Monday, June 18, 2012

The Home Stretch

Yesterday as I left the office and walked down the hallway, the tears started to well up in my eyes. It was my last day at work. I'm on vacation (booked before I knew I was pregnant but the timing is perfect) which then leads into my maternity leave. Everyone had been saying how nice it would be for me to have a year off (not that I won't be working full-time, just in a different way. Baby Michelle will be my new boss and have me at her beck and call!) I have been looking forward to it but as I left the building I realized how much I'm going to miss work. It was an epiphany. Yes work can be stressful. Yes sometimes you think how nice it would be to get away. But then you find yourself leaving for a year and you realize how much it was a part of your life, your routine. You realize how much your life is changing.

This is a huge milestone for me. I'm embarking on a journey, an adventure like no other. I'm having a baby! I'm going to be a mother. Something I had never imagined for myself. There are so many unknowns. As a recovering control freak, it's scary to me. I'm someone that likes to know what I'm doing and feel in control. This is so new to me. I'm nervous. I want to be a great mother. I'm afraid to make mistakes but I know that no matter how much you read or how much advice you get from other moms, the real learning comes from doing. I won't fully know what to do until I do it, until I get my baby home and she teaches me how to be a Mom. I will go from being a nervous novice to a seasoned pro in no time. I am excited. It's just such an overwhelming responsibility. There has been nothing in my life so far that compares.

It's just as well that I am done at work because I don't know how much longer I could have lasted. It was getting increasingly tough. Waddling up the stairs, short of breath to get to the office, working 12 hour shifts on limited sleep, sitting for long periods with blood pooling in my bloated feet and legs, running to the bathroom every few minutes, difficulty concentrating with "baby brain," preoccupied, distracted, searing heartburn, pain in ribs, the discomfort of baby doing calisthenics in my abdomen, including jabbing my ribs, stretching my sides and kicking so low it felt like her foot was going to come out! Being pregnant made everything more challenging. So in many ways yes it's a relief to be home now for the home stretch but I was used to the routine of going to work, used to seeing my co-workers and it is harder than I had anticipated to walk away.

My co-workers kindly gave me some wonderful gifts for the baby. They had been paying attention and knew about my mermaid nursery so they included sea-themed items -- a musical pink whale, mermaid and fish books, as well as an adorable dress, lullabye book and CD, and a great supply of towels, blankets, baby wash, lotions and other supplies I'll need. I won't run out for a long time! They laughed at me getting overly emotional. Of course I was sentimental to begin with and now that I'm pregnant and hormonal it's really over the top. I am especially touched by any acts of kindness at this point. I am grateful for the gifts and donations I've received so far. There are so many things I'm going to need. It's a huge help. Doing this on my own sometimes I worry how I'm going to make it, financially and emotionally, but I have faith. Someone up there has been looking out for me so far. I know it's going to be OK. And I have had angels along the way helping me out -- family, friends and even strangers. It is so heartwarming to see how kind people can be. After I was betrayed and heartbroken in February (by the disappearance of my baby's father), it shook my faith in many things (life, love, mankind), but now I see that if you believe the best and don't give up, somehow it works out. Life is beautiful. Love conquers all (in my case, loving my baby, without even meeting her, has gotten me through my darkest days) and most people are basically good.

It felt like the last day of school. You're excited to be going on summer vacation but it's bittersweet because you'll miss the people you were used to seeing every day. It was surreal. I hugged my co-workers goodbye. They wished me well and told me to come visit with the baby after. It was only a half day because I had some time owed to me and took advantage to get home early and prepare for my family coming over for Father's Day. I was exhausted after being up since 4 in the morning but anxious to see my family.

There was an 80% chance of thunderstorms but I'd been hoping for a nice day so that we could hang out in the yard. Thankfully the rain held out long enough for us to get some fresh air. 

I love having my family around. It reminds me that, although I'm without a partner (as mentioned several times in my blog, my baby's father left us when I was 4 months pregnant), I am not alone in this journey. It is such a comfort to have their support. I couldn't get through this without them.

Family is so important to me and I know how lucky I am to have them. I look forward to having that bond with my own daughter. My baby, my best friend, my everything. As scary as it is to be embarking on this without a partner in the picture, I see it as a gift. In the very beginning, it will be just her and I. I will have all my time and attention to devote to her. I know how crucial the early years are to help give a child a foundation to build on. Someday yes it would be nice to meet someone who could become part of our family, a loving father for her and companion for me but it will be an adventure for just us girls at the start. I've heard from other single Moms that said the bond they formed during that time, alone with their child and no man in the picture, was priceless. It is something that they cherish forever. I will treasure the days when it's just my little girl and me, learning from each other, creating a life of magic together. With no one in the way. Just you and me, kid!

My dad and Shannon had two pieces of cake. I limited myself to one small piece. I don't want to overload the baby with sugar! My Mom said something about it being my cake and Shannon piped up "Well she's not a father!" Then I realized that in a sense, I am. Without my baby's daddy (dear God please don't let me actually use the phrase "my baby daddy!") in the picture, I will actually be both mother and father. So Happy Father's Day to me too! I want her to still have positive male role models in her life so I am glad to have my dad, brothers and nephew, though they won't see her all the time. I still believe that in a perfect world a child would have two loving parents, but I know that having one loving, happy parent is preferable to having two that are in conflict. I think that having no father at all in the picture is better than having one that is unfit, one that is a negative influence and creates a toxic environment of stress, sadness or fear. M, her biological father, had so many disturbing issues that he would not have been a suitable father. Obviously he was aware of that and gave her the best gift that he could, his absence. When he was here, life was a bit of a rollercoaster. I had moments of laughter and joy but also many moments of uncertainty, anger, fear, stress. We argued. I cried. It was no kind of environment to raise a child in. I'm thankful that he left before my baby reached the stage of development where she could hear what was going on outside the belly. Some of it was frightening. M was a Jekyll and Hyde. He had some very beautiful qualities but he could be a monster (and not in a cute Monsters Inc kind of way...) He would have done more damage being around than he did by leaving.

People talk about "growing pains" as they go from children to adults. I feel like I have grown more in the past few months, physically and emotionally, than ever in my life. I am being stretched in so many ways. I didn't know I could stretch so far. My belly looks and feels like it's about to explode! Wherever I go my belly makes it there a few minutes before the rest of me. I am a walking globe and baby is kicking me in just about every continent! My legs are like tree trunks (and I'm not talking the young trees on the boulevard that the city plants. I'm talking deep in the forest centuries old towering trees with hundreds of rings!) I am hoping to get back the pre-baby physique that I had worked so hard to achieve. But for the most part I'm much more laid back. I don't worry so much about my appearance anymore. I dress for comfort more than style. I waddle around not worrying about my big old belly and huge legs. I have more important things on my mind now! Or maybe part of it is that I'm not on the dating scene any longer. I'm not trying to attract anyone. Now I can just be me. It's liberating.

I look back at the girl I was last year and it seems like I was trying so hard. I look so smug. I had no idea what was going to happen. I want to tell her enjoy it while it lasts, honey! You won't be wearing these bikinis next Summer! Say adios to the arms (you can't do headstands anymore), bye bye to the belly (baby has moved in and built a little biosphere around her), goodbye to the gams (now swollen to twice the size perhaps to match your massive swollen feet) and tata to the tan (you can't spend too much time in the sun and risk a burn and you can't use self-tanners/bronzers that may not be safe for baby). But it doesn't matter. I can look back at these pictures and smile.
I actually feel more comfortable in my body now, being pregnant, than I did before and I'm happier than I've ever been. It's like the pressure is off. There is nothing to prove. There is no one to impress. I can just be. And I'm more woman than I've ever been! I'm more down to earth. I will openly admit that I'm suffering from heartburn, gas (both ends) and have to run to the bathroom several times a day. It's not like I could hide it anyway. It's obvious. Jessica Simpson talked about her pregnant bodily functions rather openly in interviews. I loved her for that! Most celebrities are so obsessed with their image and trying to be perfect. She just told it like it is. She was raw and real and human. You have to have a sense of humour about it. I don't take myself so seriously anymore. I'm able to put things in perspective and it just doesn't matter what people think anymore. I was always pretty shy about using public washrooms and tried to avoid it when I could. Most of the time I'd just hold it in until I got home, but waiting is not an option these days! When I've got to go, I'VE GOT TO GO! NOW! I had IBS and a small bladder before so with a baby sitting on everything, the pressure is really on! Sometimes I need to run. 

I used to be uptight about my appearance, worried what people thought. My ego has been obliterated by all of this. It's liberating. I just really don't care. When I was younger I had strangers comment about how graceful and lithe I was (just walking around) and asking if I was a ballerina. These days I'm waddling around like a penguin and the only comments I get from strangers are "Congratulations." "When are you due?" or "Looks like you're ready to pop!" I wouldn't have dreamed of going out without a bra before. Since I've been pregnant, I haven't had much choice. I have to let it all hang out! I hadn't worn a bra in over 7 months because I couldn't find one that fit for more than 10 minutes and I hate being strangled. I felt claustrophobic in them and I got tired of going up another size and another and another. Part of me just doesn't want to find out what size I actually am now. I was a 34B last year. I refused to go beyond 38C. I know that before I couldn't have held a pencil under my breast. Now I could probably hold a pencil case! It's for a good cause, of course. I'm hoping the milk production goes well after all these physical preparations. Saving on formula would be a huge help. Not to mention how healthy breastfeeding is for the baby, how easy and natural (no bottles to warm up etc.) Now if I could just think of a way to get free diapers too...

Recently I found a bra that I *thought* was comfortable when I bought it. It was a nursing bra in size large and was just a criss-cross design. Kind of like a sports bra, no underwire, soft thin stretchy spandex cotton material. It seemed perfect. Then I tried to wear it one day and by the end of the day, I couldn't take it anymore. At the end of the day it always feels like my stomach stretches and puts extra pressure on my bra-line/ribs. I also get heartburn which doesn't help. When my ribs are sore, having any pressure on them at all is unbearable. So the bra that had seemed so lightweight and comfy in the store had now become an instrument of torture. It was digging into me, strangling me. I was driving home and all of a sudden it felt like I couldn't breathe. The bra seemed to be crushing my chest like a vice. "Get this thing off of me!" Had it been a regular bra, I could have easily slipped off the straps and removed it through my sleeve very non-chalantly (as I had actually done months before while in the drive-thru at Tim Hortons!) Unfortunately there were no straps or buckles. It was like a sports bra that pulled over your head. I managed to get the straps off my shoulders through my sleeves but then when I tried to pull the bra off, it got tangled around my shirt and now I was REALLY being strangled! How on earth would I get out of this one without being arrested for reckless driving and/or indecent exposure?! I would have been quite the spectacle but it was too dark for anyone to see what fresh hell I was living through in my car! It wouldn't have been safe to pull over and I would have been too stubborn to anyway. I never took my eyes off the road and driving without being able to breathe was I figured, even more dangerous. I finally managed to get the thing off and throw it on the passenger seat. I heard a bit of a tear, possibly my blouse and/or the bra. I didn't care. I was just so relieved to be free and able to breathe again. So, needless to say, no more bras for me! I'll have to wait until I'm actually nursing. From what I hear I'll need nursing pads as well. I already have a box of them on hand. A couple of people have told me you leak just thinking about your baby. Or when you hear a baby cry (even when it's not your own). It's kind of amazing what the body can do.

I will get back into shape after having the baby. I will work out and do yoga. And someday I do want to go out dancing again. It is my favourite form of exercise and more than that, it is a creative outlet, a release, a celebration. But I will be getting fit again for me, for my own health, not to impress someone else. I know that just having the baby means losing some weight, water weight can really add up (my feet won't be this huge when my veins aren't supporting the big belly.) Breastfeeding helps burn a lot of calories too.

A very talented photographer friend (James Harvey) offered to take some maternity shots of me. After all this is the first (and likely the last and only!) time I have been or will ever be pregnant so it makes sense to commemorate it. I do think that being pregnant is beautiful. I smile every time I see a pregnant woman. I have had people tell me how cute I am with my big beach ball belly. I've had people tell me that I have a glow and that I look very young. I certainly don't feel my age and I think that the baby is making me even younger. Even though it is harder to move around, to get up from a seated position (or even harder from lying down!), harder to do a lot of things while carrying this weight, I do still feel more vibrant, more full of life than ever. I literally am full of life with my baby growing inside of me! It is a gift and I do feel blessed. I will post the maternity photos in an upcoming blog when I get them. Photographs are so special to me. I take a lot of my own snapshots but to have someone who really knows what they're doing capture a moment for you is magical. When I had my CD release party years ago, James snapped some incredible shots that made me feel like a rock star! I couldn't have dreamed that one day he'd be taking pictures of me eight months pregnant! Life is so fleeting. You have to capture those moments before they're gone. It goes by so fast. And it's so nice to look back and see your life story in images. Tangible memories. I'm a sentimental fool. I want him to take photos of the baby too after she's born. I'll be taking thousands myself! I hope the flash doesn't bother her eyes. Everyone tells me how quickly they grow up. I want to cherish every moment, every step along the way.

It still blows my mind. All that has happened in the past eight months. In some ways it feels like a lifetime ago. In other ways it has flown by in the blink of an eye. We're more than halfway through June now. Just a little over a month until my due date. The home stretch. It is exciting. And scary. I still have things to sort out and organize. I try not to stress out too much. I know that everything is going to be OK.
When my family was leaving my place yesterday, I realized that my brother probably won't see me again until after I have the baby. (I see my sister and my parents all the time but see my brothers less frequently, usually only on special occasions.) In a month I will be holding my baby in my arms.

When I have trouble getting up or lose my breath climbing the stairs, I don't get too frustrated. I smile and rub my belly. I know that this stage of the journey won't last much longer and even when it's difficult, I'm grateful for it.

The girl that I was last summer, bikini-clad, driving to the beach with the top down, could not have dreamed that this summer I'd be having a baby. I'm happy that I got to be that girl for a while, but I'm happier to be the woman that I am now and the one that I am becoming. I used to think I wanted freedom, a carefree life but what I wanted most of all was love and it was something that always seemed to elude me. Sometimes I would think I had found it and it would wash away like a sandcastle, vanish like a dream. This baby, this love is more real than anything I've ever encountered. I feel more alive than ever. I have a greater sense of purpose. This is by far my greatest adventure. Better than any road trip. More exciting. More exhilarating. More beautiful. I am grateful for this.

And heck, baby and me will still head to the beach later and stretch marks or not I may even wear my old bikinis again!

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