Year 1.

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It’s been a year. How the hell has it been a year?

It’s all a blur really. I don’t remember a time she wasn’t here. With each new phase she grows and thrives and does amazing new things, and it’s as if she could always do them.

Once, she was nothing more than a lump. Then she was a lump who could bat at a toy. Soon she could hold her head up on her tummy, then sit, and roll, and stand. Next she was a baby who had teeth, and then seven. She started making deliberate sounds. She started being deliberately disobedient. She eats with her hands in a way that appears she’s always known how to do it, yet just a few short months ago I was feeding her breastmilk on a spoon. She has opinions. She has comedic timing. She shows love, she shows fear, she shows anger. She’s endlessly curious. She’s physically strong, and energetic. She’s a baby, but more days than not, she is now a kid.

If I had a time machine, I’d go back to those early days. I’d get my do-over. I’d let myself relish the overwhelming joy I felt, and go through it all from a place of wisdom and zen. I’d be able to focus on the amazingness of a new human without all the panic and anxiety that comes from not having a clue what you’re doing. And though I can’t tell you the details of anything during that time, and can’t even remember the specific way something felt, good or bad, I feel wiser now.

 In no particular order, these are the things I’ve learned this year.
    1. You don’t always have to react. I spent so much time agonizing over the right thing to do – and inevitably whatever was happening would work itself out. Panicking does not help it improve faster.
    2. Find your village and don’t look back for the people who chose not to be there for you.
    3. Even when you find your kid to be the most amazing creature on earth and are offended when other people don’t seem to get that, you’ll still find other people’s kids annoying.
    4. No one’s baby sleeps. Babies are jerks.
    5. Breastfeeding is way harder than anyone will ever tell you. There’s nothing to prepare you for the scabs and blood and biting and tongue ties and poor latch and a sleepy baby who doesn’t want to eat and the internal battle you’ll have with yourself when you want to give up but can’t let go. It will destroy the confidence you thought you had.
    6. No matter how hard you want to be a French Mother, you will still end up with a kid who only eats bananas. I’m not ready to admit it is ok, but I may be ready to admit defeat.
    7. This really is the longest shortest time. Obsess over it. Treasure it. You don’t get it back.
    8. Each time your baby moves on to a new stage, it is both delightful and heartbreaking.
    9. When you’re sleeping upright on the couch with a baby on your chest you’ll never imagine that you’ll miss that moment. You will.
    10. Loving something this much is the best and the scariest thing in the world.

Mother’s Day for the Motherless

Social media is The Worst when you’re trying to pretend a day doesn’t exist, especially Mother’s Day. Each year my feeds fill with happy, thankful people who are grateful to have good, kind, mothers in their lives. There is love. There is so much fucking love. And each year it feels like the massive wound I have in my heart is being poked at with a stick.

It’s a hard day for so many people, for so many reasons. Some people lost their mothers, while others just didn’t get the mother they deserve. Some people have mothers, but don’t get to be mothers. I know I’m not unique.

I’ve tried so hard in recent years to just tune the day out. I wish I could be like my friend, Adina, who marks the day by doing something her mother would have loved. It feels like such a beautiful way to process grief. But I really don’t know what my mother loved. She died when I was barely three and I didn’t get a chance to know her.

I do have an amazing group of motherly stand-ins, friends, and a good husband who support me and for whom I am so grateful. But I’m most grateful that this Mother’s Day doesn’t feel so focused on grief. It’s the first year that I’m experiencing the day as a mother instead of a left-behind daughter and it feels different. It’s all sorts of cliche, but Alice, who is named after my mum, fills my heart in ways I could never have thought possible. Having her makes the day feel less empty. It doesn’t hurt so bad.

So many life events, especially around becoming a parent, trigger grief. I wanted my mother when I was pregnant, and to take care of me after I gave birth. I want to have my mother to call when I’m scared and I don’t know what to do. (It’s easy to imagine a perfect version of what could have been, even though most people’s reality isn’t that simple.) But becoming a parent also offers a clean(ish) slate to create something new, and maybe also heal some old wounds. Today still makes me feel sad, but the totally ridiculous joy I get out of being that kid’s mother balances it out.

 

My Body Is Not Enough

 

“Your baby is starving,” my midwife told me.

It was three days post-partum. My nipples had bled and scabbed over from a voracious baby with a poor latch frantically searching for food I couldn’t provide. Large at birth, Alice had lost 12% of her birth weight which made everyone panic. In my exhaustion and inexperience, and my concern for this tiny creature I immediately couldn’t imagine my life without, we did what we were told.

Every three hours, we woke the baby from her slumber and I nursed her while my husband Ryan tried to keep her awake long enough to take in some food – cold washcloths on her body, jiggling her arm, blowing on her neck. Then he’d tape a soft tube on his finger and feed her formula while I pumped meagre amounts of milk. When we were done, we’d collapse into bed to sleep for 60-90 minutes before the alarm rang to do it all again.

I studied YouTube videos about the best breastfeeding holds and maximizing milk output when pumping. There were tears – mine and the baby’s. One sleep deprived night, only 20 minutes after we’d gone to bed, I got up in a daze and started pumping again. After several minutes I awakened fully and realized I was on the wrong task.

In the second week, we visited a hospital breastfeeding clinic. “Your baby is starving,” they said. It’s not something any parent wants to hear once, but to hear it again is more than demoralizing, it’s downright terrifying.

“She needs to gain at least 20 grams a day. If she doesn’t gain by the end of this week she needs to see a pediatrician.”

I worried someone would take my baby away from me. Despite doing everything we were told, we had a baby who was more interested in sleeping than eating, and even when she ate, it just didn’t work that well.

At four weeks, she was diagnosed with a lip and tongue tie – both relatively common conditions where the tissue connecting the lip and tongue to the mouth is too tight and limits movement. I couldn’t bring myself to let the doctor cut her mouth with scissors.

“I’d rather give her bottles,” I told Ryan defiantly.

It was still early, when I thought our problems were short-term and would work themselves out. As the weeks wore on, and things didn’t get better, I began to second guess my decision. We finally went through with it when she was three months old.

I spent my pregnancy planning a beautiful, natural childbirth. I refused to be afraid of labour. When the baby was born, my husband would happily catch her, lift her to my chest, and she’d immediately feed. It never occurred to me that breastfeeding would be a problem. But it hadn’t occurred to me I’d end up with a C-section either.

I sometimes feel jealous of friends whose babies eat well, their chubby, well-fed bodies falling into deep, milk-drunk sleeps. Then I feel guilty for envying their success. It’s not that I don’t want it for them, I just want it more for me. We consulted five different lactation consultants. My milk never came in the way it was supposed to; I take 34 pills a day – a mix of herbs and prescription medication to increase supply. I still can’t make enough to breastfeed exclusively.

Our feedings have gradually improved, from supplementing or even replacing every meal with bottles, to making it through most days with just one or two bottles. But when she’s tired or grumpy, or going through a growth spurt that I can’t keep up with, the baby’s angry screams demand easier access to food. Even after all I’ve done, all the work I’ve put in, every time she rejects the breast an immense wave of failure washes over me. I think maybe this time is really it, maybe she’s giving up. But the next day is new again, she nurses as if nothing has happened, and I continue in limbo between bottle and breastfeeding.

I’ve wanted to quit so many times, but I can’t let go. I’ve set deadlines for myself. Just one more week. I just need to make it to two months, then I can quit. Just get to three months and that will be enough.

The anxiety caused by not being able to feed your child is tremendous. I pack more jars of formula than I know I will need on each outing because I never know if she’ll nurse. I fear getting stuck in an elevator or on the subway with a baby who won’t accept the food that is right in front of her, instead choosing to wail inconsolably like she has done so many times before. Though her weight gain is slow, but acceptable, I worry that she lives in a constant state of being a little bit hungry and I wonder if my determination to continue has been a selfish act.

“It’s just food” people tell me as a show of support. But it’s not just food. Nothing in parenting is that straightforward. It’s a cultural demonstration of “good parenting.” It’s the “natural” way to feed your child. And the pressure feels almost overwhelming.

As a recent Washington Post article perfectly put it: “The professional guidelines are based on good science. But for many new mothers, the recommendations carry the force of a threat: if I don’t breastfeed, my child is more likely to get sick; if I don’t breastfeed, my child won’t be as smart; if I don’t breastfeed, I’m not a good mother.”

Alice is five months old now and we’re still at it. She’s had the benefit of breast milk at least some of the time, and on a good day it is so satisfying to provide for her. But I’m not sure I’d do it again. I have no regrets, but breastfeeding added an enormous amount of stress in our lives at an already stressful time. Breast may be best, but some bodies just don’t do what they are supposed to.

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

I have a lot of time to think these days, but very little to sit down and write. A newborn is all-consuming, always needing something from me. It delights me, but leaves me mentally drained.

I’ve been trying for months to write something on my battle with breastfeeding, jotting notes down in my phone as I stand off to the edge of the sidewalk, hoping the lack of motion won’t wake the baby.

Tonight, I decided, would be the night I’d finally sit down and turn my gibberish notes into something great. This would be the topic that I’d finally turn into a Facts & Arguments, a goal I’ve been secretly chasing for years, despite barely having written a thing in the last two.

First I had to read a few old essays to re-familiarize myself with the format. Then the guidelines. Then I had to read the F&A my friend Leslie wrote several years ago because I remember it being quite good. It is good, and it makes me self-conscious about what I’ve written so far.

I start to feel the doubt bubbling up inside. I look back and my notes and wonder “do I really know what I’m writing about?”

I sit for a while trying to figure out what my point is. To help, I look at Facebook. Someone has liked a particularly cute photo of my baby and it makes me feel proud – I have no control over how cute she is, but I take credit anyway.

Perhaps what I’m writing needs more research. Instead of writing it’d be best if I googled some history instead.

It’s past my bedtime now. Maybe I’ll write tomorrow.

A Birth Story

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It’s a strange feeling to walk yourself into an operating room, climb on a table, and wait to be cut open. I wasn’t sick. I wasn’t even in labour. But I was there for a C-section, preparing to bring my baby into the world in the last way I expected.

I had wanted to give birth at the Toronto Birth Centre – a midwife run facility just for delivering babies with beautiful big rooms, double beds, and fake fireplaces – long before I was pregnant, and before the centre had even been officially opened. I was drawn to the idea of a place just for birth, not contaminated by the stress of hospitals. Hospitals are for illness. Hospitals are for interventions. Hospitals breed infections.

We chose a midwifery practice with privileges at Mt. Sinai because, if something goes wrong and you’re going to end up at a hospital, it may as well be one of the best. But I wasn’t going to need it. My body – so bad at doing so many things – was going to be really good at pregnancy and birth. It was going to finally redeem itself for being clumsy and uncoordinated, for being hard to manage and hard to love.

And oh how good at pregnancy it was. So good that it grew an enormous baby who refused to leave the comfortable swimming pool of easy to access food and climate control. I was desperate to get the birthing show on the road – drinking the teas, taking the herbs, visiting the acupuncturist for the first time in my life, and then in rapid succession for the week after my due date in an attempt to get the baby out. Nothing seemed to disturb her. So on day nine, I went for the ultrasound I had hoped not to need to confirm the health of the baby and the placenta. As the OB walked me through the report, he pointed to strong muscle tension and heartbeat, good fluid levels, and a still normal placenta. And an estimated fetal weight of nearly 13lbs! His recommendation was, “in order to ensure a safe delivery”, to deliver the baby via C-section.

My first reaction was to laugh. I thought, “Yes, I know I’m having a big baby. I’m a big woman. And look at the size of this belly!” But I also knew that ultrasound estimates can be wildly inaccurate and those doctors really just want to cut things, don’t they?

We left the hospital. I tweeted about the extreme prediction, laying the ground work for some serious street cred. But I wasn’t going to be one of the 27% of Canadian births that ended in C-section. Those were for emergencies, or for people who got sucked into the medicalization of childbirth and got talked into thinking their bodies weren’t made for this. I was going to have the natural birth I planned! I knew things sometimes went wrong, but they weren’t going to go wrong for me! How could they? I had a plan.

But as the night went on, I got worried. What if they were right? What if I really had a 13lb baby? Or what if they are so wrong and I actually have a 9lb baby and have a completely unnecessary surgery?

I called the midwife, mostly looking for some reassurance that I could, indeed deliver this baby even if it was huge. I expected her to be relaxed, but she wasn’t. Was it possible the size was overestimated and that this baby would be totally fine? Sure. Was it possible that my large frame would safely deliver a baby of this size, even though it probably wouldn’t feel awesome? Absolutely, it was possible. But it was also possible that the baby’s head would deliver nicely and then nothing more. The shoulders might be too wide and get stuck. And then they would do all they could to manoeuvre her out – in an extreme case, breaking the collar bone if that was necessary. If it worked, all would be well. If it didn’t, well, the words “brain damage” and “death” are basically the scariest things in the world.

They called it an “elective C-section,” but this wasn’t a “too posh to push” situation. (Me. Posh. Can you imagine?) I lay awake most of the night before tormenting myself.  I wasn’t sure it was the right decision. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was giving up. But there didn’t seem to be an alternative, knowing that I couldn’t live with the guilt of calling their bluff, pushing for a vaginal birth, and being wrong. So I woke at 6am and headed off for surgery.

We walked along a nearly empty College Street to the hospital at a quarter to seven in the morning. “Alice?” I said as we stopped at a light. “Alice Emilia?” Ryan responded. And our baby had a name.

I walked into the O.R. sometime around noon. I sat waiting for the spinal anaesthesia while watching the nurse assemble the scalpels that would be used to cut through my body.

“What kind of music do you like?” the surgeon asked.

“Taylor Swift” I instinctively responded. It was the first thing that came to mind. I had no idea why I was being asked.

“Great choice. I love Taylor Swift.”

I lay on the table, Taylor Swift on the speakers, with 10 masked strangers taping on monitors, positioning my body, disinfecting my abdomen. Actually, I really have no idea what they were doing to me. I heard the masked voices, never sure which one to respond to, tried unsuccessfully to wriggle my toes, and waited.

“So how big do we think this baby is?” says the surgeon. “I’m guessing 10lbs 3oz.”

“No. No way. I am not having surgery for a 10lb baby. She’s over 11lbs or I’m out.”

“Ok. 10lbs 5oz.”

Ryan, who had been waiting in the hall, came in at some point (we later learned that they make the support person wait in the hall not until they are ready to start cutting, but until they have actually made the first cut. I guess to make sure I didn’t scream). Some time passed, it felt like no time at all despite the strange feelings of my insides being tugged and manipulated.

“Do you like this song?” It was a Taylor Swift song I somehow wasn’t familiar with. “Someone hit next. Get a song she likes.” They settled on “Our Song.”

Someone said “Stand up now.” Ryan stood up to peer over the curtain.

“Take pictures!” Ryan took pictures.

Someone lowered the surgical curtain and there I was, staring up at a beautiful, scrunchy, pissed off baby covered with goo. I’m not sure how I felt in the moment. Overwhelmed. Amazed. Despite being pregnant FOREVER, it’s hard to process looking down at the human you’ve grown.

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She was swiftly swept away to be inspected and weighed.

“11lbs, 6oz” someone announced.

I’m pretty sure I cheered.

At some point someone brought her over to me to look at momentarily before they continued on with baby inspections. Or maybe this happened right after she was born. Truthfully, everything after looking up at her from the table is kind of a blur.

They brought the baby to Ryan for some skin-to-skin contact since I wasn’t in any shape to hold her. They held her to my face so she would smell me, and feel my skin. I’m sure other things happened, but shortly after I was given a dose of Ketamine to deal with the pain of being put back together and things got awfully fuzzy. Eventually, I ended up in a recovery room with a perfect, fat baby voraciously feeding on my chest. A tiny human that I somehow grew, and housed.

We were in the hospital for two days, though the recovery is much longer. I haven’t completely let go of the feelings of missing out on the natural birth experience I planned, even though I know the consequences (not to mention the physical damage) could have been much worse than some misplaced feelings of want or guilt. It was not the birth that I wanted, but it’s the birth I got. In the end, I am at peace with the decision.

 

She’s Not Making It Easy

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My fetus is a jerk. Incredibly stubborn, and not particularly concerned who she’s inconveniencing. It’s making some things challenging, but it’s what I like best about her. Her, an unborn creature that of course I can only project personality on to at this point.

And while I know I’m projecting, she’s working this stubborn thing pretty hard — hard enough that we’ve given her a twitter account just to amuse ourselves.

At my 20 week ultrasound — the one where they take a picture of every body part from every angle to make sure she’s not missing anything important — it took the tech at least 50% longer than planned to get the images. The tech jabbed me in the belly with her wand repeatedly, made me touch my toes, sent me to the bathroom twice, and had me flip-flopping all over the table in the hopes that the baby would roll over and expose what parts needed capturing. She did roll over briefly, but them immediately rolled back — as if to say “I know what you want, but I’m not going to give it to you. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Once she finally started kicking with enough gusto to feel from the outside, I’d call Ryan over to feel. He’d put his hand on my belly and all movement would stop. He’d wait for a few minutes, hoping to get a sense of the madness that is this alien invasion inside me, but would get nothing. Then he’d take his hand away and she’d move again.

Finally, this week I went for another ultrasound and discovered she was breech — footling breech according to the report. She was just hanging out, head up and foot dangling down, not doing what she is supposed to. We were surprised, though I’m not really sure why. A breech baby almost definitely requires a c-section. Luckily, at 34 weeks, there is a procedure to turn the baby around. In an ECV, they quite literally grab hold of the pregnant belly (well, the lump of baby within), push hard, and turn. My awesome midwives did this successfully yesterday and I thought we were in the clear. Until this evening when my fetus, the jerk, seems to be hanging out on her side.

I hadn’t really thought all that much about what I want my daughter to be – although we’re likely grabbing on to the “I’m a girl who doesn’t take shit from anyone” for a reason. Yes, I want her to be smart and kind, and preferably be reasonably coordinated so she doesn’t have to spend all her school age years feeling out of place. But mostly I’d like her to be strong. I want her to be brave enough to stand up for things and not feel like she has to shape her personality to suit the world around her. I want her to be bossy. I want her to have opinions. I want her to be stubborn, even though it will likely get her in trouble. Ideally, she’ll find a mix of these things, and not let just one thing overwhelm her life. And maybe, if I’m lucky, she’ll cut us a little slack occasionally so we don’t spend the next 18 years in tears.

I’m ok with my fetus being a jerk. But for the next 6 weeks, would it kill her to just behave?

Photo: Korona Lacasse on flickr

5 Things I’ve Learned about Pregnancy: A Listicle

Photo via TipsTimesAdmin on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/tipstimesadmin/11557919223/in/photolist-iBkmHn-5Zkxe7-idL6v-8cZmLZ-71yZLi-dZicFZ-xDgCP1-4PNvSx-5fetgN-aw9Sth-xDkU3u-g1oZpj-7Q8YoN-kjfvT-5cYUWv-5siQc1-8d3vyA-uNbrPA-92MRDG-pZAuKB-47FSSy-3zQatC-oN5ezy-4nPoNZ-67f7SG-crtLkL-6aMC5C-7MFL5L-7WiKe6-7XfFgh-4nMcjc-8TXFGT-7Lsz4B-4zD18k-6aHtCt-8U1Hr9-4y5b47-8dbGLR-pJcbV9-4nMcfX-4yKz3R-9be9XB-7XcrWa-75cRM8-3ay81x-6Mhp4M-4z9fgd-7Kn71C-4yDfTJ-5d4gDA

  1. Pregnancy is hard, even when it’s easy.
    I’ve had it really easy so far*. I was tired and nauseated the first trimester, but could still function in my daily life. The second trimester was mostly boring, despite a few irrational mood swings about Ryan drinking when I could not, and I’ve had no major health complications (of which there are many possible). I think my body might be made for doing this stuff**.

    And yet, I’m not one of those women who will claim to love pregnancy. (For the record, I think you’re all lying.) Things ache in weird places. I have an invader in my body who sucks out the nutrients and for whom I had to give up coffee***, diet coke, and gin. I can no longer comfortably tie my shoes, I have to take naps in the middle of the day, my abdominal muscles feel like they are being stretched over a frame, and most of the time my sleep is shit.

    And that ignores all the emotional stuff that comes with it. Pregnancy is a big friggin’ deal. So basically, all pregnant women deserve a prize for continuing our species, but women who have it especially hard – 9 months of puking, forced bed rest, who have to work manual labour jobs on their feet all day – should get a fucking parade.

    And yes, I know some people choose not to have babies. You might deserve a parade for something else in your life, that’s awesome. But be extra nice to your pregnant friends even if you think they’re annoying.

2. The human body is nuts. Why are we not celebrating how amazing women’s bodies are on the inside? (Like, actually on the inside. Guts and stuff.)

Seriously. How am I still upright? #thingslizzgrew

A photo posted by @opinionatedlizz on Sep 15, 2015 at 8:34am PDT

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I took a photo today – 34 weeks less a day – and as I looked at it, I couldn’t believe I was still standing upright. Even more amazing was when we looked at a diagram of a pregnant women in our prenatal class and I realized that nearly all of my internal organs have been displaced – my stomach is basically in my throat, guys – and yet, somehow continue to function.

I have an actual tiny human inside my stomach right now, I grew it from nothing, and I am single-handedly keeping it alive. And no, I’m not a special snowflake. Women everywhere can just grow new humans. It’s amazing. For all women’s bodies are culturally devalued (and also over-valued as baby-making ovens), they are biologically awesome.

3. Forcing women to carry babies and become parents before they are ready is absurd.
Really early on in my pregnancy, I was scared. Yes, I did this deliberately, and yes, I wanted this baby really badly, but I was terrified. There were so many possible things I could do wrong. It would take 10 months and a huge toll on my body, and at the end, I would be left with a helpless human that I would have to keep alive – not just for a few weeks, but forever. And I would have to teach it to be a good human, and a kind human, and hope I could love it the way it needed to be loved. I knew we were going to be poor for a long time since daycare in Toronto is equivalent to mortgage payments. I sat in a movie theatre one day and panicked about how hard it will be for Ryan and I to just go to a damn movie without it costing $100. And to be honest, I was a bit resentful of losing control of my own body. And the only thing that balanced that out was knowing that I would get a baby at the end that I truly wanted.
But if you had all that fear and didn’t want, or weren’t, for whatever reason, able to handle a baby right now/ever, it would be awful. I’ve always been pro-choice, but actually being pregnant made me appreciate so much more the need to have access to safe abortions and birth control. Because pregnancy is really hard, and at the end you have a baby that needs a hell of a lot of work to make it into a productive member of society and forcing that on anyone who isn’t interested or isn’t capable of doing that work is both cruel and stupid.

When I read about companies fighting against providing birth control to their employees as part of drug plans for “moral” reasons, the only conclusion I can come to is that they really hate women, and they really hate babies.

4. Midwives are amazing. I am lucky.

I guess we timed things well, because I was more than able to find a space with a midwife (despite the small number available). So far, they’ve been really awesome, and I’ve really appreciated going through this madness with the support of health providers that I not only trust, but who don’t treat me like I’m a moron. They give me choice (sometimes more than I would like), and they assume I’m a rational adult who can make decisions about my own body. I get to see the same people week after week, I’ll know the person delivering my baby, and afterwards, they will come to my home multiple times to ensure I and the baby are doing well. No trudging out to a clinic 2 days post-partum, possibly in the middle of a cold November rain storm (or snowstorm), sleep-deprived, bleeding and sore, and sitting in a waiting room full of sick people. How humane.

Yes, I’m glad doctors and hospitals exist for doing the things that actually require doctors’ skills, but until I’m in need of those special skills (hopefully I won’t ever be in need of them), having a publicly funded alternative is the best.

5. Having a pregnancy buddy is essential.
I know that not everyone is as invested in the details of my pregnancy as we are****. I’ve been trying really hard not to overwhelm people with details about weird things happening in my body (night mumbling) or what strange animal my baby is equivalent to this week (ferret) or what new things we got for the baby this week (Lies. It’s baby shoes and they are the greatest thing on earth.), but it’s hard because it’s basically all I can think about. So I can’t stress enough how essential it has been to have someone to talk about all the minutiae, who not only wants to hear all your crazy, but who has a similar philosophy about pregnancy so she doesn’t make your crazy worse.

*Please don’t punish me for being cocky, universe.
**Pretty please. I promise I know you could smite me at any moment, universe.
**For 6 months. I’m back!
****Once she’s out, all bets are off. Unfollow me now because my baby will be the cutest, most special baby in all the world and I will make you look at pictures of her fat limbs and frowny face.