About Beginning from the Start

This blog began when my partner and I decided to start adding the requisite 2.5 kids to our lives. Three years later, we’re now the parents of a very active toddler and (maybe) considering adding another kid to the mix. Read on for adventures in TTC, pregnancy, toddlers, queer parenting and more.

Three.

When I was pregnant with Bingo, our donor retired.  At 24, he was done donating.  At 31, with no actual, out of the uterus babies on which to base our decision, Sea and I were left trying to decide how many babies we might want and how many vials of the now limited edition sperm it might take to conceive those potential babies.

I don’t remember the exact math that landed us there, but somehow we ended up with four vials of Lefty’s sperm in 2013.  They sat chilling at Clinic 3 until the beginning of 2016 when, after my period began on January 1st, one of those vials was used to conceive Powerball.

The incredible luck of conceiving Powerball on the first try meant that we had three vials left. In the hospital room, minutes after Powerball was born, I declared that we were done with two. Over time, Sea became more resolutely “two and through”.  I felt some feelings as we left babyhood behind, but also knew that I was at capacity: physically, financially, mentally, emotionally.  We were done. But were we done-done?  Done enough to part with those three vials of frozen-in-time ejaculate?

We hung on to them.

In 2018, my relationship with Sea was struggling in a big way. After a conversation where we seriously discussed the possibility of separating, we decided to try couple’s counselling.  “How will we pay for it?” Sea asked.  Without thinking about it, without hesitating, I replied: “We’ll sell the sperm.”

Sea agreed, and we posted to our Facebook group of donor sibling families offering up the sperm. Though nobody replied right away, a few weeks later a new member joined the group and asked if we still had vials to sell.

We did.

After about a million phone calls and e-mails to two fertility clinics, an in-person visit to Clinic 3, and more paperwork than I would have to fill out to transfer a house, a kidney, or an actual baby, one of those vials of sperm was packed up into liquid nitrogen and sent off into the world.  Though I know a little bit about what happened with it, the story of that vial is no longer mine.

Then there were two.

It seemed that nobody wanted those remaining two vials, which could have meant that they ended up flushed.  But a funny thing had happened in the process of selling the sperm: Sea had become less certain that we were done-done.  And when she wavered, I wavered. What if, one of us said, we used those vials?  IUIs, nothing fancy, just a fun game of fertility Russian Roulette.

Our relationship was still struggling.  We were still at capacity, in every way.  It was, in many ways, a terrible idea.  But we also knew that we would never look at a kid that this gamble might conceive with regret.  So, at the beginning of March, a year to the day after the injury that ended my dad’s life, we went back to Clinic 3 for an IUI.

I found out that I was pregnant on the day of the Spring Equinox. It felt meant to be.  But just because something feels a particular way, doesn’t mean it is.  And sometimes dates are just dates.  A second beta revealed that the pregnancy wouldn’t last, and a few days later I began to bleed.

Then there was one.

Our first response was to say that we had tried, that it hadn’t worked, and that we would move on with the two kids that we had.  But as I bled, I turned to Sea and said, “What if we used the last vial?”

The answer to that “what if” is currently rolling around in my uterus: I’m 20 weeks pregnant, with the third baby that I’ve been sure, at many times, we wouldn’t have.

I’m sorry for not sharing the story of those 20 weeks with you here, where I once counted every ultrasound.  The pregnancy has been my rockiest: including loss and risk, as well as the embodied knowledge that loss can happen, that my others just didn’t have. It has felt dangerous to name, even to the people closest to me.  It has also included moments of joy, plenty of humour at the hands of a new fertility doctor who managed to be unintentionally offensive at every turn, and growing excitement that maybe, just maybe, this story could end with three.

Five.

Last weekend, ten five year olds tumbled into my house for a rainbow-unicorn-shooting-star party. There was dancing, laughter, a tear or two, and- of course- cake.  Bingo leaned over and blew out five candles in a single breath.  And just like that, the kid who made me a parent turned five.

I didn’t write about four at all, because the sum total of a one year old and a four year old was twenty-four hours of exhaustion per day.  I’m sorry now that I didn’t because, when I read back about three, there is such a huge leap between then and now, here and there, that I don’t know what I can write that will traverse that distance.

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93 Junes.

My father was 93 when he died on May 31st this year.

He would have turned 94 at the end of July, though the exact date was a matter of some debate in his family.  When you live almost 94 years, some of the details get a little bit murky.  He lived through, and fought in, a world war.  He lived through the death of both of his parents and the deaths of his three brothers.  He lived through nine decades.  He lived through 94 renditions of every month, except June.

It’s that June that I keep coming back to, like a riddle with no answer or a sentence with no end.  Continue reading

You two.

It’s been another year, okay more than a year, since my last post.  If you’re doing the math, you’ll know that means Bingo is now almostfive (the official age she gives anybody who asks) and Powerball is two.

As a second child, Powerball often gets overshadowed.  His introductions to the various vices of childhood (television, refined sugar, communicable disease) come earlier, his milestones don’t always get written down, and instead of dictating our schedules he usually gets pulled along to the places that we’re going anyway.

He is also so loved.  And despite the fact that I’m busy, tired, and didn’t remember the password for this blog, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate all that Powerball is at two.  (I’d write it in his baby book, but he doesn’t have one.) Continue reading

Little one.

It’s been a year, almost, since I posted.  Which means that Powerball is somehow, suddenly, one.

It feels as if the actual year has disappeared as quickly as the space between blog posts.  As if there was only a breath between delivering him into the world and celebrating his first birthday.  The cognitive dissonance was real as I stood in the park, watching him try cake for the first time while balloons waved cheerfully in the background.  It was clearly a party, a party for my one year old, but how?

I worry that he’s done most of his growing while my back was turned—while I made breakfasts, rushed Bingo off to school (!), went to work, negotiated bedtimes, and tried to pick the most chokeable toys off the floor. As the second child, he’s lucky if he has even half of the amount of attention that Bingo did three years earlier.  But as exhausting as these days with two small, opinionated people are, I don’t want to lose them to the chaos of daily life.  I want to capture the sweetness of this moment, the amazingness of Powerball, the wonder of watching him grow.

Powerball at one:

Powerball is on the move.  He graduated from rolling everywhere to crawling at ten months, and can now cross a room to reach the most dangerous thing in about three seconds flat.  He can stand unassisted (one of his favourite tricks) and walks along furniture or holding onto a push toy.  He hasn’t tried hands-free walking yet, but it’s only a step away.

Powerball can talk.  He carries on full conversations of “la la la”, “ba ba ba”, and “da da da”, though he frustratingly and- I’m sure- intentionally held out on “ma ma ma” for as long as possible.  Clearly annoyed that we weren’t responding appropriately, he started adding in actual words at just over 10 months old.  His words include: up, hi, bye, all done, this, that, and (now, finally) mama.

High pitched shrieking is a language unto itself, and my sweet, gentle baby has quickly mastered the art of the temper tantrum.  This may be a second child survival strategy.

Powerball is half Bingo’s size, but can already hold his own in a fight.  As he grows, he’s becoming more and more the little sibling—he and Bingo fight over the real estate over my lap, favourite toys, and the overwhelming desire to have whatever the other kid has.  There are also many moments of sweetness and adoring stares in both directions.  Seeing them together makes me glad, a hundred times over, that we decided to have a second kid.

Our attempts at baby sign were lackluster at best, and he’s only really picked up signs for “all done”, “more”, and “food”.  He has, however, turned pointing into an entire language, patiently instructing his large servers (parents and babysitter, mainly) about what he would like placed where by pointing in rapid succession.

Mostly what he wants is food, in his mouth.  He was tiny for the first six months of his life, consistently in the third percentile for weight.  Every time I left the house with him, people would comment on his size and ask if he was a preemie.  This changed the second that we introduced solid food.  He’s now—dare I say it—chubby.  He’ll eat anything: fruit, vegetables, spicy food, random things he finds on the floor.  The one exception to this is sweet potato, which he considers an insult to the good name of food.

As well as food, his baby joys include opening and closing drawers, putting things into other things, making noise, being sung to, being held, reading books, pretending things are hats, playing peek-a-boo, Bingo’s toys, and dangerous wonders like my keys.  Honestly, he likes most things.  His nickname is “sweetness”, for a reason.

His baby sorrows include diaper changes (which involve significant acrobatics on both our parts), being separated from me, sleeping, having things taken from his possession, and- very specifically- his right sock.

There have been joys and sorrows for me too, in this year of parenting Powerball.  It’s been a hectic and exhausting year.  I’ve been frustrated, emotional, and overwhelmed.  I frequently feel like I don’t have enough time, enough energy, or enough hands.  But more than that, so much more than that, it’s been a year of joy, wonder, and gratitude. I am so happy to get to parent Powerball, to see him grow and change- to have our family grow and change with him.  He is the perfect addition to our family and, even in the chaos, I am glad every day that he is here.

I’m excited about what comes next.  I want him to take his first steps, say more things, and become more and more Bingo’s peer.  But I also want to pause this moment.  To take a moment to hold my baby while he’s still a baby, and appreciate exactly who he is right now: my little one.

  

Three.

(This post is two months late, but still.)

Three is here.  Between negotiating desserts, losing tickle fights, comforting middle of the night woes, supervising playground adventures, worrying over preschool transitions, bemoaning potty training, making up stories, giving hugs, wiping sticky fingers, quelling tantrums, and dispensing band aids, I somehow didn’t see three coming– but here it is.

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A month and a bit.

Powerball is now just over a month old.  Five weeks yesterday, to be exact.  I’m not entirely sure what else to say about that.  To write a one month developmental update seems like a disservice to him (newborns don’t actually do very much) and to write a comparison of his first month versus Bingo’s feels like a disservice to her (her first month was much, much harder).  So, what to say of the last month?

Sea and I have both been at home with Powerball, while Bingo continues to go to preschool/childcare every day.  Those eightish hours a day, five days a week, feel like luxury.  I remember when Bingo was born, having one newborn at home seemed so stressful.  Not so now.  Instead, Powerball naps and nurses as we wonder at just how easy it is to have a child who can’t yet move independently or tell you in certain terms exactly what you’re doing wrong.  Our house has stayed moderately clean, we haven’t succumbed to scurvy, I’ve showered almost enough.  This feels like success. (That said, I’m still wearing the same clothes as I was yesterday, having fallen asleep in them at 10pm last night.)

Napping and nursing are pretty much the only things Powerball does, and he does a great deal of both.  This isn’t a complaint, at all.  Because in spending all of his time napping and nursing, he leaves very little room for crying– one of Bingo’s favourite activities of infancy.  Aside from the fact that it’s constant, the nursing is going well.  I was shocked to discover that nursing didn’t have to be horribly painful, that my nipples didn’t have to bleed, that a baby doesn’t always lose 15% of their body weight.  Who knew?

On the theme of things that hurt less, healing from a vaginal birth with second degree tearing has been a thousand times easier than healing from a c-section following 36ish hours of labour.  I’ve been able to move pretty easily from the start and would probably have been hiking across the city within a week if not for a stern lecture from my midwife that included the threat that not listening would result in me peeing every time I laughed by 50.  So I waited for the all clear, which came at my three week postpartum visit.  Since then, I’ve taken Powerball on a series of adventures that have included several restaurant trips, a conference, a birthday party, and a protest.  I’ve now been back on my bike (sans baby) for just over a week, just for short rides between home and Bingo’s preschool.  I can’t even tell you how happy I am about this.

Probably connected to all of the above points, while postpartum hormones are still no joke, the crash that I was expecting hasn’t happened.  The floods of tears have been minimal and I mostly feel like a more tired, more rumpled version of myself.

Which is a good thing, because– as of this Monday– I’m officially back at work. I have lots and thoughts and feelings about living in a country where I’m entitled to a year of leave and making the choice to take a month of vacation instead: thoughts and feelings that deserve their own post.  Logistically, I’m hopeful: I’m mostly working from home.  I’ll be nursing when I can and pumping when I can’t.  Sea is on leave until March.  I care about my job.  Still, tomorrow I’ll be away from home/Powerball for the full day and my heart feels a little sore.

There are other challenges, too.  Bingo got the stomach flu when Powerball was five days old and showering a vomit covered toddler, while dealing (badly) with a frantic partner, while nursing a hangry baby is an experience that will be seared into my memory until end days. I’m still learning how to deal with a baby with a penis and frequently get caught in a stream of pee. Our washing machine broke, leaving us perpetually buried in a mountain of dirty clothes.  The time change was a disaster of epic proportions.  I have to remind Bingo not to squeeze her brother’s neck at least once a day.

Still, there’s more good than bad.  Bingo loves Powerball more than I can describe.  She sings to him, strokes him, and whispers to him with a gentleness that I didn’t think could fit into her wild body.  Powerball doesn’t seem to have yet noticed that he’s the neglected second child.  Sometimes I get to sleep for two, or even three hours in a row.  Our friends and family have shown up in full force, with meals that lasted for weeks.  And today, at five weeks and one day, Powerball really began to smile proper, awake smiles.

It’s been a good month.

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Powerball, a birth story.

Right, I owe you a birth story!

First, the facts:

Powerball was born at 9:36am on Monday, October 3rd in an unmedicated VBAC.  He weighed 6 pounds 11 oz and was 20.5 inches.  He has dark hair and long toes.  He’s perfect.

As I said, the facts.  As for the story:

Late in the week before Powerball was born, some time on Thursday night I think, I started having occasional cramps.  They were irregular, and low in my pelvis.  It felt like Powerball was trying to bust his way out, but wasn’t quite sure what to do.  I also wasn’t quite sure what to do, so took the sensible approach of ignoring what was going on.

On Friday morning, as I dried off after my shower, most of my mucous plug came out. I was interested in a “bodies are fascinating” kind of way, but also had to get Bingo to daycare and didn’t have much time to over-analyze.  Besides, a quick Google search told me that labour could still be hours, days, or weeks away– nothing I didn’t already know.  So, again, I ignored what was going on. My only nod to the possibility of Powerball’s birth was switching my work calendar to October.

Over the weekend I had more cramps and lost more of my mucous plug.  The cramps were still irregular, and mostly background noise.  I took Bingo to the park, went to an event downtown, and spent time with friends.  Sea and I finally packed a hospital bag, but ignored the rest of our to do list.  There was still time, we figured.

I went to bed on Sunday night fully prepared to get up for work on Monday morning.

Instead I woke up at 2am.

It was mostly the cat’s fault.  Sea’s cat (and, by default, mine) is an unfriendly animal, demonstrating his disdain for us by staying in whatever room we’re not in.  The exception to this is in the middle of the night, when he is suddenly desperate for attention and spends hours walking across us and trying to eat our hair.  It was his aggressive purring that first woke me up.  Then, a cramp.

The cat continued to purr.  Another cramp.

Sea rolled over and tried to push him off the bed.  Another cramp.

The cat batted at the back of my head, maybe noticing I wasn’t really asleep.  Another cramp.

Sea got up and kicked the cat out of the room.  Another cramp.

Sea went back to sleep, but I lay awake wondering if maybe– just maybe– I shouldn’t ignore what was happening.  Another cramp contraction.

I opened the contraction timer app that I had downloaded onto my phone the week before.  I had felt ridiculous downloading it, certain that there wouldn’t be anything to time, but now I was using it to monitor contractions that were already between 7-10 minutes apart.  It was 3am.

I left Sea to sleep and went downstairs, still convinced that if I just walked around for awhile and drank some water the contractions would stop.  Instead, they got closer together and stronger as I spent the next two hours silently walking my dark kitchen, holding the counter through contractions.  By 5am I realized it was time to wake up Sea.

Sea was surprisingly coherent for somebody who had been woken up at 2am by a cat and at 5am by a contracting partner.  She asked if she should shower.  Yes, I said, probably.  She asked if she should call our two “on call” friends: one of them being Bingo’s babysitter, the other being The Doctor who we had asked to be there for the birth.  Yes, I said, probably.  She asked if I should page our midwife.  Yes, I said, probably.

So Sea showered, and I called the pager system used to wrangle our midwives.  Between contractions (now less than five minutes apart), I gave my name and phone number and the person on the other end of the line promised that somebody would call me back within fifteen minutes.

Fifteen minutes passed.  Sea got out of the shower.  Another fifteen minutes passed.  Nobody called.  Sea suggested we call again and I agreed, but told her that she would have to do it: I was going to throw up.

While I threw up in the toilet, Sea paged again.  Nobody called.  I showered, finding relief until the hot water ran out. Sea paged again.  Nobody called.  I dressed, our friends arrived, and still nobody called.  It was after 7am, it had been an hour and a half since we started trying to page a midwife, and my contractions were now between 3-4 minutes apart.  Just as we decided that we were going to the hospital anyways, a deeply apologetic person called on behalf of the midwives clinic.  Apparently the paging system wasn’t working, none of the midwives were answering, but somebody would meet us at the hospital.  “Who?” Sea asked.  They weren’t sure.  But somebody.

The Doctor drove us to the hospital, a four minute ride that lasted two contractions and approximately four million hours.  As we pulled up to the hospital, I announced that I had to be let out of the car immediately so that I could throw up, which I did in the hospital’s neatly pruned flowerbed.

After that glamorous arrival, we made our way up to the “family birthing centre” (standard labour and delivery unit) on the seventh floor.  There was nobody at the reception desk, but a nurse on her way by told us to go directly down the hallway to triage.  Unfortunately, triage seemed to be in the middle of a staff meeting.  We stood in the hallway waiting and, between contractions, I eavesdropped on a litany of nurses’ complaints.  The first was that a nurse, Norma, was always late– sauntering in for a 7:30 shift when it had already begun.  The second was something to do with the process of wiping beds.  The third was a demand by a particularly bossy nurse that nobody bother her that evening, because she would be at the Adele concert and not answering her phone. The fourth, and probably most pressing, was that all of the beds were full and nobody else could go into labour.

Which is when Sea and I decided to let them know that– bed or not– we were there to have a baby.  The Adele-loving nurse, unimpressed by our interruption, told us in no uncertain terms that we couldn’t have a baby until we had checked in at reception.  So we went back down the hallway.  A receptionist had materialized, but told us that we couldn’t check in until our midwife– or at least a midwife– had arrived but that there might be one already in triage.  So we went back down the hallway.  It occurred to me then that one of the (many) themes of Powerball’s birth was shaping up to be administrative failure.

Thankfully, a midwife had just arrived.  She was from the same clinic as our midwives, though we had never met her before.  Apparently, the paging system had attempted to call any and every midwife, and she was the one who had answered first.  Our own secondary midwife– Skim Milk– was also on her way.  By the time I had changed into a hospital gown, Skim Milk was there and ready to check my progress.  As the person in the next triage bed yelled, “ALLAH, ALLAH, ALLAH”, Skim Milk announced that I was already 5cm and fully effaced.  She also told me that Powerball was still high in my pelvis, really high, and that a c-section might be necessary.

“Okay.” I said.  And, in that moment, I realized that it really was okay– that months of processing and worrying had made one of my birth intentions true.  I wasn’t sad, disappointed, or angry in that moment.  I trusted that Powerball was going to use whichever exit he had to and that, no matter what, we were going to be fine.

We went down another hallway, one I had last walked almost three years ago when Bingo was born, to a delivery room– the very last one available, we were told.  It was smaller and darker than the one where Bingo had been born, and had also been totally raided of supplies: everything from gauze to the computer mouse was missing.  From the next room, we could hear somebody’s labour music playing– Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” on repeat.  As I tried not to think of the Titanic, Skim Milk and the student midwife (who had just arrived) strapped wireless monitors around my contracting belly, explained that constant monitoring was a requirement of VBACs, and attempted to hook up an IV.

The IV was necessary because, two weeks earlier, my Strep B test had come back positive.  The midwives were unconcerned, 25% of Strep B tests are positive, but explained that I would need four hours of prophalctic antibiotics during labour to make sure that Powerball was protected.  The IV was also necessary if I wanted to have an epidural, which I was becoming increasingly sure that I did.  Hooking up the IV was also an exercise in frustration.  I have terrible, awful veins that make even the most routine of blood draws challenging.  Add into the mix some dehydration (remember all the puking) and the fact that I was leaping up at every contraction because sitting felt unbearable, and finding a vein took seven tries over twenty minutes.  To make matters even worse, as soon as the IV was hooked up, the bag of fluid exploded all over me.  (Sea would later joke that this was my water breaking…)

With a new IV bag finally hooked up, I waited for the requisite half bag of fluid that I had to receive before I could have an epidural.  Screw natural birth, I thought to myself.  Natural birth is for people more natural than me.  I would rather have a nap.  During each contraction I would hold on to the bathroom door, bracing myself against the handle and swearing under my breath.  Between contractions I would watch the painfully slow drip of the IV, just waiting for that half bag to be done.

(WARNING: here’s where things get graphic.)

We never made it to that awaited half bag and epidural.  Instead, there was a flurry of activity as Powerball’s heartrate suddenly dropped and then became undetectable.  “GET HELP.” Skim Milk instructed the student midwife.  In the same tone, she told me to lie down on my left side on the hospital bed.  She adjusted the monitors around my belly then– giving up– used her doppler to find Powerball’s heart again.  There it was, steady in the now very busy room.  I was reassured, but Skim Milk seemed less so.  She found an oxygen mask, ordering The Doctor to hook it up after the student midwife froze.  There were suddenly two nurses and an OB in the room, and talk of fluid boluses and a prepped operating room floated around my head. The contractions, which had hurt badly when I was standing, were excruciating now that I was lying on my side.  “This isn’t a good position for me.” I complained between contractions.  “Well,” Skim Milk responded, “It’s the best position for the baby so you’ll have to stay there.”

The OB checked my dilation before breaking my water to attach a scalp monitor to Powerball– I was now fully dilated, but Powerball was “sunny side up” with his nose pointed to my pelvis.  As my water broke, meconium gushed everywhere.  More people appeared in the room– nurses, two pediatricians, medical students.  I only caught glimpses of them, mostly keeping my eyes tightly closed against the chaos.  Then the bed was transformed around me, my legs lifted into stirrups: it was time to push.

I pushed with each contraction, red faced and yelling.  In between contractions, the OB reached inside of me and tried to manually turn Powerball who was stuck against my pelvic bone.  This, friends, is undoubtedly the worst pain I’ve ever experienced– a stranger’s arm inside my contracting, exhausted body, trying to twist a baby unwilling to turn.  “Stop, stop, stop,” I begged/yelled, but there was no stopping.  Instead the OB told me that Powerball was going to need help to come out– maybe an episiotomy, maybe a vacuum, maybe forceps, maybe a c-section.

I told her to do what she had to do, and kept pushing.  The OB, who was brilliantly bossy, yelled at me to stop yelling and ignored me when I told her I couldn’t do this.  Skim Milk and Sea stood by my shoulders, reassuring me and telling me that I was doing a good job.  The rest of the people in the room all just became background noise.  And then, in the two longest/hardest contractions ever, Powerball was out– lifted, squirming and filthy, onto my belly.

He was only there for a moment before being handed off to the pediatricians and gaggle of medical students to be cleared of meconium, cleaned, and checked for any issues.  As I delivered the placenta and had a second degree tear stitched up (they had never gotten to the episiotomy), Sea went to go and check on Powerball.  She cut his cord, and shouted over from the corner of the room that he had hair.  (Bingo was pretty bald, and we were expecting a repeat…)  Then Powerball was delivered back to my chest, and a second of my birth intentions was realized: I held my baby.

The room was suddenly very, very still.  The doctors, nurses, and students had all disappeared.  The Doctor had gone to buy us breakfast.  It was only the midwives, Sea, Powerball, and me.  Skim Milk and the midwife who had been the first to appear that morning, quietly filled out paperwork, checked Powerball, and marvelled over my placenta (which had, unbenownst to any of us, stopped functioning on one side at some point late in pregnancy).  Sea and I stared at Powerball, tiny and bruised from birth, here.

We were released from the hospital a couple of hours later. Twelve hours after I had been woken up by Sea’s cat, we were home, a new family of four.

  

Baby feet, for making it all the way through.