Life After Birth | Ashton + Victor

Life After Birth | Ashton + Victor

My name is Ashton and my little guy’s name is Victor Joseph. He was born December 10, 2018 at 2:01am at the Natural Birthing Center at Inova Loudoun assisted by my midwife, Shannon Wise. My husband and I lived on the Cape in Massachusetts for the last few years but before Victor was born we moved down to Lovettsville to be with family.

My labor and delivery was remarkably short and thankfully with zero complications. Victor immediately latched without any hesitation and so we started our nursing journey on a really high note. While in the hospital I met with their lactation consultant to ensure I was doing everything I could for Victor and obviously it was the first practical application of the knowledge I had learned during my prenatal classes. Holding a wiggly baby and trying to be calm was harder than when I practiced with a doll! ;-) When Victor was 4 days old, we had a home visit from a lactation consultant, this time with a woman named Dru (she is AMAZING!). We sat in the nursery and talked, she made my husband and I feel so at ease that he was even piping in and asking questions. She introduced me to nursing laying down which was, and still is the go-to position that Victor and I enjoy most.

Victor was doing a great job nursing, but my mama blues caused some amplified anxiety and I became anxious that I was not producing enough milk even though we were nursing and pumping what felt like 24/7. At 1am after a particularly hard day when Victor was about 10 days old, we made the call to introduce formula. We had not considered it, so we had not bought any – we just had some Similac samples that we had received in the mail. But Victor was hungry so we knew it was the right thing to “supplement” his needs. As my husband began mixing the formula, I crumpled to the floor and cried. It was so heartbreaking that I went in the bathroom and sobbed while he gave Victor his first bottle. I couldn’t reconcile how much of a failure I felt like. I had milk! He was latching! Why wasn’t there enough?!

Over the next 2 weeks we got into a routine of 1 bottle of formula a day. In retrospect it was a good way for my husband to feel involved and it gave me a chance to shower, breathe, etc. but at the time it was like a knife in my chest every time the formula came out. Victor was growing like a champ and didn’t seem to mind anything, so we decided to keep supplementing.

When Victor was 7 weeks old, we took him on his first plane ride. We flew to Europe so he could meet his other grandparents and when we landed in Dublin someone commented that they didn’t even know a baby had been on the plane! Score!! Over the course of the 7-hour flight Victor had nursed and slept the entire way and seemed so content; I was so proud that my body was there for us and we didn’t break out any formula! While on that trip I nursed almost exclusively only breaking out the formula when I had a little more wine than I had intended – I felt so empowered and like we had gotten to the other side.

Now Victor is nearly 11 months old and recently completed his 21st flight (!), I could go through the last 9 months in the same level of detail, but the important thing is that this is a journey and we are doing our best. I went back to work when he was 3 months old and thankfully I work from home so I see him throughout the day and we are able to carve out little cuddles and nursing moments but that doesn’t mean some days I’m not juggling him squirming to finish a feeding while trying to prepare for a presentation. These days we follow an 80/20 solution … meaning, the majority of the time I nurse but if I need a break or if I forgot to pump, I don’t sweat it. Sometimes I even give him the bottle. I do still hate pumping, maybe it’s some residual “PTSD-esque” association with the pump, who knows? But I do know that my baby is thriving. He is loved and growing, and his belly is full. What more could I ask for?

We have traveled the world with him since he was born, and I love knowing that no matter where we are, I can care for all my baby’s needs. I dread the day when he weens – I am not in a hurry and I am not on some clock. I had told myself I wanted to nurse until he is a year old and take it from there. Now with the introduction of solids and him eating them so well I feel like the nursing is a special treat and I will let it go on for as long as he likes.

To all the moms out there struggling or just starting their journey – you are not alone. You are a rockstar and should be so proud of what you have accomplished: you made a human!! And never be ashamed to ask for help – it takes a village, that is one of the biggest takeaways from our travels. Motherhood is a really cool, special club and you’re in it now, there are members all around the world that would love to bolster you and see you succeed – including me, best wishes to you!! 

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More about the LIFE AFTER BIRTH PROJECT 

Images by Bergen Howlett for Two Rivers Childbirth

Life After Birth | June, Calvin + Daisy

Life After Birth | June, Calvin + Daisy

As told by June:

I’m pretty sure there’s a book, likely long decomposed somewhere, from around first grade stating that I was going to be an artist and a mommy…or maybe a teacher and a mommy. I’m proud to say I’ve taken on all three roles & while they’re all difficult in their own way, they are me. 

I went to school for graphic design, did a few odd & some not so odd jobs in the 13 years since graduating. I mostly worked as a nanny & later as a preschool teacher, helping to raise other people’s children like they were family. Some of the kids I nannied for, early on, are out of college, which is beyond bonkers to me. They already have jobs making more money than I ever did, or probably would even want to. 

It all feels like a lifetime ago, life before babies, because it was. My Calvin, as I remember, gave me a pretty chill pregnancy experience, minus the gas…oh man, I hope I always remember that. 

His estimated due date was 6/11/2016 & I eventually started having contractions 6/16 around 4pm. I bounced on my medicine ball, watching a storm roll in. When it finally began to rain, I went outside. As the rain fell down my face, he slowly worked his way out. It was painful, it felt as though I was ripped in half from my asshole, but as soon as I held his warm, wet body against my chest at 2:55 AM, I would’ve happily done it all over again…and did 2 & a half years later. 

I struggled when he was born with my identity as a mother, still do. I didn’t understand. It was everything I had always wanted, but I don’t get to turn a switch and shut off my responsibilities as I once could. I can’t just sit in a room and paint all day, like I often times wish I could. I’ve not resented my children or husband, but more of my (and so many other mama’s) lack of community and support. I hate that everything can feel so far away and lonely, but never being alone. 

My husband takes the kids, but I am always mama. When they’re not in my eyesight, my mind creates nightmares of my children being torn from me as I read more and more about the children of asylum seeking mamas that are being separated from them each day, some younger than Daisy, unable to breastfeed, tormented. 

When I became pregnant with Calvin, I told my husband that I would take a year off to be with the babe and to work on my art. I had grand plans to make dinner each night, keep the house tidier than ever before and to become this famous artist…or something. I was going to set up a way to make a passive income for myself that I could ride until he was in kindergarten. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself, especially in the first year of motherhood. 

If I was able to get out of pajamas and take a shower, I called it a success. I did go to play dates and made more friends than I had made in the 8+ years since I moving to NOVA from LA, but they weren’t the type of friendships I really craved. We talked about baby milestones and they drank or talked about drinking. Ooh wee, I could write a whole other blog on mommy wine culture and just might. 

Even if it was not my ultimate desired company, I pushed for play dates and made things happen, because there are sometimes just too many hours between the moment my husband would leave for work and when he’d return. 

Early on, Calvin slept a lot, so I would paint. I dove into abstract work, and was pretty terrible at it. It was so cathartic to put onto canvas what I was unable to say in words. I had been doing these colorful animals for years, but felt super drawn to make abstracts with him at my side. They were easier as I didn’t have to adhere to any set rules. I kept at it. Literally hundreds of paintings later &  finally I had my breakthrough piece, the first abstract that I actually liked. I want to keep it, but also feel that if someone feels a true connection with it that they should have it in their home. Before that, I was just doing it as therapy, not really showing them & often painting over them. 

The abstract work still dominates my painting time, but I have branched out a bit. When I was pregnant with Daisy, my identity as a woman and mother felt a little more grounded, I was obviously already a mother, but really spent time and energy thinking about what motherhood meant to me. 

Toward the end of July last year, I was having strong nursing aversions with Calvin during my pregnancy. I considered weaning before baby came, but really enjoyed breastfeeding overall. I knew that August was Breastfeeding Awareness Month and challenged myself to paint a nursing mother everyday for the month of August. 

It was hot. I was nauseous. I was tired, so I took a jar of gouache that I’ve had since college, 1 paint brush, & one piece of watercolor paper to the couch each day. I let Calvin watch TV for an hour & painted during that time. I sometimes had 3 done, sometimes I’d work one into oblivion and given up. 

I hadn’t painted people since high school and it was not something I was especially confident in doing, but I didn’t feel obligated to share them all. I wanted to, though. I think I did over 50 & then explored painting baby wearing & pregnant mothers, painting snuggle time and babies by themselves in the following months. I did maybe one or two in color & on canvas by the time Daisy was born in January, and a few more within her first few sleepy months. I called her my muse, I still think she is, Calvin too. He wishes I would paint more animals. I think he’s right. 

Daisy was a rough pregnancy. I had all day nausea pretty much up until 7 months. I was just so uncomfortable the whole time. She has since made up for it being just about the most chill and happy baby I’ve met, which is saying a lot…but I may be a bit biased. 

We had a rough couple months getting her paperwork in order, every bit of paperwork or file or whatever with Daisy’s name written on it had an issue. Every department, organization, agency, doctor, office, company, whatever gave me such shit over processing whatever. I stopped logging hours on the phone over 100 hours, many of which were spent on hold. I became so enraged by the whole ordeal, talking to faceless voice that never truly listened, never resolving things that needed to be resolved, so many broken promises. 

She was/is such an awesome kid and yet she seems to have slipped through every crack imaginable. It’s such a shame that she had to live those first few months of life with mom in such a tizzy. I’m so bitter when I think of everything that went wrong. I need to clear my head and that’s when painting becomes so important to me. It’s a release, a necessity. 

My art process is pretty intuitive, I sometimes do a rough sketch, but never pick colors ahead of time. The colors come to me as they can. 

I’ve always loved green, but have been living for this color I’ve named “Emerald Jungle” green since I was pregnant with Calvin. It’s his color. It’s not his favorite color now, but it’s how I saw him inside me, a little sprout. Daisy was a pale, soft green, I named “Sage Mint”. I meditated on my babies & they presented themselves to me as these beams of color (I accidentally just typed beans & that’s pretty accurate, too), and I painted with their colors. It’s a beautiful feeling, a way of connecting them into my art. 

I get into a zone when I paint ordinarily, but have to work it in while they play now, which can be extremely difficult and increasingly so as Daisy is now crawling everywhere and is caught daily with a (closed) tube of paint in her mouth. My couch heaps with tubes of paint, my rolling cart, which holds even more colors at the ready. 

Calvin asks if I can do x,y, or z with him, and many times I do, but sometimes mommy is working. Mommy is working because she has to, not so much to make us money, but for her sanity. 

I let go a bit of the drive to become a famous artist (…or something) and to even make any money. I paint what feels right and if someone else loves it, great. I’m pretty prolific, but haven’t yet had the luxury of making enough in a year to cover expenses. 

My husband works his tail off so that I can stay at home with my kids and paint, and for that (and SO MUCH MORE), I am eternally grateful. He is supportive in his way, but is not the mind reader I once thought he was. After over 10 years of togetherness, I still struggle to ask my partner (or anyone for that matter) for what I truly want & need, mostly alone time. 

I need time where I’m just an artist, so that I can focus on the tasks that seem impossible with 2 children adoringly dangling from my tired body. 

If you see me out in the world with unapologetically unkempt hair, flip flops worn nearly to the ground, overstuffed, heavy backpack/purse, & likely paint somewhere on my person, be kind. Give me that “I’m in the same boat” nod that moms sometimes give each other when they’ve been there & done that. I’m just trying my best, my hardest. It’s not everyone’s ideal, but it’s all I’ve got in me & I’ve got two adorable & happy kids to show for it. 

“She’s my mom. Her name is June and she is an artist.” Calvin once told a cashier unprovoked. 

That’s me. He’s right. Always a mama, sometimes an artist. 

June’s finished piece, “A Lot of Energy” — more at JuneJewell.com

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More about the LIFE AFTER BIRTH PROJECT 

Images by Bergen Howlett for Two Rivers Childbirth

Postpartum is a Vacation

Postpartum is a Vacation

The first six weeks of life with a newborn are like the vacation of a lifetime! Wait, I can already hear you rolling your eyes from here, so just hear me out…

The experience is smoother when planned thoughtfully in advance. You wouldn’t wing an entire overseas vacation and your postpartum should be treated with the same care. How will you get there? What books should you read about your locale? What local guides do you need to book? What are you eating? What special clothes will you need? What do you need to pack in advance and what can you pick up along the way? What’s the budget look like? These questions apply to both the fourth trimester and a tropical beach vacation.

You focus on spending time together. The most important parts of any vacation are the people you travel with. The same is true in the first six weeks. This babymoon is like a honeymoon for your new family where you celebrate and steep in this new person at the center of your universe. And like you wouldn’t take just anyone with you overseas, consider your postpartum travel companions carefully.

You don’t do chores. No one goes on vacation to do chores. Vacation time is for maintenance only, not deep cleaning. You eat out, you pay the hotel to wash your linens, you live out of a suitcase and maybe you wear the same things a few days in a row. Take the “I’m on vacation” mindset with you into those early postpartum days and weeks. This is special time that you don’t get back.

You treat yo’self. On vacation you eat nourishing food that makes you feel good, and as much of it as your body wants. That spa menu looks pretty dang tempting. ROOMSERVICE. You’re recovering from your journey into parenthood and adjusting to spending your days keeping an entire other person alive so if there was ever a time for a little lux in your life, it’s now.

Your schedule is wack. Birth is some serious jet lag, friend, and you’re going to need recovery days built-in. Days and nights flow differently on vacation and in those early days with a baby, and that’s ok. Take naps, eat whenever you feel like it, watch movies in the middle of the day. Newborns don’t have schedules, so don’t fight it.

You keep an open mind as you traverse new terrain. Being a new parent is a lot like waking up in another country. You don’t know the language or the customs and the info from the guide books only gets you so far. The best way to learn your way around is to dive on in. You’ll be a local in no time.

You don’t always come back feeling rested. Have you ever taken a trip and come home worn out, needing a vacation after your vacation? There will be bumps in the road, blisters, sunburn and rainstorms. You will get turned around, maybe miss a flight or lose a reservation. And the landmarks never look the same in real life as they did online. But life with a newborn is just as wonderful, just as exhausting, just as frustrating and just as worth it. 

Bon voyage!


Image: Bergen Howlett Photography