Night Moves

I’m writing this for me. If you’re interested in a long read about how I gave birth then by all means, please continue. But if not, that’s cool, because this post isn’t meant for anyone else anyways.

By week 38, my pregnancy was progressing along exactly as expected. So I was quite surprised when I had a weekly checkup on Friday with my OB-GYN and she told me that my cervix was already 4cm dilated. I hadn’t felt a single contraction or slight discomfort up to that point and I was expecting every cm of dilation to be part of the overall going into labour process. My OB-GYN said some people just have favourable cervixes that soften and open up fairly easily. She did a “stretch and sweep” to see if she could continue to encourage my cervix along. I left that appointment 4cm dilated already a little freaked out. The doctor told me that if I wanted to, I could go to the hospital right that moment to be induced, because based on the conditions of my cervix they would keep me there.

D had to wait in the car for me because of current COVID policies at the doctor’s office, so when I got in and told him the status he was pretty freaked out too. We were both feeling like this baby was just going to pop out at any minute!

We decided to go home. We both were expecting to do two more full weeks of work and I didn’t want to try and force the whole process. It’d be better if everything just progressed naturally. We went home and everything was fine, I felt the same as before. No contractions, no discomfort.

I woke up that Saturday morning around 2am feeling some cramping in my stomach. I rode it out for about 15 minutes until it passed, but I shook D awake to alert him that maybe this was it. We were both super wired and not sure what to do with ourselves. The cramping sensation went away and didn’t come back, so we figured it was okay to go back to bed, but neither of us could sleep.

We woke up around 8am and D immediately went into prep mode. He got out and did a bunch of grocery shopping and some errands to try and wrap up last minute things in case I did go into active labour. That whole weekend came and went, us on edge the whole time, but without anything eventful happening.

I went back to my OB-GYN for my 39 week checkup just a few days shy of 39 weeks. She checked my cervix again and confirmed I was 5cm dilated and 70% effaced. She did another stretch and sweep to see if that would kickstart active labour for me and we went home. We finished up the work week again and figured we’d hopefully make it to the 40 week mark without issue. If we made it to 40 weeks, we’d go to the hospital and get induced. I kept waiting for this magical mucus plug everyone talks about to come out, but I never saw it. I did start having some watery-like discharge and thought that was a bit weird, but didn’t think too much of it.

On Saturday May 23rd, D and I went for a walk after lunch because it was such a nice sunny day. As we were nearing the end of our walk I felt this sudden little gush of fluid that I couldn’t control and assumed I’d just pissed myself in the street. When we got home, I noticed again that it was a very watery substance and didn’t seem like pee at all. That was when it clicked that I was probably leaking amniotic fluid. I texted our doula for her advice and she told me I should call the Labour & Delivery line at the hospital to see what they thought. Knowing the state of my cervix, our doula felt that I might have a very fast labour once it did start actively so wanted us to be on the safe side and get to the hospital earlier than planned. D was outside and had started cutting the grass. I called the Labour & Delivery line and they said I should definitely come in.

I started rounding up our bags and packing a few last minute things we needed. D came inside for a quick glass of water, thinking he could get started on the backyard next, but I told him to get his shit together because we’re going to the hospital today and we won’t be leaving without a baby.

We got the car loaded up and drove to the hospital, we were there at 3pm. I had to go in first to be assessed and they told me if I was admitted then I could text D to come in. Another quick check of my cervix and the doctor recommended that we start the induction process. They advised that I was slowly leaking amniotic fluid and likely had a small tear high up on the amniotic sac. I was taken to a birthing room and made a quick call to D around 3:30pm to tell him he could come on in.

The nurses got me into a gown, hooked me up to their machines for monitoring, and started a low dose of oxytocin around 4:30pm to jumpstart some contractions. The doctor also broke my water. I setup my bluetooth speaker and got my carefully curated labouring playlist rocking so we’d have awesome music to help me stay relaxed. When the nurse came back to check on me around 5:30pm she confirmed that we were now 6cm dilated and 95% effaced, and I still had yet to feel a single thing! Except for the occasional gush of amniotic fluid spilling out from my broken water. We joked around that maybe I was one of those lucky “silent labourers” and that this could be a really easy process for me.

That unfortunately, was not the case. Around 6:30pm actual contractions started and I was definitely feeling them! They came on hard and fast with a BANG. My contractions were lasting one minute but with only one minute of rest before the next one would start. One on top of the other, boom boom boom, the contractions were relentless. I was managing the pain by staying on my feet swaying along to my music with some hand holding and encouragement from D, but it was getting pretty tough.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about epidurals overall. I was game for trying to labour without one, but also totally open to the possibility of having one as well if I felt it was needed. I asked the nurse what my point of no return for getting an epidural was and she told me it was at 10cm, fully dilated. With that in mind, I kept labouring and trying to manage the pain as much as I could. The next time the nurse came to check me I was 8.5cm dilated and well on my way to 9cm. To be on the safe side, I decided to ask for the epidural. We were so close to 10cm and the pain was only getting more intense, it didn’t ever seem like it would ebb. The nurse told me that the anesthesiologist was on the floor and already lined up for four other epidurals so I’d have to wait another 30-40 minutes. I just had to hope my overly ambitious cervix wouldn’t go on to 10cm before the epidural could be administered.

Thankfully, when the anesthesiologist got to me I was holding strong at 9cm. They had me sit upright on the hospital bed with my legs over one side. D stood in front of me and needed to keep me still and calm while the doctor did his thing. D said this part was the most stressful for him. Watching a doctor probe my spine while I was suffering absolutely brutal contractions and being told to stay perfectly still or else. The doctor kept feeling around and asking where I felt things and then all of a sudden I cried out in pain because of an immediately stabbing sensation in my left hip. I told him what I felt and he said “okay that’s not the spot then” and kept feeling around. He found the right spot after that and got the epidural going.

Once I could move again the nurse had me lay down and try to relax while the drugs kicked in. That was a very chill hour. I just shut my eyes, felt the pins and needles sensation in my feet slowly spread into numbness all through my legs, and listened to my tunes. I remember looking at the clock and it was about 11pm. We started to wonder now that it was getting close to midnight if this was going to be a May 23rd or May 24th baby. The nurse said some women on the floor only pushed for 10-15 minutes and was encouraging me that I could probably be a quick pusher too. We’d just wait a bit for me to tell them when I felt any sort of pushing sensation.

Nope! Oh man, so much nope on that. The epidural worked too well I guess because I never once felt any kind of pushing sensation down below. I did feel a band of tightness every once in a while under my ribcage. When I mentioned that to the nurse she said those were my contractions now. Holy shit!

The nurse told us how it was going to go down: when I felt that tightness under my ribcage she’d lift and hold one of my legs and D would do the same with the other. I’d take a deep breath then start pushing while D slowly counted to 10. I’d do this three times in a row then take a break before the next contraction started.

D was super calm. Very quiet and serious. Exactly what I expect from him. When shit hits the fan he clamps down hard on any sort of emotion and shoves it out of the way so he can deal with the immediate issues. He was supportive too, but in his own collected way. I felt very calm as well. I was determined to just roll with whatever happened during labour and be cool, man. I did not turn into that stereotypical angry and cursing woman everyone insisted I would become. I never once screamed at D not to touch me or to go away or hate on him for “doing this to me”. That’s fine if it’s what works for other women, but for me I don’t think that’s productive at all. We both wanted this baby, I just drew the short biological straw and had to be the one to offer up my crotch as sacrifice.

Pushing lasted almost 3 hours. Around 2.5 hours it was obvious that all the pushing in the world couldn’t make this baby come out and the nurse called in the doctor. Baby was super low into the birth canal and conditions were all optimal for pushing him out, but for some reason he was really wedged in there. The doctor advised that a vacuum assisted delivery was necessary and we agreed.

Here’s a crazy detail: there was a big overhead light right above my hospital bed and the clear plastic cover over it was highly reflective. When I looked up at that light it was basically a mirror and I could see everything happening to myself on the table. I watched them bring out the vacuum and start fitting it into my vagina. When everything was setup the nurse advised we’d start the pushing process again. I bore down on every part of my body I could still feel and pushed as hard as I fucking could. I looked up at the light that was basically a mirror and started to see a dark round shape emerging from my body. Surreal. It looked so tiny and in my mind this whole time I had a bowling ball inside of me that we were trying to get out instead of a tiny little human.

With one sudden whoosh the baby’s head was out and the rest of the body followed so smoothly. I couldn’t believe the baby was out, I was speechless. D had to tell me three times that it was a boy before I even registered it. The one thing that stood out most for me is that of all the songs on my well crafted playlist, Night Moves by Bob Seger is what was playing when he finally arrived. And now when I hear that song about horny teenagers trying to get laid I cry because I think about my baby boy. Awesome. Although, I guess it is kind of cool because I did have a “black-haired beauty with big dark eyes” so it works in it’s own ridiculous way.

On May 24th at 2:52am our baby boy Elwood Broderick Brown was born.

They took him away to do some quick tests and measurements while I delivered the afterbirth. I wound up with a second degree tear and an episiotomy, fun!

When they put him in my arms for the first time the playlist was rocking Good Times Bad Times by Led Zeppelin. Super cool.

I hugged him and cried.

We stayed in the birthing room for a while longer so they could continue to monitor Elwood. Since they had to use a vacuum on his head during delivery they wanted to make sure there wasn’t any unusual swelling or bruising. I got to give him his first bottle and we had lots of snuggles.

Around 6:30am D took a minute to get changed out of his clothes from the day before and brush his teeth. The nursing team cleared out of the room to let the three of us be alone. When D came out of the restroom it was just me and Woody. In that moment, without a million random people in and out of the room, D was hit by all the waves of emotion he’d been clamping down on all night long. We hugged each other and cried together, in complete awe that the little human we made, who we’d been dying to meet, was here now.

And now here we are, two new parents born, a mom and dad with a little baby boy. Working on an entirely new set of Night Moves. Working on mysteries without any clues.

Workin’ and practicin’,

Workin’ and practicin’ all of the night moves

Bumpdates!

I am 37 weeks pregnant right now. And I am freaking out, man!

40 weeks sounds like such a long time but it goes by in a flash. Everyone told me the last few weeks will feel like they go on forever and that I’ll be dying to get the baby out, but right now I can’t picture myself feeling that way at all. Even under normal societal circumstances I know there’s a lot to process mentally and so much preparation that goes into this momentous life change. But I think expecting my first baby in the midst of a global pandemic has affected my perspective in ways that simply aren’t comparable to everyone else’s non-pandemic pregnancies. At this point I’d prefer if I could just hit a giant pause button and keep the baby in as long as I want until I decide the world is safe again.

I never expected the world would be so difficult to navigate, ravaged by a pandemic, right as we prepare to welcome our baby into it. It’s fucking nuts. Somedays I can accept it, other days I can’t even believe this is really happening. The first two trimesters my pregnancy was lovely, just the usual thoughts and worries about how a baby will change our lives that everyone has. The last stretch though has been marred by this weird new COVID world we’re all living in.

There are so many things I want to remember about these last 37 weeks, this first full-term pregnancy of ours. I’m writing them down so I can reflect back on this journey later.

Things I Like About Being Pregnant

  • My hair has never looked better. For real, I’m having the best hair days of my life! I can go days without washing my hair and it looks incredible
  • I can wear whatever I want and just let my gut be free
  • Crazy weird dreams
  • All of my weight gain has gone directly to my belly and I haven’t had any swelling of my hands, feet, or face. Very thankful for that!
  • Weird hormonal laughing fits. This has happened to me at least six times, something is just so funny that I laugh until I cry and am completely breathless and can’t stop. D has found this part very entertaining
  • Super cute maternity clothes!
  • Feeling the baby move around inside me and sharing that with D
  • Taking pictures of my bump as the weeks go by and comparing how far along we’re getting

    12 weeks – nobody knew yet!

Things I Dislike About Being Pregnant

  • Frigging heartburn ALL THE TIME. Doesn’t even matter what I eat, the burn is constant
  • SO tired in the first trimester! All of a sudden all of my energy was drained. I felt like Brian Wilson lying in bed with zero will to live during the first 3 months
  • Having to sleep on my side; I can’t wait to be a starfish tummy sleeper again
  • Lower back aches, you can fuck right off any time
  • Leaky boobs – like why? There’s no baby yet!
  • Food restrictions – I am DYING for a huge salami sandwich. I need cured meats back in my life. And rare steak.
  • People trying to make you focus on the negatives and saying stupid clichéd shit like “get used to never sleeping again haha”. You’re not funny. Or helpful. Why don’t people say positive things instead?
  • Clipping my toenails and shaving my legs are now deeply uncomfortable and practically impossible activities

    17 weeks – at IL Fornello eating ALL the pasta and free bread!

Pros to Pandemic Pregnancy

  • I’m eating better than ever before because we make all of our meals at home with fresh groceries
  • Social distancing and staying home means I don’t have a bunch of randos out in public trying to touch my belly or giving me unsolicited advice (apparently that is something that happens during non-pandemic pregnancies that people said would happen)
  • D has been working from home for my entire third trimester and isn’t stressed about being downtown in the middle of work or client meetings if I suddenly go into labour
  • We won’t be swarmed by visitors in our first week home when we’re beyond exhausted and can actually settle into our new life with baby
  • We’ll hopefully be discharged from the hospital sooner, provided everything is okay

    23 weeks – jumping on the bed in our hotel with baby!

Cons to Pandemic Pregnancy

  • I want Wendy’s!!! I would love some chicken nuggets, a burger, and a frosty right now. RIGHT NOW. Sadly, it’s just not worth the risk
  • Worrying about hospital policies and protocols that could have D missing out on time with our new baby
  • Not being able to have a proper baby shower with actual guests in person
  • Not being able to show my belly off to family, friends, and coworkers in person
  • Nowhere to wear all my super cute maternity clothes
  • The doula we hired probably won’t be able to come to the hospital with us
  • Having no idea if or when it’ll be safe for family to even meet the new baby, and not being able to trust if people who do want to meet the baby have been properly quarantining
  • Not being able to run out and easily get last minute supplies if needed
  • Every trip to the OB’s office or for an ultrasound feels like a death-defying feat
  • People telling me “everything will be fine” when they have no fucking clue how it feels to be pregnant in a pandemic and they got to have totally normal pregnancy experiences – just don’t. If you want to be comforting or make me feel better then send me some donuts and tell me my hair is amazing because that will work, every time.

    25 weeks – Valentine’s Day!

All the Cravings I Had:

  • Wendy’s doublestack! That was the first official thing I craved hard, that was about 1 month in
  • In the early days I needed all kinds of fried chicken (nuggets, tenders, strips, wings, burgers, etc.)
  • Sandwich: turkey on rye with harvati and tons of yellow mustard that I ate for lunch every day for two weeks straight
  • Unquenchable need for orange juice. I was drinking it by the gallon!
  • Shitty frozen pizzas – I would make one for lunch every day for almost 3 weeks straight. And before that I hadn’t bought a frozen pizza since my university days ended. You guys know how much I love delicious pizza, so it was weird to crave crappy frozen ones so ferociously.
  • Sausage McMuffin if I was up before 7:00am – mostly so I could get more orange juice when the house was all out
  • Cake! I pestered D about needing professional grade cake for a few weeks and then one day he showed up with a slice from the Cake Boss vending machine that opened downtown in the fall
  • Barq’s Root beer, it’s got bite! Also, Barq’s Cream Soda – thank you Jesus for inventing that!
  • Clementines, especially eating them at night in bed

30 weeks – funky little chili pepper on board!

Special Moments I Want to Remember

  • Hearing the baby’s heartbeat for the first time at the doctor’s office and happy crying because I was finally able to let go of the worry that I might miscarry again
  • Using TheBump app to track my pregnancy and getting excited for the new fruit/veggie that the baby would be “as big as” each week
  • I passed my G2 road test while I was 10 weeks pregnant and was fully ready to cry and blame it on hormones if I failed
  • Finally getting to share the news with everyone, what a relief!
  • Singing in the car to all my favourite songs while I drove to work on Mondays and feeling baby bop along with me. Baby already loves Billy Joel and Van Morrison
  • D eagerly waiting for the moment he’d finally be able to feel the baby move, and him hoping it would happen on our anniversary at the end of January
  • Our “babymoon”/anniversary road trip to Montreal. We stayed in a fancy ass hotel with a huge ass bathtub. I had two baths a day every day and it was glorious. I also found a Ben & Jerry’s store a few blocks from the hotel – game changer!
  • D actually getting to feel the baby move for the first time. It was the very end of Valentine’s Day, around 11:50pm. D was asleep and I was watching TV in bed when I felt movements bigger than any before. I shook him awake and when he touched my belly he finally felt it too
  • Celebrating my birthday Sixteen Candles style by baking my own ’80’s frosted cake and sitting on the dining room table with it and baby, in a bridesmaids dress no less!
  • Nesting and building a beautiful nursery for the baby that makes me so happy every time I go into it
  • Having a drive-by style baby shower due to social distancing and it still being a special day because we have so many lovely people in our life who support us and care about the baby

    34 weeks – baby gets spoiled by loved ones from a distance!

My Hopes for Baby

  • You will be perfectly healthy and you’ll get here safely, when you’re ready and not a moment sooner
  • You will be loved – even if you can’t meet your immediate family right away because we have to keep you safe, you will not be forgotten and you will still be loved from afar
  • Harvey will accept you and be loving instead of jealous (please!)
  • You’re going to be a good sleeper and eater
  • You will be a wonderful new addition to this family and you’ll fit right in with us – you’ll have a huge appetite for life and give zero fucks about what anyone thinks (like me) but you’ll also be grounded and reliable (like your dad). And you’ll have all sorts of your own unique charms that delight us every day
  • Someday you’ll feel thankful that we’re your parents and lucky that you were born into our family

It’s been an interesting journey. We still have no idea what we’re having. I think the whole idea of a gender reveal is so tacky (to each their own, but it’s not for me). I always thought I’d want to find out the gender before the birth, but now I prefer the excitement created by not knowing. As we get closer though I can’t help but wonder about who I’ve got rolling around inside me. What kind of person did we make? What will the baby look like? I feel like I have some intuition about what kind of person this baby will be just based on how they behaved at various ultrasounds, how they’ve moved around inside me, and some dreams I’ve had about them. But there’s really no way of knowing until whoever it is decides to come out and meet us.

37 weeks – the homestretch!

I don’t think I’m freaking out any more now, man. I think I’m back to just feeling excited again. I’m 37 weeks pregnant and I’m going to meet my baby soon.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!

Turn and face the strange…

We’ve been on a rollercoaster ride of major life changes this year. I look at my life back when 2019 started and don’t even recognize it anymore. We went to a New Year’s Eve bash with friends and had the best time. I burst through the front door of my beautiful condo in the city, with loud post-party rambunctious energy at 4am feeling on top of the world. You know that feeling when the new year is only 4 hours old and stretches ahead with endless possibility? That’s how I felt. I was happy and appreciative for all of the good things in my life: a wonderful marriage, fabulous career, lovely friends and family, and my special little kitten prince to dote on. I loved everything I worked so hard to make happen for myself with boundless ferocity. I knew that this was exactly what I wanted. I was where I wanted to be and everything was perfect. If I could freeze that day in time and live it in perpetuity, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, that’d be just dandy.

But life doesn’t work that way. You don’t get to freeze it in one spot. You have to keep moving, keep growing and aging and changing as time passes alongside you. So we took a trip.

We went to Chicago at the end of January to celebrate our anniversary. Yes, that’s right. Chicago. The windy city. The windiest city some might say. The coldest, windiest city possible in the middle of winter.

It was so much fun! We explored the city Ferris Bueller style, with carefree abandon and precocious ardour. I’ve always felt that my relationship with D has a very Ferris and Cameron dynamic, so it was the perfect trip for us. The Ferris in me always pushing the Cameron in D to forget about responsibility and just have fun. To go on zany offbeat capers and see where they take us. To consume as many memorable life experiences as possible, sampling everything at the buffet. The Cameron in D fussing and worrying, reminding me to think things through first and plan ahead.

I said “Chicago!”

He said “I’ll take care of it.”

And he did. Booked our flights, found the hotel, did the paperwork, found someone to watch Harv while we were away. I plotted our caper. Teamwork!

We had lots of time together on that trip to talk and plan and think about where our life together was heading. But in the spirit of Ferris Buellering, it was only light, tentative conversation.

A couple months later, in March, we went to dinner. We went to one of my favourite Toronto spots, the Lakeview. There we had a more serious conversation. There we decided next steps. There we decided to start a new journey.

A few weeks later in April, I was pregnant. I told D on April Fools’ Day and I wasn’t fooling. We were so excited, but also in disbelief too. That took hardly any effort at all. I told D that from what I’ve heard it can be a bit of a grind and might not happen right away. But he felt differently. For the first time ever he wasn’t overly concerned with planning and worry because he felt absolutely certain we’d have no trouble at all. It seemed the universe agreed with him because all of a sudden we were expecting.

So now I panic.

We need a bigger place! We can’t have a baby in a one bedroom condo, there’s no space!

We call our realtor, talk about what we’re going to do. Should we list our place? Should we move out of the city? The weight of this decision bearing down heavily on my heart. I love my city, I love my home, I don’t want to leave. But, we need to and ultimately I understand that it’s the best thing for our growing family.

So we get the ball rolling when I’m a bit farther along, to be safe. We make plans to have the condo staged at the end of May and listed at the very start of June.

The day we’re all scheduled to stage the condo, literally five minutes before the stagers are scheduled to show up, I start bleeding. Upset I call a cab to get to the ER. D can’t come with me, the stagers will be here any minute. He kisses me on my way out the door and tells me not to worry, it’ll be okay.

I’m at the ER for 7 hours. Multiple ultrasounds and tests. Crying and worrying and waiting all alone, silently begging my little baby to hang on, stay with me.  I see baby moving on the monitor, I feel a bit better, but still upset. I leave the hospital with a live pregnancy.

I come home to a completely unrecognizable home. All of our furniture gone. New trendy staging furniture in it’s place. I’m not sure where to go or what to do. It doesn’t feel like my home. I break down and cry to D and he comforts me. He orders pizza, that’s the right thing to do any time. Pizza is home. We go to bed physically exhausted, emotionally drained.

1:30am. I wake up in excruciating pain. I’m bleeding again and I know that this is it. This is the inevitable miscarriage, I’m losing my baby. 12 weeks in already, baby the size of a plum according to an app I’d been using. So close to the second trimester. So close to telling our family and friends…

Devastated doesn’t even begin to express what I felt.

And there isn’t even time to really think about it at all. The condo is listed and we have 65 viewings over the next 6 days. We’re constantly getting new requests for viewings, having to get out of the unit, get Harv out of the unit. One day we had 13 straight hours of viewings in a row. There was no time to think, let alone grieve.

Then on Monday night we’re taking offers. I’m freaking the fuck out. I can’t believe we’re selling our place, the beautiful condo I’ve loved living in, my home. And for what? No baby, not any more. What if I can’t have a baby? What if we’re selling this place for no reason? Toronto will always be a valuable market. Let’s pull the plug, accept nothing, stay here forever just us and Harv. We don’t have to move, we don’t have to leave. It can just be us and the city and we’ll be happy, we can be happy. D is upset, we’ve gone to all this trouble. It’ll be okay if he can just calm me down and get this process dealt with. He talks me off the ledge temporarily, we accept an offer. We’ve sold it, we’re moving, the ink is dry.

I’m supposed to be excited about this, but I’m not. I just feel panicked because now we’re homeless. Now we need to find a new place to live IMMEDIATELY because I’m freaking the fuck out again. People say stupid, unhelpful things like “you can just rent a place if you don’t find something else before closing.” NO. That is unacceptable. I will not let my entire life slide into house hunting limbo for who knows how long.

We forge ahead and start looking. I’m very aggressively looking at every new listing our realtor sends. D has to go away for work for a week, that’s precious house hunting time lost and I cannot have that. I spend the week that he’s away being sad by myself but also looking for houses. I get on a train out of the city and go to some open houses on my own. I find something interesting that hasn’t been in our listings.

A free-hold townhouse. We’ve been looking at detached homes, but this could work. I call D that night and tell him I think I found something special. There are actually two townhouses side by side for sale on the same court. We setup an appointment to go see both together with the realtor when he’s back in the city. D doesn’t like the idea of a townhouse, he’s not into it. We go into the first one, the one I already saw and D’s interest is piqued. He admits this is a special place. It’s not perfect, but he can see why I liked it enough to come back. We go next door to see the other one, the one I haven’t seen in person yet. The moment we walk through the door, D’s opinion has changed. He’s seeing through new eyes. He’s seeing something special. Character. Charm. Our home.

We make and offer, a little back and forth negotiation and the deal is done. We bought a house!

The two months before our closing date on the condo, our big move stretches out endlessly before me. These are my last months to enjoy living in Toronto. But I don’t enjoy it. All of the grief and sadness I’ve been putting off dealing with come crashing back down around me. I’m recovering from the miscarriage, letting my body reset, but I’m dying on the inside every single day and putting on a brave face to the outside world. Smiling when I see my friends. Telling them I’m excited about the sale and the move. Acting like I haven’t lost the most important thing I ever had. Acting like idiotic comments from clueless family members about how our niece who arrived earlier this year needs a cousin don’t stab me right in the soul. Suffering internally, but forcing myself to keep shining externally.

I didn’t even try to have a last hurrah in the city before we moved. I just buried myself in prep for the move and kept pushing ahead. We moved, that’s that, no looking back.

And for the first little while that was fine, there was lots to do at the new house, lots to get done. We spent some time figuring out life in the ‘burbs and adjusted.

D didn’t feel the loss the same way I did. He was upset too, but not nearly to the same extent. He didn’t get to see the tiny budding life on the hospital monitor that I did. He didn’t see the heart still beating and feel an impossible surge of hope. A part of his body, of his very being wasn’t suddenly ripped away too soon. He was very supportive though and comforted me as much as he could. He stayed optimistic, he knew loss was part of the process and he wanted to try again. I didn’t know if I could, I didn’t know if I was ready. But I knew it would be okay if we didn’t force it; if we just did that thing people do when the mood is right and let biology decide.

A warm sunny day in September there was a curious feeling in the back of my brain. I went and got the pregnancy test I had stowed away. I didn’t even have to look, I just knew. It was the same feeling as the first time, it would be a positive result.

I was happy, but I didn’t let myself get too happy. Now I knew how easily this could all be taken away and how much it would hurt if it was. As the weeks moved forward without any issues I started to accept it. This one was happening, this one would make it. The closer we got to the second trimester, the more I believed. Finally we got to the point where we could tell people and everyone is so happy for us. My belly gets bigger every day, my appetite gets bigger every day, and my love gets bigger every day too.

It’s been a hell of a year. Looking back to January 2019, I was having the time of my life. Eating deep dish pizza in Chicago, feeling like that was the absolute best life would ever be. I had no idea it would be one of the most challenging and transformative years of my life to date.

Other noteworthy changes:

  1. I did Invisalign this year and am now rocking a wonderful new smile
  2. Hosted a baby shower for the first time ever for my sister – we had a crazy amount of food!
  3. Our beautiful niece Vanessa arrived in March making D and I Aunt and Uncle for the first time
  4. We bought a new car! We call him Lou, he’s super cool
  5. My mom’s dog B passed away in the summer, it’s still sad when we visit and she’s not there to greet us
  6. I took driving lessons, passed my G2 road test and now I’m driving the new car by myself – I’m an excellent driver btw
  7. I DIY’d a bunch of shit like a boss. Repainted some furniture and our fireplace too
  8. BFFs Hoben and Shan got married and we were both in the wedding party. Handcrafted many fine dick decorations for the bachelorette, my finest work to date some have even said
  9. Saw Modest Mouse and The Black Keys in the fall (it was baby’s first concert too!)
  10. Hosted our first ever family Thanksgiving dinner at the new house, D cooked the turkey perfectly

We’ve had a lot going on, and I think that’s okay. I don’t expect 2020 will be any less eventful with a new baby on the way. It’ll be another year of huge life changes, but I’m ready for it.

Turn and face the strange.

Words for Nana

My Nana passed away last week. My cool, awesome, adorable, totally rad nana. My mom called last Monday night to tell me. We knew things weren’t good, but I didn’t expect it to happen as quickly as it did. It sucks.

My mom also asked me to write something to read aloud at the funeral, she said she trusted me to find the right words. Nana used to love reading my blog, she was so proud of me for writing. It wasn’t easy, but I would never refuse my Nana anything. I thought about it constantly in the days leading up to the funeral. Planning, writing, re-writing, editing, revising, reading, reading aloud. It had to be perfect, nothing less would do. Writing this piece helped me work through my grief, it helped me find closure and say goodbye. I’m so glad I got a chance to honour her memory in such a personal way; a way that I know she would have loved.

And so, here it is.

For Nana

There was this project I had to do in the tenth grade, for one of my English classes, an interview with a grandparent. The point was to learn how to conduct and transcribe an interview, but also to connect and learn about someone else’s life, to gain some perspective. I chose Nana to interview because I thought it would be fun. And it was. It was always fun spending time with her. But it was also a very meaningful experience because of how candidly she spoke about her life. We talked about everything… her siblings, her marriages, her kids, her homes, her travels and how she felt about all of it. Her stories were full of ups and downs, laughter and sadness. She told all of it to me like it was, she didn’t gloss over any of the tougher details and none of it was romanticized either. She was very matter of fact about it all.

It certainly wasn’t an easy life from the start, there were a lot of painful memories early on. We talked in-depth about what it was like for her to lose her mom at such a young age and to have to quit school to help raise her siblings. That tragedy set the tone for her life; after such a significant loss she had to grow up fast. She became first and foremost a caregiver and a nurturer. Someone who helped, guided, supported, and cared for everyone else. She always put the needs of everyone else first, and she sacrificed a lot doing that. Never once did I get a sense that she was complaining about it or feeling sorry for herself because that’s just what she had to do. That’s a core fundamental of who she was as a person, you always did whatever you could for family, without hesitation. That was very important to her.

She went through a lot, her entire life she was constantly having to rise to the challenges set before her. Helping her bereft father run the household and raise her siblings. Starting a family of her own and then having to go through the process of divorce before it became common to everyday life. Marrying again, having more children, seeing them grown and start lives of their own, then being widowed. She went through so much, and she did it all with a lightness in her heart that is just unimaginable to me. But again it comes back to her learning at a young age that such is life. You just have to keep going and you find it within yourself to keep giving as much of yourself as you can to the people who need it.

A recurring theme throughout all of the stories she told me was that even though times may have been tough, there was always something to be thankful for. They didn’t have much growing up, but they had each other. There was still so much love and fun all around her, wherever she went. She brought that fun-loving energy with her to everything she did. A coin has two-sides though, and I learned that despite her easygoing demeanour she was a very strong person. She had a quiet kind of strength though, it ran deeply, worked behind the scenes. She could find it when she needed it and use it to keep moving forward. But she didn’t make any scenes about it, or ask for any special attention, she just did it. Having to be so strong and shoulder everyone else’s worries throughout the many varied phases of her life didn’t define her. She didn’t let any of the hardships change her attitude or outlook. Tragedy would strike, and she would keep moving, she’d get through it, she knew how.

Later on, she married again, to Poppa Al, and the second half of her life she could finally begin putting herself and her dreams first. They travelled together, a lot when they first got married and that made her so happy. She saw the world. She rode around on Poppa’s motorcycle. She walked on the Great Wall of China! I remember how thrilling it was for her, telling her grandkids all about Beijing, bringing us back beautiful treasures she knew we’d love. She was finally getting to have her own adventures and do things she never thought she’d get a chance to. She loved being a mother and grandmother. A great-grandmother too! Her kids and all of their kids were her proudest accomplishment, she said that to me. But finally getting to travel and experience more of life made her feel young.

And that’s what I remember the most about her, her youthfulness. Never, not once did I ever think of her as an old lady. She was way too hip and stylish to be an old lady.

She had a beautiful, charming laugh that matched the knowing twinkle in her eye. She was funny and sassy, quick with her wit. She had a keen sense of humour and knew how to use it; we all laughed a lot with Nana. And she was a social butterfly, she loved meeting people, making friends. She forged lasting, meaningful connections with everyone she met because she was genuinely interested in and cared about others. When she hugged you, you felt it right down in your soul. Because she loved you unconditionally and you could feel it.

She was an incredible person. She was encouraging, generous, compassionate, and wise. Which is why this loss feels so unbearable to all of us, she was the heart and soul of our family. It’s hard to know what to feel and what to do from here. But we’re not alone, we’ve always got each other and Nana would want us to be strong together. Do lots of hugging, find ways to laugh. She’d want us to take care of each other, same as she always took care of us when we needed it.

I’m so grateful that I got to spend the time with her that I did. Every moment in her company was a joy. And I know there isn’t a person here who doesn’t feel the same.

Thank you, Nana. Thank you for sharing your stories with me, for helping me with my project all those years ago. And thank you for being such a remarkable role model, you’ve had more of an impact on the lives around you than you might have realized. You showed us how it’s done, with dignity and class. You are so loved, and you will be missed, deeply.

Nana

Your Son is Wonderful, Mrs. Hoben

Don’t any of you bother with housewarming gifts because my buddy Hoben has already won. He can’t be beat. I don’t even think I’ll be able to speak to it properly, it just so totally blows me away. But I’ll try anyways and hopefully won’t wind up sounding all syrupy and hyperbolic.

I’ve been friends with Hoben for a long time now, over a decade. And those of you who’ve been reading this site for a while might even remember I’ve spoken about our friendship before and how awesome it is. I’ve told you about how he started the grand tradition of deckers and how through him I met D. I’ve mentioned how fantastic his parents are, Glenn and Gloria, for always letting us kids pal around and party on their deck. Hell, I name-dropped the Hobens and their deck in my wedding vows and the speech I gave that night because it’s such a wonderful detail of my love story with D. Detail seems too small. It’s the cornerstone of our story, really.

My buddy Hoben is a party animal. He’s fun and funny. But he’s also accurately described as prickly, curmudgeonly, and belligerent. Especially belligerent. It’s a point of pride for him, so don’t misconstrue what I’m saying as insult. He’s got a big heart, too. It goes with his big wise-cracking mouth. And I’m realizing now that he’s also sentimental and tremendously thoughtful.

You can only imagine how I felt when he handed me this last weekend:

the step

The first step off of his parents deck. Re-painted, beautifully, with our names and possibly the most apt description I’ve ever seen.

It is the literal first step in our relationship. I can’t even begin to thank Hoben for how fucking awesome and amazing this gift is and how much it means to us. All I can say is that I’m so goddamn lucky to have such a thoughtful and caring friend.

You’re the best Hobs, we love you.

piece of the deck

And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll get lucky. Maybe he’ll drunkenly conceive the first Hoben grandchild with Shannie on my floor or something and I can pry up the floorboard and gift it back to him. You know, even things out a little.

Everlong

It’s our first wedding anniversary today.

I walked down the aisle to this song:

It’s always been one of my favourites. And when I hear it now, I tear up remembering our wedding.

I planned, and wished, and hoped with every inch of my being for that day to go as planned. While some things worked out really well, like the weather, and others left a lot to be desired, the shitty old man DJ, overall I couldn’t be happier with how it all turned out. The wedding was a dream.

Ashley and Darren (214)

Photo by Jennifer Moher Photography: http://www.jennifermoher.com

And marriage has been the greatest blessing of my life. That’s no lie, or flowery sentiment to make things seem rosier than they are. That’s just the truth, stated plainly from my heart.

It’s so easy these days for people to create the image of a perfect, happy life. Today we present the best possible versions of the life we wish we had, sharing photos that have been filtered and edited to look “just right” or posting to Facebook brief blurbs of ourselves that make us appear more thoughtful and caring than maybe we actually are. Posting only the stuff that helps corroborate our stories of “super awesome” lives. It makes it increasingly difficult to be certain, everything consumed with a giant grain of salt, because we’ve become so accustomed to seeing one perfect version of each other online.

Marriage is very similar. It’s hard to know for certain if the people in a given marriage are genuinely happy or putting up a front. You never can tell, and frankly, it’s not anyone else’s business. Yet we wonder anyways. It doesn’t stop us from prying and asking, reading into and analyzing what we think we see in the lives of others. People are curious and overstepping by nature.

We were asked a lot right after we got married, “so how’s married life?” As if some enormously earth-shattering change had happened to us and people wanted to know how we were coping. We always replied the same: that our life together still felt exactly the same as it always had. It did, it still does. That may be a product of having been together for nine years before we married, or that may just be a product of the kind of relationship we have. Life just carried on, same as it always had. That’s the end result I wanted, so I can’t complain.

All I know is that I married well and I am truly happy. I married someone who is unconditionally loving and supportive. Someone who values my opinions and treats me with respect. Someone who values honesty and trust as deeply as I do, and who I know will never give me cause for doubt. I married someone with all of the qualities I knew I needed my partner in this life to have in order to make a meaningful union.

And that’s my oh-so-sage advice to anyone who wants to marry. Don’t do it because you think it will fix something or bring about some tremendously needed change in your life. Don’t choose someone based on superficial qualities like looks or the balance of their bank account. Be with someone who puts the same level of importance on the same core values that you do. Anyone can just say the words “I do”, but they don’t have to mean it, or maybe they don’t realize how much meaning those words do have.

For all my planning and hoping and wishing we did wind up having a wonderful wedding. It was an amazing day, the party was a total blast, it was fun. But you have to remember that the wedding is just the shiny veneer put on your relationship that day for the sake of ceremony. The real treasure can only be realized in time, when at the end of the life you built together you can say with certainty that you did in fact have an amazing life together.

We’re only one year, of hopefully many more, into our marriage. We’re still so green. But I trust in my heart that we’re off to a very promising start. We put together all of the elements that we believe we need to make our marriage a remarkable one. And with every anniversary accumulated, we’ll get a little closer to seeing how well we’ve really done.

Ashley and Darren (502)

Photo by Jennifer Moher Photography: http://www.jennifermoher.com

Uncharted Territory

I like to eat. A lot. To be clear, when I say “a lot” I mean it both ways. I like to eat a lot of food and I like eating as an activity a whole lot. It’s pretty much my favourite thing. Food is happiness. I don’t care if people tell you it’s not good to eat your feelings. I do it all the time and it’s the fucking best. The mere act of crunching down on something tasty and mashing it into oblivion with my vice-like jaws makes me feel like I’m right on the cusp of divinity. Eating rules.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I like to cook. Traditionally, I’ve preferred to play more of a supporting role in the kitchen. If someone else wants to expend their effort slaving over a hot stove, I’ll gladly scarf down a plate when it’s ready and show my gratitude by providing the praise they sought. I grew up in a big family, my mom always cooked enough to feed an army and she’d had her shit all figured out. She didn’t need me to help. She needed my appreciation. Which I was more than happy to show, by reaching for seconds, and sometimes even thirds. Unless of course she made something totally disgusting, like lasagna or scalloped potatoes. Bleeugf. That’s how disgust sounds, by the way. Bleeugf. Like you’re about to have a hairball on the dining room floor. There was nothing more disappointing than coming home from school famished and finding out that dinner was going to be something you hated. What a waste of a mealtime… But I digress. Cooking just wasn’t my bag.

Eventually though, you grow up and fly the coop. And you’ve gotta feed yourself, gotta eat to live. Luckily for me, I found myself a man who loves to cook and doesn’t mind one bit that I’m a total slouch at it. I’m wildly independent and I’ve always charged through life without ever wanting to rely on a man for anything. I’m just crazy like that, I guess. But cooking is really the only way I’ve ever thrown up my hands and let D provide for me. I love eating so much, but don’t really have the drive to make good food for myself. But D does. It’s a great fit, he loves to cook and I’m happy to let him. Who’s it really hurting anyways? He needed to find a way to make me dependent on him for something and I need to eat.

We’ve lived together a few years now and we’ve had a handful of exploits in the kitchen. D does the majority of the cooking, and once in a while I come along and turn something into a pizza. So I do manage to contribute in my own way. And up until recently, I’ve been happy to carry on playing my supporting role. “Mmm, yum! Great job, babe!” I know my lines by heart. But I’m somebody’s wife now. Bit of a game changer that is. I don’t want to be a slouch anymore, I want to step up my game. I see a learning opportunity and I think I’ve finally uncovered some motivation. I want to make my husband happy.

I can do anything, I just have to want to do it. And I think I do now. Plus, I got a whole shitload of new gadgets for the kitchen as wedding gifts. Use it or lose it, right?

Feeling inspired, I decided to try something different for dinner tonight. I wanted to make something really scrumptious that D would love. But I’m not completely ready to fly solo yet, so I still enlisted his help. We’re a good team, and he does love to cook, so I don’t want to take that away from him. As an aside, I’ve decided that I’m going to pursue pies, as a hobby. I want to make lots and lots of pies. And I want to get really fucking good at it. I may as well get two birds stoned at once while I’m at it, right? So I decided to make steak and ale pie for dinner tonight. A chance to hone both my cooking and baking skills at the same time!

We grocery shopped this afternoon, gathering up all of the necessary ingredients, and got to work as soon as we got home. D chopped mushrooms, onion, and garlic.

chopped!

Then we browned the stewing beef, using our fabulous new Le Creuset french oven. A wedding gift from my darling friend, The Ladybird Magpie that I’m forever grateful for.

browning the beef

And before long, we had an intoxicating concoction simmering on the stove top. With a little bit of thyme, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, beef stock, and some Downtown Brown Ale it all came together in a snap.

le creuset!

D popped out to grab us a few beers to enjoy with dinner, and when he got back to the apartment he told me he could smell our dinner cooking in the hallway and it was starting to drive him insane with hunger pangs! I started to feel really great about this cooking thing. I’ve got this. I can do anything I want, and I can totally kick the shit out of it.

But that feeling didn’t last long… Not once I got started on topping the pie.

The pie dish was way bigger than I remembered, and we didn’t quite make enough filling for it. We made enough filling to get it half full, and I was starting to feel a lot less cocky. But I charged ahead anyways. We’d already come this far, and I wasn’t going to let this stand in my way. I started preparing the crust for the pie. It sagged pathetically inwards. And then when I tried to brush the crust with some egg, I totally fucked up and spilled my cup of egg onto the pie. It was a total egg flood! We tried our best to soak up the spillage, but the results weren’t good. There were little pools of egg all of the top. My beautiful pie sat there staring up at me like some kind of disgusting eggy crater and I flipped out. I just totally lost it.

eggy crater

I got really upset and started shouting angrily at everything around me, naturally. I was so mad at myself, and anger is a knee-jerk reaction kind of thing for me. Stupid, so stupid! Why didn’t you make more filling? Why did you hold the cup of egg on such a precarious angle, you clumsy butterfingered fool? Arrgrrgrhhhhh! Frustration! This whole thing is a total fucking waste. Why don’t you just fling yourself off the balcony and end it now?

I broke down for a minute there, guys. I’m not proud of it.

But D was able to talk me down from the ledge eventually. He always does. He told me to stop putting so much pressure on myself on my very first try. It’s just dinner, it’s not such a big deal. And he was right. But I have such a nasty tendency to do that. I put so much pressure on myself and I have totally unrealistic expectations of greatness. I’m no master chef, I’ve only just started on my culinary journey. There’s going to be mistakes, lots. And I have to roll with it, I can’t lose my head and start raving like a lunatic when something goes wrong. He’s a smart guy, that husband of mine. I definitely don’t give him the satisfaction of hearing that as often as he should. But he was totally right. It might not come out of the oven perfect, so what? At least I tried.

We put the pie into the oven and resigned ourselves to hoping for the best.

When it was done, and it was time to see the finished product, I was pleasantly surprised.

finished product!

I learned something very important today: puff pastry is a fucking miracle of nature! The pastry worked double duty and made up for the lack of filling. It puffed up way more than I expected and totally saved the day. Hallelujah!

the serving

It was 3 hours in the making, and took us mere minutes to wolf down. And my very first attempt at a steak and ale pie was goddamn delicious, if I do say so myself.

It was a trying experience at times and it ate up my entire afternoon making this thing, but overall I feel good about it. I’m not discouraged. I almost was for a minute there, but D helped me bounce back. I wouldn’t say that cooking is fun, not at this point in time, but it is an adventure. And I like adventures, so I think I’m willing to stay the course and see where it will take me. Yeah, I’m not one for giving up. I’d like to see where this can go.

The Strongest Man in the Whole Wide World

I’ve always known that my dad is strong. All dads are. Every dad is the strongest man in the world to their kids when they’re young. He can lift you right up over his head and everything! It makes you laugh, it makes you squeal, and you feel light as a feather, swooping through the air in his powerful grasp. It’s a wonderful, but fleeting feeling. You’ve got to come down eventually, he can’t hold you up forever. But he is still the strongest man in the whole wide world. Until one day when he isn’t…

Eventually, you get older and you realize that it’s just your own silly little misbelief. But that’s okay. It doesn’t matter that he isn’t literally the strongest man in the whole wide world, he’s your dad and he’s still plenty strong for you. He might not be able to lift you right up over his head anymore, you’re too old for that now anyways, but you’ll always cherish those days when he could.

Dad and I, back when I was at the perfect weight to be hoisted up over his head

Dad and I, back when I was at the perfect weight to be hoisted up over his head

I got to watch my dad compete in a power-lifting competition this weekend, and I felt an overwhelming pang of nostalgia for those days when I was young and my dad was undoubtedly the strongest man in the whole wide world. Where did all of that time go? How did it slip away so quickly? Somehow, during that frantic dash to adulthood, I’d forgotten all about what it was like to believe in Dad. But thankfully for me, he’s constantly fanning the flames of belief in my heart, even when I’m out playing “adulthood” and am too caught up in myself to notice.

My dad has always been into weight training, he started doing it back in the ’70’s when he was only sixteen years old and it became a lifelong passion of his. You wouldn’t know it to look at his average height and build, but he’s a very powerful man. He’s totally unassuming in that regard. And he loves pouncing on an opportunity to show someone what he can really do with a set of weights. He’s used to being grossly underestimated by those that so wrongly assume that only “built” or “big” men can lift anything remotely impressive. When I tell people that my dad is a power-lifter they immediately ask me how big he is or they’ll remark that he must be HUGE. But power doesn’t come from having stupidly gigantic muscles. It comes from an unyielding will to conquer the impossible and a relentless pursuit of ever greater challenges.

a very old photo of my dad on his journey to greatness

a very old photo of my dad while on his journey to greatness

Although power-lifting has been a great passion of his for many years, he only recently started competing. He’s been competing for a few years now, but I’d never had the opportunity to go and see him in competition until now. And though I’m quite familiar with what my dad can do–I’ve seen him lift mind-boggling amounts of weight while growing up–he totally floored me. At 57 years old he was the oldest man in the competition by a mile. All of the other competitors were anywhere from 20 to 30 years younger than him. But that didn’t faze him one bit, it never does.

My dad, showing off the deadlift tattoo that I drew for him over ten years ago

My dad, suited up and showing off the deadlift tattoo that I drew for him over ten years ago

Dad gets out there and pushes all of the bullshit preconceived notions about his age and his build completely out of his mind. His only thought is about the lift. I watched as he stepped up to the bar, all determination and focus. I watched with unbearable pride as he shattered every expectation with every successful lift. And just like that, I believed again. I never stopped believing, I just forgot that you have to keep doing it if you want to keep the magic alive.

A power-lifting competition comprises three different lifts: the squat, the bench, and the deadlift. Each competitor will get three attempts at each lift, with the weight increasing progressively for each lift. My dad’s favourite lift is the deadlift. The announcer at the competition stated that it was her favourite too, because “it’s an act of defiance”. Defying odds and defying gravity. For his final lift of the day, my dad did a deadlift of an astounding 402 pounds. I know that’s not a record and it’s not the most that anyone will ever lift. But in that final moment when he dug into every last reserve of strength and snapped the weight into position, my dad was the strongest man in the whole wide world again.

My dad is a remarkable man and I admire him. He’s inspiring and he’s brave and he’s amazing. And I get to have all of the joy in telling people that he’s MY dad. I’m going to hold on to my silly little misbelief awhile longer yet and cherish it. He’s earned it.

My dad is the strongest man in the whole wide world. Everything is exactly as it should be.