staring at me in anticipation every night before bed.

People kept telling me how quickly second babies tend to come, so when my water broke, my heart leaped out of my chest thinking I would go from zero to 10, fast. (Plus I had lost my mucus plug two days before and had been feeling “off” – extra emotional and crampy – since then).

The surges began around 10:30 pm, light at 10 minutes apart, then slowly building in intensity and closer together at eight minutes apart. We called our doula, Willow, to come over and my sister, Michelle, to watch our older daughter Maisley. All signs were pointing to baby launch 2018. She was coming!

And then after an hour, the surges started to slow down. 8 minutes, 10 minutes, 12 minutes apart.

It was a sleepless night. The surges were just strong enough to keep me awake, not to mention my anxious mind begging unhelpful questions like: When will this labor get moving? Am I going to be pregnant forever? Can I even handle this again?

I laid in bed on my side, with a pillow between my legs, lightly clutching the rosary my grandma had given me when I was a little girl. Grandma Joan, our baby’s middle-name sake.

Ryan laid next to me, dosing out a unique level of comfort and encouragement that only he could provide.

Inhale calm, exhale surrender.

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The sun came up on the first of a new month. It was a peaceful and warm morning, not the kind of day you imagine to match the intensity of labor. I was emotionally and physically exhausted, questioning my body and wondering when I would meet my baby girl. 

Willow continued to reassure me that this off-and-on early labor was very common for second-time moms. “Nothing is wrong. Everything you are experiencing is normal. You are doing great,” she calmly reminded me. She massaged my shoulders and guided me through the Miles Circuit to help get things moving. Willow went home to recharge and told us to call her when things started to intensify.

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I continued to rest in bed and then around 9:00 am I noticed a change in my body. One strong surge came and I knew it was the beginning of many more to come.

Between breaths I whispered to Ryan to call the midwife and have Willow come back as soon as possible, trying not waste any bit of energy on logistics. He was working so hard to not only help me through each surge with the support of his hands and shoulders to hang on, but managing all communications and making sure I had everything I needed; food, water, chapstick, cold towels, music, essential oils, etc.

At the peak of each surge, I felt like I had a choice; to let the pain consume me and take over, or to ride with it, be active in it, stay present and breathe deeply. Instead of being afraid of the intensity, I embraced it and welcomed it with every ounce of my mind and body (different than my mindset for my first labor and it made ALL the difference).

I was squatting next to the bed, breathing and making deep groaning noises. I moved to the toilet to labor and I could feel my body releasing her down with each surge.

The urge to push came on at around 10:15 am as I was laboring on the toilet.  That undeniable and familiar deep pressure in my pelvis was here. I had been saving the water as my final comfort during transition and was now instinctively ready to move to the tub.

I hung over the soft edge of the warm tub, in an upright child’s pose position. It was here that I experienced the hardest moment of labor so far. The moment most laboring women talk about where they feel like they can’t do it. I wanted out. I wanted to be anywhere but where I was. The pressure and burning was so intense, I felt like my body might break apart.

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When Willow arrived she strung cold essential oil-infused towels over my neck, poured water on my back and took turns with Ryan holding my hands and guiding my breath through each surge.

The midwives arrived at 10:30 am. Thank you God, I thought. No unassisted home birth today. They took my blood pressure, monitored baby and as one of the assistants asked if it was okay to check my dilation, I just shook my head and said I’m ready. There was no need, I could feel her coming soon.

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Ryan faced me, looking into my eyes with belief and whispering words of encouragement. He helped me to remain present and enjoy the peaceful moments between surges (which to my surprise was actually possible).

I began bearing down when the uncontrollable urge to push came over my body. On my third full body push, I groaned, “She’s coming!” and as her head emerged, I flipped over and reached down to feel her beautiful head. I was so shocked that she was here. There was no “ring of fire” feeling and I was only pushing for 15 minutes!

With one final push at 10:59 am her body was out and I felt the sweetest release. Ryan stood next to the midwife, delivering our baby girl and bringing her to my chest.

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I yelled out sighs of relief and joy, in disbelief by the continual miracle of birth. We did it. Everyone was safe and healthy.  Ryan and I held each other’s gaze, relishing in what we divinely created. She was so warm on my chest and was covered in thick, white vernix. She exuded a calm, peace and contentment I had never seen before. 

I almost thought something might be wrong because she wasn’t crying, but the midwives reassured me that she was doing great.

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I could feel deep in my heart that we were made for each other. That and so much gratitude for her life and the empowering experience we would forever share. 

Coura Joan Nienhuis. Born 7 pounds 2 ounces in the water, at home. My courageous girl had forever changed our life. 

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