La Cuarentena, the first forty days

Earlier versions of this post were drafted in September-November 2016. Updated for clarity.

***
The day after Mamá Toni passed away almost two years ago my mom shared an idea with me.

“I was thinking that you, Sean and Xavi should move in to Mamá Toni’s old room.”

She had it all planned out and explained that what we would save on rent and childcare — Xavi would be cared for by a tag team of family members — could go towards a down payment for a house. And we could also have a second child. Possibly a girl.

I have to admit, in my grief, this idea didn’t seem half bad. Then I considered a move to Hacienda Heights would extend my commute at least an hour each way. I had never moved back home after going to college, and now I was considering doing so with a family. It was nuts.

When Sean arrived from his trip to New York to attend our friend Kevin’s funeral, I told him about the conversation. He laughed at the idea.

I never told him that for a moment it didn’t seem half bad.

Less than a year later, we had moved across the country so I could take a new job.

I thought about this a lot as I considered my immediate postpartum experience with Archie.

***
Newborn Archie

Archie was born on the afternoon of Monday, August 29th. On Tuesday evening, my parents arrived in Ithaca. My mom stayed for two weeks, my dad stayed for one. All my worries about how we would manage without our support network nearby subsided. While here, they took care of me, Sean, Xavi and Archie. We were spoiled with delicious food and time to rest while they took Xavi out for fun grandparent dates at the park, library and other places Xavi loves.

At the same time, our muscle memories kicked in and we got back to caring for a newborn. Friends have said it and now I believe it. The transition from one to two kids was definitely easier for us than going from none to one. Both boys were relatively easy newborns. The toughest aspect of newborn life with Xavi was learning to breastfeed and I avoided those issues with Archie by applying the lessons from my rough start with Xavi. It also helped that Archie was a great eater. Despite this we had more frequent appointments with the pediatrician to check weight since they considered him low for gestational age at birth. Through those and his output (read: diapers!), we’ve confirmed that he’s doing just fine.

Another big difference was my anxiety over going outside or nursing in public. With Xavi I was baffled about how this would work. I didn’t go to church for a month and our car trips were limited to appointments for doctor’s visits because he hated being in the car and LA traffic. This was a huge difference with Archie. On the Sunday after he was born, I was back in church. Nursing with a cover or without was no big deal. He did fine in the car for local trips and road-trips. I even was brave enough to fly cross country with both boys. Solo. I also helped that Archie was easygoing.

As expected, I was (am) tired. However, the sleep deprivation didn’t hit me as hard as the first time. This was likely because I was used to some sleep interruptions after Xavi and through waking up a lot during pregnancy.

The most challenging aspect was definitely parenting a newborn and trying to give Xavi the attention he needed. Xavi became more defiant and moody. I don’t know what part of it was being a three-year-old and what part was dealing with a tough transition. Despite being very excited to meet his little brother, he didn’t show much interest once Archie was home. He said things like, “Don’t hold baby Archie! [Anyone but mom] hold baby Archie.” And more than once he told Sean, “Tomorrow, we go to the hospital and take back baby Archie.”

Abuelos y nietos

Naturally, I worried about what would happen when my parents returned to LA. How would we transition to handling both boys and still doing things like cooking and cleaning? During the two weeks my mom was in Ithaca we didn’t really worry about that stuff as she spoiled us.

Then she left and we adapted, but life didn’t return to a new normal for long.

Mom left on September 13th and less than 2 weeks later I was on a flight to LA with both boys. In the weeks before Archie was born Papá Chepe had battled lung infections and been hospitalized. When Archie was born Papá Chepe had already improved and gone home. However, a week later he was ill again. My parents were honest with me and let me know that I should come visit while I could, while Papá Chepe was still alert enough to recognize me. It was a tough decision to make. The cost was one issue. Time wasn’t as I had the time thanks to maternity leave. However, Sean didn’t have time to take off from work. If I went, I’d be going alone with Archie (definitely) and Xavi (quite likely). Was it even safe to travel with an infant who was only a few weeks old? I called our pediatrician’s office and cleared it with the nurse on the advice line. Air travel wasn’t ideal, but they made exceptions for extenuating circumstances. She just recommended I used common sense approaches to keeping him away from sick people.

And so I went because I knew I would deeply regret not saying goodbye if I had the chance.

On September 25th I flew out from JFK with Archie and Xavi. We spent the next ten days in Hacienda Heights at my mom’s house. Friends and family lent us carseats and a travel crib to make the visit easier.

I was so happy to see Papá Chepe. By the time we visited his health had improved. He was alert, eating well and responsive. Papá Chepe got to meet Archie and see Xavi. During our visit I’d often put Archie in Papá Chepe’s bed so he could babysit. It was adorable, just as when he and Mamá Toni met a four-day old Xavi. Meanwhile, Xavi would play with the collection of toys Papá Chepe had available to help him regain skills he had lost after his stroke.

Chepe & Archie

My parents doted on me and the boys. I was spoiled once again and didn’t have to cook or do other chores. I had plenty of immediate and extended family members around to hold Archie if I needed to eat or shower. My mom invited family over on a weekend to see us and it was like our old Sunday gatherings. And once again my parents took advantage of having Xavi in town to do fun grandparent dates like go swimming at a friend’s pool or visiting the train park.

I realized afterward that this was the closest I would get to a traditional postpartum cuarentena. I was’t going to move in to my parents’ home for that period or longer like my mom had proposed in those first few days after Mamá Toni passed away. That just wasn’t practical or possible for anyone involved. But the visits were more than enough.


For most of those first forty days I was staying under the same roof as my mom. I was mothered by my her and it was exactly what I needed to recover well and be the best mom I could be for my own children. And because of the special circumstances of Papá Chepe’s declining health I got to go home and see him again. It was a bittersweet blessing.

***
July 6th marks eight months since Papá Chepe’s passing. A few days ago, I had a dance party in the kitchen with Archie and Xavi. We danced to La Marcha de Zacatecas and I couldn’t help but miss all our dances.

Share:

Eulogy for Papá Chepe

Today my family laid Papá Chepe to rest. I couldn’t be there for the wake and funeral. I wasn’t there to sing alongside dad, Lori and Danny nor there to pray the Rosary. I didn’t get to see Adrian serve as a pallbearer and didn’t get to hug my mom as she crumbled in tears. I couldn’t hug my tías, tíos and primos and share funny stories over a bowl of menudo. But I was there to see him just six weeks ago and that makes me feel at peace.

Still, my parents knew I was sad I couldn’t attend. To help me feel included, my mom and dad asked me to write the eulogy as they know how much I love to write. I was tremendously honored and drew on Papá Chepe’s own words from our interview as well as one of my mom’s favorite stories.

Lori read the eulogy and added some words of her own. We couldn’t sing together this time, but this was close enough.

***

I love the hat

When I started writing this eulogy I focused on the facts of José Ureño’s life – or as I knew him, Papá Chepe. The first draft was filled with many dates and numbers. 1920 – the year he was born in Ciudad Juárez. Two – his age when his parents, Apolonio and Cecilia, moved back to their native El Cargadero. 1943 – the year he married Antonia Saldivar.

José Barrios Ureño

1944 – the year he first came to the United States to work as a bracero in Salinas. Eight – the number of children God gave him.

Ureño Saldivar family, 1968

Familia Ureño Saldivar

1956 – the year his older sister Margarita sponsored his immigration. Three – the number of homes he had in El Cargadero, Tijuana and East LA. 71 – the number of years he was married to Antonia before she passed away. 96 – his current age.

Cousins being silly

Those numbers and facts are important, of course. But they don’t tell enough of the story of José Ureño’s life and why we loved him so much. Nor do they illustrate how much he loved his wife Antonia and the beautiful large family they were blessed with.

Tu sonrisa se te ve muy bien...

They do not tell us about his smile that reflected a personality full of joy and happiness. They do not tell us how much he loved God and the strength of his faith. And they don’t tell us how much he gave to others.

These stories, I hope will tell you.

Six years ago I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Papá Chepe and record a conversation about his life. He told me about how he came to marry Antonia. From a young age, he had always admired the Saldivar family for their kindness. Many years before, Apolonio worked for Leonardo Saldivar and Juan Saldivar, Antonia’s grandfather and father. One day, Sr. Saldivar asked Apolonio why he always wore the same huaraches. Apolonio responded, “Why, these are the only shoes I own. I can’t afford anything else.” Sr. Saldivar told his son Juan to buy some good shoes for Apolonio the next time he went to Zacatecas. The Saldivar men kept their word and Apolonio got new shoes. José learned this story at a young age and thus knew Antonia was from a good family.

60th anniversary

But courting her was not easy. She didn’t have much time for boys with housework and caring for her brothers who saw her as their mother. Plus, she had great respect for father. In those days, girls didn’t come out to flirt with boys and José couldn’t just send her a text message. The only way to see your sweetheart was to wait for her at the bailes. Messages were passed through the girl’s trusted male relatives, like a cousin or brother. And even if you did go to visit her, it wasn’t guaranteed that you would get to see her. This happened to José once. He rode his horse two hours over the hills to el Rancho de Aguas just to see Antonia. But when he arrived, Antonia came to the window to say she couldn’t come out to because her father was home. And so, José rode all the way back to El Cargadero. He told me this is why he likes the song “La Feria de las Flores” which has a line “en mi caballo retinto, yo he venido de muy lejos.” It was quite the romantic gesture and even though she couldn’t see him that time, he won her heart. Antonia and José married on January 30, 1943.

Papá Chepe and his older sister, tía Antonia

Papá Chepe was a very giving and generous man. He and Mamá Toni helped so many with no expectations of getting anything in return. They both knew that they had been extremely blessed. It was this giving that he was most proud of late in life. One day he was in church here at St. John Vianney and heard Padre Roberto speak about the needs of Hogar Calasanz, an orphanage in Tijuana. They were running out of space for all the children. At the same time, José and Antonia hadn’t been able to sell their home in Tijuana. So he decided the best thing to do would be to donate the home to the orphanage. The only thing he wanted was for the home to be called San José.

La casa amarilla (yellow house)

My mom tells me a story that illustrates Papá Chepe’s great faith. Many years ago, El Cargadero was plagued with a severe drought. Many of José’s peers hired well-educated engineers to help them find a place to dig a well. Papá Chepe entrusted God for this. He built a well in the garage of his home of El Cargadero.

Papá Chepe checking up on something

The well was an abundant source of water. It never dried. Other Cargaderenses would come to José and ask him which engineer had helped him find water. José’s answer, was always “El de arriba” (the one from above). His peers didn’t believe him and accused José of being selfish and not sharing his good fortune. But that just made José repeat himself. It was God who helped him. And because it was God who helped him, he would always share the water from the well with anyone who asked. As we’ve said, Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni were very fortunate but also giving.

Cuatro generaciones

A few weeks after Papa Chepe’s stroke in January 2014, I learned that San José was the patron saint of a Happy Death. It’s said that since San José was with Mary and Jesus when he died, he died happy. In that scary time when we didn’t know what was going to happen, this knowledge calmed me as I knew how devoted Papá Chepe was to San José. But that was not Papá Chepe’s time to go. The stroke brought our family closer together. It showed us that the selflessness and love he had always shown in caring for his own family came back tenfold.

chepetonidisney

In the days before and after Papa Chepe’s passing I was reminded once again of San José. Papá Chepe led a happy life filled with family and love. As he took his last breaths, he was surrounded by his family, those who loved him so, so much. And soon he’d be with Mamá Toni again. What couldn’t be happier than that?

Share:

Papá Chepe and Undying Love

I wish somebody had told me love does not die, that we can continue to receive and give love after death.
From “Resurrections”, by Sandra Cisneros in A House of My Own: Stories From My Life

Papá Chepe

Papá Chepe passed away yesterday afternoon.

He took his last breath surrounded by family. We knew his passing was imminent but expected to have a few more days. Lori says it was quite peaceful and I want to believe he had a “happy death” as he was a devotee of St. Joseph, the patron saint of the dying and a happy death.

bodapapachepe1

I’m like my family, at once devastated and at peace. Can we really be sad when we had him so many years? As cousin Nancy put it, it feels selfish to want him here with us forever. It’s only fitting that he should rest after 96 years and reunite with Mamá Toni.

Mom and Papá Chepe are not the kind to pass up dancing

I’m finding solace in the knowledge that I got to visit just a month ago when we already knew his health was declining. While I was in LA he was alert and in good spirits. He ate the delicious food my mom and aunts made. He met Archie and even took his turn watching over Archie while I ate or played with Xavi.

Meeting baby Archie

On the night before we left, I said goodnight and goodbye to Papá Chepe. Our flight the next morning was early and we wouldn’t want to disturb his sleep and make him emotional. I said adios and went and cried in the room where I was sleeping. I knew it was likely that that would be the final time I would see him.

Meeting a newborn Xavi

Honk honk

Xavi helps Papa Chepe with his writing exercises

But just as that memory is fresh and raw, I have so many other beautiful memories with him and Mamá Toni. I feel so lucky that we got to dance to his favorite songs and I have an interview recorded whenever I just want to hear his voice. I have my family and their memories, always filled with smiles and laughter. I have my posts here and photos and the love that does not die.

Mama Toni and Papa Chepe

I know I will never cease to feel Papá Chepe’s immense love. I still feel it from Mamá Toni and I know that my family will continue to be watched over by them, nuestros angelitos.

Share:

The brief, wondrous birth of Archibald Kevin

archienb

I didn’t mean to give up blogging completely during my cuarentena (literally, quarantine, and also the 40 day postpartum period). I know most of my readers have been introduced to Archie through my social media, but I had to write a birth story.

I loved going back to read Xavi’s birth story as those moments got lost in the day to day of raising an infant who transformed into a busy toddler. I also enjoyed hearing from other moms about how their experiences differed from their first child to second, third, etc. So, I had to record my own experience.

***

Six weeks ago, Archibald Kevin was born. We checked in to the hospital around 2. Archie arrived  at 5:13 pm. He was smallish at 6 pounds, 5 ounces, 19 inches long. Just like his big brother, he had a full head of hair.

archiedob1

Now, for the unabridged version.

I woke up on Monday, August 29th with contractions. It was about 5:30 am, a bit earlier than I typically wake up. The contractions weren’t too painful just yet. In fact, if I wasn’t 5 days past my due date, I’d think it was false labort. I tried to sleep through them, but was unsuccessful.

When Sean woke up, I told him I was having mild contractions. We went through the normal routine of breakfast and taking Xavi to daycare. Instead of going in to work, Sean returned to stay with me. Throughout the morning we timed the contractions, did a few loads of laundry, packed my hospital bag and watched a few episodes of Fresh Off the Boat. By late morning there was still no discernible pattern to the contractions and the pain was still mild.

I had a 12:30 midwife appointment. Since I was pretty sure I was in early labor, I called ahead and asked if I should keep it or just go to the hospital once contractions got closer. The nurse said I should go in to the clinic as they’d be able to tell me about how much longer I should labor at home before going to the hospital.

When I went in, the midwife confirmed that I was in early labor and 5-6 cm dilated and almost fully effaced. This surprised me given that I wasn’t in that much pain yet and the contractions weren’t even following a pattern.

“Do you have plans afterward?” she asked.

We were a little confused by the question.

“No, we have my hospital bag in the car,” I told her.

She suggested we make our way to the hospital and not delay too much given that this was my second child and I could progress quickly. She called the hospital and told them we’d be checking in shortly.

We went home, ate a little and called our parents to update them. Sean and I arrived at the hospital shortly before 2 pm.

I tried to go through the check-in desk quickly and was led over to a labor and delivery room. 

Once checked in, the midwife on duty and student midwife shadowing her came to check on me. They confirme that I was at 7 cm and  worked out a plan. I’d get the epidural, then they would break my water and hopefully things would advance fine from there.

By this point the contractions were definitely painful. I asked our nurse for an exercise ball to labor on while I waited for pain management. Sean put on some music (Mexrrissey and Juan Gabriel) to take my mind off the pain.

The anesthesiologist came in shortly after. While he did his work, he made small talk that fell flat.

“Where are you from?”

“Huh, what do you mean?”

“Yeah, are you from Ithaca?”

“No, I moved here from California last year.”

“Ah, California. The cereal state.”

“Huh?”

“Yeah, it’s full of fruits, flakes, and nuts.”

I was a bit confused and annoyed, but it was probably because he was about to take a giant needle and stick it in my spinal column. I knew the whole procedure would be very uncomfortable even if worth the pain relief. I didn’t need him making dumb jokes.

I asked Sean to turn off the music, because I couldn’t focus on what the anesthesiologist was saying with “El Noa Noa” in the background.

I wish I could say the epidural worked like magic as it had with Xavi. Nope, there was no way I’d be able to nap or read a magazine this time.

Technically, the epidural did work and my legs felt tingly. But, I still felt a lot of pain from the contractions. It also didn’t help that I was required to be in the worst position for laboring and managing pain, on my back and then my side so I would continue to progress.

Sean told the nurse that I was still in pain, it didn’t seem like the epidural was effective. After confirming that it was working, the anesthesiologist said he didn’t want to make it stronger as it might interfere with effectively pushing. I wanted to argue and say that I couldn’t feel anything with Xavi and was able to push him just fine, but the idea of sitting still for him to redo it seemed even more painful. He and the nurse suggested pushing the button to get a boost of the medicine every 15 minutes and that helped manage the pain.

Soon, the midwife and student midwife were back. I was a bit nervous when I was told that with my consent, the student midwife would break my water. I know medical professionals need to learn but wasn’t excited about being part of someone’s teachable moment. Luckily, with her teacher guiding her she did fine and I continued to progress. They told me that soon I’d feel the need to push and should let the nurse know so they could come back for delivery.

I was a little nervous I wouldn’t feel the pressure and need to push. With Xavi, I never felt this urge. My midwife just informed me that it was time after I awoke from a nap. Despite my fear, I had no need to worry. Less than half an hour after the midwives left, I was calling them back. They confirmed that it was time and prepped the room/bed.

Sean stood by my side. It was all happening much quicker and soon we would be meeting our child.

I did as instructed and pushed. They offered words of encouragement and told me I was doing well as they could see the baby coming. I pushed for six minutes and the baby was out.

archiedob3

They put a quiet baby on my chest, there were no immediate wails. Nor was there an announcement from the midwives announcing the baby’s sex as you see in the movies. I quickly checked as the baby was handed to me.

A boy! Sean’s intuition was right all along.

archiedob2

I cuddled him and was overcome with emotion and love. I felt a rush of adrenaline and accomplishment. I did it. He was here.

archiedob4

I felt like Xavi’s birth happened in a dream, but with Archie I was fully present. I felt everything despite the epidural. I felt more supported and encouraged by the midwives and nurses attending to me. I relied on Sean more too, especially as the pain got more difficult and I needed to hold his hands or for him to advocate for me.

***

A few hours after Archie was born and we announced to our immediate families, Sean went to pick up Xavi. They returned and a very excited Xavi came in to meet his little brother. I’d never seen him smile like this.

archiedob5

It was wonderful and I’m so glad Sean caught the moment on video.

All photos by Sean.

Share:

Forty plus one

I wrote these thoughts yesterday morning. I now realize there’s a few similarities between what I wrote on Xavi’s due date and what I feel on Bubble’s due date.

I seem to have skipped the nesting phase. I didn’t have it big with Xavi either, but there was definitely more prep in readying our home.

I’m glad baby didn’t come over the weekend. Xavi’s babysitter was out of town. She’s our plan for when I go in to labor. We don’t have a backup. Unless, of course, baby comes once my parents arrive.

My mom and dad will be here in a week!

I went on maternity leave just as the fall semester was starting. The transition from summer university life to fall has always rankled me and I’m not sad to skip it.

Despite being on leave I’m still doing work from home. A busy summer meant getting work done but not planning as much as I needed to for leave.

I have a prenatal massage today. I double checked with the spa to make sure that I wouldn’t be charged for canceling late if I do go in to labor.

Currently reading A House of My Own: Stories from My Life by Sandra Cisneros and it’s amazing. I’ve already cried about three times. She feels like my wise tía and such a poet in the sense that she writes what others feel.

Part of what bummed me out about Xavi being a week late was waiting through important days. I thought it would be SO cool if he was born on Papá Chepe’s birthday. As the patriarch of a big family he had no birthday twins and it was time for at least one.

Added today

Lots of people ask me if Xavi is excited about becoming a big brother. Before a few days ago, I’d say I didn’t really know. And if he was excited, it wasn’t expressed the way he typically shows (jumping, eyes lighting up in that “oh, boy, oh boy!” sense).

But I think the efforts we’ve been making have helped. He has books about becoming a big brother and having a baby in the home. He’s seen the apartment start to be populated with baby things. On Saturday, he attended a “siblings are special” class at the hospital. We pushed it by scheduling the class just a few days before my due date, but the previous date didn’t work for me due to work. Xavi got to tour the labor and delivery ward again (he went with us the first time we toured), saw a real newborn in the nursery, made a birthday poster for baby, and got to practice helping change a baby’s diaper.

40 weeks

During his recent speech therapy appointment his therapist brought a baby doll. She told Sean that Xavi did really well feeding the baby, brushing hair, hugging and singing baby songs. He was very sweet and gentle.

He’s also started doing a baby act. He does a “wah waaah” cry if we mention a baby and wants to be held in a cradle position. I ask him what baby needs. Diaper change? Feeding? Cuddles? A nap? And he just laughs.

And at a recent baby shower, he gave a 2 month old baby a gentle hug unprompted.

Yesterday, Sean and Xavi went to pick me up at the spa. Xavi asked Sean if they were going to the hospital to get me and baby.

He still doesn’t say, “yes” if you ask if he’s excited. But I think he is.

As for how I’m feeling? No signs of labor starting — that’s what people really want to know. And okay, but uncomfortable as one would expect a woman to feel late in pregnancy. I took long walks while waiting for Xavi but won’t be doing that because it’s hot and humid. Plus, I’m just not that comfortable.

Share: