the fourth trimester

I have had thoughts for weeks about writing about this time in the fourth trimester [yes, I know that tri means three...but just roll with it. It's a thing.]. But now that I sat down to write and the cursor is flashing I don't know exactly what to say.

Maybe I'll start here: Everyone keeps asking, "How are you doing?" or "How are you getting along?" Those are hard questions to answer, because if you've ever been in the fourth trimester you know that the answer to those questions changes moment to moment. But overall the answers would probably be: Okay. and Okay. 

And to me, those okays are pretty positive things.

Overall, despite some pretty crazy moments and a separated pelvis, I still think this transition from two to three has gone better than from zero to one. Notice I said "gone better" and not "been easier". I don't think you can quantify what is easy or hard after having a baby. It is a weird time where offering your bloody body to a newborn every hour and half seems doable but putting on real pants seems impossible and leaving the house seems like it will never happen again. Now which of those things should be easiest? Putting on pants. And which of those things should be hardest? Nursing a newborn every hour and a half. But your mind and your body have gone haywire and you don't know up from down for a few weeks and really every single thing you have to do that day is hard.

 But then you just start doing it. And you keep on doing it.
And pretty soon it's normal and hard things become easier and babies start walking and going to the bathroom by themselves. 

After Blythe I had a hard time recovering from labor. I thought I would never get to stop using a peri bottle. And nursing was nearly a complete disaster. There is no reason I should have continued, but I did because #firsttimemom. On top of all of that, I had to adjust to a human being needing me to sustain life. That's a mind shift, even if you've always wanted to be a mother. And on top of all of THAT, I had made the decision to quit teaching for the time and become a full-time stay-at-home-mom. I gave up a role I loved for a new role I knew I would probably one day love but was definitely not currently loving. And did I mention my body was still bleeding? 

Suffice it to say, nothing could trump that emotional nightmare, so why not have more children? But in all seriousness, I learned so much that first year with Blythe. And I rejoiced when it was time to wean her, and I realized that motherhood snuck up on me after its initial onslaught, but my biggest lesson? My biggest lesson was that I am not what I do. Or what I don't do. When I let Christ truly define my identity and started inviting Him fully into the messy details of my day as a mom, there was still hard stuff, but the hard was faced with a confident Peace. 

 All that to say this:
the transition to three has not rocked me to my core like my transition to one, but it has still been full of hard stuff just the same.

But really full moments of just good too.

Also, I think the idea that I deserve certain things has changed, which means that picking up a nearly petrified and half eaten peanut butter sandwich off the 2-weeks-since-last-vacuumed-living room floor and eating it seems like no big deal. And while showering without someone crying or opening the shower door or putting something in the shower with me sounds lovely, I don't feel like I have somehow earned that or that I deserve it like I once did. I still remember reading something a friend posted after I had Blythe. After she had her first born her mom said these words to her: You brought your daughter into this world.  She owes you nothing. You owe her everything.   

But this fourth trimester?  Let's see. Nan has been our most difficult baby. She's not a bad baby by any means, but our other two were pretty easy. Nan just has more fussy periods and still eats every two hours. Which has been interesting. But overall she's a good egg too.

This has for sure been the hardest transition for Brent and me as a couple. There is just less time where it's just us and quiet and where we have the brain capacity for a conversation. We're realizing this more and trying to be better about the time we do have, and finding ways to create more time, and also trying to give lots of grace and realizing this is just a season too. 

Two weeks ago was my breaking point. I think I just heard lots of women nod their heads and give a knowing smirk. Even if it was 20 years ago, I'm guessing you vaguely remember your breaking point after your children were born. We've just had several months of hard stuff: Blythe got pneumonia and spent a couple of nights in the hospital in March, and then things just got crazier and crazier. Becks had pneumonia. Then I got sick. Then I had a baby. Then I could do so little because the pelvis thing. Then when it seemed the clouds were finally breaking a bit, the older girls spiked super high temperatures. And that's when I broke. My mom came over on the worst day during lunch time. She said she saw that look in my eyes and was immediately taken back to when I was a [very difficult] baby and she would lay me down and literally crawl out of the room. And then I would start crying. And she would lay on the floor and just cry with me. And can I just say this: that all sounds dramatic until you've been there. 

So when she saw that look in my eyes, she tread lightly.  She gave me a hug. Brent saw the look as well, as I'm sure most father's have seen at some point, and he asked how he could help and I just didn't know so I yelled things about unloading the dishwasher then went to the bathroom and cried. It was a crazy day.

But then the clouds really did start to break and some sunlight has been coming in and I think, dare I say it, we are really about done with the fourth trimester and just headed back into life?!

This transition has gone better than zero to one, but it has required so much more physically of me. I am needed in three places at the same time many times a day. Getting children in and out of the car is about like you could imagine it when they all still require buckling assistance and yes, I use snacks to lure them into the vehicle all the time. 

Also, something I wasn't expecting? My older two hitting their "difficult stage" at the same time, while also having a newborn. Blythe breezed through age two. I loved it. Terrible twos? Not a thing. "Oh just wait, she'll be a threenager for sure!" Not really. But age four? The attitude and tantrums have arrived. While at the same time Becks has hit her stride at age two. One minute they are completely fine, and the next they are both screaming and I am poised to call the ambulance because someone only screams like that when an amputation is inevitable. But no. It's just that Becks thought that Blythe's socks were really her socks but they aren't they are my socks...no they're my socks...And then Nan wakes up and it's time to eat.

Twenty minutes later all is well. Because usually twenty minutes is all it takes.

So this fourth trimester? It's been okay. We're okay.  A good okay.

And I think this is why:

/I'm enjoying Nan Louise at this stage more than I have any other infant of mine because I have perspective. I know this is a season. I know she will grow. I know she won't demand I feed her every two hours forever [actually, Blythe still does so....?]. She's already started smiling and, like one of my friend's said, when they start doing that it's like someone has opened a window and there is fresh air to breathe again.

/ Help. Oh my word. I've heard some people say that with each consecutive child the amount of help offered during the fourth trimester diminishes. This was not the case for me at all. The outpouring of help I received was staggering. Obviously our mother's were a HUGE help. The entire first week home one of them stayed the night with us. They swept the floor and kept the dishes reasonable and I don't think my mom set foot in my house for three weeks without doing a load of laundry.  I had someone here around the clock for the first two weeks of Nan's life. The next two weeks I still had a ton of help because moving around was still pretty difficult, plus I wasn't really supposed to be doing too much until the cartilage all healed up in my pelvis. So people took the big girls for me. Or they came and let me sleep. Or they came and held a baby so I could tend to my big girls. Or they came and brought food and sat and talked with me. My elementary best friend's mom showed up one day! I hadn't seen her or talked to her in years. YEARS! And she came with a meal, and cookies, and she stayed and played with my girls and she let me sleep and she did my dishes and folded laundry [even our underwear!] and I realized again how God created us to live in community for a reason. I had a meal train coming from church for almost 6 weeks! A former co-worker and friend gave me an iTunes gift card to get some music to chill out to. Another friend brought a quiche and let me drink my coffee while it was still hot.  And I know, without a doubt, that all of that and all those people made this transition better for me.

[Side note: if someone you love is about to have a baby, or just had a baby, here is my advice: SHOW UP. If you don't like to cook, order them a pizza [or bring them Olive Garden like one of my friends did!], or sweep the kitchen, or fold some underwear.  Bring her her favorite coffee. Every little gesture helps. And if you're about to have a baby, here is my advice: let people help. When someone says, "Hey! Let me know if you need anything." Give them something specific right then-- maybe a meal would be helpful, maybe keeping older children would be helpful. "Could you come and hold the baby so I can take a nap?" Or if they are a great friend, "We are pretty set for meals this week, but I can't even begin to tell you the last time I cleaned my bathroom. Here's the toilet brush." Most people are offering because they really want to help. This time I needed help for a really long time. And that was hard to accept. But I had to ask sometimes.]

/ My expectations were a lot lower. I didn't expect to bounce back within two days. I didn't expect to have head over heels feelings for this baby I was just meeting and knew it would take time to grow. I knew I would be getting less sleep but I also knew my body would acclimate to that new schedule pretty quickly. I knew nursing would suck, but also that in 3-6 weeks even that would get better. I just didn't expect anything to be perfect and wonderful for awhile. :) [However, when people said their body was totally different after their third, I maybe didn't believe them. But now that I'm sitting here and see myself in the reflection of the computer screen, I'll just say this: it's all true.]

So that's it I guess. I have perspective. I've had help. And I lowered my expectations.

 Having a baby is a whirlwind: physically and emotionally. But in the end, after the dust of the fourth trimester settles, it is one of the most beautiful experiences of your life. And in all of this? We get Nan Louise in our family, which is worth every second of hard. And through it all, I've learned in more tangible ways about our God who shows up in our weaknesses and becomes our strength. In my insufficiency He is sustains me; in my weakness, He is strong.