Merry Christmas!

No elves were harmed in the making of this photograph. Hope you have a Merry and a Blessed Christmas!!

Polish Christmas Eve

I love Christmas. I love everything about the season. I love the anticipation of the holiday right after Thanksgiving, the crisp air, the twinkling lights, people saying Merry Christmas, Christmas cards, red wine, Midnight Mass, the delicious food, family discussions, opłatek (a wafer used as part of the Polish Christmas tradition to give each other good wishes for the coming year), the extra plate set out for Jesus, red barszcz (red beet soup), the handmade ornaments, the smell of kompot (compote-a warm mulled fruit drink) the music and, well, just everything.

The fun part is going to the Polish stores and getting all the traditional food for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. There is no meat eaten on Christmas Eve. In fact, Poles fast on Christmas Eve until it becomes dark outside and you can see the first twinkling star.

You always have to have Karp (Carp). I really don’t like this specific fish, but it’s one of many fish out on the table, since you never have meat on Christmas Eve. A couple of years ago, I read how fishing for carp is a sport in England, and people spend a lot of time and money stocking up lakes and ponds with the fish. However, a lot of Poles that have emigrated to the UK have been fishing for it and eating it instead, which causes contention. But, hey, you have to eat karp on Christmas Eve! Who can argue with our many years of tradition?

Karp

Some of the other fish on the table are szczupak (Pike fish), sledz (herring), Bass and tilapia.

Fish

There have to be at least 12 dishes of food on the table and no meat, but we buy the meat for Christmas Day. Having a limitation likes this and fasting makes us appreciate having meat on Christmas Day and makes it even tastier than normal.

Meat

The opłatek is a very special moment. We share this wafer with each other. Everyone takes a little piece and we go around to each other and share our wishes, thoughts and love toward each other. Sometimes, if the mood strikes, we apologize for things in our past and we cry.

Red Barszcz (red beet soup) starts the dinner. Inside the soup are uszka (small mushroom dumplings). This savory delicacy is something I look forward to all year.

Pierogi filled with mushrooms or cheese or fruit are a staple to any Christmas dinner and you can never have enough beets, in shredded or soup form. My favorite dish is the herring fish. This year my father outdid himself prepared it with oil and onions. It was unbelievable. We are the only two that eat the dish, but we ate everything and had to ask a friend to bring some more on Christmas Day!

Herring

And of course, there is always dessert that includes Poland’s favorite seed, the Poppy! Makowiec (2% poppy seed, 98% sugar, it’s a pastry with layers of dough and poppy seed) and Mak noodles, which are just noodles with poppy seed.

Now, I’m off to open Christmas presents, since we open our presents on Eve and not Day in the Polish tradition! Merry Christmas!

 

Fun Christmas Card

A couple of people asked me if my photo was taken in a studio and I can proudly say that it was not. I give the credit to Husband’s father and my mother. We took our first trip out of state (to New Jersey) when Sebastian was only 3 weeks old. It happened to be a freakishly snowy weekend and right after this warm spell, a snowstorm hit the East Coast, with record breaking snowfall. I wanted to go outside for a photo. My mother reminded me that my sentiment was a little on the insane side when I was so protective in every other way of my son. So, she looked over in the dining room of my in-law’s home and there was this perfect window seat. Husband’s dad grabbed the camera and we took several photos. With the snow falling, it made for a great moment.

I went down in the basement to search for a funky hat for Husband, put on my red hat and scarf and got Sebastian dressed in his cute little owl hat. And voilà, a photo was made. I added it onto an ornament card, tied a red ribbon and there we have our Christmas card!

My friend, Nancy, hung it on her Christmas tree and sent a photo, so I have to post it here!

Next year…ugly Christmas sweaters for our card…!!

The Aftermath

Warning: If you’re easily grossed out, avoid this post. And, though I go into detail about some of the happenings of labor, I want to emphasize that it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me and I feel so blessed to have had this experience. I think if a woman can, then go for it. I promise, there is nothing as incredible as what happens when you deliver that child and hold him in your arms. Check out my previous post entitled The Great Battle of Labor to read more about that.

There are some things that aren’t said to a woman that will happen in the process of giving birth and I wish I would have known some of this stuff. Or maybe it was good that I didn’t…!

  1. There will be a lot of blood. Obviously, there is blood when you’re giving birth, but I’m talking about the blood afterward. It’s like a super heavy period that lasts for weeks.
  2. There will be swelling. Lots of swelling. In your nether regions.
  3. Sometimes there is tearing when that big beautiful baby’s head comes out of your vagina.
  4. There may be stitches. And, when the stitches are put in, you have to be numbed. When I was numbed, the midwife put a needle directly into my clitoris, which was utterly mean. It may have been the most painful part of the whole birthing process.
  5. Sometimes, a woman can’t walk afterward. Yep, I was one of those people who couldn’t walk for two weeks.
  6. Your nipples will become sore and yes, they can even bleed as you are getting used to breastfeeding. Thank God for Lanolin, which is a natural way to soothe them and help you survive the first week of breastfeeding. It’s this waxy substance that comes from sheep. To get it, they squeeze it out of the sheep’s wool and bottle it, so that women can deal with tenderness. Oh, and, don’t forget about cabbage leaves, which literally steam on your engorged breasts, as your milk production comes in. I would put them in the freezer or in the coldest part of my fridge and within seconds, they were cooking on me.

There are a few things you absolutely need at home in order to survive the aftermath.

The pads are necessary. You need extra thick pads and even with extra thick ones, you will be changing them constantly. Peeing will be awesome (if you can’t sense it, I’m being sarcastic) and cause a burning sensation. The underwear is something that your hospital will probably give you. They are special stretchy net underwear that accommodate your swollen vulva and the pads that you are shoving in.

Witch Hazel will go right on top of the pads and will relieve pain like you wouldn’t believe. The cool effect only lasts a few minutes, but it’s worth every second of relief.

The dermoplast spray numbs you a bit. I found that it wasn’t as effective as the witch hazel, but I was willing to try anything that even gave me the tiniest relief.

The Sitz Bath is one of the greatest inventions for post partum. When those humongous blood clots are coming out of you, this helps the process along and makes you feel a little cleaner. I would use herbal tea with the water and it helped me a lot. There were times when I literally was shaking with pain and this helped further my healing process.

Not photographed here are newborn diapers. This I learned in the hospital. You cut the diaper and fill it with ice, insert it just like a pad. Oh, GLORY. Let’s leave it at that. And, finally, the spray bottle. I learned this lesson the hard way. I tried to wipe after I peed for the first time after birth. The pain was so excruciating, along with weakness, blood loss and the pain of the IV, that I feinted in the bathroom. Luckily, a wonderful CNA, named Nicola, grabbed me before I fell to the ground. The next thing I remember was waking up a hot, sweaty mess in a chair near the bathroom and cold compresses being applied to various parts of my body. This spray bottle became my best friend for four weeks post partum.

I’m writing this and thinking back to a woman I saw giving birth in the Congo who most definitely did not have any of this stuff. I am fairly sure of this, since she was giving birth on dirt. I can’t imagine not having a ton of disposable pads and a shower and indoor toilet through this process. It is times like this that I am grateful that there are little things like this to make life a little easier. Giving birth is a difficult process, but something I do not regret, even for a minute.

Addendum: I want to add that it definitely was a shock to experience the aftermath and I was wondering how/if/when things would actually heal; however, the entire time I felt this immense, euphoric love that I didn’t realize could exist. And all those myths about your body changing for the worst and things not being the same in the nether regions are just that-myths. I went to my 6 week postpartum visit and my doctor said I looked like I had never had a baby. I am 10 weeks postpartum now and am almost feeling completely healed and after all of this, I have the most amazing child to love. So result: two thumbs up!

Twitter during Labor

Yep, I totally twittered during labor. When I couldn’t, Husband would tweet for me. Read below if you want to read a play by play.

 

The Great Battle of Labor

Almost 40 hours and one intense, joyous moment later and I had a little baby laying skin to skin on my chest. Let me preface by saying that this was the most incredible experience of my life and thinking back to it makes me tear up with joy.

I woke up very suddenly in the morning after only 3 or 4 hours of sleep (partially due to playing some World of Warcraft through the late hours). I had already started maternity leave, so I could have easily slept in, but my guilt got the better of me and I decided to stay awake to get my checklist of to do’s crossed off. I kissed Hubby goodbye at 6am, took my pre-natal vitamins and started reading my RSS feeds while drinking my tea. Then it hit me–why was I up? I hadn’t gotten sleep all weekend and the entire summer had been extremely busy, so I could easily go to bed and allow myself some time to sleep in.

I left my half cup of tea, clicked the button on the speakers to shut them back off and went back to the bedroom. I looked forward to getting under my comforter in my cool room and was already looking forward to the following weekend, where Hubby and I could catch up on sleep and finally read all those parenting books.

I literally rolled my huge belly into bed, pulled a pillow between my legs and suddenly knew something was imminent, but in that moment, I wasn’t completely clear what it was. Almost immediately after laying down, I had a feeling like I needed to hold in whatever was going to happen and get to the bathroom immediately.

Frantically, I jumped and ran to the bathroom and water poured out of me. And, it kept going. In the movies, the water breaks and everyone gets excited the baby is coming and that’s it. That’s not how it is in real life. The water keeps coming and it did, almost all day. Also, in real life, most women get contractions before the water breaks and they’re in the hospital when the water breaks. I was in that group of the small percentage of women where your water breaks and later, you get contractions.

I called Hubby who was able to get out of work by lunch time. I called my parents and my mom was able to get on a flight that day. I started finishing my to do list because these were the last moments to get some stuff done before great changes were to come. I started replying to emails I had meant to reply to, I started cleaning, filing away papers, looking through the parenting books. When I think back to this, I wonder if other people go through the same thing?

In the midst of this, I felt cramping; however, I’ve always had super painful cramps, so I wasn’t sure if the pains I was feeling were contractions or not. When the afternoon hit and I wasn’t crying out in pain, I decided it was time to start the things that stimulate contractions. Hubby took a walk with me, we did crouching, bought castor oil, did an enema and I started feeling more violent cramping.

At one point, I realized that I hadn’t had a chance to go to confession and I really wanted my son to be born with my heart being completely pure, so I walked over to The Church of the Epiphany and asked Fr. Andre for a confession. He had already heard that I was in labor, so he asked if it was a false alarm and I told him, “Nope! I’m in labor right now!”

You might be wondering, why I wasn’t in the hospital–my water broke. Well, I was told to not come to the hospital unless my contractions were three minutes apart, lasted one minute, and were like that for one hour straight. I didn’t want to go any earlier, since it isn’t as comfortable or clean as my home and I had read all this stuff about why it’s better to wait to go to the hospital. At home, I could sit on the ground, drink all the water I wanted, walk barefoot, and play some Franciscan Friars or Andrew Bird loudly.

When my mom finally got to New York from Chicago, she couldn’t stand me being in pain and kept begging me to go to the hospital. I kept trying to explain, whenever I could speak normally that these days you don’t go to the hospital unless you are 5-1-1 or 3-1-1 (timing of contractions). When my mom was in labor years ago, it was very different-she went to the hospital right away and her husband wasn’t allowed to be there with her. Different times.

The worst part of it all was the lower back pain. It was excruciating. I was really lucky to have a goid delivery partner, which helped immensely; however, no matter how much Hubby rubbed my back and pressed massage tools into it, I didn’t feel the relief I thought I would. At around midnight, when I had one of those contractions that made me keel over and I moved around the room, trying to hug everything to make it go away, I decided it was time to listen to my mom’s pleadings with me.

The cab ride was hard to take-I thought I would never get to the hospital. Then, I waited at St. Luke’s Roosevelt in the waiting room for an hour before I was taken in. A Jewish woman who was having her eighth child let me go before her because she had so many children that she didn’t have to do intake, she immediately was put in a room and a doctor was called. I’d like to know that secret, but I assume after 8 kids, you know all the secrets.

The hospital was not fun. Almost immediately after I had gotten there, I wished I had held out longer. I was more nervous about the needles than I was about my contractions, so I was very upset in the hospital. I threw up when an IV was put into my arm for the second time. Luckily, Hubby grabbed a bucket quickly, so it was fairly contained. I was so unhappy that I was only allowed to chew on ice when I was dying of thirst and I knew my doctor was the type that allowed food and water. Nurses, doctors and midwives poked and prodded inside of me and I was exhausted and excited to see my little boy.

It’s there that a wonderful midwife named Danielle, showed me nipple stimulation, which put me in a conundrum. I knew I needed to contract to get the baby out and that the longer I took, the closer it got to the possibility of an infection and cesarean section, since my water had broken around 24 hours ago. When I would stimulate the nipples, the contractions were vicious, so I didn’t want to continue stimulating, but I also wanted a safe delivery. It was very bizarre to be in a position where I had to inflict pain onto myself.

Once 30 hours of labor had passed, I was so exhausted, I just kept praying and praying that he would come out as quickly as possible. At around 36 hours, I knew it was time because I felt this very strong pressure.

At one point during my 35 minutes of pushing, the midwife told me to reach down and feel my son’s head. I was so surprised to feel a full head of hair. I looked at the emotions on my mom and husband’s face. I would close my eyes and push, push, push and then breathe. Then, repeat as soon as the two midwives, Sandy and Danielle, would tell me to go again.

Then I heard my mom gasp , my husband take a deep breath and Danielle say, “Open your eyes!” I had pushed so hard that I had my eyes tightly shut. As I write this, tears are running down my cheeks just thinking about his birth. It was simply the most intense experience of my life.

As soon as he came out and they put him on my bare chest, so I could feel him and he could feel my heart. What the two midwives and nurses did was a blur after that. I remember some sort of shifting, wiping him down, testing him, talk of the umbilical cord being wrapped around his neck, but all I can remember is holding him, crying, shouting, “I love you, I love you so much!” I remember the midwife asking me what his name was and me saying, “Sebastian,” and being told I did a good job pushing. I remember looking up at my husband, seeing his genuine happiness seeing tears in his eyes and I remember him saying, “He’s beautiful.”

My First Photo with Sebastian

Why is it that moments like that go away so quickly? After that, I kept staring at him as he was weighed in the room and I started getting stitched up. I am not keen on needles and I had to turn away from the hook needle that was being placed in me. I just kept staring at him.

I was in this unbelievable euphoric state. I had heard people go through that when they give birth, but I didn’t realize how incredible it would feel!

I couldn’t believe what had happened and that God had given me this beautiful child. My own child.

How to Make a Baby (in a minute or less)

Here’s my attempt to start my blog again with this informative instructional video I made on how to make a baby in a minute or less, using stop motion photography. Trust me, it works–I just had a baby!

Although I had meant to write a pregnancy blog all summer, it didn’t quite happen. But, I wrap it all up with my instructional video. Now, I hope to make this next chapter of my blog consistent, Travels with Mama Nika or Travels through Mommyhood. Ok, they are still working titles, perhaps you can all give me some ideas! I plan on going into all the fun nitty gritty stuff of being a new mama. So, if you’re interested, add me to your RSS feed or favorites.

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