Isaac {Your Birth Story}

Dear Isaac,

It was a month ago. Yet in my mind could have been just a week, or yesterday. The day a mother first sees her child is forever branded into the fibers of her brain.

Where do I start in telling this story? My labor began on Friday, March 2nd. According to our first ultrasound, that was our due date. The practice surges I’d been feeling all week started to come more frequently. (Note: Practice surges = Braxton Hicks contractions, which are painless tightenings of the uterus in preparation for labor. I felt them randomly from about halfway through both my pregnancies, and much more often near the end. Also, I call contractions “surges”- something I picked up from the birth class our midwife teaches. I find it helps me to think of them this way- surges of energy rather than contracting/tensing up. In labor and birth, the words you use and the way you think about things matters quite a lot.) By midday they were consistently 10-15 minutes apart and were getting pretty uncomfortable. This was how my first labor began, too- very gradually- and with Seth this early part lasted more than a day, so I wasn’t yet thinking “this is it”, I just knew that it would be soon. Your grandma Jackie had been saying all week that she thought you’d come on Saturday, and she tends to be right when she makes those kind of predictions. On Friday, though, I was really starting to wonder if you’d hold out that long.

Your dad worked his usual shift that day- 7am to 7pm. We talked in the afternoon and I told him what I was feeling, but gave no indication that I thought it was real labor (I wasn’t at all sure yet myself, and I didn’t want to get myself too excited since I knew it could still be days. I just wanted to be as normal as possible in every way until labor prevented me from doing so.) During our conversation, I mentioned a craving for Indian food from our favorite local restaurant, Indus, and he said “let’s do it!”. (He loves their chicken biriyani and will eat it any chance he gets.) So I brought Seth to play and have dinner at grandma and papa’s house, and then I came home to wait for your dad. In the car, I had to really put effort into focusing on the road during surges. This was when I knew for sure that they no longer qualified as practice surges- these were real. As I pulled back into our driveway, I briefly wondered if I even should have been driving, and resolved that if I was still pregnant tomorrow I wouldn’t drive myself anywhere.

By the time 7:05 came and your dad walked in the door, I’d decided to time the surges for a while. We were supposed to call Connie, our midwife, when they were 8 minutes apart or less, lasting 30-45 seconds or longer, for at least 30 minutes. They were currently ranging from 7.5 to 12 minutes apart, and lasting 20-30 seconds or so. Sometimes they were fairly uncomfortable, but having given birth before I was reluctant to yet apply the word “pain” to the situation. I knew I was in early labor, and your dad and I briefly questioned our dinner plans, but I wanted that Indian food. Besides, I figured, when would we next get a chance to go out for dinner- just the two of us?

During dinner, my surges continued to be about the same frequency, but gained some intensity. The food was amazing. I had my favorite, bagara baigan- eggplant in a coconut ginger sauce- with jasmine rice and garlic naan. I kept having to stop eating and breathe during surges. I’d love to know what the restaurant staff though of the very pregnant lady who was drinking so much water and kept this strange look on her face- maybe they thought I was nuts, or were nervous that I’d have a baby in their restaurant! We picked up your brother from grandma’s house and went to bed shortly after arriving home, unsure of what the night would bring.

The basic plan was to have the birth tub set up in our bedroom and have a water birth as I did with your brother. Over the recent weeks I’d carefully gathered and double-checked all the supplies listed by our midwife, and everything was ready. The tub would be brought while I was in labor. My mom would come down from Stuart (about a 40-minute drive) and be dropped off by my dad so she could spend the first night here with us, and grandma Jackie would be here for your birth as well. Papa was going to take Seth and then bring him back soon after you were born. My photographer friend April would come to document it all.

So… we went to bed sometime around 10pm, and the surges kept coming about every 10 minutes. I couldn’t sleep through them- they were much too uncomfortable- but I tried to get as much rest as I could in between. Sometime after 2am, they just hurt too much if I continued lying down. I went downstairs and drank some water and timed them, and suddenly (I’m assuming spurred by my walking around) they were only 3-6 minutes apart and much more intense. I called Connie, and she told me to keep timing and call her again in 30 minutes. I’d planned on having fruit and cheese available for the midwives and everyone else to snack on, but I hadn’t cut them up yet. This suddenly seemed very important, as it was the final thing on my “preparation for labor” list, so I found myself (somewhat irrationally) in the kitchen cutting up apples at 2:30am, stopping to lean over the counter for each surge, which were getting more and more intense. After I’d finished that, I went upstairs and nudged your dad to wake up. I called Connie again, and she could tell from my voice that things had really picked up and said she would be on her way. I told your dad that we needed to change the sheets and put the waterproof mattress pad on, to which he replied “that means I have to get out of bed, right?”. I still kept thinking (based on my first birth experience) that I still had plenty of time. I called my mom and your dad called his, and Connie was bringing the tub I’d rented from the birth center, so there was nothing left to do but wait for everyone to arrive. Your dad supported me during surges. Soon my mom was here, and Connie showed up minutes later. While she asked questions, took my vitals, etc, your dad and grandma worked on setting up the tub. I texted April, the photographer, to tell her it was time. That was probably the last coherent thing I was able to do- after that I was in “labor land”. Soon grandma Jackie and Connie’s assistant midwife, Kristen, were the room too. Throughout all of this my labor was intensifying, but even I did not realize just how fast at that point. I used pain-coping techniques I’d learned to help me through each surge. One I found effective was “non-focused awareness” (it’s discussed in Pam England’s Birthing From Within). It is basically allowing the mind to be aware of and acknowledge each individual thing around you, with all your senses, but not hold focus on any one thing. I remember even now some of the things I named in my mind during surges in that intense stage of labor… “carpet under my knees, sheet against my cheek, air pump for the tub, Manny’s voice, Mom’s voice, a hand on my back, air conditioner running, Connie’s voice, Sigur Ros playing from my iPhone…etc. I also used aromatherapy to help me relax and ease the pain. I’d done a little research on this ahead of time and had made a blend of lavender, clary sage, and jasmine oils, which your dad used to massage my back and shoulders.

I was more than ready for the warm water of birth tub, but it didn’t have any water yet. Connie suggested I get into the shower while waiting for the tub, and I figured any warm water would be great. While Kristen was starting to run the water, I had another surge and leaned on the bathroom counter for support. During that one, I began to feel a little “pushy”. It seemed the shower- and the birth tub- were out, but I don’t think anyone knew that yet but me, and I wasn’t able to communicate it. They tried to get the tub-filling efforts sped up, and we went to the bed to check my progress. Connie had asked me if I wanted her to this, as she doesn’t check routinely as doctors do, and I decided that I’d like to have a better idea of how soon you would be here. As I laid down, anther surge started and I rolled onto my side, and then my water broke. Then, I really had to push. My body was pushing for me- at this point in labor, there is no choice in the matter. The mind is a silent(ish) observer as the body takes over and does what it was designed to do. I was leaning over a stack of pillows, on my knees in bed. My mom was near my head, and your daddy was next to me. I could feel their love and support, but in my immediate conscience it was just you and me. In my mind, I spoke to you in between surges and pushing, something like “we’re doing this together, baby. we can do it. we’re going to meet face-to-face so soon…” Suddenly I heard Connie say the word “crowning” (and I felt that she was very right), and with the next push or your head was born. Another push (or a few? I’m not sure), and you were out. Crying- a healthy, clear and strong voice. Your daddy caught you behind me and passed you to me, and they helped me turn and sit down. I looked at you- stared at you. Soon you were nursing vigorously, and I couldn’t take my eyes off you. You had long fingers, I noticed. You were perfect, and I somehow felt I knew you already, that you were familiar to me in a very deep way. During my pregnancy I had I dream in which I clearly saw your face, and I think you look exactly as you did in that dream.

Later I looked saw Connie’s notes, and learned that I’d pushed for only 5 minutes. My active labor was 3.5 hours long. You were born at 5:52am on March 3rd- Saturday, just as your grandma said you would be. You weighed exactly 8 and 1/2 pounds, and were 21.5 inches long.

Your brother slept through much of this, and when the commotion did wake him, he watched Thomas the Train downstairs. He wasn’t worried, as I’d feared he might be. Your Papa was coming to pick him up, but you were born before he could get here. It ended up being so perfect, that you and your brother could meet so soon after you arrived. You must have just been ready to join us in our world, my love- you came before my mind had much chance to process what was happening, before a single drop of water was put into the birth tub, and also before April could get here with her camera. So there are no photos or videos of your birth. She did arrive about an hour afterwards though, and captured some of that first morning of us as a family of four- all snuggled in our bed. I’ll treasure the memory and pictures of that morning forever- so full of love and joy.

Welcome, my sweet Isaac. Your name means “he who laughs”, and already the joy you’ve brought us is beyond words.

Love forever,


all photos above, © April Milner of Coconut Circle Photography

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The First Weeks

This… is life lately.

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Kids, work, time & priorities

Our Isaac will be three weeks old tomorrow- my how that time has flown. It has been such a blur, such a change from our previous routine. I have found myself wondering if life will ever feel normal again- if I will ever manage to find a routine now that there are two little people to care for. For now, our days are centered around the most basic needs for food and sleep and lots of cuddling, and as any mom who has breastfed knows, nursing a newborn is basically a full-time job. Of course, it feels much different when there is also a three-year-old who wants grapes and a sandwich and to go to the park and a drink of water and help going potty… etc, etc. So the days really feel full and exhausting, but also full of so much love and joy.

We have spent much more time at home and indoors than usual, and I am itching to get out more but between the baby being so little still and me needing to not overdo it, we are proceeding slowly with that. I’m trying to simply enjoy the downtime and let myself just be in it rather than getting too antsy. These days have done so much to remind me how very precious my little family is. I feel so very blessed that it’s rather overwhelming. I think that at times I have forgotten just how important the job of mothering really is. Our society doesn’t acknowledge that very often, and in fact tends to look down on those moms who choose family over career. It has taken a few weeks of maternity leave for me to realize how influenced I’ve been by those views. As a mom who works from home, I have been far too distracted by work at times when my family should have come first. It’s pretty much always a time management issue- rather than saving work for designated times (when my husband is home, or after Seth goes to bed), I have often allowed it to distract me from being present during the day for my son. I think I have been subconsciously aiming to feel that I’d accomplished something tangible during the day- to feel like “more” than just a stay-at-home-mom. I hate that I’ve fallen into that mindset. I hate that my three-year-old knows and uses the phrase “I’m too busy.”

Seriously- screw society’s messed-up priorities. Americans are notoriously overworked, overstressed, and place far too little importance on family. There is no virtue in being too busy to enjoy life or to give your best to those you love. I really believe that there is no job more important than that of motherhood. The way we interact with our children in the first several years of their lives- the things we say and teach and the experiences we give them, will shape the rest of their lives and influence who they grow up to be. Stepping away from work for a while and taking time to really see my kids (wow- I now have “kids”- plural…), and to evaluate my own heart and attitudes, has shown me that my days have not often been a true reflection of my heart’s priorities. I’m not saying that my business isn’t important or that I need to pay less attention to it. Running my business from home is what allows me to be at home with my kids. I just need to be careful about when I pay attention to it, learn to be as efficient as possible during that time, and acknowledge that being a mom is a job too, and the more important one.
I love this quote from author Anna Quindlen, which comes up over and over in my Pinterest feed:

A disclaimer: it is absolutely not my intention to alienate anyone here. There is far too much judgement among mothers, and as far as I’m concerned, a good mom is one who makes the best choices for her family. Moms who work outside the home, or who are 100% full-time moms, or who work at home as I do… are all doing what is best for their families. None are less than the others; none are wrong. Just as is it awful that society looks down on those who choose full-time motherhood, it is just as awful for anyone to judge a mom who chooses to- or has no choice but to- go to work.
What I’m talking about here is that the time we spend on actively mothering needs to be focused on our kiddos, fully present with them. For me, that time is the majority of most of my days, but for others it may be each evening and weekend. What is important is that our kids get all of us in that time.

I’m making it a goal to place more separation between my roles as business owner and mom, to be more present for my kids, less distracted when I’m with them. Because they are only little for a while. It goes by way too fast, and later they will not need me so intensely (and at times may not even want me around at all). This time is just too precious to miss.

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Welcome Isaac

He’s here, my friends. Actually, he’s two weeks old already, which hardly seems possible. Time seems to be going by fast, and yet all at once I feel I’ve known him for all my life. He is amazing and has captured my heart in one of the deepest ways humanly possible. The last two weeks have been a blur of every emotion possible, mingled with sleepless nights, daytime naps, physically healing, lots of nursing, and generally soaking up all the newborn-ness.

I want to sit down soon and write Isaac’s birth story, and when I do I will surely post it here along with more pictures.

For now, here is our precious boy at 5 days old…

and one with Seth, who (most of the time at least!) simply adores his new baby brother

Isaac Manuel Mayo

born at home | March 3, 2012 at 5:52am

8lb, 8oz | 21 inches

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39 weeks {a letter}

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This boy. Smart and funny, full of wonder… has taught me so much in three years that have been his life.

I’ve had that feeling lately that every parent knows so well. Why does time seem to pass so quickly? How is my baby three already? Can I slow it down, just a little, please?

Last weekend our parents and siblings came and celebrated three years of Seth- we went to the zoo (which is a favorite place of his), and then home for lunch and chocolate cake (another favorite thing). At this point in my pregnancy, I wasn’t up for hosting anything bigger, but this was just perfect anyway.
One of his favorite gifts has been a “Kid-Tough” digital camera, and I love the way he goes around the house documenting his view of everything. He took well over 100 photos in the first few hours after opening it (though a fair number of the were of the floor). When he takes pictures of people, his composition is actually surprisingly good (person centered in frame, usually smiling). I’m a proud mama.

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36 weeks {a letter}

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Strawberry Picking

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Breakfast with Seth

Part of an attempt to capture the everyday moments that can seem too mundane to bother… because I have been realizing how fleeting each stage really is, how precious every moment.

I want our lives- their lives and their childhoods- to be documented and remembered, cherished.

And seriously, he’s just too adorable, even while eating Cheerios : )

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This Year.

It’s the evening of the very first day of this new year, and as I sit here typing I can hear leftover fireworks being set off not far away. Last night they went on for hours. My own celebration was simple and quiet, which was just fine with me as I enter the eighth month of my pregnancy.

I have always loved New Year’s Eve. It’s the welcoming of something fresh- three hundred and sixty-five days, yet to be written and full of promise. This year I’m anticipating so much change as our family grows by one. There will adjustments and challenges, and the complete joy that a new baby brings. There will be the continuation of my constant search for balance in life as I must learn all over again to simultaneously be wife and mama, photographer and entrepreneur, and still just me- all in a new way.

There will be some frustration (I already feel it) in finding that balance. Even now my body tells me to slow down and I’m not yet ready to. I have set the start of my maternity leave for mid-February, when I’ll be full term. I have much to do between now and then, but I really want to get to a place where I can turn off my business mind for a few months and focus completely on my family. I want to give them all of me in that time- I need to.
I want to focus my lens on them as well, and get back to that place where each expression and sweet moment makes me reach for a camera. I want to document us- our life as family- because as much as I love doing this for my clients and I am incredibly thankful that this is my job, this gift I’ve been given must be used for my family. Looking back at the folders of images I’ve taken over the last few years I noticed a trend in my work that bothered me a lot- as my business became busier, the number of pictures I took of Seth decreased. During his first year, during which I worked very little, I was always photographing him- sleeping, eating, smiling, playing. The following two years I still brought my camera out with us from time to time and I still took pictures of Seth, but not nearly as many, and often hardly any of the everyday life stuff- the details I’ll want to look back on and share with him later. It would simply not be okay with me if one day my grown boys ask me why there weren’t so many photos of them over the years as my career grew. They are truly my most important subjects. So I am going to start a habit- I guess you could call it one of my New Year’s goals- of documenting the lives of those I love the most. I know that artistically it will do nothing but sharpen me as well.

Last year, I chose the word thrive for 2011. It turned out to be quite fitting, though there were so many times in the last year when I didn’t really feel like I was thriving. But spending more than half the year growing a baby inside, and growing personally and spiritually in ways my soul desperately needed, definitely made it an appropriate word for the year.

In 2012, it is not one word but two:

be present.

This is one thing I have never been particularly good at, and yet I know so many areas of my life need it, and will more so than ever this year. Mentally, I am so often everywhere but the current moment, and I know it contributes to so much worry and mental chaos.
I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on that here soon… but for now, happy new year!

{Do you like our fun with sparklers from last night? I’ve been wanting to play with light and long exposure for several fireworks-type holidays in a row now, and this time I finally had a decent tripod. So when Manny got home from work yesterday I dragged him outside and had him do some light-writing for me. :) Seth absolutely loves them too, as you can see. I’m so glad, because I was inexplicably terrified to go near them when I was little.}

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