Monday, March 16, 2015

Goodbyes for now and hellos soon

In ten days we will have fostered for two solid years (we've been licensed longer but our first long term placement - Child B. and Child C. - arrived 2 years ago) with a two week break between placements.
And after 18 mos child D., Child E., and Child F. are moving back to their parent's home. There are boxes and boxes of clothes and toys to pack. This transition has been progressing for over a month and it's nice to finally have some permanency instead of splitting weeks and schedules and bouncing tired cranky kids back and forth.

For all five kids, this is a sad change ... and a happy one ... so everyone is a little out of sorts and confused. But as we get closer to a consistent bed every night the more settled everyone seems.

And everyone is sympathetic to us - as in, to Ren Man and myself. I get it, kind of. But this is the point. The point is to be a safe holding spot for kids while their parents learn new skills, strengthen their community/support system, and maybe even space to re-evaluate their choices/life/future. It's not a perfect system - far from it, but in this case, it seems to have taken hold in a positive way. And fortunately for us, we're working with some pretty amazing parents who value our relationship with their kids.

Having said all that, this investment takes a ton of effort, time, resources and it's been a relatively long time - especially given how young these girls are. This is all with the underlying pressure of feeling like every move, scratch, illness, parenting choice is analyzed and assessed by an almost-stranger who you didn't invite into your life - beyond deciding to foster. The lack of respect applied to original families (which is discouraging and frustrating) is just as often arbitrarily applied to foster parents, in general (having said that - this is a general statement - we've felt beyond thankful for the hours and hours of support and guidance and explanation and respect shared with us from the caseworker for this specific case). This is completely draining.
We're so honored to have seen them grow and mature over the last 18mos. But it's discouraging to see all that progress disintegrate the longer the kids are away from you - it's not even big things. Here's a silly example: in our house, you shut the toilet lid when you're done. This is apparently not the case at the girls parents' because the lid is now consistently left up. But we know they are morphing into someone else's kids who we just happen to know really well, and the toilet seat being up or down is not a big deal for this short time during transition. It's a good reminder of all the adjustments foster kids are expected to make the instant they move from one home to another - on top of the trauma of the move in the first place.

This summer is slated to be our busiest yet. We have all kinds of projects on the brink of beginning - including one huge one we're keeping under wraps until it's a definite.
Oh yeah.
And a new baby we're growing that will presumably come out into the world at some point this summer.
So when the girls were looking more and more like they would be leaving us we talked about taking a break until November or so. This would get us past weddings and high school seniors in terms of photography and through the intensity of summer farming.
But as the Big Project becomes more and more likely we're thinking the fostering break might last years, not just months.

And part of this is saying "Goodbye" to the notion of a larger family. I have always said I wanted 6 kids. Ren Man is pretty committed to not going over five. But even at five, he gets socially overwhelmed. And child rearing is intense and when you make the choice to raise kids, you make the choice not to do other things. And right now we're making the choice to do those other things and be satisfied with 2 (and a half) kids. It's taken a while to get here - because for years (since I was a child myself, literally) I would tell everyone that I wanted 6 kids (originally it was 50 birthed and 50 adopted, so 6 seemed a reasonable compromise). Every.single.time the adult I was telling would inevitably scoff: "wait until you have one!"
How condescending!
And all that did was encourage my adamance that I would raise six kids. And I was that person that said she'd have six kids.
I also attribute this desire to raise more than four kids to my mom - who I observed first hand as she raised four kids. What a testament to her mothering, to find myself wanting to emulate her so much - and then some!
I try not to take it as a testament to my mothering then, when Del insists she wants to remain child-free. Instead I think she is wise to see that there are so many choices in life and raising children is not a more valued than another choice - but by choosing to raise children, you choose to not do other things. And by choosing to do other things, you are choosing not to raise children.
And I hope hope hope no grownup ever says to her: "just wait until you get older, then you'll see how you feel."

So goodbye for now to girls - our daughters of 18mos, goodbye for now to fostering, goodbye for now to the expectation of a large family.
Hello soon to an evolved relationship with our girls, hello soon to spring and summer, hello soon to new projects, and hello soon to a new baby.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

On being 32

Today is my birthday.
I remember being a bit sad to turn 30 - and shocked. I mean, when my parents turned 30, they were OLD!
But it wasn't a big deal, and I still felt like me.
But I was sad because we still had not been called for a foster placement and I was nervous that we'd always be parents of two. I wanted more kids. Two was so normal.
And now, two years later and we're pregnant with our sixth kid.

A lot can happen in two years.

ps I intended to have a picture of me with the kids ... but if you have five kids, you realize quickly that ideal doesn't always play out in reality.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pelvic Girdle Pain

You know how I said pregnancy wasn't a disability and I can listen to my body and everyone else just needs to calm down. People are pregnant all.the.time - and our population continues to grow - so I'm thinking me continuing with a normal life isn't going to change that.

I also said a long time ago that having a baby doesn't change your life that much. After all, we had Noah and life continued relatively unchanged. Then we had Del. And she demanded we alter our on-the-go lifestyle to accommodate her napping/feeding/bedtime needs.
Now we're pregnant. So things will probably slow down a bit after the baby is born, but we can prepare for that. Up until then - farming as usual .

And then there's Pelvic Girdle Pain, less commonly known as symphisis pubis pain. If you're pregnant too, don't read further - I don't even want you to know this is an option. Apparently PGP effects 80% of pregnant women ... but I'd never heard of it before. The main symptoms are extreme pain while walking, carrying, or rolling over in bed (and most noticeable pain at night). It is apparently most uncomfortable to push a cart while going grocery shopping. If only.

So Ren Man has, despite his strong feelings that pregnancy is part of life and not a disability, taken on all the chores he can - and even more than he probably should (for example, going and doing everything except milking - namely throwing/carrying hay bales and hauling buckets of water - before going off for a 12hour day of cooking at work).

After hesitating to look up "burning c^o-ch" on google - because who knows?! - I remembered a more appropriate "pelvic" word and opened a world of PGP. But at first it seemed the only solution was staying on all fours as much as possible. I imagined this. And realized there really isn't a lot of time where being on all fours would be appropriate in my life ... or arguably any adult's life. After more digging other possibilities have emerged. The issue (in theory - no one is sure) seems to be too much relaxin too early in pregnancy - so a pelvis that is normally 1-3mm spread, could be 10mm spread too soon. Anecdotally this seems to lead to a faster second stage of birth (I'll take it!). In the meantime - there's walking, carrying, and moving in bed to contend with.
As I said, on all fours is a good idea - or really anything that gets the weight of the baby off of your pelvis (and I say this a little perplexed because I'm not that far along and the baby is reportedly the size of a papaya), like getting into water. The cat-camel exercise is helpful. I've also heard sitting on a yoga ball is good, and having a pillow between your legs while side-sleeping to keep your hips even. I read more than once not to "push through the pain" - which is what I'd been doing when it was more mild, after all - what choice did I have? Cows need to be fed and watered.

More intensively, you can seek out professionals with prenatal training. Professionals include physical therapists, masseuse, osteopaths, acupuncturists, and chiropractors. Living where we do, these are not options. I did set up a consult with my MD, who is also an osteopath, for later this week. She has not special prenatal training - thus the consult instead of a straight up appointment. I'm hopeful.

This just complicates that whole gestational diabetes thing. It helps TREMENDOUSLY to do any kind of exercise, even "exercise" - like walking in circles in the living room - to bring down your numbers. Well, when your pelvic girdle is on fire and you are trying to minimize movement, exercise loses its importance really.

And I looked up birth complications. I assumed I would squat, as I did for Del, very successfully. But the goal in all the managing of PGP is to keep your legs together. Squatting is very painful right now. Which is sad. Because I was upping my squatting practice. From what I've read, all fours will be most comfortable (there it is again!) for the birth. I've also read that the birth will be overwhelming enough that PGP will not even be noticed.

Have you had this?! What helped? What didn't? What was your birth like? Any suggestions at all?!?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


"Ugh, my lower back is really starting to hurt," I said recently to Ren Man. "This happened with Noah too, but I think it was worse for him. It's something to do with your sciatic nerve. I went to a chiropractor and she said to do this cat camel exercise."
"What's that?" he asked.
"You arch your back like a camel and then stretch out like a cat, pressing your back down," I explained.
"That's sounds more like a cat-cat exercise," he stated.
"THANK YOU! I've always thought that," I enthused.
"A camel doesn't actually arch it's back, but a cat does. And a cat stretches with it's back down. I think it should be cat-cat."
"Me too, me too!"

Monday, January 26, 2015

I'm 31, not 26 (like last time)

Pregnancy is different at 31 than it is at 26 - when I was last pregnant. I'm finding myself thinking: "maybe I do want a pack and play with a changing table thing" instead of the 23 year old who found a changing table on craigslist while pregnant for the first time ... and quickly sold it on craigslist when said changing table was barely used. It's not like we lived in a huge home where it was tucked off in a corner - our apartment was about 600 sqft. It was just more convenient to plop down on the floor with the first baby (and the next one) for diaper changes, instead of wrangling a squirmy baby and the various diapering supplies on a raised surface. The jury is still out, but my guess is the floor will still be the defacto changing table.

But other than that - morning sickness was minimal - no puking, some nausea, no biggie (with Noah I puked once a day, with Del I puked 6 times total). I craved salt like CRAZY in the first trimester for this pregnancy. But mostly, I forget that I'm pregnant. It was so unexpected, and the symptoms so mild, that I forget. I mean, it's nice not having a period for months on end, and my belly is bigger - but I could just tell myself I'm gaining belly weight for some reason.

The bigger difference though, between a pregnancy (for me) at 26 (when I was last pregnant) and 31 is that a bajillion of my friends are pregnant or have recently birthed. How novel! The last two times all of my pre-mommy-ing friends were doing their 20's thing and it didn't include making babies. And now they are (or are choosing not to)! It's exciting to have peers to ride this ride with - but also interesting to see different perspectives. I recently met up with a group of moms who were all mostly my age and had all recently birthed their first kid or were pregnant with their second. The conversation around the group was the same type of conversations I'd hashed out with my playgroup friends back in Providence ... when we were having our second babies (or in my case - had recently had a second baby). I thought I'd always enjoy these type of conversations - but I was over it. I didn't need to talk about the merits of breastfeeding or cloth diapering (again). I just live my parenting life and it happens to include co-sleeping and baby-lead-feeding.

So maybe the biggest difference between a pregnancy at 26 versus a pregnancy at 31 is that you're more comfortable in your own skin. You know what works for you and your family but you don't feel the need to process it constantly and reassess. You're also more confident in what the future might hold - namely, not another pregnancy - and you see every day how this time does slip by faster than you expect. You see it every day when that eight year old you birthed yesterday, you know, the one you thought would never sleep through the night, walks by and you realize he's almost as tall as you are. You cherish every movement in utero because you'll never feel this baby (or any baby) in this unique way again. Pregnancy is so short. You'll never have heartburn like this again or feel the urge to pee again(!!) when you swear you were just in the bathroom.

Another difference - this baby already has older siblings. It is so fun to have a two year old rubbing my belly because "the baby is sad" (and also freaks me out - does she know something I don't!?!?), or a 3.5 year old announcing to everyone "there's a baby in my mommy's tummy and it's a girl! We're having a girl baby!!" (really?! News to me!), or a 6 year old grinning big and proud when anyone asks her about the baby, or a 6.5 year old gently rubbing my belly and asking if I need some water or reminding me that I need to minimize my sugar intake (thank you gestational diabetes), or the 8.5 year old who daily yells into my belly because he knows the baby can hear him. I'm so excited to see how the baby is integrated into our family. I expect it will be overwhelmed with hugs, kisses, and being read to!

The most important difference - at 26 I had no interest in alcohol or coffee. Now I'm like: I could kill for a margarita or a creamy sweet coffee!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Sometimes when farming ...

It isn't uncommon for people to show up at our house seeking farm goodness - a chicken or two, some steaks, a dozen eggs, etc.
So when Craig (we'd never met - but his partner had picked up a Christmas duck the week before Christmas) showed up at our front door, I invited him in and went into the back attached shed (aka "Not Garage") where the coolers and freezer are to find him a coveted duck and chicken.
We started talking about their passion for local food and their goal for renovating a building for a restaurant where they want to use only local food. I offered him some cheese random homemade farm stuff to try.

As I was explaining what was what ("I think this is cheddar and this is something stinky that I love. I wish Ren Man was in here, he could tell you more.") in walked Ren Man with a ziploc bag of hay. In his usual introverted way, he barely acknowledged the random person in our kitchen, walking past him in his serious manner, to the scale that had been left on the counter. He weighed the hay as I asked him about the cheese. (aged gouda and something stinky)

We needed to get a certain amount of hay to ship to extension so they can do an analysis of its nutrient content.

After Craig left my dad made a joke about the ziploc bag being left out for random people to see, we should be better about hiding it.

Craig hadn't even batted an eye. I don't know him well enough to call and explain - and that might make it worse.
But we laughed and laughed at how that must have looked to this guy!

Only on the farm, I guess ...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Farming and pregnant

I searched high and low online for pregnant+farming information. Mostly because I started having a sore stomach (muscles?) and wondered if it was related to handling bales of hay and 5gallon buckets of water and 50lbs of milk can+milk AND holding a uterus in place. I read over and over again that women have been farming since the beginning of farming and have been pregnant all along. On forums women recommended that pregnant women avoid chemicals when pregnant - that was the most common piece of advice. Not a concern here, thankfully. Others just recommended listening to your body and taking things slower. One person said she specifically planned for a winter baby to minimize the disruption in her organic farming (vegetables is what she's farming, it seems) and mused that this might be a choice many farming women make. I read that women shouldn't lift over 25lbs when pregnant (what?!) and was feeling a little nervous. Then realized that was silly because people have older children they have to lift - even if their life doesn't involve farming. I found an NBC article debunking pregnancy myths - and one of them was the heavy lifting thing. Again, listen to your body.

And I also read that being in shape will help with birth (and I'm definitely in better shape than I was for either of the previous pregnancies) - and the squatting while milking can only help. But I don't fill the 5 gallon buckets as full (which is a bummer because I was just getting to the point where I could carry a very full bucket), I roll hay bales instead of hauling them, and I take more stops on the walk from the barn to the house with a full milk can.

And this baby isn't coming in the winter, and I don't know if that would work best for farmers who raise animals. I'm really nervous about next winter when there will be a 6mos old to wrangle while also hauling hay bales and moving cows into a milking stall, never mind the sub zero temperatures -but right now, I'm not nervous. There's a little person growing in a warm cushiony place while I get farm chores done. And timing-wise it works out because by the third trimester the cows will be out in the pasture and the heaviest thing I'll be lifting is a fence step-in-post to give the cows more grass ... and that silly milk can still ;)

PS that big thing the cow is licking in the picture above is a 40lb molasses lick that Ren Man and I shoved uphill through the snow and ice. For real. I was on my knees wondering at our sanity. And I'm pretty sure Ren Man did most of the pushing - I did most of the complaining. But that wasn't anything compared to the upright freezer we hauled down that same snowy hill into the not-garage. He has no sympathy. All those articles talked about partners insisting their pregnant girlfriend/wife not lift too much ... not Ren Man. I put it down to his complete trust in my competency. I can grow babies and move mountains, apparently.

Monday, January 12, 2015

What I want :: foster-to-adopt

Unsupervised visits began for dad and immediately a family member made a huge (slightly scary, I'm told - I haven't asked for detail) allegation against the dad and his family. So unsupervised visits were complicated because they couldn't happen at dad's house.

At long last, the claims are unfounded and the first at home unsupervised visit is in the works.
I'm so excited.
Or so I told the caseworker.
"Are you?" the caseworker asked, "I can't figure out how you want this to end."
"I don't know either," I replied, "so if you figure it out, let me know."
"Oh, so it's not just me," she said.
"No!" I wailed. "I want foster care to work."
"I do too! It just doesn't often," she said.
"So I'm excited that they could go home - this could work!" I explained. "I'm excited about a new placement. I'm also excited about how much progress they've made so far here (and mad a little at how amazing the baby is - as in ahead developmentally on every level - and maybe the older two would have been so far ahead had they had less neglect in their early life) and how much more they could gain by staying in this environment." I paused. "I'm sorry, I really don't know what I want. Both outcomes are great and both suck."
We talked about how some days I just want them GONE, but how I think that's how parents feel in general. She agreed. She also said that more experienced caseworkers than her and long term foster parents have said there's a shift that happens after you know the kids are staying forever part of your family. She said she thought I might be holding part of myself back, which I may well be doing. We talked about how this was the best case scenario - both parents have expressed that they can see how important I am to their children and they want that relationship to continue even if the kids did go home. We talked about how that's a positive thing but sometimes it is hard to draw a line on how much support you give that family as they struggle in the future. You care about these kids so much, you're willing to take them every weekend so their parents can party ... at least the kids are then safe. But that just drags out the inevitable and causes more damage. We both agreed that partying would probably not happen (did I mention that their dad is doing well and seems to have bought into the message of AA, etc?), but still good to be aware of.

After talking for several more mintues (I could talk all day about our case with our caseworker, and she's so good at helping me process and letting me go around in circles in my thought processes), we left it with a plan to talk the following day to firm up plans. We both want to give this dad as many visits as possible. He's worked damn hard, no one is doubting that, and now it's time to fish or cut bait (a term for the judge during a foster-parent training).

I got off the phone and told Ren Man about my confusion - or the caseworkers- or both. Do I want them to stay or go?
"You just want it to be over," he responded.
And it clicked into place. That is what I want.

I called the caseworker back with some other thoughts, and also shared this revelation.
"So do you want them to go home, or not?" she asked.
"I don't know," I whined. And then after a pause: "I just want to know what's going to happen. Are we raising these three kids for life or are we not?"
"You don't want to be in limbo," she said.
"YES!" again, more clarity, it felt.
"That makes sense," she replied.

And I slept better that night :)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

3 concrete pours and we have functional stalls for the dairy cows!

While newly pregnant, we did a mad race with the cold weather we knew was coming to get three loads of concrete poured in the barn. The purpose was to have functional stalls. Over the last two winters we've tried bedded pack (doesn't work so well in a bank barn with low ceilings and was horrendous to clean out at the end of the year - it minimally composted) and we've done some finagling tie stalls too. We really felt like bedded pack was the way to go but after researching more (relying heavily on information from Bob White Systems), a tie stall barn seems the most humane and efficient for a small herd. We don't intend to have a milking herd above a dozen max and at this size the square footage would have to be too small for the cows comfort to make the bedded pack work.

Tie stalls it is. Which meant ripping out a barn's worth of old concrete by hand (and loading it into a skid steer bucket. Evidently there was a school of thought that concrete was stronger if you put a layer of large rocks down first, back when the concrete was layed in our barn. I would argue with this belief given how cracked our concrete was. There was a mallet and a crow bar involved too. And there were layers - a thin layer on top of thin layer.

So that was hard - but how hard can it be to pour concrete?
Harder than I thought.
There were forms to build and reinforce. Concrete is heavy and you don't want your forms to blow out! There was a dirt ground to get very level and free of debris. There were posts to put in to support the barn on blocks - sometimes temporary posts that would later be put right on the concrete slab, sometimes permanent posts, depending. This required jacking the barn (the jack kicked out more than once - one night it happened at least a dozen times). There was a level involved ... and a laser level. Late nights that were freezing and I was shutting my eyes for just a minute while Ren Man thought through the next measurement. Our three and a half year old was freaked out by the level light hitting her, she'd try to whack it off her coat and get very upset when her hand went right through the light - and if she noticed the light was on her hand ....!

And the night before each pour and the morning of we were always in a panicked rush to get a few more things done. For the first two pours Ren Man drove the skid steer to the concrete truck parked as close as possible and filled the skid steer bucket with concrete. Then he'd drive into the barn and carefully dump the concrete while I raked it into place with the help of a neighbor or two. One pour required us to use a large sheet of plywood as a slide to get the concrete over the previous pour and where it needed to go. Concrete is HEAVY! And talk about ab muscles as you scrape this thick goop into place. Did I mention I was pregnant?

The third pour was the largest with two sections to pour concrete into - the actual stalls and the center aisle. I offered to drive the skid steer. I was nervous about my aim and speed, but the truck driver was impressed. He said it's hard to find a woman who will get her fingernails dirty. I said he wasn't hanging out with the right people.

And then 2/3 of the "cow barn" concreted, which was all we needed before the winter set in. It was hard to wait as many days as possible to let the cows into the barn full time. Back in August I mapped out the pasture in my mind and figured we could make it to October with the pasture we had left. Then we started taking cuttings from a neighbor's hay fields and feeding that directly to cows, pastured on our pastures they had already eaten from. And then Ren Man's dad sold us some round bales (the huge round hay bales you see drying in fields - I think they hold the equivalent of 20 square bales) and we fed those to the cows. So it was December and the cows were still outside (awesome! It wasn't too cold, the water lines weren't freezing yet, and the poop stayed outside!). I was thrilled that they were able to stay outside so late in the season.

But it was getting colder. We'd covered "windows" (really window frames with glass long-since gone) with plastic, covered the concrete with plastic, and ran a heater whenever we were in the barn working to try and keep the temp above freezing to minimize the curing time for the concrete. And finally we put in horizontal pipes connected to the vertical pipes that were positioned in one of the concrete pours at the front of the stalls. And then we brought in the three cows we were milking.

And life in the barn took on its meaning.
We recently finished 90% of the pipework needed to complete the stalls and now have 5 cows in the barn with plans to move three more into the cow barn (right now they are in the "horse" barn, able to come into the barn or go out into the joining pasture (the "triangle piece")).

Next is the debate to work on the milk room (where the milking equipment is washed) so we can be license to sell raw milk OR work on the creamery (where cheese making will happen) and buy in milk from other licensed dairies until the milk house is complete and our milk is licensed.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The 15th goal: birth a baby

I don't remember being so nervous when pregnant with Del. I knew our baby would survive and be healthy and birth would go smoothly.
This time I'm a little more hesitant. This feels like I got a nice surprise that feels too good to be true.
So what if we miscarry?
What if being 31 yrs old increases the chances for things like down syndrome ... but actually, do I care?
What if all my strong talk about homebirths and breastfeeding leads to a c-section and formula?

I try to think more positively. I've done this twice in the hospital and both experiences have been impressive natural births. Any birth is impressive. Natural births are challenging, but we've been designed to birth naturally. The hospital adds its own layer of challenges - but we chose our team carefully and we're clear with our expectations and what we were willing to compromise on.
This time, the hospital is not an option. We don't live in an area where there are options any more and I've heard that it's a challenge to birth naturally in this area.
Having said that, I'm not too worried about making it happen, if it was needed.
But among the reasons for birthing for a third time was a homebirth. And I don't want to not have that. I don't want the car ride to and from the hospital. I want our children to be present at any point before, during, or after the birth that they want to be present. I want to be able to go outside during labor. I want a gentle birth for this baby, and the most gentle experience is going to be at home (familiar sounds and smells, minimal separation from family (that car ride), etc).

The only trick is going to be keeping that gestational diabetes under control. I was getting really frustrated because fasting numbers were creeping up - even if my post-dinner number was excellent. Last night I had a handful of peanuts before bed ... back to low numbers at fasting. Phew! Hope this trick keeps working.
My other frustration about this is that I can test three different fingers in a row and get a range of 50 points. Which is the difference between diet controlling your gd, and not. So this test that this whole birth rests on seems very faulty.