After Dark // A Love Story

I walk into the half-lit room, a soft glow from one single bulb. The only sound I hear is my bare feet sliding across the hardwood floors. I hold my breath, not wanting to wake the kids. Inching closer, a familiar scent fills my nose. When was the last time we were alone? The house is quiet until the thermostat kicks on—the vent forcing hot air into the already warm room. I jump, then giggle, startled for a moment—thinking one of the kids had snuck out of bed. 

My hand grasps the back of my neck, and I close my eyes. I can feel the day’s weight sliding down my shoulders and out of my body. My day was filled with diaper changes, making meals, cleaning the kitchen, getting more snacks, and refereeing fights. I sigh. Bedtime feels like a finish line to cross, and we’ve almost made it. 

Through the window, the full moon’s light illuminates the two of us. I reach out my hand, feeling the heat rising between us.

My hand cups the ceramic mug—the cake is still hot from the microwave. The rich chocolate clings to the edge of the cup, bubbles forming at the top. The individual packets of Duncan Hines “mug cakes” are hidden at the back of the cupboard—they are mine alone. 

I grab a spoon from the drawer, the silverware clanking in their slots as I close it. I breathe in, exhaling into the quiet kitchen. 

Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, double chocolate—I love them all. But chocolate in the dark, alone, just might be my favorite. 

The hours between 8-10 o’clock are mine. 

And sometimes I have cake, too.



This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “280 Words”.

The Kitchen That Built Me

It was a Friday night, and my then boyfriend, Rich, and I pulled into the driveway of his house. Though we were in a new relationship, and long-distance too, without actually talking about it—we both knew it was getting serious. This was the first time I was seeing his house and meeting his family who lived nearby. We drove up to his farm house, and he mumbled something, but I only caught a few words: “Retro kitchen . . . someday I want to remodel it.” 

I brushed it off and said, “I’m sure it’s not that bad.” 

We walked into the house and down the hall—the hardwood floors were a welcome surprise, their modern look a contrast to the dated exterior of the house. We turned the corner into the kitchen, and the salmon-colored cabinets were the first thing I noticed. On a second glance, I realized they were made of metal. I looked down and saw orange carpet—the kind that’s flat, without any fibers sticking up. Retro was definitely the right word

“I was thinking I could sandblast the cupboards and repaint them. But it might be easiest to just tear them all out and start over. I don’t think much has changed in the kitchen since the house was built in 1955,” he said. 

“It’s fine. I don’t like you for your kitchen. It feels huge compared to the tiny kitchen in my apartment,” I laughed as I squeezed his hand.

Our relationship was still new and I didn’t know how much time I would end up spending in this space.

              //

Two years later, I bounced my newborn around this kitchen, trying to get him to stop crying.

 “He won’t stop crying!” I said to Rich, now my husband, who was leaning against the laminate countertops.

“I fed him, but he just falls asleep while he’s nursing. Then he wakes up crying. I think he’s starving,” I said, glancing at the salmon colored cabinets that I felt were beginning to taunt me.

“I’m sure he’s getting enough to eat, babe,” Rich gently said as he took Rhett from me. 

“I’m going to weigh him. Do we have a scale I can use?” I asked, my hand cupping the back of my neck.

Just then I remembered the kitchen scale in the pantry. I set the tiny scale on the old countertop, then grabbed the baby bathtub and balanced it on top of the scale, and zeroed the weight. 

“Next time I feed him, I’ll weigh him first, then feed him, then weigh him again.” I was mostly talking to myself, but Rich nodded along. “Then if he’s not getting enough, maybe I should give him a bottle?” 

We had been parents for only a few weeks, but I think he already knew I wasn’t looking for an answer. I just needed to work through my thoughts out loud.

Later we balanced the whale bathtub on the scale—the underlit kitchen making it hard to see the numbers on the scale. Just as I began to shrug my shoulders in defeat, I noticed a bit of sunshine coming through the window behind me. The sliver of light fell over my shoulder, giving us just enough light to see the numbers go up on the scale after I had nursed him. 

Satisfied he was at least getting a few ounces, I put the scale away. Later that night after he had gone to bed, I stood at the kitchen sink scrubbing the dinner dishes. No light came through the window this time, the room was barely lit by the dim hue of the single light overhead. I wondered what would happen tomorrow that I would need to survive. Not even one month in, and motherhood felt so hard. I heard a creak, and saw a cabinet door had fallen open, again. I was doing it all wrong, I thought with a slam.

//

A year later, I turned around from the sink and saw my crawling baby licking the cabinets in the kitchen. “Rhett, what are you doing?” I laughed. 

I grabbed my phone and snapped a few pictures, wanting to remember this. His cheeks were so chunky and full, no one would have guessed I ever worried about his weight. He continued to crawl around and I imagined the sixty years of boots and shoes that had walked over the floors. I shuddered, thinking of how dirty the old carpet was, knowing the only way it would feel clean would be to tear it out. Did we want tile or hardwood floors? I silently wondered. I pulled up my Pinterest board, “Future Kitchen” and added more pins for the kitchen remodel. 

The years went by, and we brought another baby home—the kitchen remodel always at the back of our minds. Finally, after being married for over six years, with two kids (and a third on the way) we made official plans to start the renovation. In the last few months, Rich and I had gone over all of the choices we had to make. What color did we want the cabinets and appliances? What type of flooring? What color for the backsplash? What style of handles for the drawers? 

For years, part of the reason I had put off the kitchen remodel was that I was worried I would make a wrong decision and be stuck with it. It felt like too much pressure to get it “just right.” Looking over the proposed drawing from the interior designer, I remembered how overwhelmed I had felt with my first baby—wondering if he was getting enough to eat, immunizations, nap schedules, and when to feed him solids. I was always exhausted from all the decisions.

The night before the construction crew arrived I stood alone in the kitchen. We had emptied all the drawers and cabinets and I stood in the entryway one last time. My stomach bubbled with sadness—an emotion I wasn’t expecting. When I looked down the hall, I pictured myself walking in for the first time and seeing this kitchen. I saw myself standing here, wide-eyed and in love—with my then-boyfriend. At the time I thought I knew what love was, and what marriage and motherhood would look like. But I didn’t know how often I would second guess every decision I made with my kids. Or how long the days would feel waiting for Rich to get home, trying to keep his dinner warm in the oven, with two kids crying at my feet—all in this space. This was the kitchen I became a wife in, then a mom. It’s where I learned to cook meals that would feed more than just myself. I burned food, tried new meals, and accidentally dropped eggs on the carpet. Even as I stood there in the silence, I could hear the sound of the oven door creaking—its hinges well-worn from decades of use. I always imagined this day would only feel exciting—a chance at designing my own kitchen. But at that moment, all I felt was a bit of sadness.

“You ready to go?” Rich called from the front door. I nodded and gave the kitchen one last glance before I walked out of the house. 

//

Thirty-four days after we moved out of our home, the remodel was done. I walked down the hall toward the kitchen—anxious to see it all put together. The white tile shone in the sunlight, a bright contrast from the hardwood floors. The deep white sink caught my eye and drew me in. I walked into the room, and reflexively my hand reached out toward the nearly black countertops. My fingers skimmed over the smooth surface, cool to the touch. I paused and glanced around taking it all in—amazed at how much had changed.

I turned to face the living room, the hardwood floors running from the kitchen into the rest of the house, tying it all together. It looked like it was meant to be.

Rich opened the door from the garage, “What do you think? It looks like it could be in a magazine, doesn’t it?” 

I stood and nodded, at a loss for words.

In the following days, I carefully washed the pots and pans in the brand new sink, taking special care not to scratch the white porcelain. Each time I walked toward the kitchen it was like I was seeing it again for the first time. The old kitchen stood the test of time, refining me along with it. My edges were worn down—my expectations of what a home would look like, along with what it would be like to be a wife and mom. Neither of us was perfect, but we did the best we could. I know now that just because the kitchen is new, it doesn’t mean it’s perfect either. The corner cabinets next to the dishwasher can’t be open at the same time. And while the “fingerprint resistant” appliances might keep off fingerprints, we’ve learned the hard way that magnets scratch them. And despite being cautious, I already put a tiny nick in my new farmhouse sink. 

The kitchen is beautiful—there’s no denying it. But part of the reason it’s beautiful to me is that I know what it once was, and the life we’ve lived here. When I close my eyes, I can still see the old kitchen—the retro cupboards and orange carpet. I can see the younger me taking it all in for the first time. I’ll always remember the years I baked in the cramped oven—the tick of the oven matching the amount of time it took to heat up. I’ll remember the sound of the metal cabinets banging shut—their doors full of scratches and worn from decades of opening and closing. The carpet was stained with flour, dropped eggs, and honestly, who knows what else. But it was full of happiness too. I watched Rhett take his first step in this room. I can picture the time I found Allie covered from head to toe in powdered sugar, the orange carpet around her dusted in white. Or the late nights when Rich arrived home from the field, greeting me with a kiss and a “thank you” for the dinner I had brought to the harvest crew.

Part of me wishes I could go back to the “first-time mom” me and tell her not to worry so much, not to stress over every decision. But I know those moments and decisions carved me into the mom and wife I am today. Despite all my imperfections, like the cupboards and worn carpet, it was never about how they looked. It was what they could hold—their role in our home. The woman who walked into this house years ago isn’t the same one who stands in this kitchen now. All the decisions and worry, happiness, and joy molded me into the woman I am today.

And I’ve learned it doesn’t matter what my cupboards and cabinets look like—what matters is who I will continue to become.

Photos by: Josey Miller // @storyanthology

Unrealized Dreams

One of my dreams was to live in a city. I don’t know why I was fixated on a life in the city. Maybe it was because of the movies I watched growing up. Or maybe it was the idea of something so different from the small town I grew up in.

Now here on the farm, the furthest from city life I could imagine, I see one old dream coming to life under my fingertips. As a kid, I dreamed of becoming a writer and author. I spent my childhood with my head in a book, stories running through my head. I filled notebooks and journals with words and created a family “newspaper” with my cousins in the summer. We dug out my grandma’s old typewriter and I typed up stories about our pets and silly other things I found amusing as a 10-year-old. In the basement of my childhood house, I plunked away on our gigantic home computer. I wrote a story of a girl named Cassie, with an annoying younger sister. (Sometimes fiction is best drawn from real life. Sorry, Sister.) I’m not sure what happened to that story, or what happened to Cassie or her sister. 

The dream of becoming a writer went by the wayside somewhere between high school and college. In college, I spent a year as a journalism major, taking courses that were geared toward becoming a reporter. The classes didn’t leave me inspired and I changed my major (more than once). I finished my degree, doing the required reports and papers, but never writing for fun. 

A few years ago, I was at Taco Bell with my two oldest kids. Allie was a baby, and Rhett was a toddler. An older woman approached me and said, “You’re a brave mom for being out in public with him.” I can’t even remember what he was doing, but if I were to guess, it would be running around and standing on the chairs, instead of sitting down and eating. 

Her comment took root in my head, but not in a way that made me feel bad about my parenting. Or him. She wasn’t telling me anything new—I knew I had a wild child on my hands. Her sweet-natured comment did make me want to go home and write about it. Write how it made me feel, how at first I had been nervous when a stranger approached me. How I felt when she added that her own son had been the same way. Here she was, alone at lunch, while I was juggling two young kids—the sight of me and my kids taking her down memory lane. I hadn’t felt the urge to write in years. Probably since I was in middle school.

I went home and wrote the story out. After a while, I gained enough nerve to submit it. I didn’t tell anyone, including Rich, that I had even written anything. I especially didn’t want to tell anyone I had submitted it for publication. If it was rejected, then I wouldn’t have to admit it to anyone. It would be like it never even happened. A couple of weeks later, I received an acceptance email. That yes was a big nudge to lean into my old dream of writing. 

Farm life is full of stories. From Rich referencing cows while I was pregnant, to the kids learning about farming and ranching—from the front seat of a tractor to the back of a horse. Everywhere I look, there are stories waiting to be told. 

Years ago, I thought I was giving up my dreams to marry a farmer. I knew I had to choose. And I happily chose to marry the person I loved for a life I didn’t know. 

But in reality, this life and this farm, brought me back to a forgotten dream. A dream I hadn’t thought of in years. A dream I imagine might still be tucked away if I were climbing the corporate ladder, with no time for writing in the margins. 

This life allows me to put pencil to paper and create cities from words, and capture memories and stories of my family—from the most unlikely place I could have dreamed of. 

***this post was inspired by a writing prompt from Rhythm on ‘unrealized dreams’.***

Farm Wife / Farm Hand / Same Thing

A Few Good Things

As a kid, I remember thinking of Christmas as a mile-marker. I would look back over how much had changed from one year to the next. In high school, I’m sure I wondered if the next Christmas I would have a boyfriend. (Spoiler alert: I did not.) Or the year I went from not being able to drive (legally) to driving on my own. Then a couple of years later, I went from living at home to my first year in college. There were sad reflections too. The Christmas we spent with my aunt, knowing it would be her last. A couple of years before that, we gathered around my grandpa’s bed for his final Christmas—he passed away a couple of months after the new year. The following Christmases felt different. It wasn’t that it just felt like something was missing. Someone really was. 

As an adult, I see Christmas mainly through the eyes of my kids. Last year, Rhett and Allie were 5 and 3 and they were both old enough to be excited about Christmas. Their eyes sparkled with the magic and lights, the wonder of what would be under the tree on Christmas morning. I never even brought up Santa, they remembered from the past year. Last Christmas, my belly had the hint of a baby bump—and we didn’t know if the growing baby was a boy or a girl. The overwhelming feeling of adding a third baby to the family was slowly wearing off, and finally, my appetite was back to normal—my days of nausea behind me. We celebrated with my family in Wyoming, with yet another empty space on Christmas Day—my cousin had passed away two months before Christmas. 

This year, I know many people around the world will have empty places around their Christmas trees and tables. Maybe because someone passed away since last December, or maybe because they aren’t gathering together this year.

As I sit here writing this, I can’t help but wonder what Christmas 2021 will look like. Will masks be something we are talking about in the present tense or a thing of the past? (Let’s hope.) Will Rhett and Allie still believe in Santa? How many words will Nora be able to speak? I pray my family will still have the same people around the tree, even if we aren’t celebrating together. 

Even though this Christmas won’t look like year’s past, I know from experience that no Christmas looks the same as the year before. There is always good and hard. But I believe both can exist together. 

//

These are the good things I want to remember about 2020. 

In January we remodeled our kitchen that was stuck in 1955—and it’s beautiful. I’m grateful for it every day, and haven’t once missed the orange carpet.

Nora was born on May 21st in an exciting roadside delivery. Adding a new baby to our family is at the top of my “Good List” for 2020. I don’t take it for granted what a blessing a new baby is—one wished and prayed for by many.

Rich turned 40! I don’t know if he would consider it a part of the “good list.” But I’m reminded every year that growing older is a gift that’s not afforded to everyone. 

A few weeks before his birthday, we celebrated with friends. We rented a cabin on the river and the guys fished and the girls got pedicures. We ate good food, watched The Office, had cake, and relaxed.

We had another successful and safe harvest. I also survived my first summer and harvest season as a mom of three. I spent most of harvest cooking meals, with one half day spent driving a combine (with a three-month old in tow).

I kept the flowers in my garden boxes alive all summer—which is truly a miracle. 

Rhett started kindergarten in August and can go in-person. We’re thankful for his teachers and the school for making it possible in this crazy year.

 This year I was especially thankful to live in a rural area. With hundreds of acres surrounding us, the kids were able to run, play, and farm with dad, and life went on (mostly) as normal for them.

Rhett is learning to read and write and wrote me this note last week. 

“Rhett loves mom”

Allie started taking dance class once a week this fall and loves it. Since Rhett started school, there is a lot of talk at home about his teacher and class and learning, and Allie loves having her own teacher and class. She taught herself to write her name and is excited to be in school next year.

In October, Nora was baptized in the church I grew up in. When the pastor was pouring the water on her head (in the silent church) she had a huge blowout in her diaper. Rich remained calm under pressure and held onto her bottom to keep everything in place. He held it together long enough to finish the baptism and get a few family photos. Afterward, my mom admitted that at first she thought it was my sister passing gas and was worried she was getting sick. My sister was slightly offended.

Rich and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary in September. We spent the weekend before with the kids (on our first trip as a family of five) in Glacier National Park. We ate Chinese take-out and enjoyed the absolute beauty that is Glacier. On our actual anniversary, I baked a cake. Mostly because I like to eat cake. 

Nora cannot wait to be on the move to keep up with her siblings. She thinks their crazy antics are hilarious. She just turned seven months old and her two bottom teeth came in at the same time. She is so happy and always has a smile on her face. Allie and I often say how much “we want to eat her!” Rich still finds this disturbing, but has come to terms with it three babies in.

Above all else, one thing remains the same—the true meaning of Christmas. We will be celebrating the birth of our Savior—and that is something great.

There’s Something I Need to Tell You

The hot water pours down my back, steam surrounding me. “Babe. There’s something I need to tell you,” I say through the fog. 

I turn my head toward the bedroom, his outline is faint through the dingy hotel shower curtain. 

“Okay,” he slowly replies. 

“Nevermind,” I say. Butterflies feel like they are going to jump out of my throat. 

I hear the bed creak as he sits up, followed by the sound of him placing his phone on the nightstand. 

“You can’t start something like that and not finish,” he says. 

“Well, I’m not sure if it’s true, so I don’t know if I should tell you,” I reply. 

“Just tell me.”

I pause, wishing the water pressure matched the pounding of my heart. I let the water continue to run down my back, shifting from one foot to the other.

“Stacy. You’re making me nervous. What is it?” his voice rising. 

I take a deep breath. 

“I might be pregnant,” I breathe out. 

The silence that fills the room is deafening.

“I haven’t taken a test yet, but I’m a few days late . . .” I say. 

I shut the shower off, then move the curtain to the side—the curtain rings rattling overhead. Despite the clanging from the bathroom fan, it’s clearly not working—my shape is barely visible in the mirror above the sink. After grabbing a crisp white towel from the rack, I begin to dry myself. I reach up and wipe the condensation from the mirror, taking a look at myself for the first time since I’ve said the words I’ve been carrying out loud.

Tightening the towel around my chest, I walk to my suitcase perched on the table by the floor to ceiling windows. I begin to get dressed and look down the 20 floors to the busy street below. My mind flashes back to the last eight months of negative pregnancy tests, coupled with my knee surgery that forced us to postpone trying for three months. The past two months I didn’t even bother with the ovulation sticks. Despite them saying I was ovulating for the last year—the negative pregnancy tests outweighed their positives.

He leans his head against the headboard. “Should we go and get a pregnancy test?”

“I’m sure there’s a store around here somewhere,” I say, grabbing my phone from the table. “Looks like there’s a Target a few blocks down the street.”

We chat for a few minutes, a mixture of excitement and nerves fill the hotel room. I picture our two kids at home on the farm with their grandparents, feeling like it’s too soon to get excited about a baby. But then picturing a baby with two older kids sends me into a slight panic.

I collapse onto the bed. “I don’t know if I can handle three kids,” I exhale. “I thought I wanted another baby, but now I feel like we waited too long.”

I pause, running my hand across the maroon bedspread. “We can actually travel and leave the kids for a few days.”

He nods his head. “Well, we don’t know anything yet.”

After I’ve dressed and blow-dried my hair, I grab my purse and room key and we head to the elevator. We silently ride down the 20 floors and walk through the lobby. The sounds and smells of Chicago hit me as soon as the revolving door opens. The shock of concrete, people clogging the sidewalk, and traffic is such a contrast to our life at home, it makes me pause. Outside our front door on the farm I’m surrounded by dirt roads, wheat fields, and cattle. For a moment, I’m able to forget about the tiny being that might or might not be growing inside of me. 

We step onto the sidewalk, making sure to stay out of the way of the other pedestrians. I look down at the street, still wet from last night’s downpour. Then I squint my eyes from the sun and glance up at the tall buildings around me.

“Which way?” he asks, grabbing my hand. 

I squeeze his hand with more confidence than I actually feel.

I nod to the left, “This way.”

//

**This essay was written as part of the workshop, “Reading Well, Writing Well.” The assignment was to focus on writing dialogue.**

Something I Came Back To

Last week, I set my phone down
and went for a walk.
I put one foot in front of the other—
the earth solid beneath my feet.
The crunch of gravel rang through my ears,
instead of the noise of strangers.
The heaviness of the stroller under my palms
pulled the weight of the world from my shoulders.
The air was cool on my face.

With each step,
I was reminded of my life beyond a screen—
and the view looks good from here.

Photo by: Josey Miller // @storyanthology

*this post was inspired by Callie Feyen’s 30 Days of Grateful Writing Challenge
Day 5: something that you came back to

The Last Time

“Feel how soft this blanket is,” I whisper, rubbing it against her chubby cheek. I lean back into the recliner—the leather stained with milk and my sweat. I pull her into my chest and gently rub her back. She yawns, her little nose scrunching up as the yawn takes over her whole face. “You could just take a short nap on me,” I say, rocking the chair back and forth, trying to coax her into sleep. The house is quiet, the snow gently falling outside. She nuzzles into my neck and I close my eyes. 

I picture the last five and a half months, and I’m hit with the realization time has swept by in the blink of an eye yet again. In the first month, I was glued to this chair. The first weeks after Nora was born, I moved from my bed to the chair, then back to the bed again. She guzzled milk here, then fell into a milk-drunk state—my body was her bed. During the first month, she didn’t sleep anywhere but on me. Now she pushes away from me, the serene moment has passed.

I can’t remember the last time she napped on me. 

An hour later, she naps in her crib, after refusing to nap on me—proof she’s not that tiny newborn anymore. Rich has taken the two big kids “on an adventure”, so I can have a few hours to myself at home. I putter around the house, stopping to pick up Legos, chunks of Play-Doh, and school papers while I wander. I think back over the last few months and the times I’ve wished for quiet space to read, write, or just be alone without interruption. But now, I don’t know where to start, and even though it’s only been 32 minutes, I’m grateful that, like clockwork, Nora wakes from her nap. Because I don’t remember the last time I was truly alone, and I’m not sure I’m ready to find out. 

I can’t remember how to be alone. 

The dryer kicks off, a load of towels slows to a halt. With Nora on my hip, I walk to the laundry room, where my laptop is propped open. The screen blares white: an empty Google Doc. The cursor blinks where my words are supposed to be. I sigh, shifting her up my side. I bend down and pull the hot towels from the dryer, sorting them by the bathroom and kitchen. She babbles and pushes against me. I bounce her and talk to her, knowing if I lay her down on her playmat she will cry. 

I can’t remember the last time I did something with both hands. 

Naptime rolls around again, and I place her in her crib. I grab her pacifier and put it in her mouth, and she immediately begins to suck. Both her hands go to the giraffe attached to the pacifier, and she holds onto it tenderly.

“Night, night, have a good nap,” I say, shutting the light off. I walk back to my office, the dryer now quiet. I watch her big eyes sparkle on the black and white monitor. Part of me wants to snuggle her, knowing she won’t be this little forever. The other part of me hopes she naps for longer than 32 minutes. 

I can’t remember what it’s like to not live in 30-minute cycles. 

She wakes again, and I know with certainty the time will come again when I’m completely alone in this house. My life won’t be in 30-minute intervals and my body won’t be feeding and nurturing a baby.

I walk to her crib and I wonder, Will she sleep on me again? Or did I miss the last time, without knowing it was the last time? 

I pause beside her crib, simultaneously filled with sadness at the passing of time and wonder at the child growing in front of me. For the last six years, I’ve been immersed in babies and toddlers and big kids—and now back here again. While I’ve caught a few glimpses of life beyond the nap and nursing and then toddlers stage of life, it’s never been long enough to get comfortable there. 

I pick Nora up from her crib and snuggle her soft, chubby cheek into mine. 

In the past, I’ve gulped up the free time, not knowing when I would get it again. But now, as much as I want to be alone, I’m not sure I’m ready to find out what it’s like to really be alone. 

Today, I’ll savor the snuggles when I can get them. And I’ll enjoy the minutes I have to myself—knowing there’s more to come later. 

//

Today marks six months with our sweet Nora Kate. I don’t know what we would do without you, sweet girl. (Well, I would probably be getting more sleep, but that’s a story for another day.)

Happy half-birthday, Nora!

My Own Little House on the Prairie

The five of us piled into the van before the sun came up, my grandpa hunched behind the wheel. We crested the mountain as the sun came up, the elevation wrapped us in cool air, despite the summer season.

We spent the rest of the day driving, miles of open space and nothing but highway in front of us.

Eventually, I peered out the back window of the van and saw a green billboard, “The Home of Laura Ingalls Wilder Next Exit.”

“Grandpa, can we go there?” I asked from the backseat of the maroon Econoline van. I don’t remember his response, or maybe he didn’t give me one. The interstate whirred by as we continued our family trip to Michigan. My parents, younger sister, and my grandpa—all packed into the van. This was the early 90s and my sister and I spent most of the trip lying down on the bench in the third row—no seat belt or booster seats in sight.

We made the drive from Wyoming to Michigan, and I’m sure that I passed some of the time reading, either the Babysitters Club or anything by Beverly Cleary, Goosebumps, or Little House on the Prairie

On the way back from Michigan to Wyoming, my grandpa took that exit—and we spent the day where Laura had once lived. I was able to walk the same places she had, and I imagine I felt like I was inside her books. 

I was 8 or 10 at the time, maybe 12. My elementary years all run together, with bits and pieces sticking out. I wish I could say I remember more specific things that happened that day in South Dakota. Did the air rustle through the prairie grass, reminding me of Laura and her beloved Jack the bulldog? Was it everything that I had imagined?

Every Christmas one of my favorite gifts in my stocking was a gift card to Barnes & Noble. My mom, sister, and I would drive the 90 miles to the nearest city where we could use our gift card. I searched the shelves for the newest James Patterson or Mary Higgins Clark. Then made my way to the historical fiction shelves. The well-worn red and black paperback, Number the Stars, a favorite on my bookshelf at home since the 4th grade. Annemarie and Ellen were two characters I often imagined myself as. Ellen’s dark hair made it seem more likely that I was her—except I’m not Jewish. I often wondered if I would have been as brave as Annemarie’s family, had I been in their shoes.

College was full of textbooks, course syllabuses, and homework. I know I read for fun, but I couldn’t tell you any of the books I read outside of the classroom. I left my beloved Number the Stars and Little House on the Prairie in my childhood bedroom to collect dust throughout my 20s. After college, I spent those years finding myself, sometimes between the pages of books, getting lost in them when I was too scared to admit to myself that my life wasn’t where I had hoped it would be. 

Near the end of my 20s, I met Rich. His farm on the prairie was nowhere near where I expected I would end up. Could I be as resilient as Laura and Ma? Even though I have the luxury of electricity and running water, it still takes some grit and a different mindset to live in the middle of nowhere. All those years ago when I convinced my grandpa to take me to Laura’s house in South Dakota, I never imagined I would find myself living on the prairie. But now I’m surrounded by it. 

//

“Mom, it’s a rattlesnake!” Rhett runs from the dirt pile to the back of the house where I’m watering the newly planted trees. 

I glance up from the tree, dropping the hose. I follow him to the edge of the yard that connects with one of the many fields we are surrounded by. The grasses sway back and forth, and I wait to hear the sound that upset him. Knots form in my own stomach, hoping it’s not a rattlesnake. Rich isn’t home, and I am not looking forward to having to deal with a big rattlesnake on my own. 

The hot dry air surrounds us. Then I hear what he heard. The many grasshoppers that have filled our fields, yards, and the grill of my car, move their legs in rhythm, almost making a rattling sound.

“It’s just a grasshopper, buddy, not a snake. But good job coming to find me.” I reassure him. “Let’s go inside and get a drink,” I say.

We walk past the bookshelf, stacked with books I’ve read, books I plan to read, and Laura and Annemarie are here too. I knew when I got married, I was changing my story, and I was ready to bring them with me—their years in my childhood bedroom over.

Whether it was living in apartments alone after college or motherhood—but I’ve mostly given up suspense novels. Number the Stars was my gateway to historical fiction, and my GoodReads shelf of “Read” books is dominated by that genre. Despite the sadness, I’m still drawn to their stories. I’ve read the Little House series a few times since childhood, and hope to pass them down to my own children (along with the twig I have from DeSmet—tourism dollars at it’s finest).

Reading and writing come in waves for me. My book club often asks me, “Have you been writing a lot?” And the answer always depends on if I’ve been reading a lot. I haven’t been able to manage both well at the same time. When I’m reading a lot, I’m hardly writing. When I find myself inspired to write my own story, I find it distracting to read someone else’s. 

Years ago when I was a high school counselor, I never picked up a pen or put my fingers to the keyboard to tell a story. My love of writing was pushed to the side, my new career taking all of my time and brain space. But motherhood and farm life has brought back that urge to tell a story. And I’m surrounded by stories—from the farm to being a mom, and usually a mix of the two.

Over the years I’ve traded post-it notes lists of books to read for GoodReads. And I’ve tossed the guilt of starting and not finishing a book. Because I’ve learned that when you know, you know—with books and love.

This essay was written as part of the “Reading Well, Writing Well: Building a Writer’s Toolbox” workshop through Exhale Creativity.

The Birth of Nora Kate

The Birth of Nora Kate

One of the hardest parts about writing this was trying to remember the timeline of events—a lot happened in a short amount of time. Using my phone call log and notes from my midwife, I was able to (mostly) piece together the final moments of labor and delivery.

Before I start, there are a couple things I think you should know. I planned to deliver at a Birth Center, not a hospital. When I use the name Birth Center, I’m not referring to the labor & delivery department of the hospital. Several people asked if we called an ambulance, but we did not. The Birth Center is not associated with a hospital, and we called my midwife’s cell phone.

And to give context on where we live—we are 50 miles from town. Roughly half of those miles are gravel roads, the other half is highway—depending on which which road you take. The day of Nora’s birth we had to go the longer way, which is closer to 30 miles of gravel roads.

And now, the story . . . 

//

“Feel my belly, the baby is kicking, or maybe he or she has hiccups,” I whispered in the dark. Rich rolled over in our bed and put his hand on my full belly. Within seconds he felt what I was feeling on the inside.

“Just think, this could be the last time I feel the baby in your belly,” he said. 

I rolled my eyes, even though he couldn’t see me. I knew this wouldn’t be the last time he felt the baby in my belly. I was 38 weeks and 4 days—there was no way I would have the baby anytime soon. My second pregnancy with Allie had gone to 41 weeks, and I had been mentally preparing myself the last few weeks (months) that my actual due date didn’t mean much, and I should settle in for the long haul. 

“I doubt that, I’m sure I’ll be pregnant for awhile,” I said.

“You never know. Night babe,” he said as he rolled back over.

As with every night in the last few months of pregnancy—I couldn’t sleep. I moved to the recliner in the living room where I mindlessly scrolled my phone until I felt tired. I had been having Braxton Hicks since around 30 weeks, so the twinges I was feeling as I sat in the chair didn’t concern me. Around midnight, I finally made my way back to bed. 

At 5:30 a.m. I woke up and was immediately aware of the tightening in my belly. Although they weren’t painful, they seemed to be coming more often than normal. I kept turning over from side to side, but it didn’t make the contractions stop. I picked up my phone and found a contractions timer on my pregnancy app and started timing them. After about 20 minutes, I realized they were happening every 5-6 minutes, and were lasting between 30-45 seconds (some longer, some shorter). But I wasn’t in pain. I made my way to the kitchen, where I saw the wet grass outside.

Rich came into the kitchen with a big smile on his face, “I wasn’t expecting this rain.” 

I smiled back and said, “I might be having contractions, but I’m really not sure.” Since this was my third pregnancy, I felt like I should really know if I was in labor. My due date was still over a week away, so surely this could not be real labor. 

“Should I call my parents and give them a heads up they might need to take the kids?” he asked. 

It was barely 6 a.m. and I didn’t want to get everyone excited when it could be a false alarm. “No. I still don’t know if I’m really in labor.” 

I sat at the kitchen table and started to drink my hot cup of coffee while the kids were still sleeping. Every once in a while I stood up and paced around the kitchen, but I still wasn’t in pain. (I feel like I should make this part clear.) The kids eventually woke up and requested pancakes. As I was flipping the pancakes on the griddle, the twinges became more noticeable.

“Hey Rich, can you finish making the pancakes so I can take a shower?”

I made my way to the bathroom and decided if I really was in labor, I wanted to wash my hair. Who knew when I would feel up to doing that again?

Rich finished making breakfast and dressed the kids. Then he went out to his pickup to vacuum and get it ready to go. After my shower, I finished packing my bag for the Birth Center. (Hey, third pregnancy!) 

Around 8 a.m., I began to feel more uncomfortable, and I had a flashback of being in the bathroom at the Birth Center when I was in labor with Allie. I then remembered from a previous appointment that my midwife told me, “When you feel like you need to sway back and forth, head to town. That likely means you’re dilated to around a 5.”

Knowing Rich was in the garage, I called from the bathroom, “Kids, can you go and get your dad?” They ignored me on the first ask, so I yelled again, “Rhett, go and get your dad!”

Rich immediately jumped to action and called his parents and told them we would be dropping the kids off. The kids were starting to get excited calling out, “We’re going to have a baby!” 

“Is your bag ready to go?” Rich asked as I was getting dressed. 

“Yes, I’m almost ready,” I said.

He grabbed my bag and loaded the kids into the pickup.

At 8:16 I called my midwife, Melissa. “Hey, this is Stacy, I think I’m in labor.” 

She asked, “How far from town are you?” 

At this point, I was kneeling on the floor of my bedroom, leaning up against the bed and I exhaled, “An hour.” 

“Okay, I’ll meet you at the Birth Center. I just wanted to make sure I had enough time to take a shower first,” she said.

After hanging up, I texted my mom: “I might be in labor. But I’ll let you know if it’s a false alarm.”

Then I texted my birth photographer, “Hey, funny story—I might be in labor. I’ll text you when I get to town and let you know for sure.”

Ironically, she had texted me the day before to check in and I had immediately responded: “No signs of labor. I’ll still be pregnant for awhile.”

I went back into the bathroom to finish putting on my mascara (priorities, am I right?). 

Rich called from the living room, “Honey, what are you doing? I think we need to go. The kids are in the pickup.”

The rain overnight made our gravel roads into muddy roads. I gripped the handle above my head as we bumped the three miles to my in-laws. Whether it was the bumps in the road, or just my body progressing naturally, there was no question at this point if I was really in labor. The contractions were becoming more intense. But with the kids in the backseat, I tried not to show I was in any pain. The kids chatted happily about getting to meet their new baby brother or sister and kept trying to talk to me.

“Mom, why aren’t you excited?” Allie asked. 

Rich answered, “Mom’s excited. But it’s painful for her too.”

We pulled up in front of my in-laws’ house and Rich opened the back door and told the kids to go inside. It was still gently raining as the kids walked toward their grandpa standing on the front step.

I called out, “I love you!” as I sat on the edge of my seat, unable to get comfortable.  

Rich glanced at the fuel gauge and said, “Should I put in a little gas?” (The bulk tanks for our farm are in my in-laws yard.) 

I looked over at the gauge and saw that there was just barely enough to get to town and responded, “No. Just go.”

He hit the gas and we were on our way. 

Around 8:36 I texted my sister, “I haven’t been able to get a hold of mom. I don’t have enough cell service to call her, can you tell her I’m in labor.” I put my phone down and hoped the text would eventually go through.

With each contraction I got onto my knees and faced the seat, wrapping my arms around the back of the seat and moaning.

Between contractions, I sat down and told Rich, “I can’t do this. It hurts so bad, I don’t think I can do it.”

With his hands gripped at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel, he calmly told me, “You can do this. You’ve done it twice before. I know you can.” 

The intensity of the contractions ramped up fast, and the thought of laboring for roughly 30 miles of gravel (plus the highway) felt like too much. I was already dreading the hardest part—pushing the baby out. Having had two unmedicated births prior to this, I knew what was coming.

Eventually I reached down and could feel the baby’s head, although it was still a few inches up the birth canal. Although the head wasn’t out, it was definitely coming. 

After a few more contractions, I felt like I needed to push. It might have been during the first push or the second, (I can’t remember) my water broke—soaking me and the seat.

“My water just broke,” I panted.

I took off my romper (yes, I was wearing a romper—it was comfy and I fully expected to get to town and change into a gown) and threw it in the backseat.

At 8:47, Rich called Melissa to tell her my water broke. Instead of driving to the Birth Center, she headed out of town to meet us. Rich attempted to give her directions, repeating the road we were on, and he eventually hung up.

He turned to me and said, “Can you text her the name of the road?” Which I did. (She ended up missing the turn and was lost. But I don’t think she would have made it in time anyway.)

The final call to Melissa at 9:01 lasted seven minutes. With her on speakerphone, we kept driving and she told me, “Keep breathing.” To which I thought, “I am breathing.” But I didn’t have the energy to expend on speaking. 

“Do I need to do anything with the cord?” Rich asked.

“No, just leave it,” Melissa replied.

It felt like they were talking about someone else. I was in my own world.

While leaning back in the front seat, I felt another contraction and I bared down to push again. Through gritted teeth, I closed my eyes, yelled, and pushed. I felt the ring of fire and knew what I would see when I looked down. I exhaled and opened my eyes—a head of dark hair was out and face down.

“The head’s out,” I breathed.

Rich hit the brakes and pulled over onto the side of the gravel road. He walked around the pickup and got into the passenger side. He then kneeled on the floor of the passenger seat to face me.

Melissa said, “Stacy, get up on your hands and knees and push.”

“I don’t think I can,” I said.

“Get up onto the console,” Rich told me. 

I pulled myself up onto the console and leaned back against the driver’s seat. (I think we exchanged some other words, but I honestly don’t remember.) With one more push, Rich helped guide the baby out and brought it up onto my chest. Without any towels or blankets, we used our coats to cover the baby. Rich went back to the driver’s seat and cranked the heat up.

I sat back down in the seat, closed my eyes and breathed out a sigh of relief. I’ll never forget how the baby felt on my chest: the warm, squishy, wet skin on my skin. The pain was instantly gone from my body, replaced by the weight of a baby on my chest.

“Is it breathing?” he asked. The baby was quiet and I couldn’t see the face.

Melissa was still on the phone and said, “Take your knuckles and rub them vigorously along the baby’s back.” 

I started rubbing and the baby fluttered its eyes open and we could tell he or she was breathing. Once we confirmed with Melissa the baby was breathing, we disconnected the call at 9:08.

“Take our picture,” I told Rich. “Use my phone, it takes better pictures.”

I smiled, relieved to be out of pain, as he snapped two photos. (The time stamp on this photo: 9:09 a.m.)

We kept driving and a few miles later we met Melissa on the gravel road (we still weren’t to the highway yet). We pulled over and she opened the passenger’s door. Once she saw that the baby was pinking up and my bleeding was stable, she instructed us to meet her at the Birth Center.

With the baby clenched tightly to my chest and the umbilical cord still attached, we continued our way to town.

“Should I see if it’s a boy or a girl?” I asked.

I gently tried to pick the baby up off my chest. But the baby was so slippery, I decided it wasn’t worth trying. We had already waited nine months, what was a few more minutes?

Around 9:25 (almost exactly one hour after we had left our house) we arrived at the Birth Center. Considering it takes over an hour to get to town (while driving at a normal speed), it was impressive we made it to town in an hour—stopping for only a few minutes to have a baby. Melissa met me outside with warm blankets to wrap myself and the baby in. Becky, my birth photographer, was there too. She was smiling and shaking her head at me as Melissa opened the door of the pickup.

“Oh my gosh, Stacy!” she said as she snapped photos of our arrival. 

I’m not sure if Rich is thinking, “Oh my gosh, we had a baby!” Or “Oh my gosh, my seat!” Probably both.

At this point, some of the initial shock had worn off and I was starting to cramp. I grimaced as I stepped out of the pickup, suddenly aware of the umbilical cord that was still between my legs.

We made our way inside and onto a bed, where I soon delivered the placenta. Shortly after, we found out we had a second daughter. The exact moment was a blur—the most important thing was that she was doing well. 

Rich and I kept going over the events that had transpired in only a few hours. “You must have a really high pain tolerance,” he said. “To be that far along in labor all morning and you didn’t even really know.” 

“If we had left an hour sooner, we would have made it,” I said.

“Yeah, but just barely,” he replied. 

As I laid in bed holding my new baby, I kept thinking back on the morning. I began to question myself—how I had let it happen. How did I not realize I was really in labor? But it all happened so fast and hindsight is 20/20. Roughly 15 minutes after my water broke, she was born. With both of my previous births, Rhett and Allie were born hours after my water broke. As I counted her 10 toes and 10 fingers, I was thankful it was a relatively easy delivery with no complications. Rich and I both stayed calm. I was grateful she was healthy—regardless of where she was born.

Rich called his parents to tell them not only did I already have the baby, but we had her in the pickup. His mom passed along the news to the kids that they had a sister. She said they started hugging each other and then Rhett said, “A baby brother?” (I think he’s come to terms with having two sisters now.)

We stayed at the Birth Center for a few hours, making sure she nursed well and her temperature was stable. Becky stayed and talked to us, snapping photos of our baby’s first few hours of life. Melissa and her assistant made us breakfast and I took a shower.

We had picked out two names while I was pregnant: one boy and one girl name. But that day, the girl name we had picked didn’t feel right.

We left around noon with an unnamed baby girl—this time in a car seat, instead of on my chest. 

That afternoon at home as I sat in the recliner rocking our baby, Rich started to take apart the seat in his pickup—and we agreed on a name.

Nora Kate Bronec
Born May 21, 2020
7 pounds, 10.5 oz.
20 inches

“When a woman is in labor, she has pain because her time has come. But when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the suffering because of the joy that a person has been born into the world.” John 16:21

What a joy you are, Nora. I would do it all over again.

//

All photos (except for the one in the pickup) are from the talented Becky Monroe Photography.

P.S. If you are expecting, I highly recommend birth photography.

My {Most Likely Last} Maternity Pictures

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“Everything grows rounder and wider and weirder, and I sit here in the middle of it all and wonder who in the world you will turn out to be.” – Carrie Fisher

We are excited to welcome another baby (boy or girl—we don’t know!) to our family in May.

Thank you to Josey Miller (@storyanthology) for coming out to the farm to take our photos.