Friday, July 04, 2014

A Letter to My Daughter Gretchen: Three Months Old

Beginning upper right and going clockwise: 1-3 months
Dear Gretchen,

You are now three months old. I had hoped to start these letters to you sooner, but my ability to coherently gather thoughts when I did have spare moments were few and far between until recently.

The day of your arrival was filled with anticipation. The c-section went as expected and when I heard your hearty cries, I couldn't contain my tears. I don't know what it is that makes me sob when I hear a baby's first cry, but it is such an emotional time for me. Perhaps it's the wonder of knowing on one level that a new life was going to enter the world, but it stays surreal on some level until you are born. One moment I'm splayed out on the operating room table with Eric at my shoulder, listening to the various doctors work, and the next, the newest member of our family arrives and I dissolve in happy tears. There you were, so healthy with a robust cry, and suddenly we had another daughter to hold.

Acclimating you to handknits

You were 7 pounds, 11 ounces and 20 inches long. On your APGAR assessments, you scored a 9 and then a 10. I heard your initial cries, but unlike your older sister, who was inconsolable until we left the OR, you quieted as soon as you were swaddled. You were so sleepy and mellow your first day, with hardly any interest in eating until late that afternoon.

Your big sister Brennan has been enamored with you from the beginning. If anything, her fault is that she is overly affectionate. She frequently makes drawings for you, loves to plaster her face up against yours, asks to hold you, even shares her beloved closed-eyes-open-eyes baby with you, and if you're napping in my arms, she will request that I shift you so she can crawl up and join us in the recliner. I've held two napping daughters on several occasions already. She has also discussed on multiple occasions her ideas for future sleepovers when you're bigger.

I noticed early on you were a warm baby. In the hospital, you were overheating in the fleece swaddler. In fact, the first or second day home I took your temperature, convinced you had a fever. The reading was normal, but I discovered that you are quick to heat up and you didn't want (or need) to be as bundled as other newborns.

You didn't cry for the first few weeks of life. Now, you tend to reserve tears for when you're tired and wish you were sleeping. Being held in a baby carrier or rocked in the recliner soon ease your tears and help you drift off to sleep. Your legs are so strong - you were showing off early on how you could straighten them to hold your weight, and when I place you on your play mat, it's not unusual to find you have squirmed several inches away from where you started. I still don't know how you have shifted yourself 90 degrees in your crib on several occasions, even while swaddled.  I predict you will crawl much sooner than your sister did, whether or not we are ready for it.

Your sleep has been a work in progress. One difficulty I was stumped by early on was the fact that while you would take decent naps during the day, there was a season where you ate much more frequently at night, and therefore slept very short stretches. You'd want to eat, but you'd only take a half feeding before drifting off again. Even if we waited to change your diaper until you were half done with a feeding, you would tease me by appearing to be wide awake one moment, and then dropping off into a deep, deep sleep the next. You'd sleep 45-90 minutes, and we'd do it all over again. Those were exhausting days and nights.

Now, though, you tend to limit yourself to one, maybe two, wake-ups a night (the guaranteed tends to be around 4:30 am, but sometimes you might stir around 1 am or so as well). And when we visit family in Iowa, both at two months and at three months, you surprise us with sleeping through until 6:30 am or so. I'm trying to figure out what the variables are so we can recreate them at home more reliably (there are temperature differences, and your room at home faces east, so the early summer sunrise is not on our side either).

Speaking of your room, we have transitioned you from the bassinet in our room to the crib in your sister's room. I didn't expect this change to already have taken place, but as you were settling into your long stretch of sleep, which began mid-evening, we were putting you in the crib and keeping watch on the video monitor. When we turned in, we would leave you there until you woke to eat. And as some of those crib stretches went until 4:30 am or later, it just happened. Plus, with your growth, your arms can reach the sides of the bassinet, which doesn't help in resettling. Now I return you to your crib after the early morning feed, and you grant us about an hour more of sleep before you want one of us to snuggle you in the recliner for a little more shut-eye.

Hospital snuggles

I thought your older sister was a healthy child who steadily climbed to the top of the growth charts, but it appears you want to best her. She may have had three ounces on you at birth, but you didn't let that slow you down. At your one month appointment, you were 11 pounds, 7 ounces (weighing six more ounces than your sister at the same age), and by two months, you left her behind, reaching 14 pounds, 8 ounces to her 13 pounds, 6 ounces (97th percentile vs 92nd percentile).

From your first entry to the world, people commented at how much you resembled your older sister. When you were one month old, I took your first giraffe picture with you wearing the same outfit that Brennan had worn, and I also noticed I'd taken a photo of you in another outfit that was a close match to one I had of your sister.

Gretchen on left, Brennan on right

I created side-by-side comparisons, and not too many friends or family could pick out which pictures were of you and which were of your older sister (and some who succeeded focused on details that seemed to show fading in the outfits to determine the pairings, not your physical characteristics).
Brennan on left, Gretchen on right

Your days are filled with snuggles. I need to start making more of an effort to get you to nap in your crib instead of on mommy, but we'll get there. Knowing you are my last baby helps me to enjoy the contact.

When you're awake, you now love to smile. And really, once a baby smiles, the tired days are just that much improved. Even when you were having me start my day at 5 am and I'd stumble in the kitchen to find coffee and breakfast, it was refreshing to return to you on your play mat and watch you grin widely at me.

You love to kick your toys and bat your arms at them. Very recently you have taken to gripping and shaking toys as well. Tummy time is hit or miss, but you do a good job holding your head up in spite of not wanting to practice. You love to be in a sitting position as you observe everything around you.

We have gotten a few laughs from you. It warmed my heart that your first laughs were directed at your big sister. It is clear that there is great affection between you two already, so it was only fitting that you reward your sister's frequent overtures of hugs and kisses and silly dances by laughing at her.

Every parent is bound to wonder how a baby will change their existing family dynamic. After all, for us, we had already gone through and survived the sleepless nights of one baby, successfully potty trained her, were at a point where we could communicate with her and she with us. She even is off to preschool in the fall. But I was raised with three sisters and one brother, and I continue to be close to my siblings. If possible, I wanted Brennan to have a sibling.  I guess what I want to say is that even with the uncertainty of what the future held and not knowing how all our lives would change, our family didn't feel complete until you arrived.

One moment sticks out to me that I'd like to share, knowing that you may not read these letters until you're an adult yourself. The last night in the hospital, Daddy couldn't stay with me, instead needing to go home to take care of your big sister. You and I had a quiet evening together.

One of my night-shift nurses commented on the knit blanket some dear friends made to welcome the arrival of your big sister, one that I reclaimed for your arrival. The compliment wasn't unusual by any means - nearly everyone who saw the blanket admired it - but the nurse was an accomplished sewer and showed me a picture of a recent project of hers: a spectacular formal dress for her teenage daughter. The nurse began to check my vitals and noticed in my chart that I had experienced repeated nausea and vomiting throughout the day. I had tried to be proactive and warn them of this likelihood, as I experienced the same with your older sister, but apparently I was not clear enough in communicating my history, as they told me it's not uncommon to feel nausea, not understanding mine wouldn't be touched by the normal medications. We went through quite a few treatments and medications before I was finally given an effective dose of medication late in the afternoon (this was quite different from before, when things were resolved within an hour or two of your sister's birth).

The nurse was apologetic that it had taken so long to get things under control, but I admitted that if all I have to go through to get a healthy baby was a surgery that came with some nausea, it was a small price to pay. How fortunate that even though my body wasn't going to be allowed to labor naturally, I could still welcome a new baby to the world. I briefly mentioned Katherine, and how a little nausea is nothing since I got to hold you in my arms at the end of it all. I learned then that she had also lost her first child, and as we talked about what we had learned through our similar circumstances, I kept looking down at you in awe and gratitude.

Life can be so hard sometimes, sweetheart. I so wish I could shield you from every ugly and hurtful thing, but that wouldn't do you any favors. So my wish for you is that, as you encounter the hard parts of life, you find kindred spirits. Find others who will hold you up and support you through dark times, and don't be afraid to look back and remember the painful seasons and reflect on how they have shaped and changed you. You may sometimes feel alone, but those experiences are not unique to you. There is something comforting to me to know that others have faced similar tragedies and come out the other end.

I read Kurt Vonnegut: Letters a year ago and this excerpt, from a letter Vonnegut wrote to his daughter, stood out to me:

Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.

You have a choice when you encounter hard times. I pray that you will be soft. That you will allow your heart to remain tender and that you will be shaped into someone who can still find joy and beauty around her.

Growing up, I used to be someone who excelled at masking her emotions and bottling everything inside, and yet I can be quite transparent in conversations now. I may cry, but I don't shirk from sharing about your sister Katherine, or my brother's suicide, or my mother's mental illness. These events, while being the most difficult things I have ever faced, have made an impact on me. I want them to matter, to make a difference in me for the better. I know of no better tribute I can pay than to recognize that I am better for having known and loved these people. Their lives have improved mine.

Your daddy and I were told several times in the months after Katherine's death that we impressed friends by how we let God work through us as we relied on Him. We would look at each other in disbelief, thinking we had done no such thing. All we recognized was that we were somehow surviving. But it touched others to see that we weren't shutting people out and that we weren't becoming embittered by our loss. We were genuine and frank when asked how we were doing. And that made a difference to those around us. I can now connect with others on a different level than I could have before due to my circumstances. I've had countless conversations, with friends and strangers, that I would have missed out on had I hardened myself and shut myself away from the outside world.

So, Gretchen, be genuine. And don't be afraid to let others see glimpses of your life's experiences. For you may find that you are not so very alone. There I was, in my hospital room, sharing tears with a nurse I didn't know five minutes earlier, all because I was open to mentioning my first daughter. A nurse who was touched enough by our conversation that, when paged to help another patient, returned after her task was done just to talk some more. Those overtures matter. I don't expect to see that nurse again. In fact, I don't even remember her name. But each step I take to be in the moment and not shirk away from transparency helps me to connect with others and see people as they are. That makes a difference.

The meaning of Gretchen is pearl. The above aside of mine suddenly takes on added significance as I reflect on your name. Pearls are formed in mollusks by irritants. They are valuable and rare and while beautiful, only come about as a defense after prolonged contact with outside forces.

It almost feels wrong to be ending your first letter on such a serious note. But let's focus on the hopeful side: May you, Gretchen Joy, embrace your name. May any difficulties you face in life only shape you to be ever more beautiful in character and spirit. May you draw others to you and may your life impact theirs. Don't be afraid to let others see you as you truly are and don't try to transform into someone you're not, for as the psalmist declares, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well" (Psalm 139:13-14). You, dear daughter, are so very precious.

So much love,

1 comment:

Miss S said...

Hey sister, I just read through this; I don't think I caught it after the original post. But it was a great encouragement to me. My love to you from across the ocean.