June 18, 2015

Video Dump

There are two things I've been so grateful for as a parent - smart phones and the internet. How people ever survived parenthood without them is beyond me.

Here's some of the videos I've taken on that blessed smart phone:

At barely over a month, Esther sat around and complained. She's definitely a New Yorker ;)

Esther really started to smile at 2 months, and unsurprisingly, one thing really makes her smile:

She's always disliked tummy time, and at 10 weeks, Esther found a way out of it.

(Oddly enough, she recently began rolling from back to tummy and then forgets how to roll to her back. She instead screams and cries until I rescue her.)

Last, at 3 months, Esther has discovered her hands, her voice, and her kicks.

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June 10, 2015

Esther Violet Ricks - a Birth Story

Anyone who has been pregnant will tell you that every week of pregnancy over 36 weeks feels like a year. Anyone who has gone over their due date will tell you that every day over 40 weeks feels like an eon.

Taken on March 6th, two days past my due date
As you can therefore imagine, I was less than pleased when March 8th, 4 days after my due date, was coming to a close and all I had experienced were those go-nowhere, low-grade contractions. Frustrated and feeling fat, I set about making these cinnamon rolls (her freezing method is genius!) at around 9 pm. A bit after midnight, I pulled them out of the oven (which broke during the baking process and didn't get fixed until Esther was over a week old), left the rolls to cool, and went to bed.

I had really bad sciatic pain during pregnancy, and by February, I was waking up every hour or hour and half with crazy leg/bum pain on whichever side I was sleeping. I would flex my legs a bit, maybe go to the bathroom, and then start sleeping on my other side. I hated whenever someone told me to sleep as much as I could before the baby was born because sleeping was so painful.

Around 5:40 am on March 9th, I woke up with the aforementioned sciatic pain. I sat up in bed, debating whether to go to the bathroom or not, when a gush of liquid told me that my body decided for me. I rushed to the bathroom, pretty sure that the liquid was not urine. It felt different, and I had never peed on myself during pregnancy (unless I was throwing up). Sure enough, I wiped and saw some of my mucus plug on the toilet paper. Knowing that I was in for a long day, I changed my underwear/pajamas, told Spencer my water broke, and went back to bed.

Every now and then, I'd wake up with a contraction, and then I'd fall back asleep once it had passed. This continued for a few hours until 8:30 or so when I called my OB to let them know that I wouldn't be coming in for my appointment today since I was in labor. After that, Spencer and I got ready for the day. (Piece of advice - shave your legs before going to the hospital. I did that on a friend's suggestion, and I was so glad I had! I didn't have the time or energy to shave them again for weeks.) I finished the cinnamon rolls, Spencer did some work, and we let my doula know that today was the day! All the while, I'd get contractions, timing them with this app and enduring them by kneeling in front of the couch. It's funny now to think about how I thought those contractions were strong, and I was so proud of myself for enduring them well. Hahaha! I guess ignorance is bliss, right?

Around noon, we told my doula, my amazing friend Hannah, to come to our apartment so we could head to the hospital. My contractions were about a minute long, coming 5 to 4 minutes apart, and had been doing this for at least an hour. Hannah arrived, we took a longest cab ride of my life to the hospital, went up to the labor and delivery wing, and waited. And waited. And waited. I spent close to two hours, sitting and waiting to be admitted to triage. Spencer and Hannah would periodically ask at the desk when I would be helped, and they would be somewhat rudely brushed off. Maybe it's because I dealt with my contractions by being quiet as opposed to screaming? Who knows but it was RIDICULOUS.

A bit after 2 pm, I finally got admitted to triage. They set up monitors for my contractions and Esther's heart rate, checked my cervix, and ran two tests to see if my water had actually broken. I was 1 cm dilated, and both tests came back negative. I was devastated. What were all those contractions for then? And I knew my water had broken! Thankfully, the physician's assistant who checked me agreed with me since she couldn't feel my bag of waters and my fluid levels were low. Not to mention that the monitor showed my contractions coming regularly and getting more intense. She conferred with my OB, and they both decided that I should be admitted to labor and delivery. BUT they wanted to give me Cervidil.

My heart dropped like a rock. I had wanted a drug-free birth. The PA said they'd give me 12 hours on Cervidil (which "augments" labor by softening your cervix. doesn't induce it) before giving me Pitocin, which I wanted to avoid like the plague. Going on Cervidil also meant getting an IV and having continuous monitoring - two other things I wanted to avoid. Heart-broken, I sent Hannah home since it seemed like the baby wouldn't be coming for a long, long time. I got moved to an L&D room, and Spencer and I settled in for the long haul.

Thankfully, I could still move around and labor in various positions until I got the Cervidil. I preferred kneeling on the floor over a birthing ball or on the toilet. Around 4 pm, they inserted the Cervidil behind my cervix (which was still only dilated 1 cm), and I spent the next hour laboring in the bed (a requirement with Cervidil), listening to This American Life. What, Ira Glass isn't on your birthing playlist as well?

The next couple of hours were a blur. Once I was able to get up, I spent a lot of time laboring on the toilet, bringing all my monitors and IV into the bathroom with me. Poor Spencer kept checking on me through the doorway, making sure I was ok. At one point, I looked into the toilet and realized I had peed out the Cervidil, which meant I had to alert the nurse so it could be reinserted. The PA took a while to come check on me, but by the time she finally did, she said I was dilated to a 6 or 7 and no longer needed the Cervidil. This was 7 pm, a mere 3 hours after the last time I was checked and declared 1 cm dilated. Hallelujah, my contractions were doing something after all!

Shortly thereafter, my OB checked on me, and bless her soul! As you can tell, I am not a big fan of the hospital at which I gave birth, but my OB? My OB is absolutely incredible, and I love, love, love her. She had the nurse cap my IV, said I could eat food, and switched me to intermittent monitoring. Basically everything that I had wanted to facilitate an epidural-free birth. She also said that the baby probably wouldn't come until Tuesday. However, it was also around this time that I had Spencer tell my doula to come back. Thing were getting intense down below, and I knew I needed my entire birth team.

Here's where I need to say a few (or a million) words about Spencer and Hannah. I cannot imagine a better birth team than these two; I honestly don't know how I would have delivered Esther without them. Spencer was THEE best birth coach, so encouraging and loving. So many times I cried out in agony, doubting whether I could continue. I was feeling especially low right after I got the Cervidil because I hadn't dilated anymore, and omg, how could I continue on for hours or even days? My labor had begun almost 12 hours ago, and there was still no end in sight! How could I survive? Each time I expressed self-doubt, Spencer would buoy me up, telling me that I was doing great and that I could get through one more contraction. Yes, I thought. I can do one more contraction. By giving me a concrete, short-term obstacle, Spencer gave me the mental and emotional strength to carry on. He also aided me physically by giving counter-pressure throughout hours of contractions. He followed my lead perfectly and never left my side.

And then Hannah. Oh, Hannah! She is not a doula by trade and hasn't attended any other births. She's a close friend, and it wasn't until I was over 30 weeks that we even discussed her being my doula. She read The Birth Partner (as did Spencer), spoke with family members who had had natural birth, and that was the extent of her training. But she was fantastic! She didn't bat an eye when I was short with her, followed my instructions, and filled my non-emotional needs (ice chips, water, birth music, massaging my back) so that Spencer could focus solely on getting me through contractions.

Sometime between 9 and 10, after experiencing the most intense pain of my life, I felt my contractions changing. At the end of each contraction, my body would bear down, pushing hard. I told the nurse that I felt the need to push, but when they checked me, I was only 9 cm dilated. Because of this, the doctor told me to resist the urge to push, and that right there was the hardest part of labor. All along I had been giving into my body's urges, relaxing into contractions instead of resisting them. But now I had to fight my body? This is when I grabbed Spencer by his waist and wouldn't let him go. This is when my moans turns to screams. Nothing was worse than resisting that intense urge to push. I could not longer labor in various positions but had to sit on the bed, which allowed me to fight my urge but only made my back labor worse (pretty much all my labor pains were in my back).

Me and my wonderful OB, Dr. Ng
Over and over, I asked for the doctor to check me, and around 10:45 or so, she did. Finally, finally, I was 10 cm. This was it. I could do what my body wanted! Spencer and Hannah each held one of my legs. I grasped the handles on the side of the bed, shut my eyes real tight, and bore down as hard as I could. All the while, my OB massaged my perineum (I told you, she's amazing) and told me to hold my breath, push!, and breathe.

I have never done something so physically intense as trying to push Esther out, and I began to be exhausted from the labor, from the long day, from the lack of sleep. Eventually, everyone exclaimed that they could see the head! And then she was crowning! I pushed and pushed, but she wouldn't budge. The doctor said that if she did the smallest snip, the baby would come the next time I pushed. In my exhaustion and desire for this to end, I acquiesced. My doctor did a small cut (only 2 stitches to close it up), I pushed, and there! I could feel it! Her head was out! The cord was around her neck twice, so the doctor quickly unlooped it before my next contraction, which came shortly. As that last contraction came, I felt the rest of her body slip out, and Esther Violet was born.

I had no concept of time; I hadn't been aware of time the entire day but especially while pushing. What I thought lasted for hours had only been 45ish minutes as Esther, all 7 lbs 4 oz and 20 inches long, was born at 11:38 pm on Monday, March 9th.

There are no words in any human language to describe my emotions following Esther's birth. The moments that followed are the most special ones in my life, and I wish to relive them over and over. I went from the lowest low to the highest high as the nurse quickly dried a quiet but alert Esther off and laid her on my chest. Never before had God and heaven felt so real as when Spencer and I looked at Esther, lying on me. Filled with as much awe and emotions as I was, Spencer spoke something to the effect of "she's perfect," and Esther immediately looked up at him. She knew him. She knew me. And we knew her - a perfect little family of three.

Ignore my double-chin and focus on Spencer's expression

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June 8, 2015

The Rickses in Italy - Day 9-10: Venice

Last on our Italy docket was Venice, which barely made it in since I wasn't that interested in it. However, Spencer's sole request was that we visit Venice, and I couldn't deny him. Only later did I discover this was the reason he wanted to see the watery city:

Oh, you don't know what this is? Yeah, me neither, but Spencer recognized it immediately as the plaza in which Harrison Ford climbs out of the sewer system in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Cue eye roll.

But I'm so glad we went to Venice for a couple of reasons, even if we had to battle hordes of cruise tourists. One, this city is unlike any other I've ever seen. I mean, you are walking along and bam! The street dead ends at a canal, and you have to wind your way through all sorts of twisty, turny streets to find a bridge.  Two, I finally had a doner kebab reminiscent of my Spain days (I had one in Rome that was only so-so), and Spencer finally understood why I've been talking about them for 7 years. Finally, Venice is really just a beautiful city.

Remember when I thought I was showing at this point? Bahahaha!!!

It started POURING when we got off our water bus. We hid under this ramp while we waited for our B&B host to pick us up.

St. Mark's Basilica and Square

See what I mean about the panoramas?

Like Rome, Venice had a million beautiful churches. I could spend forever visiting churches.


Spencer introduced me to this stuff, and we had it in basically every city we went to.
Spencer and I had absolutely the best time in Italy. I'm so happy that I could ride trains all over that country with this guy. He's my favorite travel buddy, and I can't wait until our next adventure:

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The Rickses in Italy - Day 6-8: Rome

Of all the places we were going to in Italy, I was most excited about Rome. I LOVE ancient history and was absolutely ecstatic to see the ruins and historical architecture. In fact, Rome was the only place we booked tours since that isn't really our jam, but the Colosseum and Vatican City beg to be toured.

Our first day in Rome was a partial day, coming from Cinque Terre and checking into our Airbnb apartment (which was this place in the Jewish Quarter), so we just meandered around the city. The beauty of Rome is that you can happen upon ancient ruins on one block, Renaissance art on the next, and of course, a beautiful church on both. Here's what we came across that first day:

Where Caesar was murdered and now a million cats live there

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in Piazza Navona

Sunset over St. Peter's Basilica

Near Castel Sant'Angelo. In case you can't tell, I was exhausted
It should be noted that both Trevi fountain and the Spanish steps were under-construction and therefore, very underwhelming.

The next day was our ancient history day, yay! We slept in a bit, mostly because I kept waking up in the night to check on our laundry. We had the world's tiniest washer in our apartment, and we could not figure it out. One load was in the wash for like 6 hours, which set me into tears thinking our clothes would be ruined (remember, I was pregnant and tired). Once we were out and walking towards the Colosseum, a flash rainstorm came, and we took cover in an Italian military exhibit that focused on the world wars (which was super bizarre when you remember that the Italians fought against America). Thankfully, the rain didn't last too long, and Spencer and I had pre-purchased tickets to the Colosseum, so we only had to wait in line for all of 5 minutes.

The only way to describe the Colosseum is COOL. I mean, this thing is OLD and has so much history!

Spencer learned about the panoramic option on the iPhone and became obsessed.
After the Colosseum, we headed over to the Forum and Palatine Hill, which was so massive. We had a tour book to help us with the Forum/Palatine Hill, but a guide would have been nice. Either way, Spencer was like a kid in a candy store, hopping from ruin to ruin, taking a million photos, while I felt all 16 weeks of pregnancy and was so tired and hungry.

After that, we went to the Pantheon. Like I said, we hit up all of those ancient history sites in one fell swoop!

We ended all of this awesomeness with the best gelato we had all trip, Giolitti, and with watching The Gladiator because duh.

Our last full day in Rome was spent taking a tour of Vatican City. If you ever go, you should definitely get the guided tour because there is so much to see. I had no idea that the Vatican museums were so huge! We saw the museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's Basilica, all of which were breath-taking. Spencer and I agreed that this was our favorite single thing we saw in all of Italy. (Side note: Spencer and I had to literally RUN to Vatican City because we had heard that if we didn't get there early enough for our tour, we'd get bumped, and we were running late. So I showed up super sweaty and wiped, and we got in super early.)

surreptitious photo in the Sistine Chapel

It should be known that both Spencer and I were totally exhausted after these 3 days of walking all over Rome. Yes, I kept up with Spencer, and he was just as tired as I was. So we took a nap for a couple of hours, went across the Tiber River to explore, and then ate Chinese for dinner because we were tired of Italian food.
The women running the restaurant didn't speak English, we don't speak Italian or Chinese, but when we spoke Spanish, all was understood, haha!
Rome had delicious pasta, even more delicious gelato, amazing ruins, beautiful churches, and gorgeous neighborhoods. We loved Rome!

16 weeks pregnant in Rome!

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