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.

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The brief, wondrous birth of Archibald Kevin

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Enough: On reaching milestones

When he first smiled as a tiny baby, I remember thinking, this is amazing. It was enough. And then he laughed and I wondered, how did I ever know how beautiful life could be before I heard his laugh? And then he clapped and showed his approval when I sang and my heart felt like it was going to burst. It was the best compliment I’d ever received and I wondered how I even knew he liked the songs before he clapped and smiled approvingly.

Each of these little milestones floored me at the time. They were all enough in the sense that I didn’t think, “I can’t wait until he’s doing X.” In that moment, they were exactly what I needed and wanted as a new mom. My son was happy and healthy and, like the nursery song goes, he was showing it with his clapping and smiling. And yet, when he added something — words, songs, dances, expressions, his own jokes — it became even better.

How does it just keep getting better? This is the way it’s designed to be, right?

One day I’m singing the lullaby and then the next he’s singing along. One moment I’m leading bedtime prayers for his grandparents and other family members. The next he chimes in that he wants to pray for his iPad and Grandma Eula’s iPad. While Sean suppresses giggles, I call him a joker. Xavi doubles down with the banana, banana, banana, orange knock-knock joke. But it’s only the orange part, his favorite. When he clamors for songs from his favorite musical, Hamilton, I object because cabinet battles get him too riled up, not something conducive to bedtime. So I go with the lullaby, “Dear Theodosia.”

As I sing “and you’ll blow us all away, some day, some day” he joins in. It’s harmonious and perfect. He’s a good little singer. He gets it from his grandpa, my dad.

And I thought, this is amazing. He’s no longer a baby, but it’s still the best feeling. I know from just three years and a week into this that there will be many more of these moments (si Dios quiere), but they’ll catch me off guard. My response will likely be the same. I’ll be awed, amazed and bursting with love and pride.

I don’t yet know what it will be, but it will be enough. It always is.

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Xavi is three

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Xavi has been in speech therapy in Ithaca for less than a year. However, Sean and I have already met with a number of professionals in early intervention who consistently ask us to describe our son. The last time we did it was in a meeting with school district officials as Xavi’s impending third birthday meant he would age out of early intervention services through the county health department and his speech therapy would be handled by the local school district.

“Tell us about your son. What are his strengths? What does he like doing? What does he need to work on?”

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Despite having to answer this question in some way, a number of times, the inclusion of “strengths” threw me off. I suspect Sean felt the same as he was silent longer than me. I read and write evaluations all the time at work, but didn’t want to feel like I was doing the same for my son.

Still, I answered.

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I told them that at five days shy of his third birthday, Xavi was still enamored by all things related to trains (“toot toots”). He’s expanded his fandom to other forms of transportation. He loves anything that moves. Cars are fun to play with, he loves to ride the bus and gets excited when he sees the diggers at the construction sites around town. He asks to go to the airport too.

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I told the two women who work with the school district, our current coordinator of services with the county and Xavi’s new speech therapist (his first one in Ithaca moved away a month ago), that Xavi likes books and puzzles. Since his exponential word growth began in March – same time he began going to a small group home daycare full-time – he’s added in singing. He sings “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” stealing my job as we go through the bedtime routine.

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He’s very affectionate and loving, he gives the best hugs and sloppy kisses. He’s friendly and very good at remembering all the people in his life who love him tremendously. He’s taken more to pretend play with his toys. He loves bubbles, running and jumping on the bed, in puddles or on dad. Sean added that he’s great with directions and can probably lead you to any train table in Ithaca as well as Dunkin Donuts.

Xavi the Hamiltot

I forgot to brag that he knows his alphabet, can count to ten, knows his shapes and that he’s a Hamiltot, a toddler who has joined the Hamilton fandom (“Hamilwin” to him). [Look at my son! Pride is not the word I’m searching for, there is so much more inside me now!]

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I noted that even though he is WAY more verbal than he was at this time last year, he can improve on his pronunciation. For example, he says “pip” rather than “chip” despite having no problem with “cheese.” The speech therapist called this fronting and stopping. Although Sean and I understand him about 75% of the time, he’s intelligible to those who don’t know him about half the time. When he talks to himself during play time he’s even less intelligible.

When we finished, one of the school district representatives, “Wow, you really know your son. He’s lucky to have such involved parents.”

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Really, I feel lucky to be Xavi’s mom, to get to see him grow and change – while still being just as cuddly as ever – in everything from hair to speech to having a little brother or sister.

***

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Today is Xavi’s third birthday. We celebrated over the weekend in Long Island. My mother-in-law invited family, neighbors and friends from church. When it was time for the cake, Xavi was so excited. He even sang “Happy Birthday” along with his guests.

The only downside was that we were rained out, but I don’t think Xavi minded because there were balloons, new toys and cake.

Happy birthday, Xavi!

Most photos by Sean [Flickr]. See his favorites from the past year on his blog.

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