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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Waiting for Maisley

As I sit here on the eve of Maisley’s first birthday, I can’t help but think about what I was doing last year at this very minute and the days leading up to her birth; endless swells of uncertainty, joy, fear and excited anticipation.

Here are some highlights from my journal entries during the last 15 days of waiting for Maisley.

8.1.16 
Pinch and a punch to the first of the month no take backs. It’s Bean’s birthday month. August 1st raises the anticipation level to “go-time”!

8.2.16
My sweet Nonno went to Heaven today. We got to see him yesterday and say I love you one more time. He’s with his beloved Christina now and that makes me so happy. How ironic that he left and Bean will be coming into this world. They passed somewhere in the soul-space of the universe. I think she will be bold and strong-willed like him. After years of Alzheimer’s and physical decline, I’m trying to remember Nonno as his old self.

  • Cold cut sandwiches around the table in the mobile home
  • His jokes and constant humor
  • Slipping us hundies as we walked out the door of his mobile home
  • Teaching us poker with his trickster ways
  • The way he peeled his orange with a knife in a circular motion
  • His stories from WWII
  • How he always made sure everyone else was okay
  • How much he loved my Nana with all his heart
  • How he would say “tree” instead of “three”
  • His love of basketball
  • That he was a fisherman
  • He was frugal, but he lived and traveled the world

I love that he was there on Christmas eve when we told my family that our Bean was coming into the world. They are soul mates. He left and will guide her onto the earth. He is or angel. I’m so happy he is at peace; in Heaven where he deserves to be.

8.3.16 
How are we going to keep this baby alive? We aren’t prepared at all. The bassinet situation plagued my mind at 3am. Do we tilt it upwards? Does Bean just go in there at night? How do we know what Bean needs? I forget everything from Breastfeeding and Newborn 101. Where is my Solly Baby wrap? I need to wash it. Shit is getting real at almost 38 weeks. Sleeping? Tired. I feel pregnant. I love you though, Bean.

Happy 28th Birthday Brandino.

It was so good spending the day with my mom. She is so excited to meet Bean and I’m so happy to bring her that joy. Sammie, oh sammie girl and her sensitive puppy tummy. I think she is sensing the heightened energy and hormones, that anxious soul. Ryan woke up to a real treat this morning.

8.4.16
The elusive productivity felt good today. Bean is still feeling pretty high up.  Ryan said last night that this waiting game is like the biggest game of jack-in-the-box. We have been winding up for nine months…when will I pop?? Ever since then, I can’t get the song out of my head: do do do do do do do do do, do do do do do do do, do do do do do do do do do, pop goes the weasel! I hope mine’s a baby.

I swam for 20 minutes today per my midwife’s suggestion. It feels so good to let my belly float free and weightless. It’s so surprising how heavy everything feels as I walk up the steps out of the pool. It’s peaceful in there. I think Bean likes it too.

I’m happy to see Jackie and Nicole tonight with their little loves Juno and Greyson. Pretty soon I will also be a friend with a baby. I want to always be a friend, and have my baby. I want to remember to be me. I think Bean wants that too. As the days get closer to meeting Bean, I feel more ready and simultaneously freaked out. I think I am most nervous 1) for labor 2) how everyone calls those first months the dark days. Yikes. I want to stay positive. How do I not fall into the darkness? It almost feels like something out of my control that can happen to me, not come from me. I will say yes to help. We are strong and can do hard things.

8.5.16 
Bean, I had a meltdown tonight. I sat in our rocking chair in your dark nursery; meditated and chilled out. I said to Ryan that I just want to feel normal again. I felt bad for saying it, but I was having a moment. He was comforting to me in the moment, but later said, I feel so bad because I don’t think you’re going to feel normal for another year.

8.6.16
We gardened the backyard today and re-planted our succulents. It looks so refreshing and beautiful. It was mostly me directing and Ryan actually doing the hard labor (my day is coming, I don’t feel so bad). I’m a bit useless in that sense right now. We got this new peach colored rose bush. I normally hate roses, but today they were all I wanted. They remind me of my Grandma and as kids the “Rose Hotel” we would create for her and my Papa when they would stay with us. Maybe it’s Bean. Maybe I’m just getting older, but roses are somehow back in my flower game. I slept for 10 hours last night, we got breakfast and strolled the beach. Happy.

8.7.16
38 weeks has come slow and fast. It’s almost like my body has been waiting since I was 12-years-old to get the chance to do what it was made to do. My fears are many. How will I fight through the frustrations and hormones with grace? How will I not be a control freak? I want to be nice to Ryan. I don’t want to be the crazy person people say you become in labor.

8.8.16
We said “goodbye” and “see you later” to Nonno today. It was such a happy and sad day. It was hard to know that we won’t see him or hear his voice on this earth again. It was hard to see my mom cry during her eulogy. She did so great. Father Angelos spoke about how much love, faith and generosity my Nonno and Nana exuded; he said he wants to be like them. It was so powerful to hear him speak so highly of them.

It was a surreal experience being 9 months pregnant with Bean at a funeral. One soul gone, one coming. It’s the in-between phase where neither are out in the world right now.

I love my rose bush. I wonder if the symbolism is for my grandparents or me blooming like our labor visuals. It brings me a lot of happiness right now. I will carry ‘their’ hearts with me. All of these beautiful strong souls up in Heaven, they will all help me up this mountain.

We came home from the service and had the most joy-filled afternoon with my sisters and mom and dad. Dad seems to be doing a little better. Thank you God for this glimmer of hope. I hope he feels it too. He means the world to us.

8.9.16
I haven’t thought much about the pain of labor, until now, while my lower back feels like it’s breaking apart. Holy cow, this is real. Me and Ryan talked about our labor fears last night and any residual feelings. I said the intensity, but I also know this is what we have been preparing for. Our hypnobirthing classes, rainbow relaxation meditations, visualizations, everything. It’s the big race. I remember the night before my marathon so vividly. I thought I would be nervous and unable to sleep, but I was calm and woke up well rested, ready for the event I had prepared so hard for. And then it was over, it passed, and it went great. It was God. It was me.

I’m so fortunate to have Ryan. How could I ever tell him enough? The little and the big things. He is so good to me and never complains. I’m so happy it’s him and I’m so happy he is Bean’s dad.

Also, Bean, what are YOU?! We are so anxious to find out. I’m leaning towards girl, but I’m also 50/50. I can’t wait to share your name. I can’t wait to meet you. Waiting for you is so strange. I pray you have a beautiful, healthy birthday. When will you come? I feel it getting closer. I feel it in my heart…and my lower back. We have been reading you bedtime stories at night. Can you hear them? Dad is really good at telling stories, you’ll see.

8.10.16
I cried again last night. The full belly kind of cry I used to do as a kid. The cleansing, uncontrollable kind. I’ve been trying to be tough and not ask for help and it’s not doing me any good. I’m frustrating Ryan because he feels like he can’t help. We had a really good talk last night and I exploded out my fears; some real, some not. I guess that’s what fears are; even if they aren’t real it’s whatever you perceive them to be.

Despite all of our prep, I’m afraid of the unknown of labor. So many people everywhere are pouring their opinions and experiences on me, and while they mean well, quite frankly, I’m over it. I just want to stay in my own experience. I’m so tired of advice. Advice from the lady at Trader Joe’s, advice from the random woman walking her dog, from my aunt, from friends. It’s just so overwhelming and the words are spinning like a washing machine in my head.

Me, Ryan and Bean. It’s us. It’s going to be hard, but we will get through it.

What does “mom” me look like? Does she still have long hair? Is she patient or does she have a temper? I know these waiting days are just a blip in time, but they feel forever.

8.11.16
I love you Bean. I am sick with a bad cold. My back hurts, but I love you. I’m grateful for you. I met with a mom friend Devon yesterday. She gave me good advice. I wonder what my advice will be for a new mom. I’m trying to stay positive. Other people are feeling much worse. Other people are dying to be pregnant and feel what I feel.

8.12.16
I’m feeling so much better mentally today. Less sad and scared. More excited and ready. I got a good night’s sleep which made all the difference. 39 weeks tomorrow. At 6, I couldn’t imagine this would ever come. At 29, when we had the small hospital scare, all I wanted was for you to be full term. Here we are!

I think I said in my baby hunch prediction that you would come today. Will you? You can come anytime. We are ready for you Bean. I’m so anxious to meet you and catch your glance for the first time. To feel our outer-body connection.  To feel a love I’ve never experienced. What a weird feeling to wait like this for the greatest love of all time?

8.13.16
Well Bean, you’re still fluttering around inside my belly. I’ve been waking up around 3am thinking I’m going into labor the past few nights. I have this mild cramping feeling during the night, and then I wake up wondering if it was a dream or real. After a few nights of the same thing, I’m going to chalk it up to the wonders of gas and constipation.

You are all I’m thinking about, Bean. I can be briefly distracted, but any minute alone in thought is about you. How you will come? When you will come? What will it be like?Emotionally I’m feeling much better than earlier in the week. My nesting need is fierce, but I can barely do anything to help which is so frustrating!

Me and Sammie often cuddle and hang out during my morning routine. She sits between my crossed legs and listens to our prayers. Bean, you’re going to love Sammie. She’s going to love you.

The weather has been so warm and beautiful. Before getting pregnant, I had this visual of giving birth at the hospital when it was cold and rainy (add some drama to the scene). Now, I envision being in my bathing suit, laboring at the pool and then wearing a loose sundress all the way to the hospital. It will most likely be a bright, happy, sunny day when Bean comes into the world.

It’s so fun having the Olympics on right now. Watching people push their limits and work hard – what more motivation for labor could I ask for? The track started last night. It had me thinking of the 400 and 800 meter races. I learned through sports that my body is WAY more capable than I could ever imagine. I can push myself past the limit. My heart is strong, I am strong.

The labor snacks I bought at week 38 are slowly dwindling. I need to re-stock! We’ve been reading you bedtime stories every night. Dad gets really animated. It’s so fun to have that time with you.

8.14.16
“She believed she could, so she did”. Such a simple mantra, but it just stuck to my heart. Believing in someone else gives them so much power and strength. Believing in yourself is just as empowering. I can do this. I am stronger than I think. Surrender.

Bean, I told you this morning that we are ready whenever you are! We hung out at Pizza Port with Amy and Paul, the newlyweds, last night. It was so fun to see them. I always leave feeling better than before.

Ryan had the worst seven golf holes of his life today. Was it a sign from the golf gods that he should be at home with me? Ha! It was such a bad round that he quit at hole seven and put his clubs in the attic.

I was thinking this morning how lucky I am to have my mom. She calls everyday to say how excited she is and to see how I’m doing. We are lucky to have her, our whole family. I can’t wait to see our family’s relationships with Bean.

How weird it’s going to be to not call you Bean!

 

8.15.16
I woke up this morning around 8am with pink blood. I think that meant I lost my “mucus plug” (the two grossest words ever created). I started getting some light period cramping around 9am when early labor began. Me and Ryan both started doing random chores around the house, trying not to get too nervous or excited. We are going to meet Bean, but still don’t know when, just soon.

8.16.16
Maisley Christine Nienhuis
Born at 12:58am
7 lbs, 3 ounces, 18.5 inches long
Scripps Encinitas
Willow – Doula
Danielle – Nurse
Michelle – Widwife
Ryan – Dada

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The Motherhood

Before August 16th, 2016, I thought motherhood was a phase that women entered; a personal journey. I thought it was the experience of becoming and being a mother.

{The only thing I really had to compare it to was the journey of entering “womanhood” at age 13 and the cringe-worthy feeling of telling my mom I got my period through the closed bathroom door, only to be met with the over zealous words, “You’re becoming a woman!”. It makes me die in awkward self-consciousness just thinking about it. Going through puberty was a vastly personal and solo journey, with the occasional tip or two from a sister or friend.}

Since August 16, 2016, I have come to understand motherhood in a different, surprising way. While I have certainly entered into a new dimension, the journey has been one of community, collaboration, and support.

I had no idea it was something I would become a part of.

A Motherhood.

I feel as though I have joined a secret club that I never knew I wanted to be a part of, but deeply needed. A true sense of belonging, sealed with the stamp of labor, surrogacy, adoption or any other means.

Other moms, young and old, look at me with compassionate eyes and unconditional respect, as though I’ve arrived. Their expression says, “I get it”.

I’ve been welcomed at mommy and me classes, mom and baby yoga, and lactation support groups. We’ve followed blogs written with raw authenticity and joined Facebook advice groups.

A whole network of moms. Moms who have my back. Moms who have stood where I stand.

At the edge of a bassinet in tears at three in the morning.
In shoes I’m not sure how to fill.
On the rug doing jumping jacks for the chance of a rewarding giggle.
In the bar at a bachelorette party, pumping and dumping.

However you got there, wherever you live, whoever you are; thank you to all moms in the motherhood.  

Thank you for your hard work, your unspoken love, and our unbreakable bond.

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