9 months...yikes. It has been 9 long and simultaneously blurry (due to the rapid-fire speed at which they passed) months since I posted here. 9 very eventful months.
Of course I've been thinking of the bloggers I follow and drafting posts in my head during that time, but actually updating has always taken a backseat to other more pressing spare-time demands...mostly dishes, showering, laundry, and attempts to catch up on sleep.
I don't even know where to begin, other than to say that I don't feel like I belong anymore. What does my tag-line say? Something like, "Navigating the ups and downs of elementary teaching, infertility, and more"? Something like that, right? Well, I am no longer teaching (I'll expand on that in a minute), and "infertility" doesn't seem appropriate when you are 27 weeks pregnant with a 16 month old (I'll expand on that in a minute, too). I guess I fit in under the "and more" bit. I've said it before and I'll say it again though, this blog is an outlet--or diary of sorts--that if nothing else gives me a place to release the ugly stuff that clouds my mind.
I don't know if anyone will even read this, but it is high time I do some mental cleansing, just for me, so I can better embrace all the wonderful that gets lost in the shadows. In truth, I know I am extremely fortunate. I know my blessings are many. I am overjoyed at being a mother...and I want nothing I post here to make it sound like I am begrudging that new role. But I've decided life is hard, man. And just because one hole in your heart gets filled, doesn't mean you won't encounter other trials that take their own toll.
My absence from this blog can be attributed to many things but mostly that I am not much of a juggler. Not yet. This whole mom gig has left me feeling very unbalanced, but in the best way possible.
I'd like to think that anyone might have had the same trouble in my shoes though. The tail end of the 2014-15 school year had a couple hiccups...first-world problems, you might say, but difficult nonetheless. My husband badly broke his finger on the last day of his training and required surgery which delayed his field experience for a few months...which then impacted our placement, requiring us to move across the state in August.
At the beginning of May I took a nasty spill (fainted into the door frame) while sick with the flu that resulted in the fracture of three teeth...one of which was cracked clean through and ultimately required extraction and the placement of a dental implant in mid-July. In December the implant site had finally healed so that I could have a permanent fake tooth made...prior to that I had a partial denture that I had to take in and out for eating, cleaning, etc. I cannot adequately express what a blow that whole process was. I realize it could've been a lot worse. I try to make jokes about it...but really, I HATE that I lost my tooth and I HATE how much money and time it took to fix it and I HATE that I have to be careful about what I bite into for the rest of my life for fear I could loose one of the other two damaged teeth. The flu in May impacted my milk supply...and the surgery in July impacted it again. I did manage to make it a full year before I stopped breastfeeding, but was supplementing a lot at the end.
We had expected to finally be a family of three once school got out in June, but with my husband's broken finger incident, we had a couple more months of long-distance marriage while he completed his field experience. By June we knew we were going to have to move though, so I spent June and July first packing my classroom and then my house. I decided to take a year's leave of absence from teaching (hoping we'd be transferred back "home" within a year's time). And though I wasn't ready to go back to work in January after my maternity leave, I never really had imagined I'd be a stay-at-home mom. A huge reason I chose teaching as a career was that I felt like it was the best way to have both a career and significant time with my family. Packing up my classroom was sad and saying goodbye-ish to my work family was hard. I really hoped we'd be back in a year, but that was a stretch. So...do you say "goodbye" or "see you later"? I wasn't ready to close the door, so I put a stopper in it...but it seemed like from the moment I turned in my keys until now I've been watching that door stopper slide little by little until the door finally latched shut.
Looking for a new job in our new location didn't seem to make sense because we wouldn't be moving until August (and technically weren't 100% sure where we'd be) and trying to move, find a new job, set up a classroom, and find reliable childcare in a brand-new city all in the matter of a month seemed like to great a feat. Besides, even if I did find employment, we were worried that my husband might get the transfer call and I'd be stuck under contract...forcing us to either turn down the transfer or do even more long distance living with me stuck behind. No thank you. Staying home with James was much more appealing...and what better time than when he's little like this??
Packing up the house wasn't any easier than packing my classroom. Not only was it hard to imagine leaving the place where I'd envisioned our whole future unfolding, it was just plain hard to make much headway. I tried to do little bits here and there when James was sleeping, but getting much done while he was awake was a futile effort. And I was so tired. James' sleeping habits were taking the wrong kind of turn. He'd have a couple weeks of "normal" nights which still included two wakings (one for a diaper change/binky adjustment and the other an early morning feeding) followed by 3-4 nights of multiple wakings with one lasting HOURS...often accompanied by inconsolable crying. I committed myself to sleep training as a summer project. I read about various theories, asked other mothers for advice, and tried my darndest, but things just seemed to get worse. I wanted to blame teething (he got his first tooth at 8.5 months, followed quickly by #2, 3 and 4), but the predictable pattern of a couple normal weeks turned into one week and eventually it just became completely unpredictable what kind of night we were going to have. Napping wasn't really any better. He was overtired from his terrible nighttime sleep and was in the habit of waking up after half an hour...maybe 40 minutes if I was lucky. The weekends with my husband home were not fun summer weekends spent picnicking or swimming or playing at the park. Instead they were always a mad attempt to check off more things from our to-do list than we added to it...a task we seemed to fail at time and again. And they were filled with exhausting conversations and questions that we didn't seem equip with enough information to answer. Do we rent our house out? Do we sell it? How long will we be gone? And always...how do we get all the projects that need done done in order to rent/sell it when I spend all week with a baby and you are only here less than 48 hours (factor in travel time, time for meals, sleeping, and getting to spend some quality time with your baby)?
By the time August rolled around I was SOOO ready to just be done with it all. Done with the packing. Done with long-distance marriage. Done with the stress of the unknown. Done with exhausting circular conversations. We were all ready, I think. And I think I expected that living under the same roof again would somehow relieve all the stress that the last year had thrown our way. Other people thought so too. Since we've moved they'll say, "Isn't it so nice to finally be together as a family?" or, "I'm so glad that you're all together now; that's got to make things easier," or "You guys must be really enjoying this time...you worked so hard for it."
Yes, it is nice to be a family of three under one roof...and we did endure a stressful year with this career change as the ultimate goal. But....
I'm sorry, there's a but.
But I was blindsided by how difficult this adjustment to a new life has been. I call it a new life because it feels like everything about my current life is different than what I've know...and envisioned...and I've had to say goodbye to so much.
That's where the "ugly" has been creeping in. I've been trying to ward it off, but am lacking access to my go-to strategies. I've struggled with depression in the past. I've come a long way since some of my darkest episodes. I've learned my triggers and I've learned how to combat them. I can see things coming, I can recognize when I am sliding. Some triggers: overwhelming circumstances and too much "alone" time with my thoughts. Some remedies: running, forcing myself to engage with friends/family, medication, talking out the "ugly". Triggers...check and check. Remedies...I can't run right now being pregnant and all (oh yeah, yet to update you on that very important piece of my life!), I haven't found any friends in this new place yet, and I hate the way medication makes me feel (besides, I'm pregnant!). I've learned to manage depression without medication and it is sooo much better, for me. Anyway, I'm sliding. Not depressed yet. But getting awfully close. The negative thoughts and ugly feelings are starting to occupy more and more of my time and mental space. So all I have left as an option is to talk out the ugly stuff. Let it go and make room to breathe in what is good and wonderful and right about life.
First though, I suppose I should finish updating my timeline to now...I'll try to be a little more brief since this post is getting exceptionally long. Anyone who makes their way through the whole thing deserves a medal for commitment.
We moved. We got pregnant. It was a wonderful surprise. And yes, it was a surprise, but not an accident. I had only had two cycles prior to getting pregnant, but they were spaced all wonky like before and I was still breastfeeding so I had no way of knowing whether I was ovulating or not. We weren't trying to get pregnant, but weren't taking any actions to avoid it either. We figured that it had taken long enough the first time around...we didn't know if my cycles would start regulating themselves or if eventually we'd need to get help. We also figured that having our kids (if we were so lucky to have more than one) close together might be really nice as they grew up. And if I did happen to get pregnant while I was already taking time off, so much the better. So it was a very good surprise. It's been a little alarming because I guess I never expected my kids to be this close in age (18 months)...so there will be challenges that I had not entirely thought through. I am nervous. But I am more excited than nervous. "Baby Day" is scheduled for April 15 and we are waiting to find out if it is a boy or girl until then since the birthday itself is not a surprise. It is scheduled because the type of incision they had to make with James ruled out VBAC as an option. It also made it so they will be delivering the baby at 37 weeks rather than the typical 39 for scheduled cesarean. So...fingers crossed everything goes well! I know those last weeks of pregnancy are serious growth time for baby. Anyway, August = we moved and we found out we were pregnant again. It also was a terrible month in the sleep department for James. Between the move, visitors, and trips back "home" to try to wrap up various projects there was just too much change and too much inconsistency and he spiraled out of control. I was trying to let him cry it out, but threw in the towel when he woke more and more and cried longer and longer...topping out at 3 hours!! (I still feel like a horrible mother as I type that). I cried too.
More trips back "home" to try to get the house rental-able...we were in the middle of a bathroom remodel, so it wasn't exactly something we could leave as-is. We also were pursuing refinancing our house to make it more manageable to keep it. Should have been an easy process, but for a multitude of reasons, it wasn't. The inconsistency wasn't great for James, but he was doing better because I had switched from CIO to rocking & consoling him when he woke...and yes...even bringing him to bed with us in the wee morning hours. He was able to put himself to sleep for naps and bedtime, but couldn't sustain sleep through the night.
James turned one and started "cruising" a lot more than crawling. We took a trip down to Texas to visit my husband's grandparents (James Senior) and another trip "home" for a birthday/Halloween celebration with the cousins, aunts/uncles, and my parents there. James stopped putting himself to sleep. I had to rock him to sleep, gently place him in his crib, and tip toe out of the room. Otherwise sleep was much like it was in September...but steadily getting worse. Looking back it is pretty apparent that even though we tried to keep his bedtime routine consistent, his setting for sleep was constantly changing...and I was trying to wean him...and he was getting new teeth. Lots to deal with. Not sustainable. And I started panicking that we really needed to resolve the sleep situation before there was a newborn to contend with. Speaking of which, I felt nauseated most all the time. My morning sickness was never severe, but was ever-present and way more than I remember having with James.
James started the month with a bad head cold that turned into an ear infection and further amplified the sleep problems we were having. I was beyond exhausted...he was waking AT LEAST 6 times a night and every few days would have an inconsolable episode that would last a couple hours. It wasn't until mid-November that we finished the antibiotics, but James was still a mess after that and my husband needed to take a trip to help his mom down in Arizona. James and I went back "home" at the end of the month for Thanksgiving since my husband had to work anyway. It seemed like it would be a very sad Thanksgiving all alone in a new city, but the trip didn't go that well. We stayed at my parents' house and spent way too much time analyzing sleep problems. I was really concerned that there must be something else at play to have him waking so often...even when he was with me. I even borrowed a special monitor from a friend that tracked oxygen levels and heart rate and he set off the alarm at least 10 times in a 3 hour stretch. I had scheduled a consultation with our former pediatrician while we were in town. She didn't have any medical concerns, which was a relief, but she confirmed what I feared: that I (or rather our life) had created this mess and he needed to learn to self-soothe. It wasn't going to be easy, but we needed to let him cry. She gave me a multitude of helpful tips to try to assist with the process and even gave me an alternate suggestion if I just couldn't get on board with letting him cry it out. I left feeling like I had a plan, but was nervous because of how poorly the CIO method had gone before when I felt like I was really giving it a good shot.
As soon as we returned back to our new home, we recommitted to sleep training. My husband took charge on the first night and it went surprisingly well. 1.5 hours of crying to get to sleep (checking on him at various intervals) and then only one waking with another 30 minutes of crying to get back to sleep. Second night: 25 minutes of crying initially with another waking and I can't remember exactly how much crying. Third night: 5 minutes of initial crying...can't remember if he woke that night or not. Fourth night: 2 minutes of initial crying...can't remember if he woke again or not. Fifth night: no crying...waved bye-bye and blew me a kiss as I tucked him in. Throughout December this is how it went...some nights he would wake up and cry, but rarely for long and many nights he would sleep through til morning. I WAS SHOCKED. And thrilled. And glad to be getting some quality sleep after 14 months of deprivation. Any kicking myself for getting him so royally messed up in the first place. Of course I blamed myself...he was my one job and I felt like I failed him. Christmas brought visitors and we had a wonderful time. It was such a joy to share it with our little man who could officially be called a walker by Christmas Day. He loved the boxes more than anything else and quickly caught on to what fun unwrapping them was. James and I made another trip to see my family after Christmas, but by then he had had enough excitement and quickly regressed in the sleep department. I was beginning to see what people mean when they say traveling with young children is difficult. It just didn't feel worth it.
It took the better part of January to get James back on track before he came down with some kind of bug that set him off again. He is absolutely the light of my life and brings a smile to my face every time I think about him...but little man definitely has a strong will and tests boundaries, as kids will do. January brought a wave of daytime tantrums that we muddled through, but with repeated explanations and trips to "time out" he has since amended his behavior considerably. It's weird to (already) be entering this phase where we have to start enforcing consequences and disciplining. So far, he has been a pretty quick learner. He is also the sweetest, goofiest little cherub I know. He doesn't speak more than a handful of words (dog, ball, bear) and a variety of animal sounds (woof, meow, who, roar, baa, etc.), but he communicates with gestures, grunts, and sign language. He seems to understand about the new baby more than you would expect...he often lifts my shirt, hugs/kisses my tummy, and points to the ultrasound photo on the refrigerator and makes the sign for "baby." He loves to go to the grocery store (or anywhere really), vacuum, watch the garbage truck, hug, dance, eat, and cuddle the cat and dog. He waves bye-bye to daddy and blows him a kiss every night before work. He is becoming quite skilled with utensils and makes me proud everyday.
That brings us to now. The struggles I am and have been facing have very little, if anything, to do with staying home with James. I cherish our days together...even the tough ones. I know he will grow up too fast...it's already happening. I nearly cried when I installed his new car seat. I keep telling myself that these will someday be "the good old days." Here's what I am struggling with; these are the things that I can't seem to adjust to:
*I somehow expected that living together would bring back the normal type of routine we enjoyed when we were both working jobs with regular hours. However, my husband's schedule is constantly changing...between days and nights, weekdays and weekends. Currently he works 7pm-5am...and depending on when he gets home will sleep until somewhere between 1pm & 4pm. On a good day I can expect him to be working 11 hours (10 hour shift + 1 hour commuting), but most days he has at least a couple hours of overtime. And some days the over time is ridiculous! In just the past two weeks he's had one 18.5 hour day and a 21 hour day. He tries to let me know if he'll be late...but more often than not I don't hear from him and have to wonder when...or if...he'll be coming home. Some days it has me stressed, sometimes worried, sometimes mad/irritated. He does get three days off a week, but when he is working nights it hardly feels that way since he still has to maintain roughly the same sleeping hours. So...yes. We see each other everyday, but it's not exactly as great as I thought it'd be.
*Being a stay-at-home mom (in a new city nonetheless) is lonely work. I am terribly lonely...I don't know anyone here and it is so hard to meet friends. I suppose I didn't get out a whole lot before with my friends, but at least with work I got to see them on a regular basis...have some adult interaction with people that I genuinely cared about that cared about me too. Here we go to the park and the library and I make a point of striking up conversations with strangers. Not exactly a practice that is in my comfort zone, but I do it because I am really lonely and am making an effort to meet people. But having a friendly conversation with a stranger and have a friendship are two entirely different things. The latter takes time. And I have yet to even bump into the same stranger twice. I've been seeking opportunities that would put me in the presence of the same people on a regular basis, but that has proven difficult. All the mommy & me classes I can find are during nap time. And given James' history with sleeping, it's not exactly a time I am willing to mess with. Same is true for church services. I can go to the early service, but the later one (during nap time) is the one that most people and young families attend. I think the church I've been going to has some women's groups and Bible studies that maybe I could get involved in if I could make it work with the husband's work schedule.
*Life feels suspended right now...like we are neither here nor there ("home"). We are holding onto hope that we will get offered a transfer back to the place where our family and friends and former life are, but we have no idea how long that might take. Months? Years? The uncertainty is exhausting. It's nearly impossible to predict or plan...so you just kind of hang out in limbo stewing over the same questions and the same hazy future. We have yet to do anything with our house...except pay for it to sit empty and sad. We were thinking of renting it originally and have been back and forth with that decision many times. Currently the plan is to sell it. I think it's a Band-Aid that just needs to be ripped off, you know? Holding on to it is like holding on to hope that life will return to what it was...like we can just hit the play button and things will resume right where they left off. But the truth is that life won't ever be the same. We have a new kind of normal now...with good, WONDERFUL things...my husband is working in a career that he loves, we have an amazing son and another child on the way. So why is it so hard to accept? None of us really know what the future has in store for us, but I think it's natural to have an idea in your head of how things might go or what you dream they might be. This just isn't how I pictured it all playing out...and it's really throwing me for a loop.
I have more I could probably write, but that should do it for now, I think. I already feel lighter just typing some of it out. Clearing space for that good stuff to get the light it deserves...