Last night I awoke from a dream with a startle. Tomorrow was Monday. Monday was the beginning of the workweek. Did I have any meetings I had forgotten to prep for? Did I have any first thing To-Dos I needed to prioritize?
I didn’t and I don’t because, for the first time since I started working, I haven’t been to work in weeks. Any meetings I used to attend will be held without me and any To-Dos will get done in the fall when I return. So why the worry?
Perhaps because today is our babe’s “due date”. The start of the biggest project we’ve ever endeavored upon and certainly the wildest adventure and the countdown clock has now rung out. “Today is the day”, it announces.
Yet so far, today isn’t the day. In the last two weeks, however, there have been a few days that certainly felt as if they might be. The first week The Chief was gone, I was awoken multiple nights by strong contractions and back pain. “Oh, please not yet. Unless you need to” I thought to myself as I breathed through the discomfort and started to calculate if and when to call The Chief, and then…nothing.
A few days and a few false starts later, The Chief was back home with us, and we visited our midwives. Things were looking good. It could be any minute now…
Near the end of the week, things started to really get moving, enough to start looking at a clock and timing the party my uterus was throwing. It was also our moving day. As I looked around at the bags packed and to be packed, the many things to be moved I whispered “Not today, unless you need to” to our little bean. Another contraction. I busied myself with the moving shuffle and by the end of the day, things had slowed down again.
Yesterday, we settled in, nestling into our newest and thankfully last nest until we return home.
Some sweet friends delivered us dinner (you are the best!) and we paused to enjoy the wonderfully Alaskan meal of salmon and salad goodness.
It was amazing and so nourishing after days of half-hearted meals made out of necessity rather than excitement. My belly has been up and down and all around and I’ve pretty much subsisted on a fussy toddler diet of beans and cheese and rice which hasn’t exactly been inspiring for someone who loves food as much as I do. We decided to call it quits on settling in for the night and settled on a movie and…the contractions started again.
Yet here we are this morning, babe still in belly and…I’m OK with that. I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve gotten from different weekly subscriptions with the general sentiment of “Is this over yet???”. Sure, I’ll agree that the last few weeks are uncomfortable (hello flattened feet! Hello nausea and cramping and sleepy but sometimes sleepless nights) but as of now, I’m still happy to be the host (and to fully unpack) and to take our last waddles around the lake as a family of three, anticipating becoming a family of four.
Only time will tell just what day and what time our little one will arrive. Until then, I’ll be here, watching for signs, checking in on times, and riding the wave.
If you’ve ever read Glennon Doyle (and if you haven’t, I implore you to run, not walk to snag her book Untamed), you’ve heard this sentiment before: We can do hard things.
We can have those hard conversations. We can move away from the comfort of a life we know to a life we feel drawn to. We can leave a relationship, even if it feels like we’ll be lost without it. We can make the jump, even if we aren’t sure how we will stick the landing. We can be true to ourselves.
We can do hard things.
For those hard things, I’m fully on board. Stamp my ticket, conductor, I’m ready to ride. Since leaving a fraught relationship and unintentionally moving to Alaska, I’ve worked hard to build that muscle, to listen to that inner Julia that says “This, not that.” “Yes, not no.” “Stay versus go” and damned if listening to her hasn’t led me straight into the arms of the man I’m meant for and a life I’d never have dreamed up. But in addition to finally listening to my own inner North Star and doing some of the hard things I knew needed doing, I’ve also found myself smack dab in the middle of a place filled with a different kind of hard things. So…can I? Can I also do these hard things?
It turns out that yes, I can do this version of hard too. The day-to-day hard of life off-grid has actually suited me quite well. It’s a hard to do that I want to do (well, most of the time). Yet it’s also played dangerously into another Julia, the one who pushes past the Glennon Doyle version of Good For You Hard into the Have to Do Hard. The one who touts the idea that no matter how hard, you should be able to do it. Yes, we can do all types of hard things, both emotional and physical. But do we have to?
Watching my husband and our fur baby drive away the other day, I felt a bit like a cop out. At 6.5 months pregnant, I’m still pretty agile, I still have energy, and yet here I was, separating myself from my family to stay in sunny CA because what? I couldn’t hack it in AK? Sure, our house was about to be a construction zone. Sure, I didn’t feel like I wanted our baby to be around dust and fumes from drywall and painting. Sure, it would have been hard to work from home while my husband upended said home with range of power tools and certainly it would have been hard to return mid-winter to a home that needed a lot of love to just get back to functional. BUT certainly I could do it. I’d done it before. Why was I being such a princess?
All of these thoughts circled my head as, after a long weekend of packing our life away into a UHaul and prepping for The Chief’s journey, I prepared to start the next step: moving. I’ve moved many, many times in my life. I used to housesit constantly. I am good at it. I also have incredibly high standards and expect to leave a place better than when I found it. So, after a solid goodbye cry, I pulled myself together. There was work to do. I packed and cleaned, cleaned and packed as the texts came in from my Mom asking when I was ready for help. I was exhausted, emotionally and physically. We’d been going non-stop for weeks in preparation for this trip while simultaneously planning a last-minute family baby shower.
Things had been hectic and tiring and just as I needed more sleep, I found that my bladder and our baby decided I’d get less. I was beat. So, when help was offered, what did I do?
I told myself I could do hard things and I told my Mom that “I was fine, thanks!” Thankfully, she knew what the last few weeks had entailed and knew I was working myself thin. “Why don’t I just stop in a for a little?” Thirty minutes later, there she was. Thirty-one minutes later, I was feeling a little bit teary and a lotta bit of relief. Of course I could do hard things, but did I have to? And did I have to do them alone? By 5 pm that evening, we had packed and cleaned our home away from home from top to bottom, packed both of our cars and unpacked me into the new home I’d be staying in for the next 6 weeks. It was finally the end to an epically long string of marathons. Now, it was time to chill.
So, could I have hacked it in Alaska at 6+ months pregnant mid-conststuction zone? Yep. Am I glad that I didn’t? You betcha.
While the opportunity to feed the need to meet the hard head on is not Alaska-specific, the state certainly provides many opportunities to flex or stretch that muscle. There’s umpteen opportunities to rise to the hard occasion. Like, for example, my husband’s homecoming.
After a week on the road of long days, short nights and early mornings, he had finally made it home…almost. All that lay in front of him was 60 miles of snow-covered dirt road. Unfortunately, that snow wasn’t a mere winter’s dusting. It was a downright downpour that hadn’t been plowed. So, after over 3,000 miles, standing mere hours away from home, he had to call it. He left our car and trailer at a friend’s house and jumped into his road trip buddy’s rig. They’d get the car and the UHaul another day when the conditions were better. A few hours later, they were finally home. Let the construction begin, right?
Since returning, The Chief has had to shovel his way into our workshop after a plow job gone awry. He’s had to wrestle with generators that don’t want to work. He’s had to warm up batteries that don’t want to come back to life after stints at over -60 degrees this winter. 4 days in and the basics have just been restored: water, power, and access. Days of 40 degree “heat” meant sloppy trails and up to your crotch missteps if you ventured off of them. Yesterday, after shoveling for two days straight (with help from an amazing friend) to gain access to the storage area where all of the UHaul goodies would go, he made the trip to retrieve the car. All of this just to get to the “real work” of finishing our addition.
Today, he spends the day unloading. Next week he will start the process of finishing the addition and making our home ready for me and the babe to nestle into. Needless to say, his homecoming has been hard, the kind of hard he was prepared for and, to be honest, the kind I wasn’t. We’ve both agreed that while we dearly miss one another, me postholing about with a pregnant belly, isn’t exactly the type of hard that would be good for either of us right now.
As I sit outside typing in a sundress in 70 degree weather, the guilt starts to seep in again. I should be there. I should be able to handle it. Maybe it’s because as a kiddo I watched Tom Hanks’ speech in A League of Their Own a few too many times or maybe it’s because my ability to rise to the challenge has always been a point of pride for me but either way, I’m starting to let it go…a little. We can do hard things, we have done hard things, we will continue to do hard things when we have to but wouldn’t it be wonderful if, when presented with the option, we don’t always choose to do the hard that doesn’t serve us?
Take the help. Say “Yes” to the handout and “No” to the hard when you can. Becasue the thing is, the true hard will come.
The unavoidable hard will roll in without warning and in those moments, you’ll be glad you gave yourself some respite. In this next month, I’m going to do my best to accept this gift of time, this gift of ease our separation allows me, even if it is a little lonely at times. I will value my contribution to our life in addition to my husband’s and realize that, while our actions may be different, they both point to the same end: creating a sturdy, whole, happy home for our child.
We can’t serve from an empty vessel. It’s time to fill up.
If you can, I implore you to take the time and if you’re in a time of hard, I’m here to remind you: we can do hard things.
We can (and we don’t always have to).
From California & Alaska
P.S. What is the hard that you might need to leave behind? Are you good at it or is it hard for you? We want to hear from you!
P.P.S. Happy love day! I couldn’t think of a more perfect day for our most loving pup to have been born. Today our little fur baby turns 3! Happy birthday, little lovebug and to you, sweet Shiloh ❤️ You will be missed.
This summer, exactly one month before I got pregnant, I had a conversation with a girlfriend I’ve known for forever. There’s nothing quite like an old friend, is there? Not just because they are a constant, despite how frequently or infrequently your conversations might be but also, maybe most importantly, because they are there to remind you of who you’ve been and who you are deep down. While I’m glad to have lost touch with the party girl this friend knew me to have been, the one who was ready on any given Monday through Sunday to shut down our local bar, our conversation this summer brought me back to a me I had forgotten about.
As we talked about our lives that day, she reminded me of the Julia I once was: confident as all hell that I would be a mother of as many kids as I wanted. I had forgotten that my stock answer back in my 20’s to the question “Do you want kids” was always “Kids? Hell, I want a whole soccer team!”. 15 years and one miscarraige plus a year of “trying” afterwards, after watching countless friends “breeze” through (no, I know it still wasn’t easy) getting pregnant and countless others struggle deeply, that level of abundance we desperately waning. But hearing that reminder struck me. I texted her afterwards:
“Man…hearing you talk about how I always used to say I wanted a soccer team…that did something for me. I needed to hear from that youthful (albeit ignorant) Julia who was so damn confident. I’ve been stuck in a bit of scarcity thinking (‘Please just let us have one! Please!’) and that feeling of abundance, of openness is gone but today, I saw it again. Thank you. I love you.”
What to Expect When You’re Expecting or Trying #1: You Never Know Who’ll You’l Be
Whether pregnant or trying, you just never know. 20 something Julia would have told me not to worry, that I was destined to be a mother. 34 year old Julia felt each month’s passing, each grey hair popping up as a sign that maybe I wasn’t destined to be anything. I had watched friends go through similar situations to ours, joy, heartbreak, trying again and from the outside, it looked so simple. I just knew it would all work out for them but translating that optimism to us wasn’t as easy. Imagine wanting something so incredibly badly for your entire life, having it, losing it and starting back from square one again, never to know where you’ll end this time around. Like I said before, it’s a game of Chutes and Ladders.
The first time I was pregnant, I knew exactly who I would be. I had been planning for her for decades and that optimism (though tainted by not getting pregnant on our very first try) was there. I’d eat perfectly, exercise every single day and power through any feelings of nausea of hormonal rage. I’d be the perfect pregnant woman. Reality looked a little different, a little more like sleeping fitfully for 3 hours a night and waking up at 3 am to eat 7 packets of fruit snacks while manically organzing our medical supplies. A little more like feeling so nauseaous that the idea of exercise was laughable and just the idea of something sweet broke a tears dam I’d apparently built inside of me. I was exactly as I’d planned: perfectly pregnant.
This time around, I gave up my idea of perfection and just went for good enough. I ate what I could stomach which ranged from fruit to…fruit and carbs. Bread on bread with a side of bread? Yes please. My pants were tight within a week. The only time I felt a semblance of the nausea giving up was when I was eating so, I was often eating. Still, I was lucky enough to be sleeping like a damn rock for 8+ hours a night and felt OK enough to do a little exercise every day. Until we hit the road and all semblance of routine flew out the window of our tightly packed car. Donuts for breakfast? Yep.
Looking back now, yes, I wish I would have been “better”. Less sugar, more vegetables but when I put myself back in that place, the idea of a salad made me want to vomit so I have to be proud of any vegetable I got down, even if it was in pickle form. You never know who you’ll be once you get to whatever stage you’ve anticipated. I thought I’d be cool while “trying”. I was not. I thought I’d be “perfect” while pregnant. I was not. I was me, both times, and always. So, do your damndest not to judge others or yourself. We are all just doing our best.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting or Trying #2: There Will Always Be a Next Thing to Worry About
Like I said, I was anything but cool once we started trying. I’ve never been someone who can just sort of care. I’m all the way in, once I’m in and like a dog circling it’s bed for the perfect spot to snooze, it took me a moment to decide if I was truly ready for this thing I’d been wanting all my life. I am an overthinker extraordinnaire but, once we really sat down and made sure we were sure, I was ready to become a mother right then and there. It doesn’t quite happen like that. Enter: worry. Am I fertile? Is he fertile (something that took me WAY too long to ask. I immediately assigned blame to my reproductive prowess, or lack thereof. In the end, everything was assumedly fine on both ends BUT I encourage you to equally investigate both sides of the equation, should need be)? After becoming pregnant, the worry of fertility fell away and I felt completely at ease.
No, no, that’s not right.
I felt worried again. Was that twinge I felt OK? Was I working out too hard? How out of breath is too out of breath? When do I sleep on my side? What about the wine I drank before knowing I was pregnant? Did I ruin everyting??? Miscarrying fulfilled all those worst case scenario fears. It checked all the terror boxes.
This time around, for reasons I can’t explain, I did feel an incredible, overarching calm come over me once I knew I was pregnant. I knew deep down that everything was OK. When we went for genetic testing, I knew it was OK. When we went for our anatomy scan, I knew we were OK but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been completely terrified many times in between (and during each of those experiences).
In fact, about 1 week to the day before our next appointment (they are scheduled one month apart right now) I start to panic. Each appointment seems to bring us up to a milestone. First it was the first time we saw the heartbeat. Next it was hearing the heartbeat. Next it was entering the second trimester. Then it was the first kicks, felt on Christmas morning. Next it was seeing the baby in 3D (terrifying. The babe resembled more of a melted baby crayon since they were partying so hard in there). Next it will be entering the third trimester in the coming month.
With every milestone, I tell The Chief “This makes me feel better now” and with every milestone, he knows it’s only a certain amount of time before it wears off and I need another for comfort. The baby kicking has been utter magic. The baby not kicking as often lead me to tears, tears comforted by our midwife who reassured me the baby has plenty of room to head towards my back where it’s harder to feel the kicks for a while. Still, the worry, it’s constant and it never goes away (or so I’m told). Not when the baby is born. Not when the baby sleeps through the night or becomes a toddler and walks on their own or becomes a teen and drives away for the first time. If nothing else, this process has taught me that I am officially in control of…nothing. I think I feel the nausea returning.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting or Trying #2: Nothing Stays the Same
Before miscarrying, my cycles were a little wonky but overall, consistent enough. After miscarrying, they were utter insanity. Nothing stays the same. Once we conceived this time, my love affair with strawberries was constant for one month. Daily baskets of berries were my bounty of choice. I haven’t had one in months. The day my pants first felt snug, I felt enormous.
Now I look back at those pictures and laugh a big big belly laugh (which, I’m sure in a few months, I’ll think is laughably tiny again).
Yesterday my belly button looked like it was yelling a wide open-mouthed yell. Today, it’s starting to stick out its tongue as my inny, overnight is becoming an outtie. In month one, I couldn’t recall what a microwave was called (I called it The Thing That Makes Things Hot. Thank goodness my husband and I rule at Charades). I’d be mid-sentence, mid-meeting at work and suddenly pull all blanks, watching my co-workers stare at me from their screens. Now, my brain works pretty well, or perhaps I’ve adapted. Either way, nothing lasts forever. The fear, the peace, the certainty, the uncertainty, the pain, the calm, the worry, the wonder. None of it is constant, none of it is always or never. It simply is.
Wherever you are on whichever journey towards whatever your goal may be, know this: you’ve got this. You do. All of these lessons, they’ve been hammered into me by way of this specific journey, but they radiate out into all veins of our lives.
You never know, so don’t judge yourself or others. Worry is a part of life. You can let it rule you or you can let it be. Everything changes, good bad and in between.
Be kind to yourself along the way, it makes the path a lot easier to walk.