So I know it’s been a ridiculously long time since I’ve updated my blog, but I’m going to spare you all of the “I’ve been a bad blogger, but don’t worry, I’m getting back to it” nonsense, because that’s not what I want to talk about today. I need to be honest with myself, and with all of you. I haven’t been in a good place lately, physically, mentally, or emotionally. I feel like my health is steadily going downhill, and everything-including my family-is suffering as a result. It’s time to make a change, not only for myself, but for my husband and my children. Allow me to explain (and I sincerely apologize in advance if this post is all over the place).
This picture was taken on January 6, 2016, moments before I was wheeled to the OR for what would be my first back surgery. Gianna was not quite five months old, and despite the excruciating pain I had been experiencing for years at that point, I was the happiest I had been in a long time regarding my physical health. I weighed in at 173lbs, a weight I hadn’t seen since I was in college. I was getting as much exercise as I possibly could, considering my back pain, I was exclusively breastfeeding, and even though we had three children ages five and under, I really wasn’t feeling too overwhelmed. I was happy, and hopeful that this surgery would solve all of the issues I was having. I feel like you can even see the hope in my eyes; I’m holding my beautiful, precious baby girl, I’m excited about what I believe will be a pain free future, and I felt a surge of pride when the anesthesiologist praised me for my “excellent health.” Unfortunately, that hope didn’t last long. As soon as I woke up in recovery, my neurosurgeon informed me that my back was far worse than what he initially saw on the MRI, and he knew without a doubt that I would need spinal fusion next. I can clearly remember my heart sinking at his words...I wanted so, so badly for this to be IT. I was tired of living in pain. I was already having some pretty intense post-surgical pain, and the thought of going under the knife again made me want to cry. But, I told myself if this is what I needed to do to get better, I’d suck it up and deal.
Well, that recovery was going to take longer than planned. Here I am, seven months later, thirty two weeks pregnant with Carmine. Most of you know this pregnancy came completely out of left field, and we most definitely were NOT trying to get pregnant mere weeks after my first back surgery. However, such is life, right? Man plans and God laughs. I’ll be honest and say that this was by far my most painful pregnancy. Everything hurt, all day every day. My back (obviously). My hips. My legs. My abdomen. Even my butt hurt. I was going to physical therapy twice a week, and it helped, but there was only so much that could be done. I was still taking one Percocet a day to essentially get out of bed (the pain was THAT bad), but of course, the guilt was overwhelming. My midwife assured me that one pill per day wouldn’t harm my baby, or give him withdrawals after birth, but nonetheless I was terrified. I tried to put on a happy face when I took “belly updates,” but I feel like you can see the strain on my face in this photo. My eyes aren’t quite as bright and hopeful, and my hand placed strategically on my back was literally holding me up. The day to day toils of the third trimester, combined with degenerative disc disease and chasing around three rambunctious little ones were truly wearing on me. However, I didn’t have much of a choice except to trudge on, and I knew that in a matter of weeks, I would be holding a precious new life in my arms. Things HAD to get better.
My most recent surgery, which was April 12, 2017. I had just finished nursing Carmine, and I was wheeled back to the OR literally seconds after I snapped this picture. This surgery was an anterior interbody spinal fusion, in which Dr. King (my neurosurgeon) cut through my abdomen to fuse my spine, my L5/S1. It was a very intense surgery, and it came with a few risks. Dr. King, though, felt confident that with my relatively young age and otherwise good health, that I would be a good candidate for this particular surgery. I said a few prayers before I went in, and I remember reciting the Hail Mary as the nurse put the oxygen mask over my face and I drifted off. When I woke up hours later, I knew the results were different this time around. My favorite nurse was standing next to me with a broad smile on her face, and she told me that Dr. King successfully performed the surgery, and he was confident that this would be a significant improvement for me. Tears actually came into my eyes while she was talking to me and patting my hand, and all I could think was, “thank God. Thank God. I’m going to get my life back, after all this time.” I was wheeled upstairs to my recovery room, and the following day I was taken to the first floor for an MRI. The results confirmed what the nurse had said yesterday; the surgery was a success, and Dr. King would tell me later it was one of the best spinal fusions he had ever done. I feel like the above photo is very telling...my smile is more forced. My eyes don’t have that optimism, that brightness I saw in the first photo. I’m worn down and beaten down at this point, and I truly felt like I was reaching the end of my threshold.
I would love to say that the surgery turned my life around, I’m back to my old self again, I’m as healthy as ever, etc, but that wouldn’t be true. I don’t know what (if anything) went wrong, I don’t know what’s happening with my body, but I feel as though I haven’t made much of a recovery at all. It’s been almost ten months since my surgery, and I feel like I’ve aged a decade. My body feels like it’s falling apart. I look in the mirror and I want to cry. I don’t let anyone take full-length pictures of me anymore, because I’m ashamed of the way I look. I’ve gained weight and then some. My face is breaking out. I have a lot of sensitivity in one of my teeth, and I suspect a cavity. My blood pressure is higher than normal. Worst of all, I still have a significant amount of back pain. Now, do I feel BETTER since my surgery? Yes, thank God. Before Dr. King did my spinal fusion, the pain was so terrible that I literally couldn’t walk. I would take a few steps and crumble to the ground. The pain was excruciating. Will was terrified to leave me alone with the children during the day while he was at work. So yes, I am very grateful to Dr. King for helping me get over the pain that was truly ruining my life. Thanks to him, I can walk without worrying that I’ll fall over or drop the baby. I can actually get out of bed in the morning without assistance. Unfortunately, though, that’s kind of where it ends. Much to my chagrin, I’m still taking a significant amount of painkillers (I’ve been going to a pain management clinic for about a year now). The pain is so bad some days that I am unable to get out of bed. The guilt is overwhelming, because I either have to beg Will to stay at home and help me, which of course isn’t something he should be doing, or I have to impose on a friend to come over and help me with my children. It’s an awful situation, a situation that has thrown me into a deep depression and made my anxiety shoot through the roof. I’m ashamed to admit it. I don’t like myself anymore. I feel like I’m not a wife to my husband, and I’m not a mother to my children. I feel like I’m in this endless cycle of pain, heavy duty painkillers, and ER trips and doctors visits that aren’t going anywhere.
I looked at myself in the mirror yesterday morning...and I just started to cry. I can’t live like this anymore. I WON’T live like this anymore. I hate the way I look. I hate the way I feel. I hate how I’m failing my family, even though Will has never been anything but 100% caring, loving, and supportive. I don’t deserve him, and I feel so badly that our children got stuck with me as a mother. I’m not looking for everyone to jump in the comments section and assure me that this isn’t true, or I’m being too hard on myself. It IS true. I don’t like the person I’ve become. And I have no one to blame for it but myself. This is why I’ve decided I have to make a change, once and for all.
What I’ve been doing (staying in bed trying to keep the pain at bay, taking as many painkillers as I’m allotted each day, never really exerting myself in the slightest) hasn’t been working. At all. So as much as it terrifies me, it ends today. Much as I’d like to, I can’t completely stop taking my painkillers yet, simply because I know the my back pain is still too intense for me to deal with it on my own. I am, however, going to attempt to wean myself down to a lower dose, then eventually get off the painkillers once and for all. When I’m having a horrible back spasm or a very intense pain day, I am no longer allowing myself to stay in bed and pray that it will give me a reprieve. I now have to force myself up, and do what I can to go about my day.
I’ve decided to take a more holistic approach to my health as well. I need to lose weight, plain and simple. I do believe that some of my back pain will be alleviated if I drop the 40+ pounds that I’ve gained (seriously. It’s bad). I’m starting a new workout regime at home, and I’m going to force myself to stick with it. I’ve actually been fairly good about eating healthy, with only a few slip ups, so fortunately I don’t have to make too many changes to my diet. I’m pretty bad about keeping myself hydrated, though, so I need to get back in the habit of carrying around a water bottle with me. I found a physical therapist in town, a highly recommended practice, and I have my first appointment next Friday. I do believe that strengthening my core will go a long way towards my recovery, and I’m kind of kicking myself for not jumping on the PT train sooner. I also have an appointment to see an OBGYN. I’ve been having lots of other issues in terms of my reproductive health, and I’ve noticed that my back pain is practically unbearable the week before, and the first few days of my period. I’ve been irritable and snappy lately, I’ve been having random hot flashes, getting headaches, a whole slew of issues that I believe I need to address with an OBGYN. So, I’m getting the ball rolling in that court as well.
My mom suggested massage therapy, and perhaps getting a deep tissue massage once a month. I think it’s an excellent idea, and my body will thank me for that (especially with a new exercise routine). I’m also planning on looking into acupuncture. I’m not really sure how I feel about it, to be honest, but I have a few friends who swear by it, and I really feel like I can’t rule anything out at this point. I’m too far gone to be picky, and I’ll truly do whatever it takes. So, stay tuned.
What do I need from my family and friends? Prayers. Love. Support. Most importantly, accountability. Please send me messages, texts, phone calls, whatever, and ask how everything is going. Ask if I’m sticking to my workouts, and physical therapy appointments. I’m certainly not trying to put the burden on anyone else, but I really do find that if I have people on my case, I don’t slack off. All I ask is that you refrain from trying to sell me anything (supplements, work out plans, etc), and that you don’t insist on me going to a chiropractor. I’ve had back luck with them in the past, and my neurosurgeon is against the idea. If you can find it in your heart, though, to pray for me, or to offer up words of encouragement, I would greatly appreciate it. Friends, I’m simply not in a good place right now, and it’s very hard for me to look in the mirror and see what my life has become lately. I don’t want to live like this anymore. I need and want to get better.
I've always been fascinated by the Great Depression. All four of my grandparents were born during it, and lived through it. Hearing their stories, reading the stories online of my grandparents' generation who survived on very little, has always made me stop and reflect on our life today. It often seems that the more information we have at our fingertips, the less capable we have become as a society. I know men and women-my own age!!-who can't even peel a clove of garlic, let alone cook a meal. My sewing and gardening skills are abysmal, at best. Will knows how to do basic mechanical maintenance, but I'm clueless. If you stuck me in the middle of a farm and told me to get started on the day's work, I would look around helplessly before wandering over to some cute baby animals to pet them. I don't know how to knit. I CAN cook, and I'm getting pretty good at making recipes from scratch. I cloth diaper our babies, and when the weather is nice, I hang our laundry out to dry on our clothesline. I make a bi-monthly budget for our family, and for the most part, we follow it closely. I'll be honest, though; the skills that I have as an almost 36-year old woman pale in comparison to the skills a woman my age in the 1930's needed to have in order to survive. I'm embarrassed by it, but I'm doing what I can to learn new things, and to use technology for good. (In other words, spend what little free time I have teaching myself how to garden, how to knit, etc, by watching videos on YouTube, not playing silly games or browsing Facebook every twenty minutes).
I've been brainstorming lately, trying to find ways for me to live like a mother back in the 1930's. Mind you, I'm not secretly praying for a national financial crisis, or hoping that we have an attack on the power grid so we all have to go back to the days of root cellars and colonial ice houses to store meat and dairy. What I am trying to do is be more mindful of our spending, participate in activities with the kids that don't involve TV shows, and most importantly, make do with what we have. I was going over our monthly menu a few days ago, while I was in the midst of making our October meal plan, and I was commenting to Will that I was shocked-and upset-with how often we had gone out to eat last month. And how many times we went through the drive-thru, either at Starbucks or Chik-Fil-A. I was frustrated with myself, because I felt like I did a poor job meal planning, and there were some nights when we didn't have enough leftovers that I had been anticipating, or I had planned a time-consuming meal on a busy night, or I had forgotten a key ingredient to a recipe at the grocery store. Will pointed out that compared to most Americans, we really don't eat out all that often, but that didn't make me feel much better. During the Great Depression, most people didn't know where their next meal was coming from. Between the Dust Bowl and the massive layoffs, if the wife or mother didn't cook breakfast, lunch and dinner, the family would go hungry. There was no, "I'm too tired to cook tonight, let's pick up a pizza," or, "I'm really craving Thai food, want to order some to go?"
I feel as though I've been very wasteful lately, with our food and our budget, and I'm really kind of ashamed of myself. Considering how many people have been displaced and/or lost everything these past few months due to weather-related disasters, I believe the very least I can do is be more economical and frugal when it comes to groceries and meals for my family. I have a few ideas how I can make this happen for the month of October:
1. Make a meal plan and stick to it.
2. Even if we do have a day where we have too much going on to cook a meal, or I'm in too much pain, make sure that we have enough in the house so that we can throw together a simple dinner for us and the kids. No ordering pizzas at the last minute because I didn't plan properly.
3. Plan family fun activities that don't involve fees or technology. Trips to the neighborhood pool, since it's still Hell On Earth here in the great state of Georgia and the pool is open. Play dates with friends. Trips to the library. Parks, when it isn't 90 degrees with 100% humidity.
Obviously, some exceptions will be made. Being that this plan is for the month of October, I'm certainly not going to deny our kids a fun Halloween because I'm on a budget mission ("sorry, kids! No costumes or candy this year, because my grandparents didn't have that luxury back in the 1930's! I'm sure you guys can understand!"). Lol, no. That being said, I have a Halloween budget every year for the month of October, for costumes, house decorations, and candy for trick-or-treating, and we've never had a problem sticking to it. Carmine's birthday is on the 24th, and mine is on the 31st (yes, I'm a Halloween baby, and yes, I had some fantastic parties growing up). My goal is to be budget-conscious and frugal, without being a cheapskate. I'm also trying to incorporate more vegetarian meals into our monthly meal plan, which can be a challenge, since my husband is very much a "meat and potatoes" kind of guy. Fortunately, Pinterest has a bunch of delicious looking fall recipes, and many of them feature in-season vegetables.
I've noticed that things like vintage skills, homesteading, and survival-type courses are beginning to make a comeback, and I think that's excellent. We live in very uncertain times, and there's no guarantee that all of the technology and information we have at our fingertips will always be available. I'd like to see more people my age (and younger) learn the skills our grandparents grew up with, and to not take their wisdom for granted. I, for one, am very excited to begin what I call my "Great Depression Project," and start learning more about these useful skills that, in my opinion, more people need to know. I'll report back next month with an update on my project (which, at the moment, includes a stricter budget, especially in terms of food, basic gardening, and if I have time, beginning knitting). Anyone else up for the challenge? Leave a comment and tell me what you would like to do for your own Great Depression Project!
Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I DID have to quote The Princess Bride in the title. Why, you ask? Because today Will and I are celebrating eleven years of marriage.
"What's the big deal?" You're probably thinking. "Isn't the ten year anniversary supposed to be the big to-do?" Well, yes, it is, and had Will and I actually been together for our anniversary in 2016, I'm sure we would have gone all out. Unfortunately, the Army saw fit to send Will to Fort Knox for six weeks last summer, so we once again (yes, we're used to this by now) missed the chance to celebrate the big One Oh. This year, though, it's going to be wild. It's going to be epic. And by "epic," I mean we hired a babysitter and we're going out to dinner.
As I always do on this date, I think back to the day when Will and I said our vows, and began our life together. I remember the smallest details; the smell of flowers, perfume and hairspray in our hotel suite where my bridesmaids, my mom, my aunts and cousin got ready.
The bright, beautiful colors of our church, and how they blended so serenely with the music of the quartet, and my friend Laura's sweet voice.
How I was SO sure that I would be able to hold it together during the ceremony, because I was so happy to finally be marrying the man I loved...only to see Will burst into tears as soon as he saw my dad walking me down the aisle, and I lost it. Both of us cried throughout the entire ceremony.
The excitement and sheer joy we felt at the end of the ceremony, when we were really, truly married. For better or worse, for the rest of our lives. What exactly does one do after a moment like that? Run across the street to your favorite Italian deli/bakery, of course, and get advice, blessings, and best wishes from all the Italian guys.
The speeches at the reception. The cheeseheads the groomsmen purchased at the mall the day before (because when a bunch of guys from the South attend a Wisconsin wedding, well, clearly the cheeseheads were a necessity). The fun, upbeat, freaking INCREDIBLE music that my cousin, an accomplished DJ in Toronto, played throughout the night. The delicious wedding cake. Dancing our first dance to "Con Te Partiro," by Andrea Boccelli. Dancing with my dad to "Blue Hawaii," by Elvis (the only way I would go to sleep as a baby was if my dad rocked me and sang that song). Everyone, young and old, jumping out of their chairs to dance to "Cella Luna."
A few years ago, I was talking to a friend of ours who was a guest at our wedding, and we were reminiscing about the whole day. "Wouldn't you like to go back and do it all over again?" She asked. I thought about it for a second, because on one hand, I kind of did. The whole day was just so much fun. Everything about it was magical. But on the other hand...no. I'd rather keep my memories of that day, and hold on to them tightly for the rest of my life. As long as I live, I'll remember the way Will looked at me when he saw me in my wedding dress. I'll remember the way we clutched each others' hands, looked into each others' eyes, and smiled through tears as we professed our vows.
No, everyday married life certainly doesn't look like our wedding day all of the time. I'd venture to say that most days it doesn't. Much of our life revolves around our four small children, and the Army. We've had some epic fights. We've cried together, worried over our children together, navigated our way around the uncertainties associated with military life, and we've said too many tearful goodbyes, holding on to each other as tightly as possible, not knowing if that would be the last time we'd ever see each other. I can truly say, after all these years, there's no other man on earth I'd rather walk with every day, through all of life's adventures. Will, I've loved you for so many years, and some days it still feels incredible to know that you're mine. I'll continue to love and honor you for the rest of my life, just as you love and honor me. Happy anniversary.
*All pictures by Front Room Photography, in Milwaukee, WI. Sorry for the not-so-great uploads; it's kind of hard to take good pictures OF my wedding album.
On a steamy, muggy morning in late July, Will and I stepped off the airplane stairway into the terminal at Frankfurt International Airport. Both of us were exhausted, not having slept a wink on the flight over from Cincinnati. We were sweating, and our clothes were sticking to our bodies. I was lugging around my handbag, which was stuffed to the brim, and my violin. I also felt queasy, a result of the suspicious-smelling coffee creamer on the plane, too many emotions swirling around in my head as the plane pulled away from the gate eight hours earlier, and nerves. Will and I were 23. This was our very first duty station, one where I was listed on his orders. It was Will's second tour of Germany, so he was slightly more experienced than I was, but it was his first job as a dog handler, not a line unit MP.
"Sergeant Tenney? Mrs. Tenney? We're going to grab your bags, please make sure you have everything, because we need to get back and start in-processing as soon as possible, and we don't want to have to turn around and head back to the airport." Two soldiers from Will's new unit in Hanau were there to meet us. Hasty introductions were made, our luggage was loaded into the military vehicle, and before I knew it, we were leaving the airport and headed to what would be our new home. Hanau, Germany, home of the Grimm Brothers. I gaped out the window, taking in the spectacular scenery, marveling over the ruins of a castle ("you'll get used to it," one of the soldiers remarked after he heard my exclamations). We were brought to the kennels right away, as it was too early to in-process and the Army hotels weren't accepting check-ins until noon. Will was immediately whisked off to begin filling out paperwork, and he was introduced to his new dog. I was left standing in the office, clutching my violin (I had no intention of leaving it in the hot car), not quite sure what to do. There was no air conditioning anywhere, and I felt sweaty and disgusting. I had the beginnings of a headache, as I was exhausted and in desperate need of either sleep or a strong cup of coffee. I was confused, and ashamed to admit, nervous. I had no idea what was going on. I had no idea what I should do. Should I go around and introduce myself? I didn't want to interrupt anyone while they were working, but I didn't want to come off as a snob who was too good to talk to anyone. Could I find a place to sit and try to catch a quick nap? Would that be tacky? I was getting hungry, but I didn't know where or when we could find food.
The hours dragged on. As soon as the offices opened at 9am, both Will and I were dragged from building to building, signing papers, given a laundry list of instructions that promptly flew out of my head, and we were told no less than six times that we would leave Germany in three years with four children. When the clock struck noon, I turned to one of the soldiers and asked if they needed me for the rest of the day. She gave me a bewildered look and said, "Why would we need YOU?" (She and I never did end up getting along, but that's a story for another day). Since that was the case, I asked if someone could bring me and my luggage to our hotel across the street, and have Will join me later when he was done in-processing for the day. I desperately needed a shower and I wanted to grab a few hours of sleep. I was told no, that it was very important to get my body used to European time. "Why?" I asked. "I don't have to be up at 6am for work tomorrow. If it takes a little longer for me to get my body used to the time change, I'm okay with that." I was still told no.
FIVE hours later, I was...not my best self. If I'm being completely honest, I was in royal bitch mode. We hadn't had anything to eat all day long, we were still sweaty and disgusting (we didn't even get a chance to brush our teeth), and I was so exhausted I was starting to sway back and forth on my feet. We were finally allowed to check in to our hotel, one of the soldiers loaned Will forty euros so we could order dinner from the pizza joint down the street, and for the first time since 7am, we were alone. Will hauled our luggage into the teeny tiny hotel room, and both of us just collapsed onto the bed and stared at the ceiling. I had no idea what to make of our first day (other than some very choice words running through my mind), and I was already feeling very apprehensive about the upcoming week. What, exactly, was I supposed to do while Will was at work all week long? Where would I buy groceries? How could I call my parents back in Wisconsin? What would our life overseas look like for the next three years? I was so overwhelmed, jet-lagged, and feeling very emotional. I brushed my teeth and took a long, cool shower (the hotel, like absolutely everything else in Germany, was un-air conditioned), while Will ordered pizza for us. Both of us ate a quiet dinner at the little table in our room, unsure of what to say or do. Both of us had literally screamed with excitement when he received orders to Germany four months back, but this day had proved to be far from the European adventure we were anticipating. Not only was it a lot to take in, living in a foreign country and not speaking the language, but what would Army life be like? I had a little bit of an idea, after spending time at his base in Fort Riley, KS, but this was an entirely different ballgame. I really had no idea what to expect.
And that was just my first day.
Years later, I found out that a new family arriving to their next duty assignment should be welcomed appropriately, given every accommodation, and be made to feel as comfortable as possible in their new home. They should receive a list of names and numbers of who to call if they needed help, area guides, guides to the new military base, directions to the commissary and PX, information about schools for parents of school-aged children, and introductions from other spouses. Everyone knows that permanent change of stations (PCS) are very stressful, but the goal is to make sure the new family's arrival is as pleasant as can be.
This...was not our experience.
I won't re-hash every reason as to why we were given the cold shoulder from everyone right off the bat, but I will say that we were made to feel like intruders in an already well-established group. None of the wives reached out to me. We were never invited to any informal get-togethers. I felt extremely isolated, as our car didn't arrive for another month, and I wasn't confident enough in my extremely elementary German to navigate the bus system. I mostly hung around our new Army quarters, which was a two-bedroom apartment in stairwell housing. We were a young couple with hardly any money, so we relied on government-issued furniture to fill our apartment.
*One of the few pictures I have from our first few months in Germany. Will took this picture of me just as I was waking up from a nap. If you look closely, you can see the sweet, sweet Army couch. ;)
Eventually, things got better. After our car arrived, we spent every weekend exploring a new town. Will's driver's license and registration was still valid from his tour of Germany 2 years earlier, so he drove us around the country every chance he got. I got my driver's license shortly afterward, and I became more confident going downtown, shopping in the open air market on Saturday mornings, and ordering in restaurants.
*Exploring Frankfurt on a weekend
Will and I knew that we wanted to make the most of our time in Europe, so we sat down one night after dinner and made a list of all the countries we wanted to visit. The next day, I began my job search. We decided we would get used to living off of Will's paycheck alone, and put whatever money I made towards our travel wish list. A month or two later, I finally landed a job as an Education Counselor at the Pioneer Education Center at the smaller base across the street from our housing area. It was perfect; I could walk there everyday, so Will could take the car to work. I genuinely liked my bosses and co-workers, and I found that I truly enjoyed working in the education field. Most of the soldiers who came to speak with me wanted to work towards a degree while they were still active duty, so that by the time they separated from the Army, they either had their Bachelor's degree or at least had enough credits so that they wouldn't have to start at the bottom.
Even so, quite a few years passed before I finally felt comfortable as an Army wife. For a long time, I never really felt like I fit in. And I can't lie; part of that was on me. After our first few uncomfortable months in Germany, I was very bitter towards most of the people in the kennels (soldiers and their wives) and I didn't exactly go out of my way to participate in the unit-sponsored events. However, I eventually came out of my shell, and I managed to find quite a few positives about life as a military spouse. The educational opportunities that are available for spouses (if you know where to look for them). All of the family-sponsored events that take place on the military base. The Family Readiness Group (FRG) that exists to help out the families of soldiers, during and after deployments. The wonderful Army wife friends I made, who after some time felt like family to me. The Catholic Women of the Chapel (CWOC) group I joined at Fort Carson. So much of military life is what you make of it, but it's not something you can do on your own, especially as a new wife.
My advice for the new military wife? Give it a chance. Everything. Your husband's job, and his unit. The other wives. Your neighbors, whether you live on or off post. The FRG. The coffee get-togethers with the other wives, even if they're held at an inconvenient time for you. The religious services and groups that are available. Both CWOC and PWOC (Protestant) offer free childcare during the weekly meetings. Check out the classes at the gym. Even if they aren't free, most are heavily discounted. Explore the area in your new town. Set aside a little bit of money each pay period to have a date night with your husband at a new restaurant. Join Facebook groups for your new military base. There are many ladies who form morning exercise groups, weekly prayer meetings, wine and painting nights, teenagers offering their services for childcare, lawn care, pet sitting...you name it. If you have a bad experience at first, don't write the whole base off. If you aren't hitting it off with a wife in the unit, don't badmouth her to everyone else. Aside from that being unkind, it does NOT do you any favors, or win you any brownie points with the other wives. No one likes a gossip.
My advice for the longtime military wife? When a new family joins the unit, welcome them. Let the wife know that you're there if she has any questions (especially if she's a brand new military spouse). Invite them over for dinner. Invite the wife over for coffee one morning, or wine one night. Avoid being that seasoned, bitter, "been there, done that" Army wife. You know, the one who puts down every.single.little.thing about military life. The one who has to make a snarky remark about absolutely everything? Don't be that woman. Remember that time when you were brand new to the Army life, and how you desperately needed someone to gently show you the ropes? It's perfectly fine to be there to listen if she needs to gripe about her husband's incredibly long hours, or to be a shoulder to cry on if she just found out he's deploying in a few months. Absolutely. But if you trash talk every possible angle of life as an Army wife, it's pretty much a guarantee that she'll quickly turn the other way if you see her walking down the street. I was fortunate in that I met some truly wonderful wives while I was working at the education center in Hanau. They had been a part of this whole military life thing for awhile, and they patiently answered every little question I could think of, they gave me practical advice, and my co-worker/friend Dana held me while I sobbed hysterically in the bathroom at work, the day Will left for his deployment to Iraq in 2006. Because of these wonderful women, I was able to roll with the punches when the Army decided to dropkick all of our plans into the nearest wastebasket. As an anally retentive organized woman, I gritted my teeth through the unbelievable disorganization of pretty much every unit Will has ever been in (don't try to fight it, trust me. It's a losing battle. All you'll end up with is a migraine the size of Texas and your hair falling out in clumps). I was able to throw together an amazing Baltic cruise in a matter of hours, after Will got last minute orders to deploy and we had to cancel our original vacation plans. I've been known to navigate my way around The PCS From Hell. I once organized a Thanksgiving dinner at our house; I invited Will's K-9 unit and their families, and made an entire dinner by myself for 25 people.
The Army has dominated our lives ever since the beginning of our marriage, and even though I didn't grow up as a military brat, I have to say that this life has really kind of grown on me. It's given me a lot of confidence, in both my ability to break out of my shell and make new friends, and get used to a new home/state every couple of years. Moving cross country with small children no longer fazes me. I can smile brightly at military balls while being introduced to colonels and even a general, then quietly fade into the background while Will schmoozes and gets his name out there. At times, I want to scream, stomp my foot and throw an epic temper tantrum at the unfairness of it all. WHY does my husband have to show up to work tomorrow? He just got home-late-after being in the stupid field for a month. Our kids have been driving me crazy because they miss their papa. Housing once again screwed up our request form, and we aren't at the top of the waitlist like they promised. And why have we still not been paid the $300 that the military owes us for family separation pay? They should have paid us 10 months ago. What do you mean, they lost the certified copy of our marriage certificate again? We only have one left, because these fools keep misplacing it!
I could go on for a long time. But for every bad experience we've had, I can think of 7 good ones. The friendships I've made over the years...they're unlike anything I've ever experienced. Because they aren't "just" friends; they're your partners. They're the ones who you cling to when your husband isn't physically there, and everything around you is falling apart. Will and I invited a lovely family to our home for Christmas dinner one year, because they had just arrived in Germany a few days before and had absolutely nothing with them. We didn't want them to have to spend Christmas alone eating fast food, and I was more than happy to open up our home to them. We had no way of knowing that less than two years later, that nice man who said grace at our table that night would be killed by a sniper in Afghanistan. I remember hugging his wife at the funeral, thinking, "...how could this have happened? This wasn't the way it was supposed to turn out." I never imagined that I would have been there for the birth of my dear friend Maureen's daughter, Claire, because her husband was deployed to Afghanistan and had to miss her birth. It was almost surreal; wiping Maureen's forehead with a cool cloth and letting her squeeze my shoulders as she fought through a long, painful contraction, while I held up her cell phone in the other hand with James on Skype. These are situations I never imagined myself to be in, but for better or worse, I was. What I do know, is that these women, these amazing, beautiful, strong-as-any-warrior Army wives have changed me. This life, this crazy, unpredictable, sometimes tragic, life has shaken me to my core. I'm not the woman I was when I first came to Germany, and I'm no longer the shy, quiet woman who is unsure of saying the wrong thing. This life has given me a confidence I never imagined I would possess, and for that, I will be forever grateful.
Be honest. What comes to mind when you hear the word, "housewife?" Or "stay at home mom?" Does your mind immediately jump to the happy domestic scene in the above photo, or do you picture a Real Housewives type, dripping in diamonds, wearing nothing but the most expensive designer clothes, drinking vodka at 11am? Perhaps when you added "mom" to the mix, you thought of a chaotic household; clothes thrown all over the place, the dog eating the kids' leftover breakfast cereal, a frumpy looking woman chasing half-naked toddlers around the house, wearing stained sweatpants and a too-big t-shirt. There's a million stereotypes out there, and while I'll admit some of them are true, most are pure fantasy (or nightmare, depending on how you look at it).
I'll own it. I'm a housewife/stay at home mom. For a long time, I didn't know how to define myself. I haven't worked a paying job since 2009, when I left my position as a bank teller at the Ramstein Community Bank in Germany. We were getting ready to PCS (move, for all you non-military folk) back to the States in May, and Will and I wanted a few extra months to travel as much as possible, without having to worry about me taking vacation time, or work around my co-workers' schedules. I was fine with that. I had worked the entire time we lived in Germany, out of a desire to do something with my time, a desire to earn money to travel around Europe, and boredom, as I had a husband who deployed at the drop of a hat, or was constantly sent to the States for training, or on presidential missions with his working dog, etc. In other words, I worked because I wanted to, not because I had to. The extra money was certainly nice, but we could live without it. After resigning from my job in the fall of 2009, I wasn't quite sure what to do with all this extra time I suddenly had on my hands. I took Murphy O'Dwyer for a 3-mile walk every day. Our home was spotless, I searched the internet for new, exotic recipes, and I painstakingly prepared them for hours before Will came home from work. Will and I took 4-day weekend trips to East Germany and Poland, to see the beautiful city of Dresden, and then on to Auschwitz to visit the concentration camp. We spent 3 weeks traveling (by train) to Italy, the south of France, and Spain. It was during that time I found out I was pregnant. Shortly thereafter, we returned to the States, and Will began a new job as an Army recruiter in Boston.
We had decided, long ago, that when the time came for us to have children, I would be a stay at home mom. It was something I had always dreamed of being, and Will was happy with the idea of me staying home with our babies. (Not to mention, both of us almost keeled over when we saw the prices of daycares in the Boston area). The next couple of months passed rather quickly. I thought I would be bored, staying home alone every day, but I quickly found that wasn't the case. I busied myself with housework and laundry, both of which seemed never ending. I did a lot of work on the baby's room, organizing gifts we received from my baby shower, setting up the stroller and changing table, and washing, folding, and putting away baby clothes. I went to the library weekly, and checked out books on childbirth, parenting a newborn, breastfeeding, the baby's first year, you name it. I went to my doctor appointments in Arlington. I spent hours on the internet, joining chat forums about childbirth and child-rearing. I read mommy blogs. I made meal plans, grocery lists, and did the shopping, and Will almost always had a home-cooked meal when he came home from work. I familiarized myself with our new town, and took walks by the water in Southie. I loved our new city, and I felt so fortunate to live there. I was also incredibly grateful that I didn't have to work during this time. Will made it clear that he wanted me to rest and relax before the baby came, and he didn't want me stressing over a job. We had saved quite a bit of money during our years living overseas, and I made sure to stick to a budget, so finances weren't a concern.
Then we became parents.
All order, everything we had scheduled, was completely shot. Our sleep schedule. My weekly grocery trip. My housecleaning schedule. The homemade meals. We were first-time parents, and we had no friggin' idea what we were doing. Was Tony getting enough sleep? Sure, as much as a newborn could possibly get. Was he getting enough to eat? (Our pediatrician assured us that yes, a 4-month old who weighed 16lbs was getting more than enough to eat). Was his car seat installed correctly? Why did I nurse him with the TV on? He isn't supposed to be exposed to any media until he's at least 2!
I'm sure all of you seasoned parents (myself included) are having a good laugh over this. My point being, everything I enjoyed about being a stay at home wife was suddenly thrown out the window. Fortunately, Will didn't mind; he was a very involved father, who had no problem getting up with Tony at night, changing diapers, rocking and singing him to sleep so I could get a break. So he knew all too well how exhausted I was, and he never uttered a word of complaint when he came home to a frazzled, un-showered, half-crazed wife who resembled more Ursula from The Little Mermaid than Donna Reed. He simply took Tony from me so they could have some "bro time," and he called Gino's to place yet another order for pizza while I took a shower and chugged, I mean, enjoyed a glass of wine.
As Tony grew, and he grew out of the "I'm going to fuss and cry all night long unless someone is holding me" phase, our daily routine became, well, more routine. I knew what time Tony woke up every morning, so I set my alarm for an hour earlier. I got up, made the bed, brushed my teeth, put on my workout clothes, and sat down with a cup of coffee and the morning news. Tony woke up, I nursed him and changed his diaper, we played for a bit in his room and read a book, and then we were off on our daily walk, either at Quincy shore or the Wompatuck State Park, in a nearby town. We would get home, I'd change his diaper, nurse him again, and put him down for a nap. I'd clean myself up, eat lunch, and do some light housework and prep dinner. And so on, and so on. I knew how fortunate I was to have an easygoing baby who slept well, and it also didn't hurt that we lived in a relatively small space. Our apartment in Braintree was no bigger than 1100 sq ft, so it wasn't too difficult to keep it clean. I made sure that the meals I prepared during the weekday were fairly simple (because let's face it, no one wants to bounce a baby on your hip while attempting to stir a pot of mushroom risotto), and I saved my "adventurous" meals for the weekends, when Will was around to play with Tony.
Naturally, my homemaking schedule was always shot when we added a new baby to the mix, or when my back pain became truly awful, and we were in the midst of trying to figure out what the heck was going on with my spine. Or Uncle Sam decided that nah, he had had enough of us living in one place for eleven months, and we needed to gather up all of our worldly belongings and move across the country. Life, to put it bluntly, always managed to get in the way. However, no matter where we lived, no matter how large our family became, I always took pride in my home, and as my job as a stay at home mother. That was truly a turning point for me, when I began to look at what I was doing as a job. Yes, of course, I loved staying at home with my children, and we had lots of fun together every day. I took them to parks, swimming pools in the summer, libraries, and we spent our days reading books, baking cookies, coloring, and playing with toys. But trust me, there was always something to do around the house. Rugs that needed vacuuming (especially with a dog who always sheds), kitchen counters to be wiped down, dishes to be washed and put away, surfaces that needed to be dusted, and meals that needed to be made. If all I did was have fun with my children every day, but neglected the work, I wasn't doing my job. Simple as that.
That's certainly not to say I morphed into June Cleaver overnight. There was, ahem, a bit of a learning curve. It took me a long time to realize that, oh, hey, I should probably clean my baseboards after living here for a year and a half. And it's been a while since I scrubbed that bathtub, and yikes, there's a ring around it (and I didn't even like it! Okay, bad joke). Or the weatherman predicted a high of 95 degrees tomorrow, and oh look, I haven't done laundry in three days, and the only clean clothes are from the winter pile. There was a time when I always felt defeated, I felt like I was never good enough, and if I'm being really honest, times when I felt like an utter failure. This was never pressure put on me by Will; he was as grateful as can be for every meal I put in front of him, and every load of clean laundry I placed in his drawers. He never made me feel like I wasn't good enough. The pressure came solely from me. Part of it was the social media picture. I would see all of these picture perfect moms on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, with their spotlessly clean homes, their perfectly behaved children, and their days spent crafting, and making homemade Peeps for their children's Easter baskets. Wait, I had to make my own Easter candy now? I could barely keep the front hallway free of dirt for more than fifty seconds, and this b$%&# is showing me up with homemade PEEPS?
Obviously, no. I eventually learned that I have my own groove, and while it did include homemade bread and broth, holiday candy was out of the question. I was able to find a balance between keeping the house magazine-perfect at all times (my preference) and letting complete chaos take over and giving up entirely (Will and the kids' preference). I also began looking at housewives of the 1950's. Not the TV show ones, who vacuumed in heels and pearl necklaces, but the real ones. Like everything else in life, I heard about the good and the bad. How these women took pride in their homes and their families, how they had real, genuine friendships with their neighbors, how there was a home-cooked meal on the table almost every single night, how the family ate dinner at the table together, the mother was always home when the children came home from school, and how weekends were spent with the family. That, of course, was the good part. I also heard about women who felt trapped; women who longed for careers, but were unable to pursue them. Women who were trapped in loveless or abusive marriages. Women who felt that their only worth was tied up in how clean their house was, how good of a cook they were, or how polite and well-behaved their children were. I don't want to idealize the 1950's housewife. There were many things wrong not only with the image of the picture-perfect wife, but that time period in general. I have, however, decided to learn a little bit from the women who shared their wisdom with the younger generation.
There's nothing wrong with being, or even wanting to be, a housewife. Or a stay at home mom. There's something to be said for having a neat and tidy home, while realizing that there are times and situations that will cause your housework to slide. It's okay to let things go from time to time, as long as you don't get too comfortable in that "survival" period. A fresh coat of lipstick and running a brush through your hair at the end of the day can lift your spirits, and (gasp!) put a smile on your husband's face when he walks through the door. We're not supposed to admit that, are we? I'm not sure who came up with that rule, but frankly, I couldn't disagree more. Freshening up and wiping away the jelly stain-from Gianna, no doubt-from my face gives me a second lift. When I'm happy, Will generally is as well. Come on, haven't we all heard, "When mama ain't' happy, ain't nobody happy?" If all of these things make me a throwback, well, I guess I'll own that label. I didn't lose my intellect, my passion for literature, or my desire to keep up with current events simply because I decided to stay at home and take care of my family. I'm still the same person I was when I held a paying job, only now I have a different job. When our children are older and they don't need me as much, I have no doubt I'll explore another path. Maybe I'll focus more on writing, maybe I'll go back to school. In any case, I refuse to be ashamed of my current job title, simple because some insist that it's insulting, or demeaning. In the meantime, I'll just put on my apron, 4-inch heels, and scrub the kitchen floor, before bringing my husband a beer on a tray as soon as he walks in the door. ;)
For those of you who are friends with me on Facebook, you may have noticed that I changed my profile picture last week, to the picture you see above this paragraph. Back when I was pregnant with Alessandra, I joined a group of moms who were all pregnant as well. We found each other online via a community group, and we banded together and formed a Facebook group for our 2013 babies. Even though most of us have never met face to face, we've become very close over the years. We've bonded together over sleepless nights and newborn struggles, colic, fights with our husbands, older children who were acting out, losing the baby weight, unexpected diagnoses, and worst of all, losses. One of the mamas in our group is going through a particularly difficult time right now. I have no intention of revealing her personal information on my blog, but I will say that she is in desperate need of love, prayers, and support. In addition to donating money and sending her a care package, all of us in the group changed our profile pictures to the one shown above. While many may argue that changing your picture requires practically zero effort and does little to help the person in need, I respectfully disagree. Just knowing that people have your back, even if the only way they reached out to you was by changing their profile picture, can provide some much-needed relief. We've all heard the phrase, "It takes a village to raise a child." I couldn't agree more. But...what if you don't have a village? That's more common than most people realize. As a military spouse, I'm used to packing up my life every two years, saying goodbye to my friends, and moving to a completely unfamiliar area to start over. It's exhausting, it's maddening, and it can be very discouraging. I've come to realize over the years that while motherhood is a beautiful, wonderful thing that has definitely changed my life for the better, it's also lonely, overwhelming, and at times, depressing. I need my sisterhood. I need my village. I need my tribe. It's taken me longer than I care to admit, but I'm finally comfortable walking up to our new neighbors and introducing myself, joining the Catholic Women of the Chapel group at every new military base, and going out of my way to chat with other parents on the playground, at church, even at the pediatrician's. We can't do this alone, and more importantly, we weren't meant to do this alone. Sometimes the only way I'll get a chance to see my friends is to invite them into our crazy, messy life with four little ones. We'll let the kids wreak havoc upstairs, pulling every single toy they've ever owned out of a toybox, while my friend and I crack open a few hard ciders and just let loose. We joke about our kids' mishaps, our husbands who need to be reminded no fewer than eight times to take out the trash, military life struggles, what have you. By the time she leaves, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my chest. It doesn't matter that it looks like a hurricane ran through our second floor, or that our kids are wound up after a playdate. I got my time to sit back, and take a breath. Two weeks ago, I had back surgery. Anterior lumbar interbody fusion, to be specific. My neurosurgeon, working with a team of doctors, cut through my stomach to fuse my L5/S1 in my lower back. The surgery was a success, but I have a projected recovery time of eight weeks. I won't lie...it's been hard. I'm the type of person who can't just loaf around in bed when there are things that need to get done. There's always laundry, always something that needs to be cooked or baked, always a bathroom that needs to be cleaned, a floor that needs to be swept, children who have to be cared for...the list goes on. Realizing that I couldn't do ANY of those things for at least a few weeks was very unsettling to me. The part that caused me the most stress, however, was, "what kind of a burden am I going to be to everyone?" Will and I truly couldn't do this on our own. My zia Francesca and zio Steve graciously opened up their home to Will and our four kiddos while I was in the hospital in Atlanta. They cared for our children, made delicious meals, visited me in the hospital, and even gave them baskets on Easter morning. My sister-in-law, Aimee, flew up from Texas to help with the transition back home. She cared for our kids, made meals, waited on me hand and foot. My mother flew up last weekend, and she plans on staying as long as I need her. The kids are thrilled to have Nana here, and like my aunt and uncle and sister-in-law, she's been a godsend (she's currently at a McDonald's play area with all four kids, if you feel like offering up a prayer for her!). Our neighbors, whom I've only known for a few months, took wonderful care of Murphy while I was in the hospital in Atlanta. They got together and gave me a get-well bag of goodies. Friends in the neighborhood dropped off meals for us. My best friend from home (and her parents) sent me gift cards. To say I am grateful and humbled is inadequate. I can never express my gratitude towards everyone who helped us, and writing simple thank-you notes seems almost pathetic. All I can manage to say to everyone, is that I will absolutely do the same for everyone (once I've recovered, obviously), and all you have to do is ask. It may have taken a long time, and there may have been many bumps in the road, but I've found my tribe. Life has been rough for a long time; living with chronic pain can truly destroy your outlook on everything. It's been a very difficult journey for me, and there have been many times when everything just felt so incredibly hopeless. I was able to get my life back through prayer, wonderful friends (both in person and online), and the very necessary doctors and surgical procedures. I still have a long recovery ahead of me, but I know that I'm not alone. I have my friends, I have my family, and I have God. I'm getting my life back, piece by piece, and for the first time in a long time, I feel as though I have things to look forward to. To everyone who helped me, no matter how, please know that you have my unending gratitude and love. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
It's been...quite a year. For me, for my family, for our country. I won't lie, I'm not sad to see 2016 end. I'm looking forward to our new adventures at Fort Benning, a new job for Will, a new school for Tony (though we were thrilled with his parish school in Colorado Springs), and hopefully health changes for me. That being said, I was so excited when I saw that Dwija posted this New Year's linkup on her blog. I know I've been saying this for...ahem, far too long, but one of my goals for 2017 is to update my blog on the regular. Complete with a blog post schedule. But, without further ado, I bring you Team Tenney's 2016 in pictures.
Happy New Years to you and yours. May you be abundantly blessed in 2017!!!
So, you want to know what this birth was like? Just watch!
Doritos® Crash The Super Bowl Finalist - Ultrasound - YouTube
The whole month of October, it seemed as though everyone who saw me said, "Wow, this is going to be the one baby of yours that will arrive early, or at least on time! You're carrying SO low!" Naturally, I had a good laugh at their expense, because as I've said many times, my body thinks it's absolutely hilarious to torment me and draw out my pregnancies as long as possible. I had zero (and I mean ZERO) hopes of my last baby arriving anywhere near my due date, which was October 25th. Nonetheless, I secretly hoped that everyone was right. I was in an unbearable amount of pain, due to a herniated disc and degenerative disc disease. Throughout my pregnancy, I had gone to physical therapy twice a week, and had to rely on pain medication to even get out of bed in the morning. It was awful, I felt horribly guilty for taking a narcotic, and I was absolutely terrified for our baby's health. I spent a lot of time in prayer, voiced my fears overandoverandover again to Will and my midwives, and tried to avoid that article that everyone was passing around on Facebook about taking acetaminophen while pregnant. On Saturday, October 22nd, our good friend Thomas (who was staying with us for awhile) insisted Will and I go out for a date. We didn't fight him too hard on that, since it had been over a year and a half since our last night out, and we didn't even get to spend our 10-year anniversary together. Thomas stayed with Tony, Alessandra and Gianna while Will and I had a delicious dinner at a Brazilian steakhouse in Denver. At one point during dinner, I stood up to go to the restroom, and a particularly strong contraction had me doubling over at the table. Will came around to help me, and graciously pointed out that I was "making every single man in the restaurant incredibly nervous." Thanks, babe! On the drive home, my back started spasming. I don't know why, or what happened, but I was trying not to cry, trying unsuccessfully to get comfortable in the passenger seat, and wishing I could just go into labor already, since we had to pass the hospital on our way back to the house. Clearly, that wasn't in the cards, but the back pain had only grown stronger by Sunday morning. I was unable to sleep all night, since even changing positions in our bed was excruciating. Will was becoming increasingly concerned, so he called the on-call number for my midwives, and spoke to Tara. She told Will to bring me in to the hospital to get monitored, in case the pain was pregnancy related. Will brought me in, baby and I were monitored, and Tara came in to speak to me. She said that fortunately, baby was doing just fine, but my back had reached the critical point, and she didn't really see the benefit of me remaining pregnant any longer than necessary. She asked me how I felt about being induced the following day...and to my surprise, I agreed. I had been induced once before, during my first pregnancy with Tony. It was an extremely long, unpleasant experience, and I swore I would never put myself through that again unless it was absolutely necessary. However, both Tara and Megan assured me that since this was my fourth pregnancy, my body would respond much differently to an induction, they would use Cytotec instead of Pitocin, I would be free to labor in any position I wanted with a hep lock, rather than an IV, etc. I wasn't 100% crazy about the idea, but I had to admit that going through another week or two of pregnancy wouldn't be good for me. Tara stripped my membranes (both of us were hoping that a membrane strip alone would spur me into labor, like it did with Alessandra and Gianna), and sent me home with instructions to return at 6:30 the following morning. Will brought me home, I packed my hospital bag with last-minute essentials, gave my doula a heads-up, and went to bed on the early side. The next morning, I ate a light breakfast, and Will took me to the hospital. I sent him back home so he could get Tony off to school, and brief Thomas on the girls' morning routine, and he promised to come back as soon as possible. I got myself checked in, got settled in the labor and delivery room, and cursed my miserable, crappy disappearing veins, as it took the nurses FOUR TRIES to get an IV in. Megan was on-call that day, and she came into the room to place the Cytotec, and rub an awesome essential oil mixture on my lower back to help with the pain. She told me I would need to be on the IV and fetal monitor for an hour while the Cytotec kicked in, but then I was free to get in the tub, use the birth ball, birth stool, whatever I wanted. That first hour was completely chill; I texted family members, went on Facebook and Instagram, and played Candy Crush (don't judge me). However, after about 30 minutes, I could feel some pretty intense contractions. I called Will and Madison (my doula) and told them things were picking up pretty quickly, and the sooner they could get there, the better. At 9am, I paged a nurse and asked if I could have the monitor and the IV removed. It had been an hour, and I desperately felt like I needed to get off the bed and MOVE, so she agreed. Sweet, sweet relief. The contractions were about 3-4 minutes apart, and 30 seconds long, and I suspected it wouldn't be too long before I was in transition. I just walked around the room, moaning and breathing my way through the contractions, and doing the belly dance moves I learned in our Hypnobirthing class, way back when I was pregnant with Tony. Will ran into the room about 20 minutes later, and I was already starting to feel like I was in "the zone." I was sitting on the birth ball, rocking back and forth, not really paying attention to anything around me. Will started doing the light touch massage on my neck, shoulders and back, and it was so calming and relaxing. Madi came in a few minutes later, and at that point I said I wanted to get in the tub. Will got the tub ready for me, and Madi got me settled. I was really hoping that the water would provide a lot of pain relief for me (I knew I couldn't have another water birth, like I did with Alessandra, but I was desperately hoping for the "aquadural" effect). Will adjusted the water temp for me, while Madi poured cups of warm water over my belly, but I just couldn't get comfortable. The contractions were getting stronger and stronger, and coming closer together, and I was starting to get upset. Madi suggested I get on my hands and knees in the tub, and I did while she applied counter pressure to my back. That didn't help me too much, either, and I said, "I just need to get out, I need to get out of this tub! I need Megan!" Madi helped me out of the tub while Will called for the nurse, and asked if Megan could come to the room. She arrived a few minutes later, to find me moaning and swaying once again on the birth ball. She asked if I wanted to try the injections of sterile water in my back to deaden the nerves and help with the pain, and I said yes (she's one of the few midwives who is trained in this practice, and even though I wasn't experiencing back labor this time, my back pain was once again giving me trouble). Megan told me it was going to hurt, and I should brace myself against Will...holy cow. She wasn't kidding. Had I known how MUCH those injections were going to hurt, I probably wouldn't have asked for them. I actually started screaming when she injected the needle into my back, and when she was done, I started to cry and said, "I can't do this anymore! I can't do this!" Megan, Will and Madi immediately recognized that I was in transition (or as I call it, the laboring mama's battle cry), and Megan asked me to get on the bed so she could check me. She said I was almost at 8cm, and it wouldn't be much longer. I no longer felt like I had control over my body, and I kept saying, "I can't do this anymore, I can't, I need help." Madi reminded me that I WAS doing it, and women all over the world had been giving birth like this since the beginning of time, and if they could do it, so could I. By then, I had reached the point in my labor that every woman faces; it hurts too much to push, but not pushing and dealing with the one-on-top-of-the-other contractions hurts just as much. I couldn't talk anymore, all I could do was focus on the pain, squeeze Will's hand, and bear down. I have a vague memory of Will shooting a frantic glance at the nurse, and saying, "that's the sound she makes when she's pushing..." (apparently after three children, I've developed somewhat of a predictable pattern), and then I felt this unbearable pressure. I pushed as hard as I could, and literally felt an explosion. Will and Madi looked at each other in complete shock (that explosion? It was my bag of waters, bursting all over the bed and the floor), and once again, I felt the need to bear down. I pushed as hard as I could, saw Megan lunge towards me on the bed, heard Will say "Oh my God!!!"...and then this precious gift was placed in my arms.
I don't even care that I look like I've been run over by a Mack truck
Since Will and I choose not to find out the sex of our babies during my pregnancies, it's always the most exciting thing in the world when Will makes the announcement after birth. When he said, "It's a boy!!" I just burst into tears. And laughter, because-brace yourselves, everyone-I was wrong again. Only this time, Will was wrong with me. Both of us were convinced I was having a girl, and I almost didn't pack boy going home clothes in my hospital bag, because I was so sure I didn't need them. But we were so, so happy...two boys and two girls. Tony was so excited at the thought of having a baby brother, and Will and I couldn't have been more thrilled to have two of each. I just held him in my arms, trying to catch my breath after what was surely the fastest labor ever, and he laid there quietly, sucking his fist and basking in those beautiful skin-to-skin moments after birth. I was just in awe of our perfect baby boy, our little Carmine Michael (named after my great-great nonno and my father), kissing him over and over.
Tiniest baby yet; 7lbs, 15oz, 20 inches
Alessandra and Gianna meeting their baby brother
Shocker-another hairy baby!
I'm still kind of reeling from the whole experience, and so humbled and grateful that God has blessed us with yet another healthy, beautiful baby (not to mention the easiest labor in the world!). I broke down in tears when the hospital's lactation consultant came to see Carmine and I, and she spoke to me (in a completely non-judgmental way) about the meds I had to take during pregnancy. All the stress, all the anxiety, and all the guilt I had felt for the last nine months just came pouring out of me, and I sat on the hospital bed and sobbed. She hugged me, told me to put all of that behind me, and she commented on the medallion I always wear, the one of Our Lady of Guadalupe that my parents gave me on my 31st birthday. She told me that she's a Catholic as well, and she asked if she could pray with me. I said of course, and after praying together, talking about the meds I was on, how breastfeeding was going so far, I felt like this huge weight had been lifted off of me. Carmine wasn't experiencing any kind of withdrawal, he had an excellent latch, and my milk came in later that evening. We ended up staying in the hospital for an extra day so he could be monitored, and I was more than ready to go home by the third day. Tony and Alessandra were absolutely enamored with baby Carmine, and Gianna was suspicious at first-not to mention very unhappy with me!-but she slowly but surely got used to having a baby around the house, and now she gives Carmine pets and kisses whenever she sees him. Being a mother of four has definitely had its challenges so far, but every time I hold Carmine close, kiss his face, snuggle with him after a feeding...I can't get over the wonder of it all. Even though he was unexpected and unplanned, we know without a doubt this sweet little boy was meant to be here, and we couldn't be more honored to be his parents. We love you with all our hearts, Carmine Michael. Welcome to the world.
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