We Make Plans, God Laughs {A Birth Story}

I never meant for four months to pass before putting her story into words.  I think I've been avoiding it, waiting to feel a sense of peace and acceptance regarding the choices I made in the hours leading up to her birth, afraid that if I wrote honestly about my feelings surrounding my labor with Berkley, that she would read this years from now and mistake any disappointment toward my decisions and the process, as disappointment in her.  I was hoping I would be able to write about how my whole labor was filled with the same joy and love and beauty that were indeed so very present and overwhelming the moment I laid eyes on my sweet girl, because she is no less than perfect, she is everything I could have dreamed and more.  Perhaps writing honestly about my experience is in fact the only way I will come to accept it and release any regrets.

My due date was December 20 (according to the midwife) or December 18 (according to my OBGYN).  At my forty week appointment the doctor checked me.  I was dilated three centimeters.  I knew from experience that this meant nothing.  I could have a baby the next day or two weeks down the road.  My doctor offered to schedule an induction for the day after Christmas, but he knew my answer before I spoke the words, "I want to let the baby come on his/her own time.  I want to go into labor naturally and let my body do what it is designed to do."  So he told me that I would have to have a non-stress test and an ultrasound at forty-one weeks, and if the baby were still doing well I would be allowed to go to forty-two weeks, no longer.  So I scheduled my non-stress test and ultrasound for the day after Christmas.

On December 26, I dropped off my sweet Milani with her Grandma Andrea, knowing that there was a possibility that they could keep me at the hospital, that my girl would be a big sister before I saw her next.  Somewhere deep down perhaps I knew.  And it was so bittersweet to leave her, to know she might be spending her first night away from me, to know that things could be so very different when we would reunite.

I met Jon at the hospital and reported to our non-stress test.  I sat in the big recliner, with the monitors on my round belly and the clicker in my hand, ready to push the button with every kick and tumble.  My doctor was on call that day and stopped by to check on us.  "You know, we could just take you right upstairs and start the pitocin, just give me the word."  Jon was all for it.  Not only was he all for it, since we still hadn't agreed on a boy name (Jon had his favorite and I had mine) he actually told me that if I agreed to just go up get induced, he would give up all rights to any input on our boy name.  THIS WAS HUGE!  After forty-one weeks of debating and bickering and stressing out over boy names, all I had to do to get my boy name without any further resistance was agree to the induction.  But I didn't want it to go down that way, so I waited patiently in my recliner for the babykins to move.

My little one had different plans, and she only moved once in twenty minutes.  We failed our non-stress test.  This was typical though, I knew that this little one usually slept hard for a while, then would wake up and beat the crap out of my uterus for two hours straight.  Now any other day they would have fed me some orange juice and kept me hooked up for another twenty minutes, until the baby was out of the sleep cycle, but they were booked solid that day so I had to give up my chair and report to the ultrasound.

As I got ready for the ultrasound, the technician made small talk.  "You're forty-one weeks, why is it that you're not being induced?"  I tried to explain again how I wanted to trust my body to deliver a healthy baby when the time was right.  That when my cervix was ready and the baby was ready, a natural labor would be easiest on my body and the little one.  As she swirled the ultrasound wand over my belly, slimy with gel, she continued "You know, your doctor is the only one in the group who will even LET women go past forty-one weeks.  Every other doctor would make you induce now.  A long time ago they all used to go to forty-two weeks before inducing, but they've all decided to switch to forty-one, I guess they all felt that waiting that extra week was too big a risk."  She had my attention.  Even though I knew better, I asked for more details.  "Well, I don't want to scare you, but things can happen past forty-one weeks, I guess most doctors aren't comfortable with the risks.  I won't say any more than that." 

She told us that the baby looked healthy and that my fluid levels were good, but also that the fluid looked cloudy which could be a result of either the vernix wearing off or the presence of meconium, both signaling that the baby was ready.  I was sufficiently freaked out and totally on the fence about what to do.  I desperately wanted to trust my body and to experience an intervention free labor, but I didn't want to but the baby in harms way.  Then I made the biggest mistake.  I asked her what she would do if she were in my position.   Without hesitation, "I would be induced! Let me ask you this, knowing that your baby is healthy today, could you live with the decision to wait if something happened before you delivered?"  The room spun, and I lost my breath.  Her words fell like sand bags on my heart.  Heavy.  Grim.  The technician offered a suggestion, "What if I send you up to L&D for the doctor to check you.  That way if you're dilated further and it would be an easy induction you would know, but if you're not dilated further, you could go home and wait it out?" 

So we checked into labor and delivery, and I changed into a hospital gown, shoved all my clothes into a plastic baggie labeled "patient belongings", and slid under the crisp sheets of a hospital bed.  I was again hooked up to monitors, and was kept company by the steady thumping of my little one's heartbeat.  The baby was moving enough now to make the lines on the printout jump and wiggle.  When the doctor came in, I told him about how the ultrasound technician had terrified me with ideas of a still-birth at forty-two weeks.  He checked my cervix.  Still three centimeters.  And he offered me his input. "Do I think something will happen if you go home, probably not.  Do I know nothing will happen if you stay and get induced, absolutely.  I know you want a natural labor so let me offer you this, most women past forty weeks will start contracting and go into labor on their own once their water has broken.  What if we break your water, and you can walk the halls to help along some contractions and if all goes well hopefully we can have a nice, peaceful, pitocin free birth, today."

So I weighed the scenarios in my head.  1.) I could stay and potentially have an intervention free delivery, with my doctor who I know and like, and who knows me and what I want.  I could avoid the whole "could you live with yourself if you go home and your baby dies" guilt.  2.) I could go home, and trust my initial instinct, and go into labor on my own.  3.) I could go home, and trust my initial instinct, and not go into labor naturally before forty-two weeks and wind up being induced anyway, but with whichever doctor happened to be on call, whom I might not like. Or 4.) I could go home and have that dreaded something happen to the baby

So I took the bait, and signed on the dotted line.  I remember texting my sister, a strong mama who only five months prior delivered her healthy ten pound daughter two and a half weeks after her due date, in her home with a midwife, to let her know I was being admitted.  I imagined how disappointed she would be in me, how she would think that I talk a good "natural childbirth" game but that I had buckled under the pressure and fumbled the ball inches from the goal line.  How she might even think I'm a big phony hypocrite.  At least that was what I was thinking about myself.

My nurse, Debby, who was loud and bubbly and a little bit out there, reassured me repeatedly that she was the best nurse on the floor at putting in IV lines, and that my veins looked awesome.  Four needle pricks later, she slunk to the nurses station to recruit help.  It took two nurses, a whole lot of needle wiggling, IV line untangling and valve checking to get me hooked up.

It was around 4:30 pm when the doctor arrived and broke my water, and set me free to walk the halls, wheeling along my monitor.  Jon and I did laps, literally covering miles of labor and delivery hallways.  I think the nurses were amused, but we walked, and chattered and laughed while mild contractions rolled in and out.  Initially the contractions came roughly ten minutes apart, but nothing too uncomfortable, and slowly they began to die down.  I was panicking on the inside, keeping close watch of the clock, fearing, knowing that if my contractions didn't pick up the pace I'd be pumped full of pitocin.

We took breaks here and there, to rest my back, and so they could hook me back up to the monitors and check on the little one.  We watched Friends on the TV while the nurse repositioned the heart rate monitor that kept slipping down.  After fifteen minutes of monitoring the nurse came back with a glass of orange juice.  "Doctor isn't seeing as many movements as he'd like so we're going to keep you on the monitor a little longer and see if the baby will start moving a little more."  The orange juice did the trick, they could hear the kicks and flips all the way at the nurse's station. 

Ariana came to keep us company around 9:00 pm.  She kindly reassured me that I had made the best decision I could have with the information I had.  She reminded me that if I had gone home, I would have stressed and worried each and every time I couldn't feel the baby.  I never would have relaxed.  I knew she was right.  The doctor came in to check my progress around 10:00 pm.  I was only four centimeters and contractions were fizzling out.  I braced myself, I knew what was coming.  The doctor suggested that I seriously consider pitocin.  With each hour that passed since they ruptured my membranes my risk of infection increased.  I was defeated.  I gave him the go ahead.  I kept reminding anyone who would listen that I could have been at home, in my bed.  I should have been home in my bed.

And so began a long long sleepless night with pitocin dripping in my IV, and contractions getting stronger and more painful.  Jon and I were both exhausted, trying to get rest, trying to find comfort in the dark hospital room.  I kept wondering aloud how Milani was doing.  Kept saying that I missed my girl.  I missed her fiercely.  The nurse told me that there were a series of C-sections coming up which would occupy both doctors for a while.  She kept telling me that since I had delivered Milani in five hours she was worried I would go quickly once I started progressing.  She told me that if I felt any pressure, even felt so much as the urge to fart (honestly her words), that I was to let her know.  The doctor checked me before going into surgery.  I was only five centimeters.  It was maybe 2:00 am.

Around 3:30 am the trembles kicked in, followed shortly by the upset stomach.  I had known it was coming.  I warned the nurse at the beginning of her shift that I was a "puker".  She didn't mind.  Jon and I dozed between contractions.  I knew I wasn't changing positions as much as I should have been.  Maybe that's why when they checked me again at 5:00 am I was only six and a half centimeters, and in serious amounts of discomfort.  And if that weren't enough, my contractions were weakening and slowing, but the pain was intensifying.  My lower back was screaming electric with back labor.  My body was resisting everything.  I was losing my resolve, quickly.

I felt like I had hit a brick wall, emotionally and physically drained.  Exhausted in every cell of my body.  I wanted something for the pain.  If it had taken me twelve hours to dilate from three to six centimeters, simple math told me I could be in labor for another twelve hours.  I couldn't keep going like this for another twelve hours.  I felt again like a sell-out.  A weakling.  How could I have delivered Milani without an epidural, and here I was begging Jon to tell me it was OK if I asked for one.  Begging him to tell me I wasn't weak, and pathetic.  Begging the nurse to promise me that an epidural wouldn't stop my progress and force me to have a C-section.  I wanted to birth this baby the way I had Milani.  I wanted him/her to come down my birth canal.  I wanted to push.  The nurse made no guarantees but told me that if I had only been two centimeters she might caution me about an epidural slowing my progress, but at seven centimeters she didn't think it would be a problem.

Again I chose what I swore I never wanted.  I agreed to let the nurse call the anesthesiologist.  She told me he was tied up and it would be a while, so she offered me something to take the edge off until he arrived.  I don't even remember the name of the drug, but I figured what's one more at this point?  She told me it wouldn't take the pain away, but would help me relax.  She was right.  It still hurt like hell, but I was too high to care.  I was a zombie.  But I was relaxed, and resting.  Like a puddle on the bed.

At 7:00 am the nurses changed shifts, and in walked my new nurse, and even in my loopy state I knew exactly who she was.  It was Dorothy, sweet Dorothy who was my L&D nurse when I had Milani,  Sweet Dorothy who I had loved and had always wanted to thank, but whose name I had forgotten after Milani was born.  Jon and I babbled like sleep deprived, drugged idiots telling her how much we had loved her, how we had forgotten her name, how much had we wanted to thank her for being with us through Milani's birth.  She accepted our crazy talk graciously.  She's good like that.

They checked me again when the anesthesiologist arrived a little after 7:30, I was eight centimeters.  I hunched forward on the edge of the bed like I had seen so many do on A Baby Story.  I felt the pinch, and the weirdness as he fed the line between my vertibrae, and then as I rested, slowly, the pain began to lift.  Relief.  Sweet relief.  I could breathe.  I could relax.  And I was a vision of everything I never wanted for my labor.  Seventeen hours of contractions, an oxygen mask on my face, a catheter to empty my bladder, high as a kite and motionless from the waist down with a tube feeding anesthesia into my spine, and another delivering pitocin into my bloodstream.

Ariana stopped in before her first patents, she said she could only stay an hour.  I could see the sympathy in her eyes, I'm sure I was a sight to behold.  She offered to stay with me and give Jon a break.  Dorothy told me to let her know when I felt pressure.  With the next contraction or so I asked her if it was at all possible I felt pressure already.  Ariana encouraged Jon to go grab a bite to eat, I hinted that I didn't think Jon would have the time.  Dorothy checked me, and smiled "Yep, let's get set up, you're fully dilated"

With Ariana on one side and Jon on the other I pushed through maybe six or seven contractions.  I remember feeling the baby crown.  The doctor told me that the baby was right there, that if he were to cut an episiotomy the baby would slip right out, but he wanted me to push again.  I pushed through one more contraction and the baby was out. "It's a girl!" I thought I heard the doctor say.  I remember turning to Ariana "Did he just say it's a girl?"  She grinned and nodded.  At 8:50 am we met our little girl Berkley Reese.

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Now here is where I insist that all I truly cared about was that the baby would be healthy, but that I honestly with my whole being believed it would be a boy.  I truly and honestly didn't care whether it was a boy or a girl.  If we had a boy we would have one of each, and Jon would have a son.  If it were a girl, Milani would get a sister, and although they might fight like cats and dogs for the first two decades of their lives, hopefully they would get to experience the incredible bond and level of friendship that I am so grateful to share with my sister.  When they told me it was a girl, I secretly rejoiced.  I am so happy that my girls will have each other.  I believe that to have a sister is one of the biggest blessings in the world.  It was meant to be this way.   Maybe we'll just need to try for a boy with number three, I wonder if my rights to the boy name transfer...

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Jon didn't want to cut the cord so Ariana did, and the doctor handed me my sweet girl.  She looked almost exactly like Milani did on her birth day.  She was so perfect, so beautiful.  I clutched her closely, have her kisses.  I saw Jon looking over my shoulder with tears in the corners of his eyes.  Ariana snapped pictures.  Dorothy took her to weigh and measure her, 8lb 8oz, 20 1/2 inches long.  Only one ounce and half an inch different from Milani, and the same dark hair, but her eyes were a deep, rich, navy blue.  And then I nursed her, and she latched on perfectly, and nursed beautifully, and I never wanted to give her up.  Dorothy waited patiently, as I took my time feeding my girl, and when Berkley finished Dorothy gave her her first bath.

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After my blood pressure stabilized, and my legs regained some feeling, my girl and I were wheeled to our Mom and Baby room where my Milani girl, my beautiful big sister Milani girl, waited to meet her perfect baby sister.  Mostly she just wanted me, but she would grow to love her Berkley sister.  And she looked so big and grown up overnight.  She played with the hospital phone, and went for walks to play with the wagons by the nursery, and I was so so happy to see my first girl again.  I had missed her terribly and knew we'd have another night apart.  I spent the rest of our hospital stay snuggled with my new love, nursing painlessly, counting the minutes until we were set free to go home and become a family of four.

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Since that blessed day I have played the If Only game endlessly.  If only I had been stronger, perhaps I could have delivered without the epidural, and I wouldn't feel like such a weakling, or maybe the epidural helped my body relax enough to allow the contractions to make progress.  Maybe, had I been stubborn, progression would have slowed further, and I would have been forced into a C-section.  If only I hadn't let that ultrasound technician scare me out of following my instincts, perhaps I would have had a quick and easy natural birth once my cervix was ready.  Or maybe God knew better than I the way that scenario would have played out.  Maybe He knew that those ugly, paralyzing words were exactly what I needed to hear to get me agree to stay and be induced.  I shudder to think that He knew it had to be this way or I wouldn't be holding her, sleeping, in my arms as I type.

I have wasted too much time criticizing in my choices, and the way the cards fell throughout my labor.  I'm learning that in life you can't go to the DVD menu and play the alternate ending, you don't get to read the other options from the u-choose book.  All I can do is thank God that I was given this healthy, beautiful, absolutely perfect daughter, and accept that the choices I made were the best I could have given the circumstances, and that it unfolded exactly the way it was meant to.  Not the way I had planned, but we make plans and God laughs.

I Love You my Sweet Berkley Reese!

My Imaginative Girl

I debated whether to share this photo in the last post and obviously opted to leave it out.  I never want to humiliate my girl.  But I can't stop thinking about this picture, and I'm a little mad at myself for omitting it because when I look at it I don't see a silly little girl.  I don't see something embarrassing or humiliating.  I don't write about the funny things she does to poke fun, and I don't post the goofy pictures to get a cheap laugh.  I post them because they make my heart swell with pride for my imaginative girl.  I post them because I want to remember every last detail and every endearing quirk.  They are what make her special.  I post about the sweet eccentricities because I'm afraid if I don't I will someday forget this game that she plays and how much I adore it, and the way she looks going around on all fours with her tongue out, and the how she laps the water out of the bowl.  I want to remember how inspired I am by her imagination, and praise her for her uniqueness.  I want to carry with me her creativity and spirit.  I post because I love, so completely, everything about my little Milani.

Two-Under-Two Aint No Joke aka The Really Long Post

Off the top of my head I can think of more than a few moms who are so much more deserving of purple and gold Supermom capes than I am.  Moms with a great deal more heaped on their mom plates than the two scoops of sweet and delicious I've been served.  And truthfully, these two little puddins usually are the icing on my cake, but like all of the most rewarding endeavors in life mothering two under two is anything but easy.  Even as I write this post I hold a sleeping babe in one arm and type with my other free hand.

A few weeks of restless nights and foiled naps have caught up with Milani leaving her emotions simmering just under the surface, poised to erupt at the slightest offense.  Coupled with her adjustment to the arrival of little Berkley, her exhaustion has led my typically sweet and loving big sister toward a string of emotional meltdowns.  Things usually boil over close to nap time when she tries to climb on my lap while I nurse Berkley, and as I gently remind her that she's much bigger than her baby sister and will hurt her if she climbs on top of her, Milani unravels.  She unleashes her wail/scream/cry as big wet tears spill from her chocolate eyes.  It devastates me to watch her take one look at her sister then squeeze her eyes shut and shake her head as if she can make Berkley disappear like a bad dream.  I know that she's just looking for the undivided attention and love from me that she's known for most of her life, and that her acclimation to her new sister is slow and uncomfortable, like a growing pain, but I can't erase it and she can't go back to life without Berkley.  I can only hope that her uncertainty and frustration will evolve into a steadfast love for her sister.

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On the flip side, there are so many times during my day when Berkley will decide to wake up from a nap hungry and crying right when I'm in the middle of getting Milani lunch or changing a diaper.  Letting my babies cry it out isn't something that resonates with my maternal instinct, but by default my little Berkley is left waiting for my attention in a fit of tears much more often than Milani ever was.  I desperately hope that this little babe will feel as loved and cared for as her sister did as a newborn.

In moments like these I sometimes notice my mindset slipping into the treacherous terrain where "It will be easier when..." and  "I can't wait until..." start trying to convince me that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

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Maybe it will be easier when Milani is potty trained, or when Berkley is walking, but more likely we will just be facing new and different obstacles.  That thought pattern is nothing but a thief in the night robbing me of being present and connected with this moment, right now.  Whether joyful or unpleasant, every moment I spend with my two precious souls is a treasure and this time is fleeting.  Even though it might be hard to recognize when I'm changing my fifteenth diaper, or cleaning up the sixth spill of the day, I know that in the not so distant future my heart will ache for this time, for the feeling of a limp newborn warm in my arms as she nurses and naps, for the way my Milani astonishes me with the pace at which she learns new things, for the sound of a tiny voice calling out "mom... mama... mommy!!" a dozen times a day.  Oh how I want to savor every single detail of life with my littles, because this precious time is fleeting.

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With all the trials and frustrations, my two-under-two scales are tipped heavily in favor of "moments that make my heart swoon."



...watching Milani love her "big brother", Moses, whom she looks up to and adores.

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So much so that she plays what we call Puppy Milani where she crawls around on all fours with her tongue dangling out, picks things up with her mouth and barks.  I found all of this pretty cute until I turned around one afternoon to find her with her face in Moses' water bowl lapping up the water, and I almost threw up.  Now, when I see Puppy Milani come around, I waste no time putting out a little bowl of clean puppy water.


...seeing the way these girls light him up.

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I think that every guy to some extent hopes someday to have a son, someone to carry on his name, someone to take to the driving range, a little fella to inherit the wealth of "guy knowledge" accumulated over a lifetime.  But Jon is an amazing father to these little sweeties.  He is absolutely wrapped tightly around their tiny little fingers, and they are most definitely the skip in his step.  

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And beyond him being the best father I could imagine, if there is any truth to the idea that girls seek out significant others with character traits similar to their fathers, these two little ladies are on the right track.  I can't imagine  anyone more capable of modeling the qualities of a great husband and father.  Maybe someday Jon will get a son, but I'm certain he won't do these two sweeties wrong.


...Milani's flair for fashion.  I really think that she may have a thing for fashion, and will be a trend setter with her ability to make mismatched and unconventional look effortless.  

Lately she's been rocking tons of original head gear.  She will sport anything; an empty Manning's ice cream container, my makeup bag, or any one of her many many hats.  She's been putting on Berkley's newborn baby hats which look, on her big head, like a cross between a yamaka and a beanie.

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wearing baby onesie
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And I think Lulu can really pull off the hat look.  I might need to grab a cute little knit messenger hat, because sister would rock it!


...taking "One Month" pics of my little Berkley in this hat.

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And of course Milani couldn't pass up the opportunity to rock a photo shoot in a hat!

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...snow days!

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...watching Milani unleash her creativity

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First and foremost I hope Milani is happy in her life, but right behind that I hope that she always finds joy in creativity.  She's been doing a lot of artwork lately, between our Play-Doh sessions, her coloring books, and her newest artistic medium - the paints.

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"mom, here, you paint"
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I am so inspired watching her swoop and dab with her paintbrush, letting whim direct her art, and thoroughly enjoying the act of creating.  

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She teaches me the importance of letting go of perfectionism, and not stressing over the outcome, because like so many aspects of life, the substance and beauty are in the process not the product.  She is leading me by example to rediscover my own joy in creativity.


...afternoons kicking it with family.

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Where Milani's passion for paints was ignited.

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...random pics of my littlest that have no narration or back story.  They're just too sweet not to share.

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Can I get an Amen?

Ringing in the Newness

My heart is full as I find myself at the dawn of a new year, cradling in my arms a brand new life, while my sweet Lulu breathes steadily, slow heavy breaths, napping next to me.  It wasn't so long ago that I would have rung in the new year at a party, wearing sparkly heels and toasting champagne, and that side of me isn't long lost, but this year I watched the clock strike midnight in the quiet darkness of my bedroom, nursing a newborn, and couldn't have been more content.

In some ways my life looks nothing like I imagined it would, I'm not sure I ever could have pictured myself the mother of two gorgeous sweet little girls, and yet it still feels perfect, it was meant to be.  Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am a mother, and that Milani, and now little Berkley, are actually my daughters not just these amazing littles I hang out with.  And every time I have this crazy revelation, it has the same enlightening, awe inspiring affect on me.  Holy crap...I'm actually a mom!  I usually don't feel like a mom, at least not the way I imagined motherhood might feel, and I wonder if I'll always notice this curious little inconsistency.  Regardless, I've never been more certain that this is, at least for now, one of the reasons I was put on this earth.  I am mom, hear me roar!

Little Berkley's birth story will be written, hopefully before we celebrate her first birthday, but for now I am just enjoying the settling, the nestling back down into the comforting rhythm of our lives as a new family of four.  I know it will take some time to really feel rooted and sturdy in our new roles, but we get a little closer to normalcy every day.  We've already overcome the bogus "Baby lost too much weight, start supplementing with formula" hurdle, and the "She hasn't pooped in three days" obstacle, and the fog of the first of many sleepless nights with a newborn is lifting ever so slightly.  Every day I get a little better at balancing the needs of both my girls, which often times means literally balancing both my girls, one in each arm.  And while I'm certain of the strength and depth of my love for both of them, I sometimes feel like I need another me in order for them each to adequately feel my constant love.  Another pair of arms to wrap each girl in close to me, to rock both of my girls tightly until their bodies wilt and their breaths slow into slumber. Another me so i can nurse one and cuddle the other, so I can shower them both with kisses.  It's so hard to try to be everything to each of my girls all the time, near impossible.  Before we know it though, we'll find that we've stumbled upon our groove somewhere along the way without even realizing it; everything will fall into its place.

All this change makes it seem as though Christmas was a lifetime ago, but I don't want it to get passed by completely.  Santa was good to Milani, bringing her jumbo Legos, a new baby doll, some books, and a potty chair she is strangely attached to.  I'm glad Santa didn't bring her more because she gave up on opening presents after her fourth gift.

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And this little angel, reminds me of her sister in so many ways.

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So many of her facial expressions and noises take me right back to when Milani was a newborn. Her "baby grinch" face, her fake little impatient cough when she wants milk faster than I can give it to her, her stretchy face.  At the same time she is so unique, with her own little endearing quirks.  Her "Oh" face, her little cat shaped eyes, and the little raspy hum that accompanies her sleepy breaths. 

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I used to tell people that Milani was laid back, but little Berkley has her beat.  She is so chill, always.  I can put her down to help Milani and she doesn't make a peep, Milani never wanted to be put down ever and she let you know it!  Berkley can make it through an outfit or diaper change without getting spitting mad and turning purple like her sister used to.  And I may be jinxing myself now but she doesn't have a fussy time like Milani did every evening.  She is really making the transition from mother of one to mother of two pretty easy on me (knock on wood).

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And big sister is making me so proud!  She has been so sweet and patient this week, so accepting of her new little sister.  She can say Berkley, it comes out "Burkeee"She hops on a chair to help me change diapers and shows great concern anytime Berkley is upset.  And she keeps us and herself entertained.

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And although I hear that this only ever happens in newborn/toddler fairytale land, I have two sleeping beauties napping at the same time.  My pillow is calling my name.

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The Day She Made Me a Mama {A Birth Story}

I wish I'd thought to take the time to record in words every blessed detail of every moment of that day much sooner, because while the magic and wonder and gratitude I feel are as poignant as ever, the little intricacies have faded over the past eighteen months.  So now, a year and a half later, I'm going to root around in my memory, and jog loose and dust off every beautiful detail I can, and attempt to find the words that might just begin to capture the emotion and experience of the day she made me a mama.

I can remember an evening about a month before my due date; I was at the restaurant, and I grabbed a new carton of half and half out of the cooler.  As I glanced at the expiration date, I felt my heart catch in my throat, and couldn't stifle a nervous laugh.  The date read May 11, and the only thought that raced through my head, making the floor seem to tilt dangerously to one side and the lights dim for a moment, was that I would become a mother before the half and half would expire.

The days flew past, and my due date approached rapidly.  I began each morning wondering whether today would be the day.  I paid close attention to every Braxton-Hicks contraction, and every uncomfortable twinge, and every unfamiliar pang.  I struggled to distinguish between normal third trimester aches and pains, and crampiness, and contractions.  When my due date arrived without any signs of labor, one of the other doctors in my Obstetrician's practice scheduled me for an induction the following Sunday, at forty-one weeks, May 9th, Mother's Day, at seven a.m.

I desperately wanted our little one to come on her terms, I wanted to trust my body to do what women's bodies have accomplished without synthetic hormones for most of humanity, nothing about an induction resonated with my soul.  I tried to reassure myself that labor would come on it's own before Sunday, and tried to encourage my body to go along with my plan.  I went for long walks up steep hills, I ate pineapple, and lord knows every single bone jarring ride I took in Jon's truck should have been bumpy enough to catapult me directly into active labor.

I remember that Friday, May 7th, was a gorgeous, warm, sunny day.  The most beautiful day we'd seen so far that spring.  Jon called me from work to let me know that according to his father "It looked like a perfect day to have a baby."  I wholeheartedly agreed, apparently our little sweetie didn't.  Later that afternoon I called my OB and asked him if I absolutely had to be induced at forty-one weeks, or if I could wait longer, give our peanut the time she needed.  He reassured me that I could forgo the induction as long as I came in to the hospital on Saturday morning for a Non-Stress Test and an Ultrasound to ensure that the baby wasn't in any distress. 

First thing Saturday morning, Jon and I went in for our routine tests and passed with flying colors.  We canceled the induction, and I felt like I had been let off the hook, like a weight had been taken off my chest and I finally had room to breathe.  The peace of mind lasted all of what felt like fifteen seconds, because by that evening I had reason to believe that I might be slooowly leaking amniotic fluid.  I waited until morning to call the physician on call, and talked to the doctor who had initially scheduled my induction.  He told me to come in immediately.

In my heart I knew this was it.  I had Jon bring my bags.  I was anxious, and nervous, emotional, and terrified and excited.  Part of me wanted to dig in my heels, run back in the house and lock the doors, scream "Waaaaiittt!! I'm not ready yet!"  But ready or not, I went to the hospital and they tested for amniotic fluid, and the doctor looked up at me from his little glass microscope slide and said "It's fluid alright, let's get her admitted and get her started on pitocin.  See, you canceled your induction and you're here anyway."  And this is where it all becomes a little fuzzy.

I'm not sure how I walked from triage to my L&D room, I'm not convinced that I didn't in fact float there, or perhaps no one wants to tell me I actually passed out cold and had to be carried there.  Once I was nestled in my bed in the room where I would deliver our baby girl, the nurse asked me if I was feeling alright because my blood pressure dropped, and my coloring looked a little pale.  I confessed that I was just the tiniest bit terrified.  I'm not sure what had me more nervous, the anticipation of the pain, or the fact that my life was about to be turned upside down in a way I couldn't fathom.  We made the excited phone calls and sent out the mass texts letting our friends and family know that we were at the hospital and today would be the day.

They started pitocin at two p.m. and the contractions came immediately.  Initially they were just like bad period cramps, and Jon would look at the printout dangling from one of the machines to see how big a mountain that contraction had been.  I remember that they broke my water.  The nurse asked me to rate my pain and I'm pretty sure I said it was a five, little did I know.
At some point my sister arrived, and brought her laptop.  I remember her setting it up and connecting it to the internet, giving it to me to pass the time.  I remember starting at it blankly, completely unable to comprehend what I could possibly be doing with the computer.  I also remember Jon and Ariana trying to make something happen with music, to fix something with the computer, something wasn't working, that's all I can recall about that fiasco.  I remember that I brought Norah Jones, and Diana Krall, and Billy Holiday CDs, I only recall hearing Norah Jones, barely.

The contractions became stronger, longer, and more painful.  The mountains on the printout were much larger, with jagged pointed plateaus, and the breaks between them weren't even remotely long enough.  I remember sitting on a birthing ball for a while, and standing along side the bed figuring gravity must be able to help things along.

At one point the I.V. tube administering the pitocin accidentally got a kink in it, causing the machine shreak.  The nurse wasn't in the room so we took matters into our own hands and pushed a button or two until it got quiet.  Whatever we did accidentally stopped the flow of pitocin, and for those few blessed minutes before the nurse came in and realized what had happened, I got the most amazing, and much needed, break from the constant onslaught of contractions.  I remember getting sick to my stomach more than a handful of times.  I remember that when the clock said five p.m. they checked my progress and I was five c.m.  The nurse asked me to rate my pain again, and I told her I wanted to revise my previous assessment to a two, and that now it was a six, little did I know.

Jon got hungry, and went to Cosmo's for a cheesesteak.  It felt like he was gone for ten minutes, my sister tells me he was gone quite a bit longer than that.  I'm sure he relished the much needed break from the constant onslaught of contractions too.

I remember changing positions to kneel tall on the bed, facing the elevated head of the bed, resting my upper body on the top of the mattress.  I remember that position being so so painful, especially in my back, and my nurse encouraging me to hold out for a couple more contractions because the change in position would help the baby move down.  I remember Ariana putting pressure on my lower back, and showing Jon how to do the same.

Jon was so encouraging and supportive, like a cheerleader, talking me through every contraction, telling me how amazing I was doing, reminding me to breathe, assuring me that the contraction was almost over.  He would keep an eye on the printout and alert me the minute the mountain appeared to be starting it's descent.  I remember at a certain point between contractions, trying to tell Jon politely that although he was trying his hardest to be super helpful, I couldn't handle trying to comprehend the words coming from his mouth and deal with the pain of a contraction at the same time.  The next contraction he started cheering me on again, I'm pretty sure I snarled, and the nurse leaned in to him and said "Jon, honey, I think it would be best if you stopped talking during contractions."  I think his feelings were hurt.

The contractions got even longer, and stronger, and much more painful.  I remember pleading that I just wanted a break and whimpering to Ariana that I couldn't do this, and her telling me sternly that I absolutely could.  The nurse encouraged me to try to empty my bladder, she said something like "A full bladder is a closed door" whatever that meansAt that point, the only thing worse than a contraction, was peeing, and throwing up, and contracting at the same time.  She checked my progress again, nine c.m.  She had me rate my pain and if this wasn't a nine and a half I might just die before I delivered.  She had me lay in bed on my left side, and told me to let her know when I felt the need to push.

It seemed like the blink of an eye, like only three contractions had passed, and I was telling her that I had to push.  She checked me and confirmed that I was ten c.m.  It was about seven p.m. and her shift was ending.  She stayed with me a little longer but ended up having to leave before I delivered, and I am so upset to confess that I don't remember my her name, because I LOVED her.  I still wish I could write her a thank you card for her kindness and sweetness and support.  She left me in the hands of another sweet nurse who helped through the rest of the delivery.

Jon held my left leg, I don't remember who held my right.  With each contraction I pushed as hard as I could.  In between each contraction I pleaded with my little one, telling her that she just had to come out right now.  It felt like I only pushed through three or four contractions but Jon tells me it was more than that.  Thanks to the reflection in the TV opposite my bed, I witnessed my little one as she emerged, all eight pounds, seven ounces of her.

Since my amniotic fluid had been leaking, they had to examine her before giving her to me, and I remember Jon being next to the little bassinet with the doctor examining her.  I was glad he was with her, and I couldn't wait to hold her.  They finally passed her to me and I couldn't hold back tears, she was so perfect, so beautiful.  She had dark hair like her dad, and dark brown eyes that looked eggplant purple from certain angles.  I don't remember her crying much, Jon and I both made up for that.  It was impossible to take my eyes off her, and I feel like she really never took her eyes off us.


I will never forget nursing her for the first time, and that she latched on immediately and would have nursed forever.  It was surreal to think that she had grown inside me, that she came out whole and complete and perfect with hair and fingernails and personality.  I remember thinking that she definitely looked like a girl, that there was no way anyone could mistake this newborn beauty for a boy.  The nurse fashioned a hat with a bow.


My heart ached when she cried through her first bath, and I felt the beginnings of a fierce maternal instinct kick in; wanting wildly to rescue her and make everything ok for her.


I was too shaky to walk to the Mom and Baby room so I cradled her proudly as they wheeled us over, and we had a few sacred moments alone, just the two of us, while Jon went to find our visitors.  We were put in a corner room with wrap around windows that displayed a panoramic view of the Scranton skyline.  Ariana brought me a hoagie and girl scout cookies; food never tasted so good.  It was around ten thirty when everyone left, and then it was just me, Jon, and our brand new little angel.


I remember being very emotional the day we were discharged, feeling like if I could just stay in that room forever the timer would never start, that she would stay new and tiny forever.  I could never have known how much joy watching her learn and grow would bring.  I'm still being amazed daily by the way every new stage brings its own beauty and wonder.  She was perfect on that Mother's Day she was first laid in my arms, and she's still perfect today as she sounds out new words and dances to music, and one is not better than the other, just different, both magical.

I can reflect so fondly and emotionally on the day she made me a mama, and look forward to watching her life unfold, because her story isn't over it's still being written and I am so lucky, blessed beyond words, to be the one holding her hand along her journey.

On Inspiration

Since starting out on this writing journey I have felt the amazing force of the waxing and waning of creativity.  I have had weeks where I've been pulled to post every other day, and dry spells where I sweat bullets fighting to arrange a collection of words into a post, desperate just to get myself back into the flow.  I have posts that I love, that feel rich and inspired, and others that seem like total garbage.  And I'm searching for the rhyme or reason behind the drive to write, or create anything for that matter.

I wonder where the inspiration comes from?  Is it something I can learn to summon in times of need, something that can be willed to emerge?  And if it can, I haven't yet figured out what lures it out.  Sometimes I sit down to write, and stare at a blinking curser.  I force out a clumsy sentence, and immediately delete it.  I give it another go and another miss, and my frustration mounts.  It feels so unnatural for me to force writing, and even when I do manage to choke out an uninspired paragraph, I usually return to it and find it lifeless.  Missing that vital energy that makes inspired writing so soothing.  Maybe I just need more practice, more discipline, more time with my nose to the grindstone to learn how to get the gears turning.  Maybe the creativity can be strengthened like a muscle.  Or maybe I need to really look more closely at the other areas of my life to find the inspiration before I sit down at the keyboard.

Yet there are these times when words start stringing themselves along into sentences in my head, randomly.  It catches me off guard, and usually I'm somewhere other than at the computer, lying in bed, or driving down the road, or changing a diaper.  And as these sentences emerge I think to myself, Man this is some good stuff!  I need to remember this, I HAVE to get this in writing!  So sometime later, maybe later that day or the next, I do sit down and try to reconstruct the storyline that was literally stitching itself together so beautifully, but it's never the same.  I may be able to capture the gist, and a poetic phrase here and there, but I can never recreate it verbatim.  And then it's gone.

The thing I'm seeking is a marriage of the two, a way to harness the inspiration when it hits, get it to hang around a little while rather than fleeing.  And I know it's absolutely unreasonable for me to want the words to just flow every time I set out to write, but I wish there were a way to store it away for the moments I get the chance to write, or a way to recall it more purely. 

The only thing I'm sure of is that this little angel has been the single greatest source of inspiration in my life.

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If these aren't the cutest piggie tails I've ever laid eyes on!
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Love them!
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 She inspires me day in and day out to participate more fully in each and every moment, to show up and be present for each day that I'm blessed with.

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And she ignites my appreciation and gratitude for the little things.

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She shows me the world from an entirely different perspective and amazes me continually.

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With her face literally pressed to the glass.
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Because of her, I am constantly inspired to be a better mother, a better wife, a better woman.

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If you have any insight or methods that you find helpful to conjure up inspiration or ignite creativity I'd love for you to leave me a comment telling me about it!

Letting Go and Going With the Flow

Well hello there November!  I feel like I say something along these lines every time I write, but seriously, I can't keep up!  The days are speeding by faster and faster and I honestly can't believe we are entering a new month!  Not to mention that Ride Aid and Redners already have their Christmas isles set up, the mall is decorated with lights and trees, and I have already seen a poster advertising Toys for Tots.

The holidays are rapidly approaching in all their splendor and glory, and this year they are ushering with them countless reasons for our family to celebrate.  We have so many reasons to be grateful, and have so many blessings entering our lives, yet I have to admit that I am becoming overwhelmed with everything that life is handing me right now.  If the holidays alone weren't hectic enough, we are expecting our sweet little one in December.  And I'm off from work which allows me to spend so much more time with Jon and Milani, and to work furiously to turn my passion into a career, but is also straining our finances just in time for Christmas.  On top of this, Jon and I stumbled upon an investment opportunity that was too good to pass up which will be demanding hours of our time and amounts money that we simply don't have to begin with.  Jon reminds me that if we persevere through this now, it will be worth it in the long run, but I am more than just a little stressed out over it all.

I wish that I naturally faced obstacles with a positive outlook, automatically seeking out the lesson to be learned, welcoming the invitation for growth and enjoying the opportunity to rise up and overcome.  I wish I were one of those people who inherently sees the silver lining, who's entire world is rose colored, and who is happy to surrender and just go with the flow.  Instead I am furiously desperate to have a firm grasp of what my future holds, I worry away hours of my life (usually at 2:45 am) fussing over what might happen, how things will probably go wrong, and where I'll end up.  And I am completely aware that this is a useless, downright toxic, waste of good time and precious energy, but I come from a long and hardy lineage of worriers.

So, when I get to thinking about all that we have on our plate for the coming months I immediately start picturing our family subsiding on nothing but Raman Noodles, huddling for warmth around a fire in a trash can.  But life has this way of repeatedly reminding me that the more I plan, and try to control and manipulate the path I travel, the more surprised I will be to find that nothing ever really unfolds the way I imagine it will.  And not only that, it usually works itself out much more smoothly and poetically than I could have orchestrated on my own anyway.  I'm slowly learning that in these times when anxiety finds a hold in the corners of my brain, and when the enormity and uncertainty of the future utterly overwhelm me, is when I need to focus on what is right in front of me, in the present.  I need notice the ways that life is flowing along beautifully today and savor them, because the only thing I can affect is this moment.

I need to soak up this time with my little cutie, and drink in her excitement when we go on adventures like apple picking.

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I need to appreciate the fleeting moments where the love of a mother for her littles outshines everything else.

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And appreciate the goodness of time spent in the fresh air, with close friends and family.

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Because when life hands me thirty pounds of apples, well that's when I check one more thing off my grand canning plan and can me a whole lot of applesauce.

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I'm also slowly learning to let go of my need for things to be done perfectly, and to accept help from others.  I was always the person in group projects offering to do all the work because I felt like that was the only way I could be certain it would meet my outrageous expectations.  As I made my applesauce I talked Jon through my chicken pot pie recipe, the one I know like the back of my hand.  And I tried not to nitpick when he eyeballed spice measurements rather than use measuring spoons, and definitely bit my tongue when he crimped the edge of the crust together much differently (and a little more messily) than I would have, and lo and behold the resulting pot pie was perfect.  Turns out Jon's pie crimping technique that almost made my head pop, made for a much more rustic looking, more beautiful pot pie, and it tasted absolutely delicious!  I couldn't have made it better myself, and that's the truth.

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It really puts into perspective the things that are important, and the things that aren't worth fussing and worrying over.  And when I walk into a bedroom to find Jon, Milani, and bunny rabbit curled up reading Goodnight Moon, I am reassured that our lives are indeed unfolding perfectly.

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Because it's nearly impossible to stress over the future when this little entertaining chica is making the present such an absolute delight.

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Oh and Happy BEE-lated Halloween!! 

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A Toast to Three Years

In some ways it feels like three lifetimes ago, when we were single and planning our wedding, booking our honeymoon and speculating about the future that lay ahead.  And it feels like just yesterday, the way the details are etched into my memory, the way the sky looked and breeze felt, the nervous knot in my stomach, the slow walk down the isle and night of endless dancing that followed.

I thought it would be a great idea, to spend the night before the wedding by myself in the honeymoon suite.  I would take a bubble bath in the jaccuzzi, pamper myself, relax in solitude.  No one warned me how terrible an idea it was.  I filled the bath, relaxing lavender scented bubbles to the brim, and I soaked, and then I was done soaking and it was only ten thirty, and I was anything but relaxed.  I was alone, bored, lonely, and absolutely unable to sleep.  Excitement and nerves sent thoughts and visions stampeding around my brain, like a demolition derby of prewedding hitters hijacked my consciousness.  Minutes stretched on and on, hours seemed like an eternity, tomorrow would never come.  Neither did sleep.

By five-o-clock the sun was barely casting a faint glow over the horizon, and the honeymoon suite felt like a prison, a torture chamber without anyone or anything to distract me from the panic attack that was swallowing me.  My mouth was dry, and my hands were shaky and clammy.  I had to breathe, get fresh air, so I went outside and walked around the empty wedding tent, meandering between tables in the dim predawn light.  There is only so long you can kill time by pacing alone in an empty tent, so I went back to the room and watched the weather channel.  The girls weren't picking me up until nine, I must have seen the local forcast about 30 times.

I was never so relieved to see anyone as I was when Rachel and Jackey arrived to pick me up, my saving graces rescuing me from my deserted island.  I'm not sure they were expecting to see a pale, trembling, panicky bride.  On the way to the salon they stopped at Sheetz and got me ginger ale and granola bars, and reminded me to take a bite and a sip every now and then.  It was better, being in the company of family and friends, laughing and joking while Justin did my hair and Sara painted my nails.  I managed to get my makeup done, and my dress and veil on without passing out or throwing up.

And then it was time.  Time to walk down the isle.  Time to marry my best friend and become Mrs. Vanness.  I was nervous right up until the moment I saw Jon at the end of the isle, looking relaxed and happy.  The ceremony went by in a haze.  I remember screwing up words and the Judge having to make me repeat that part, and laughing and getting all flustered.  I remember Andrea and my mom reciting their readings.  I remember exchanging rings and vows, and our first kiss and introduction.  And feeling like I was walking on air as I went back down the isle hand in hand with Jon.

I remember all the hugs and congratulations in the receiving line, getting to greet all of our friends and family.  Then the pictures that seemed to take forever, as we smiled into the setting sun pretending that our retinas weren't about to burst into flames.  It wasn't until we were introduced into the reception that I think I really started to enjoy the day.  All the business was behind us, everything checked off the list except for the eating and drinking and dancing.  And that's what we did.  We drank homemade Italian red wine until our teeth turned purple, and didn't leave the dance floor.  When the band took a break, we took over the drums and microphone to keep the party going, and belted out Mr. Big's To Be With You because that's what we do at weddings.  We danced to the jukebox long after the band packed up and left.

We were happy and exhausted as we headed to our suite, leaving behind guests still at the bar taking shots.  I can remember Jon and I laughing and trying to ignore the endless banging on our hotel door from one of our drunk friends who had either locked himself out of his room, or was locked out by his significant other, which I can't remember.  I honestly can't recall now who was even pounding on the door, but I remember it went on for quite a while before they realized that they weren't crashing in the honeymoon suite, and gave up.  The day was perfect really.  It was the most amazing day, and the most fun I ever had at a wedding, maybe I'm a little biased.

It was three years ago today that I walked down the isle and married my best friend.  Three years ago today that we walked hand in hand back down the isle.  And Jon still walks beside me, hand in hand, through every day and every season and I couldn't be more grateful to be Mrs. Vanness.

**All of these gorgeous pictures were taken by Sara Zigon - Zigon Photography**


 Happy Anniversary Jon. 

I Love You!

Sweet Anticipation

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Jon and I are expecting again, eagerly awaiting the arrival of a new little sweetie come late December, and while this isn't breaking news, I haven't had the urge to write about the pregnancy until this week.  I'll admit that it's taken me completely by surprise that I haven't been bursting at the seams and overflowing with prenatal anecdotes and updates.

My first pregnancy was like a wild fire, charged with electricity, evolving a life of its own.  I would have broadcast on national television, and radio, and from the highest mountain just to hear the words "I'm pregnant" come out of my mouth, as if hearing them made it more real, more concrete. It was like that week right after you get engaged when you find yourself peeking at the new diamond sparkling on your left hand just to remind yourself that its real, and you aren't dreaming.  And the first time around I had nothing more important to occupy my every waking thought, so it consumed me and became my identity for those months.

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But this time it didn't come thundering into my life, elbowing its way to the forefront of my awareness.  Instead it rolled in like the changing tides and found a home in the stillness beneath the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  This pregnancy has had a quieter and more peaceful presence, and has patiently taken a backseat as I continue giving Milani the majority of my time and attention. 

Every pregnancy brings with it an intrinsic sense of worry, a laundry list of fears and anxieties and doubts.  Every pregnancy feels a little bit delicate, a little fragile, like for nine months I am teetering between unsurpassed joy, and unbearable heartbreak.  It feels, for nine months, like I am carrying a butterfly that can at any moment fly away, and I want to hold onto it tightly, and closely, to fiercely protect it, to make it stay, but pregnancy doesn't work that way.  And we are so lucky and so grateful that our pregnancy scales so far have been tipped heavily in favor of blessings, because I know that on the other side of that scale is pain and disappointment that I couldn't even imagine.  My heart breaks for friends who have felt the weight of such loss, and I feel guilty, like an imposter, when I try to offer words of sympathy or encouragement.  All I can do is provide my love and support, and then bow my head and ferociously thank the heavens above for this little girl sleeping beside me and the tiny one tumbling within.

To be honest, it took some time for me to embrace this pregnancy, to really feel excited and enthusiastic about it.  In a way, I feel like a terrible, horrible mother for not being elated right off the bat, and it's an unusual thing to feel a little bit like I'm betraying the angel we already have by bringing along another; to feel the need to protect the one I've grown to love so wildly from feeling any resentment or hurt from the arrival of her sibling.  But my sweet Milani will be an amazing big sister, of this I have no doubt.  She is so kind and so loving, I think having a younger sibling will only make her shine brighter than she does already.  I can't wait to watch their relationship grow and their friendship unfold.

I plan to savor these last couple months of afternoons spent together with my girl, just the two of us, two peas in our pod, while we make room in our pod and our life and our hearts for the new arrival.  And I will thank God for every little kick, and wiggle I feel as our little one grows, knowing that each movement is confirmation that our peanut is growing strong and healthy.  Until December my tiny darling, rest easily and comfortably, and know we love you and can't wait to meet you!

Only Worry in the World is the Tide Gonna Reach My Chair?

I have a theory that it is impossible to be in a bad mood when you are within sight, or sound, or even the salty marine smell of the ocean.  Something about it's rhythmic breaking of the waves on the sand, constant breeze, and vast size stretching out indefinitely until it melts into the horizon, makes it very restorative, and therapeutic to me.  It grounds me, and centers me, and fills me with a deep sense of peace.  I was in desperate need of time at the ocean.  The last time I saw it was in 2008 and the amazing perspective it gives me was slowly fading and weathering in the daily grind.  And I couldn't wait for Milani to get her first taste of salty ocean water, and golden sand.  A little part of me was certain she would love it since we discovered her name while honeymooning in Maui.  I mean, that practically makes her a Hawaiian baby.  A child of the black sand beaches, and lush palm trees.
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My golden beach baby proved me right.  She's right at home covered in sand from head to toe, and doesn't hesitate to run right up and flirt with the breaking waves.

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She got to spend time with cousins that she doesn't see nearly often enough, and she watched keenly as they collected shells, and played in the surf, and dug holes.

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I don't entirely understand the fascination with digging holes at the beach, maybe its a boy thing, but sure enough as you scan down the shore, holes are constantly being dug and deepened and barricaded from the rising tide.  And another boy thing, or should I say father thing; swinging your fourteen month old daughter around like a monkey.  I cringe and envision a trip to the hospital with a dislocated shoulder, and I warn against the guilt he'll feel once her face is stained with salty, sandy tears.  But to no avail.  He loves to swing her and she loves to be swung.  She giggles and squeals and begs for more, and I just keep my fingers crossed that fooling won't lead to crying.

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I love that at the beach, you are expected to do nothing other than enjoy yourself.  You can read a book, flip a magazine, play in the water or sand, nap lazily, talk about anything or talk about nothing.  There is no such thing as an awkward silence, just a break in conversation filled by the churning surf and the shriek of gulls and the innocent chatter of nearby children playing.

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We took an afternoon to visit the Cape May Zoo.  This zoo found its way into our hearts the first summer Jon and I started dating.  During a short vacation in Stone Harbor that summer, we visited it not once, but twice.  It is one of the neatest, cleanest zoos we've ever visited.  Milani stared open mouthed and wide eyed as we visited the different animals.  (Apparently so did her father)

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Interestingly, Milani's favorite animals on this vacation weren't the monkeys, or tigers, but the seagulls. She can reproduce the most realistic seagull squalk, and loved giggling and chasing them down the shore.

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I think my girl is meant to be near the ocean and a part of her spirit is reignited by the waves, and I know Jon lights up at first sight of the ocean.  I think we need to make sure that we spend some time at the shore every summer, so that we can look out over the blue expanse of water and re-frame our lives with the humble perspective.  And because I'm absolutely certain that it's impossible to be in a bad mood at the shore.

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"I Can't Believe It's a Girl..."

It's a double post kind of a day, because this news and these pictures are too sweet to sit on for a week!  

We should have known when she insisted on staying put for an extra week and five days, only a little princess could command such a dramatic entrance.  Fashionably late, and in a swarm of excitement.  It's the only way she would have it.

**for the full effect, read the next paragraph into a tape recorder and play back on high speed**

I got the text from Ariana Monday morning at 6:51 asking if I was still up for watching the boys, and at 6:55 the text telling me to "take my time."  And so I did.  Until 7:05 when my phone lit up with a call from Jake, "Get here quick!".  I've never changed a diaper, dressed a baby, dressed myself, put in contacts, brushed my teeth, and packed an entire days worth of food and diapers for Milani so quickly.  As I pulled into Grandma Andrea's at 8:00 to drop off Milani I got a text from Jake "Baby's Coming!"  S^&@#T!! I quite literally jumped out of my car and into Andrea's and took off like a bat out of hell, to pull up at their house, and sprint up the stairs, bursting into the front door.

At 8:20 a perfect, gorgeous, tiny baby girl was born.  By tiny I mean 10 lb 0 oz.

From the moment I found out she was pregnant, I thought Ariana was having a girl and I stood firmly by my prediction, never wavering.  A couple months back we were standing around in Ariana's kitchen each defending our gender predictions, and I can remember her saying, "When I look into my future I just can't picture myself as the mother of a girl.  I just don't see it happening.  I think I'm meant to only raise boys"  And on Monday, I know it still took a little while to sink in.  I think I heard Ariana mutter "I can't believe it's a girl" or "I can't believe I have a daughter" about twelve times.  Now I'm not the type to break out into an obnoxious victory dance, or rub the I told you so's into one's face, but you can't say I didn't give you fair warning that you'd be delivering a little lady.  And it'll be sweeter than you could ever imagine.  Your little girl.  I promise. 

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Sweet Summertime

This post wins the award for longest post ever, but summer has taken over and we've been drinking it in heartily.  So I'm going to play catchup on just a few of the sunny adventures from the last couple weeks.



For the better part of the long, gray, northeastern winter I anticipate summer.  I dog ear pages in seed catalogs.  I daydream grand plans for our yard and our garden.  I imagine biting into a warm ripe tomato straight off the vine.  Opening day of the farmer's market has an affect on me similar to that of Christmas on a six year old.  In April and May I grow a little antsy as the sun gets warmer, and trees and flowers begin to blossom.  The spectacular display seems a little like a tease.  I wait anxiously for the goods, for the opportunity to reap what I sow, and enjoy Mother Earth's generous bounty.  And look out when I get word that Pallman's Farm has opened for the strawberry picking season.

We gathered our buckets and bowls, and headed to the strawberry patch.  The sun warmed our shoulders and enormous white clouds drifted above.  The leaves of the strawberry bush were still cradling tiny puddles of rain from the downpour that passed.  Strawberry after strawberry plunked into our bucket, but you know the ripest and sweetest of the berries didn't make it into the bucket.  Milani wandered up and down the row, sometimes popping a berry off the bush, other times sneaking one out of the bowl.

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The evidence was smeared across her crimson face, framing her content grin.

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Sister already knows that nothing compares to a berry plucked right from the bush and popped into your mouth.  We abandoned our post only when the bowls and buckets grew heavy with berries.

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Some of our berries got frozen.  Many of our berries were gobbled up.  And the rest of our berries were turned into sweet strawberry jam and preserved in glass jars to last us until we pick again next June.

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I can look forward to popping the lid off of a jar of jam on some bitter January day, and I know that out of that jar I will get so much more than strawberry jam.  I will get the sweet memory of picking berries with people I love.  I will picture Milani's face streaked with strawberry juice.  I will get the goodness of fresh, ripe local produce, picked with my own hands, and turned into jam on a warm Saturday morning.  It will be packed with the life, and love of Mother Nature and the satisfaction of making something delicious in my own kitchen.   No jar from a grocery store shelf can even begin to rival the rewards of canning my own jam.  So much so that I've decided, this summer, to can and preserve as much of this sweet summertime as I can.  Blueberry preserves, peaches, peach butter, dilly beans, tomato sauce, salsa, applesauce...Oh my plans are grand indeed.


Our Garden
I was flipping the pages of Martha Stewart Living magazine this morning.  It wasn't any Martha Stewart Living magazine however, it was the Special Gardening Issue from March 2008 given to me by Andrea.  As I studied each page, I have to admit I was turning green with garden envy.  I'm aware that it is absolutely absurd to be jealous of Martha's massive plot, because I'm sure the woman has an entire team dedicated to its planning and planting, maintenance and upkeep.  But oh my goodness is it spectacular.

Every year we start our seeds in early spring with high hopes and good intentions.  Remember, I've been planning this garden in my daydreams since the first frost.  Yet somehow life gets away from us and our execution ends up somewhat mediocre.  Flower beds get overrun with weeds.  Seedlings are left to wither.  Seeds are sown four weeks later than they should, leaving us with measly cucumber and squash plants.  So I'll probably flip through those shiny pages for the sixth time, and soak in every tip, trick, and detail.  And maybe Milani and I will take a walk to the library and pick out a gardening book.  There is so much to learn, it's almost overwhelming.

But the point of our garden isn't to feed an army or outdo Martha, and the fact is, we've already pulled out a fair amount of peas, and our tomato plants have taken on a life of their own.  We will make salads with our lettuce, and soup with our leeks, and enjoy every bite of the things we harvest.  Each year we will strive to execute it a little bit better, learn a little bit more, and harvest a bigger crop, but in reality the current view from our garden rail isn't all too shabby.  Our gardening journey is off to a pretty good start and we'll only get better from here.

This year's bounty is slowly emerging.

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leeks                                                                                                                           snow peas   
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some of the sweetest grape tomatoes
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It's starting with snow peas and sugar snap peas, though we seriously underestimated how many vines we needed to plant.  We only get to pick a pathetic handful of pods every couple days.  We anxiously watch for each pod to ripen before we pluck it and devour it right in the backyard.  Lulu knows when she sees me scouring the vines, and she toddles her booty over to the garden fence and demands her share of the snap peas with those massive brown eyes and toothy grin.  How can I resist!?  I love that my girl loves the things we grow in our own soil.  I love that she gobbles down the sweet green peas, and then insists on chewing on the pod until all the sugar is sucked out.

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If she thinks the pod peas are good, wait 'till she gets a glimpse of the massive amount of grape tomatoes we're about to be assaulted with.


At the Lake

Many of my fondest childhood memories are set against the backdrop of Lake Wallenpaupack.  I remember playing with cap guns around the camp site, saddling up on one of my imaginary horses and riding through the brush.  I remember long days spent bobbing atop the waves, anchored in our cove, making up water games, and reading magazines in the sun.  We sucked down fresh squeezed lemonade, and boxes of Yoo Hoo.  Spit cherry pits from the side of the boat and watched as they plunked into the water.  Man, there are so so many good times tucked away in my memory from our days at that lake.

Which is why its so amazing and emotional for me to watch Milani splash and play in the cool early summer water at Lake Winola.  My girl didn't hesitate as the chilly water lapped at her toes.  She loves to be in the water, I think it's in her genes.

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She scooped up buckets of cool water and shiny pebbles and dumped them enthusiastically back into the small waves.  She watched her cousins play with squirt guns.

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It won't be long before she's asking to go tubing, or taking her first stab at waterskiing.  Maybe her memories of days spent at the lake will be some of her fondest.


Stay tuned for more summer adventures, we're only getting started!  Happy Thursday!

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

There is a delicate silver line that I gingerly tiptoe each time I gather my thoughts, photographs, and emotions together to write a post.  I snap the pictures, string together the words, and publish the posts to stretch my creative muscles, let family and friends eavesdrop on our corner of the world, and create a keepsake of the way we pass our days.

On one side of the line is honesty, truth and transparency, and in that respect I desperately want my posts to accurately reflect our lives.  On the opposite side is gratitude, optimism and discretion, and I find it refreshing and uplifting to challenge myself to seek out the beauty that is abundant in my life amongst a world rife with heartbreak and disappointment.  In this post, blogger Susanna Conway vents her frustrations about the lack of grit and honesty in the blogging world, and one of my favorite blog authors, Kelle Hampton, defends her rose colored glasses here arguing that Van Gogh chose not to paint toilets and dumpsters.

So I've been searching for the balance in my posts between finding the silver linings and painting an honest picture.  I am making an effort to view my life through rose colored glasses and find little miracles to be grateful for.  I have also been choosing not to focus on the negatives, insecurities and shortcomings.  I'm not in the market for smoke and mirrors, embellishment, or illusions of grandeur nor am I interested in airing my dirty laundry, complaining about small misfortunes, or showcasing my toilets and dumpsters.

Just in case my tendency to favor writing about the brighter side of life has anyone fooled into thinking I do it all, have it all figured out, or that I never have a bad day, here is a sample of the good, the bad, and the ugly; There are often dirty dishes in my sink (and on my counter, and kitchen table).  For the past three days I have rummaged through a basket of clean laundry for underwear rather than folding it and putting it away.  Given the choice, I will always pick time playing at the park, in the backyard, at the library, or farmers market over any sort of productive housework.  I rarely use Milani's nap time to get any respectable work done, if I'm not snuggled up next to her napping myself, I'm usually editing photos, reading, writing or (gasp) facebooking.  There was cat yak on the carpet in my bedroom for the better part of today (I swear it's easier to clean up once it dries.)  Jon can attest that its not at all uncommon for me to me to deliver an Oscar Award wining meltdown, and I am notorious for igniting my Italian fury and provoking a good fight.

Not so long ago I would rather have walked on nails than admit any those details even to myself,  and consider it a huge accomplishment to be able to embrace the gritty truth about myself.  I have to declare it a major victory over the nagging voices in my head that try to convince me that I should be investing huge amounts of energy and time into keeping a tidy house, and a level head.  I'm finally learning that a spotless house and perfect organization are not what make me a good mother or wife.  Instead it's the ability not to sweat the small things, to sweep the crap under the rug, and take the time to enjoy the million tiny sparkling moments that add up to a rich life.  I'm determined not to let them slip past unnoticed while I'm elbow deep in dishwater, or whining about the things that don't go my way.  So I'll keep putting off the mundane chores in favor of tea parties, and picnics, and afternoon bike rides;  I'll continue finding the silver linings and brilliant lessons hidden in the crappiest of days;  I'll continue carefully selecting the most exquisite moments to capture in pictures and words; And I'll continue my effort at being self-deprecatingly honest about the fact that, let's face it, I've got loads of room for improvement.  I guess I will keep teetering on my fine line serving up a heaping portion of optimism and humble gratitude, with a side of blatant reality.

And in an effort to divert the attention from the smoldering pile of wreckage I unloaded above;


I cannot get enough of this girl!

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I can't kiss her enough or hug her enough.  Can't hold her closely enough or breathe in deeply enough the sweetness from the top of her head.  And it seems as though every single thing she does is mesmerizing, and entertaining, and endlessly spellbinding to me.  I want to sear every moment and every image into my brain, because I never want to forget exactly the way she looks as she eats her bananas or tediously teeters across the room on wobbly legs. (Note to self: take more videos)

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When I break out the camera, my trigger finger goes insane. 

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I have to capture her laughing.

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And studying the other kids with a furrowed brow.

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And doing her twisting twirling version of a ballet performance on the ground.  I don't want to miss anything.  Which is why I end up with 241 pictures every time and wonder how I will ever narrow them down to the handful I end up posting.

Nothing beats watching her figure out her world.

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As she swishes her hands back and forth in the pool for the first time, or tastes the water, or fills and dumps out her blocks, it's as if I'm seeing the world for the first time through her eyes.

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Everything is fresh, and interesting, and warrants further exploration.  And when my girl smiles, lookout, because everything is suddenly right in the world and I expect the heavens to open and angels to sing.  Ok, that may have leaned a touch on the melodramatic side, but I just can't get enough of this girl!

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One Year

One year ago.

I anxiously and nervously awaited your arrival.  I couldn't wait to hold you in my arms.  To shower you with hugs, and kisses, and tears of joy.  At the same time I knew I'd mourn carrying you safe and snug inside.  I would miss the you and me time, with the kicks and flips and hiccups.

I was terrified of labor and delivery.  I was also terrified that the labor and delivery would be the easy part.  I was afraid I wouldn't know how to care for you.  I was afraid I wouldn't know how to love you.  I was afraid I didn't have an ounce of maternal instinct in my body.  Oh and dear God what if I hated motherhood? What if I ended up regretting the decision to have a baby.

One year ago you were born and my world was turned upside down.  Every uncertainty and insecurity dissolved one by one.  Caring for you was a joy.  Loving you came as naturally as breathing.  And as for maternal instinct?  Baby do I have it, and its fierce!  I love being your mother more than anything, and the decision to have you was the best one that I have ever made.

This past year flew by in the blink of an eye, but it was undoubtedly the best year of my life.  You taught me how to love unconditionally.  How to step back and breathe.  How to fight through the tough times.  And how to stop and enjoy the little blessings that surround me daily.  To marvel at the little things I would normally have taken for granted. 

If I had been struggling for purpose before you came into my life, I can rest easily now knowing that you are purpose.  To have brought you into the world so that everyone can know you, and love you, and see your light, well I'd say my purpose is met.  I am so unbelievably blessed to have you for a daughter, and enormously grateful to be the one you call mother.
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Happy First Birthday to my Little Angel!

I Love You!

Uniquely Beautiful

I am the type of person who has a stream of continually shifting and evolving interests.  All of which I enjoy.  None of which I am particularly good at.  One day I want to be a seamstress, the next, a photographer.  I want to craft and decorate, bake and knit.  I want to perfect the art of being a mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend.  I wear many hats in an assortment of hues.

And as I set out to learn my new skill du jour, and devour page after page of sewing patterns, photography tutorials, recipes, craft and decorating ideas, and mom blogs, I sometimes find myself quickly descending from I wish I could take a stunning photograph like her to She is so much better at life than I am!  I drift pathetically into the murky grey waters where my own life stops seeming adequate enough.  Where I stop seeming adequate enough.  Floating along playing the If only I were as good a seamstress…or photographer…or mom game.  The She has the perfect hair…body…career…house…life! game.

Sometimes it's easy for me to talk myself down, and let all sorts of imagined shortcomings fill me with anxiety.  And as a recovering perfectionist and people pleaser, I get to feeling that I have to become an expert in every area of interest. 

This is when I force-feed myself a hearty helping of reality.  None of these other amazing and inspiring women who write the recipes, articles, tutorials, and blogs are perfect.  They aren't experts at everything, or even pretending to be.  They are just waking up every day, comfortable in their own skin, basking in their own uniquely beautiful lives.  Learning as they go.

It isn't even a matter of looking for the silver linings in my life, because I'm living under nothing but clear blue skies!  In those inevitable moments of doubt and insecurity, I am reminded to live purposefully and present within my own life.  To marvel at the daily miracles that grace my world.  To live and learn, laugh and love.  I have a beautiful baby bean and a loving and kind husband.  An amazing family with its own lovely quirks, and friends who are no less than exquisite.  A job, a home, and my stream of continually shifting and evolving interests. All of which I enjoy.  None of which I am particularly good at, but all contribute to who I am and my uniquely beautiful life.

Today the miracles that are gracing my world;

These golden beauties blossoming out of bulbs that for the last two years produced nothing but leaves;
And the buds that are unfolding into blossoms to decorate every tree limb;
Our first afternoon spent in shorts.  The warm spring breeze and blue sky.  The sun kissing our cheeks and sidewalk masterpieces.
This stunning chalk flower courtesy of Justin.
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And bedtime kisses.
That's right, the sky is blue and the miracles are bountiful.