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All Politics is Local…

2 Aug

…so I decided to get involved! Tonight I attended my first meeting of the Alexandria Republican City Committee, and it was very interesting. I met tons of people, including city council members and candidates for local and state-wide office. Now I have plenty of events lined up to keep me busy over the next month and a few new bumper stickers for my Subaru. I’m even more excited for the upcoming election now!

Of course I still got a few pictures of Ruby earlier in the day. It’s a good thing she is so cute because she’s been just about climbing the walls recently!

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No Good Very Bad Day

21 Jun

So my heart is breaking a little.

Our sweet doggy Cash, who loyal readers know well, growled and snapped at Ruby today.  She got a big gash in her neck and two trips to the ER as a result, and now it is time for us to find Cash a new home.

Cash has been a wonderful dog and this was just so…unexpected.  He has always been patient and loving with Ruby, but we just can’t risk another incident.  I think I was in denial that we would really have to get rid of him until Matty came home today and was as strong and firm on the issue as I needed him to be.

Today has been, hands down, my hardest day yet as a mommy.  Cash was our first baby and we love him dearly, but that love simply does not compare to how we feel about our little girl.  It is so very hard to know that we have to give him away, but we are determined to find a good and loving home for our big boy.

If anyone out there knows anyone who would be interested in adopting a wonderful pet, please let me know.  Cash is about three years old and weighs 93 lbs.  We adopted him from a lab rescue over two years ago and believe that he is a mastiff/rottweiler/lab mix.  He is a very well-behaved dog–he rides well in the car, walks well on the leash, and does not chew.  He can be left at home all day by himself very easily but loves affection too.  Really he is the perfect dog; he just should not be in a home with very small children.

Has anyone else ever had to give up a pet for a child?  Are we doing the right thing???

Ruby at the hospital, round two.

Ruby’s injury

Cash. Please help us find him a good home.

5.23.12

23 May

I made a new friend today. At the dog park. The whole thing was delightfully unexpected and made me feel like I was five years old again, in the best way possible.

We also had our friends Mike and Jen over for dinner, which was fun and full of great conversation.

Here is Ruby at our favorite time of day, waiting for Daddy to come home.

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Happy Mother’s Day!

13 May

Feeling so very blessed today, and every day, to have the most wonderful mother in the world. I thought I couldn’t love or appreciate her any more, until I had Ruby.

Now I understand how hard it is to be a mom–and I only have one! Mom has five and five grand babies, and always made it look so effortless.

And now that I am a mom too, my mother walks that line between being helpful but not overbearing, and giving advice while not being critical. She is simply perfect to me.

So thanks Mommy. I love you.

Last year we celebrated in California with my mom (the first picture) and this year we got together with Matty’s family at his cousin’s house in Pennsylvania. It was a wonderful time celebrating with my other mom, who I also love and appreciate!

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An Ocean Away

30 Apr

I have had the privilege of contributing to my alumni magazine, Shipmate, for the past few years.  My final column was published in March.  It is a fairly short piece and I was not able to get into all of the details of my opinions on women’s policy in the Navy and my decision to resign my commission, but I think I mostly got my point across.

One major point that I did not explicitly state in the article is that my decision to get out and take care of Ruby full-time, while difficult, was made far easier by the fact that I had already completed my active duty service obligation.  Graduating from the Naval Academy requires a minimum of five years on active duty.  I actually sending up serving almost seven, including three years onboard a warship and a nine month deployment to Iraq.  It was very important to me to complete my obligation, and I  am glad that we had Ruby after my minimum sea duty was up, or I would have gone back out to sea.

Please let me know what you think.  The decision to work or stay at home to raise kids is not an easy one, and I would love some other perspectives.

On a side note, this is officially my last day on active duty.  I will always be proud to have served in the world’s finest Navy with amazing shipmates and friends.

Modern Love Rejects

5 Mar

You know my essay, “Sacramental Milk?”

You know how the NY Times rejected it?

Well I recently stumbled upon this awesome website, submitted my essay, and the lovely ladies there decided to publish it!  Woohoo!  If you have a minute, I would love it if you would venture over there and leave a comment.  Thanks so much!

Here is the link:

http://www.modernloverejects.com/?p=1728#.T1Pjv3sWQfQ.twitter

Last Day

2 Mar

Today was my last day working as an active duty naval officer.

I cried.

Not at first. I held it together all morning; when I first woke up and Ruby just wanted to snuggle; when she cried when I left; when the Commanding Officer presented me with a Navy Commendation Medal; when I walked out of the office for the very last time.

The first tears came when I got home and really realized that this was also Elise’s last day as Ruby’s nanny. I cannot describe in words how wonderful it has been to live with my sister this past year, and to always know that Ruby was being lovingly cared for by her auntie. We have always been pretty close, but this last year has really brought our relationship to a new level and I will always cherish this time we had together.

My second breakdown came at lunch with my coworkers. This past year has been absolutely the most challenging of my career, due entirely to one individual (technically my boss). I would not have made it without the support of my entire department, and especially my Chief Petty Officers. We all bonded over our mutual misery and I was able to keep going because I always knew they had my back. I am so very grateful to have served with them–it has truly been an honor.

But I am ready to move on.

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Advice from Ron

28 Feb

I was watching Parks and Recreation last night with Matty and Elise, and Ron Swanson (expertly played by Nick Offerman and easily one of my favorite television characters of all time) said the most perfect and prescient thing for me at this particular point in my life.  He was counseling Amy Poehler’s character, Leslie Knopp, to take a leave of absence from work in order to fully concentrate on her campaign for city council.  Leslie is a go-getter who likes to do everything perfectly, but both her campaign and job in the Pawnee Parks Department were suffering because she was spreading herself too thin. 

So Ron tells Leslie “never half ass two things, whole ass one thing.”

I almost fell out of my chair, I thought this was so profound.

My mother, who was a superb naval officer back in the day, has given me the same advice, but Ron put it so succinctly, and the timing was so amazing, that it really just hit me in the face last night.

You see, this is my last week working as an active duty naval officer.

Being in the Navy is all I really know how to do.  I inducted into the Naval Academy almost 11 years ago and never looked back.  I know that I am making the right decision by getting out, but have been struggling with letting this huge part of my life (and my identity) go.

I know, deep down in my bones, that this is what I have to do, but it is still so hard.  I don’t ever remember being as stressed out as I have been over this past year.  This is partly due to my particular situation at work—there was a crucial turnover while I was on maternity leave and the new guy has been dreadfully hard to work for—but so much of it has to do with me.

I have been in a particularly lucky spot considering that my wonderful sister lives with us and takes excellent care of Ruby, and I happen to have the BEST husband who is understanding and helpful and just an all-around great guy, but my house has been messier than I like and this stresses me out far more than it should.  Ruby still does not sleep through the night, so neither do I, and by the time I get home from work I am so exhausted I just want to sit around and watch TV and play with Ruby.  I have done tons of research on the benefits of eating whole, unprocessed food, but have been too tired to cleanse my kitchen of all the crap and actually consistently cook real meals for my family every day.  This tiredness and laziness have combined into a horrible force and I have allowed myself to gain almost 30 lbs since I dropped 50 right after Ruby was born.  The weight gain has, in turn, stressed me out even more.

I know that staying home will not be some sort of magic pill that will drag me off the couch and make me a more energetic, exciting mom.  However, I also know that being able to devote 100% of my time and attention to being Matty’s wife and Ruby’s mom, “whole-assing” this homemaker business, will remove at least some of the stress and a ton of the time drags that have made this past year so difficult.  New challenges are ahead for sure, and I will have to deal with them head-on, but for the moment I can’t wait to start my new life as a Virginia Navy wife.

And I have Ron Swanson to thank for that.

Sacramental Milk

27 Feb

This is an essay I submitted to the New York Times for their Sunday “Modern Love” Column.  

It was rejected.

Oh well.  I hope that you enjoy it here, and that maybe it can help some other new mother cope with a traumatic birth experience.

“Sacramental Milk”

I call it my sacramental milk. 

In the Anglican Church in which I was raised, a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, and that is exactly what my breast milk is: the visible, physical manifestation of the spiritual and emotional love I have for my daughter, Ruby.

When I first got pregnant I knew that I would breast feed but never imagined that the simple act of feeding my child would carry so much significance for me.  I have never been much of a hippie (I am a naval officer by trade), I don’t like pain and I am not opposed to modern medicine—my mantra is that God created pharmacists for a reason and I take Zyrtec for my allergies, Midol for cramps and Advil for headaches, but when I found out I was pregnant I felt drawn towards natural childbirth and midwifery. For some reason the idea of motherhood awakened something primal deep within me and I very much wanted a home birth, but the idea made my wonderful husband, Matty, very nervous.  My insurance would not cover the lovely birthing center we toured, but my superb Navy-provided midwife, Sherrie, assured me that I could have my peaceful, drug-free birth at Balboa Naval Hospital.    

As my due date rapidly approached I started visualizing my cervix opening up like a flower to allow my baby to emerge.  Whenever negative thoughts about painful contractions or complications entered my mind I immediately pushed them out and thought instead about how I would help my labor progress naturally.  I was dreadfully afraid of both pitocin and epidurals and vowed that I would not need them to birth my child.  It didn’t look like I would need them anyway.  My pregnancy was very healthy all the way up to my due date, March 14th.

Then I got sick.

My blood pressure was elevated so Sherrie ordered additional tests, which confirmed that I had developed preeclampsia, a life-threatening disorder that occurs only during pregnancy and can lead to seizure, stroke, multiple organ failure and death of the mother and/or baby.  I was admitted to the hospital and hooked up to an IV of magnesium sulphate; a drug used to prevent seizures in women with preeclampsia, and told that I would be bedridden and thus unable to walk around or bounce on my yoga ball to help my labor progress.  In one fell swoop my visions of a natural, drug-free birth vanished.

I soldiered on, cheerfully chatting with Matty, my mother, and my mother-in-law as well as the dozens of nurses, midwives, and doctors who cycled through my room.  I still practiced my visualizations but my labor progressed ever so slowly, despite receiving the dreaded pitocin and an epidural.  I was finally ready to push over 24 hours after I had originally been admitted to the hospital.

So I pushed.

For three hours.

I tried harder to push out my baby than I have ever tried to do anything in my entire life, but I failed.

The drugs made me drowsy and I spiked a 102.6 degree fever, so I drifted in and out of consciousness, but I do remember the attending physician coming into my room and telling me that I was done pushing and would deliver by caesarean instead.  At 11:18 pm on March 15thmy beautiful Ruby Jeanne was born.  I was overjoyed but amidst all of the emotion I felt a not-so-tiny pang of disappointment that I had been a failure.  There was nothing I could do to change what had happened so I shifted my focus to being a good mother for Ruby, which at the moment basically consisted of loving her, cleaning her, and feeding her.  I was in a tremendous amount of pain and because of the drugs I was unable to get out of bed so I could not even change her diaper, and Matty and the moms helped shower Ruby with love, but it was up to me alone to feed our little angel.

We both took to breastfeeding.  I was blessed with very large breasts and was delighted that they were actually good for something beyond the occasional free drink at a bar now that I had been lugging them around for so long.  I very much enjoyed the special bond I felt with Ruby, and that I was the only one who could provide food for her itty bitty belly.  After a difficult birth this was my ode to motherhood, a love letter to my daughter that only I could write.

We were finally discharged from the hospital four days after the birth.  When we went back for our 48 hour visit the pediatrician was aghast at her weight loss and demanded that I start feeding her formula.  I was beside myself but thankfully my mother and mother-in-law deduced that my milk had been delayed due to all of the drugs.  Later on at home we verified that it had finally started flowing and Ruby began to eat voraciously.  She regained her weight without consuming any formula and we were back on track.

I loved being home with Ruby and dreaded returning to work after my maternity leave.  Everything about her fascinated me—her smiles, her sighs, her teeny tiny toes and her perfect rosebud mouth.  I never wanted to be away from her, but going back to work also meant that I wouldn’t be there to feed her.  I had to start pumping.

I bought the best pump money can buy, and about two weeks before returning to work I hooked myself up to it and started pumping.

I looked like a dairy cow.

felt like a dairy cow as I watched my milk drip down into the little plastic beakers, drop by drop by drop. 

I had no earthly idea just how much milk Ruby was consuming throughout the day, and was dismayed when, after a solid week of pumping, my mom thought that I might have enough milk stored in the freezer for my first day back.

Just one day?

My first day back to work I was shown to the storage closet that the half-dozen nursing mothers use for a lactation room.  It is a little windowless room with a hodgepodge of random items and a table and some chairs shoved into a corner for us to use.  The walls are bare and dingy with the one bright spot being a framed picture of the San Francisco skyline that our executive secretary took while she was on vacation.    Every three hours I unlocked the door, hung up the little sign and pumped.  I was able to produce a bit more than enough to feed my baby, but the pump was always there, in the back of my mind.  Other new mothers and I would huddle together comparing output.  This is a horrible, horrible thing to admit, but I would feel a twinge of either superiority or inferiority, depending on how my milk output compared to those of my friends.

I had settled into a nice pumping rhythm when I took Ruby on a 9 day tour across the country to show her off to family and left my pump behind.  I still fed her on demand like always, but when I returned to the daily grind I was shocked and dismayed to discover that my milk production had decreased and Ruby’s intake had sky-rocketed.

My first day back I settled into the storage closet and stared, horrified, as my milk refused to flow.  It just dripped out, ever so slowly, taunting me.

Drip…drip…drip….

It was like every insecurity I felt as a new mother dripped out with my milk.  Like the time I left her sleeping on my bed and returned a few minutes later to discover that she had rolled off onto the floor.

Drip…drip…drip….

The Tylenol I gave Ruby “for her ears” on a cross-country flight, secretly praying that it would put her to sleep for those long hours on the airplane.

Drip…drip…drip….

The cloth diapers that I had briefly considered and then rejected because Luvs are just so much more convenient.

Drip…drip…drip…

I had tried so very hard to deliver her naturally only to be cut open and have her ripped from my body.

Drip…drip…drip….

And my one greatest insecurity, the one that almost dare not speak its name; the fact that when I look at my daughter, so sweet, soinnocent, so beautiful that it almost takes my breath away, I know deep down that I am utterly unworthy and inadequate for the task of raising her.  I was able to keep those feelings at bay, just underneath the surface, until I could no longer even nourish my child.

In that storage closet I had to come to terms with the inescapable reality that I cannot protect her from everything and that I will not always be able to fulfil all of her needs.  But at least I could try, at least for now.

I researched ways to increase milk production and set about on a quest to fill my freezer to the brim with little bags of my liquid gold.  I bought expensive vitamins and a bra contraption printed with cheerful cherries for hands-free convenience and started pumping.  A lot.  And you know what?  My milk started to flow again, before I had to give Ruby a single drop of formula.

I just took Ruby to her four month check-up and she is thriving.  Long and lean she is in the 97th percentile for height and I am hoping that she takes after my sister, her beloved Auntie Elise, who is a statuesque 5’10” compared to my middling  5’ 5.5”.  Even as an infant she already displays a beautiful love of life and a curiosity about the world around her, and I am so looking forward to watching her blossom and grow.  Ruby’s incredible, energetic personality and chubby cheeks give testament to the power of copious amounts of love and sacramental milk.

 

Letter to my pregnant friend

17 Feb

ImageMy My dear sweet friend,

I am so happy and excited for you to join the ranks of motherhood!  I wanted to take this chance to write down a few things that I have learned (and many that I am still struggling to learn) during this amazing first year as Ruby’s mom.  Obviously we are different, and you can take this all with a grain of salt.  As my very wise sister Rebecca says “advice is easily given and just as easily ignored.”

First, don’t drive yourself crazy trying to have the perfect pregnancy.  Eat well, sleep a lot, and keep exercising if you can (the pool is the best!).  Everybody has a different opinion about the perfect pregnancy diet, but I liked my midwife’s advice to enjoy what you want (even coffee) in moderation.  Please also enjoy your pregnancy—it is magical in so many ways.  For me, carrying Ruby gave me a whole new appreciation for this body that I have been fighting with for so long.  It may be a bit bigger than I would prefer, but it kept Ruby safe and warm and that is amazing.  I tried to also be mindful of the fact that there are so many women out there who would love to be pregnant and can’t be, so while I didn’t delight in every inconvenience and ache and pain I did try not to dwell on them or complain too much.

Research childbirth.  I so wanted a natural, drug-free childbirth after doing copious amounts of research that convinced me that birth is a natural process that our bodies were designed for.  My main motivation was medical—I truly believe that fewer interventions are better for baby and mommy, but there was also a small (big?) part of me that wanted to prove how brave, or strong, or brave and strong I am.  Things didn’t turn out at all how I had planned, and one emergency c-section later I felt like a complete failure BUT I was also at peace with every decision Matty and I had made during labor because I was very well-informed going into the process.  I questioned the midwives, nurses, and doctors every step of the way and never felt bullied into anything.  Many women I know who have had negative birth experiences did not speak up for themselves when they disagreed with the doctors.  Doctors do things a certain way and expect their patients to go along with them, but if you speak up and ask questions they will listen to you.  If they do not then demand to talk to someone new.  Be informed before you go into labor so that you feel confident to voice your opinions and ask relevant questions.  Also, reading birth stories can be very empowering!  My very favorite childbirth book is “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” by Ina May Gaskin.

Be surprised!  Ok this was my own personal preference, but I absolutely loved not knowing Ruby’s gender until she was born.  It was an awesome surprise after a long and difficult labor, and it forced us to get gender-neutral big stuff (car seat, strollers, etc) and people gave us all the basics rather than a bunch of frilly girly outfits (which I adore, but aren’t super practical when a n infant is usually just chilling at home).  Obviously Matty and I were in the super minority, but it was just so much fun to keep guessing the whole nine months.

Breastfeed.  Rebecca and I are self-styled breastfeeding evangelists.  It is the absolute best first decision you can make for your baby and for yourself. Babies need the specific nutrition that breast milk provides but they also crave the comfort and closeness.  Breastfeeding is so much easier than bottles, especially at night and when you are out and about, because it is always there and always the right temperature.  Also, a study by Yale University researchers showed that women who breastfed for two years or longer reduced their risk of breast cancer by 50 percent!  How amazing is that?  If you have issues breastfeeding or need encouragement then call me, or a lactation consultant, or contact a local chapter of La Leche League.  For when you return to work and need to pump, the Medela Pump in Style double electric pump is pricey ($300) but worth every penny.

Consider cloth.  I never thought that I would be one of those women, but I LOVE my cloth diapers.  I briefly considered cloth when I was pregnant and then decided against it for some reason I can’t really recall right now.  I finally ordered my first cloth diaper around Thanksgiving and really started full-time cloth diapering about two months ago.  (Ruby does still wear disposables when she is with Elise, but cloth whenever I am with her).  You save a TON of money, especially the earlier you start and if you have multiple children, and they are adorable, and I like the thought of doing my little part to keep a tiny fraction of a landfill free.  If you have questions I would love to talk about my favorite brands and what I plan to do with Baby Shellock #2, whenever he or she comes along.

Hold your baby.  As much as humanly possible.  I know that it is cliché, but babies do grow up so very fast—I cannot believe that Ruby will be a year old in less than a month.  A lot of people get very wrapped up in putting the baby down to sleep, and it is definitely true that I got a lot less sleep because Ruby preferred to be held, but I wouldn’t trade those moments (and hours) with her for anything.  There is just nothing like a sweet sleeping baby to make everything right with the world.  Ruby is finally sleeping through the night in her crib, but we still hold her for all of her naps.  While I was on maternity leave I would sit in our big armchair with her every afternoon and drift off to sleep with her on my chest.  I had laundry to fold and dinner to make and a messy house, but I also had my precious baby sleeping sweetly in my arms.  Babies want to be held and loved and cuddled.  They have just spent nine months all snuggly warm in your womb and are confused when they emerge into this big bright world.  The best way to make them feel safe and secure is to hold them (and breastfeed too!).

Motherhood is hard—so much harder than I thought it could possibly be.  Don’t get me wrong, it is also amazing and wonderful and beautiful, but it is really hard to have a teeny tiny person completely dependent on you, 24/7.  It’s ok to cry when your world seems to be closing in on you, or for no reason at all.  As hard as it is at first it gets easier quickly—you establish a routine of sorts and get used to putting baby’s needs above your own, all day every day.  Matty is amazing with Ruby but he doesn’t understand what it is like to be a mother—no one can until they have experienced it.  Don’t be too hard on yourself, and enjoy the happy easy moments.

You are a wonderful person and will be a wonderful mother.  I am here for you whenever you need  me.

Love you,

Sarah