Sunday, November 20, 2011

For Liz the Most Fearless Mom I Know

My pregnancy and first few postpartum months were completely uneventful- both Jack and I both came out of it healthy and thriving. I realize now that this fact was something that I most certainly took for granted. Pregnancy can be treacherous. We live in a country where we have access to the finest doctors and medicine in the world. But things can and do go very wrong for many women and babies.  They did for my friend Liz.

Liz is a vibrant, creative redhead. She is one of the dozen or so people who knew both Trevor and me long before we knew each other. We were all theatre majors together at WMU. Liz and her husband were giddy with anticipation over the arrival of their baby girl. On November 2nd, Liz suffered a stroke after an emergency c-section. Although she was not expected to survive, she did, and her baby is a beautiful reflection of the love that her parents have for each other and the determination of her mom. She is perfect and healthy with long soft strawberry blonde hair. She is strong and alert, her mother's child.

Liz is paralyzed on her left side and is undergoing aggressive physical therapy. Her husband brings their baby to her bedside every day and she has been able to breastfeed with the assistance of a nurse- a beautiful, sacred moment between a baby and mother that I thank God she is able to experience.

Speaking of God...

Last year I heard an NPR interview with Rabbi Harold Kushner, the author of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People".  That is the question Kushner faced when he lost his first born child to a rare genetic disease.  When events like these happen, it shatters an otherwise faithful person's perception of a loving God. He said that he had to face the fact that God was either all-powerful but not kind, or thoroughly kind and loving, but not totally powerful. In the end, he would rather compromise God's power and affirm his love.

"The ... theological conclusion I came to is that God could have been all-powerful at the beginning, but he chose to designate two areas of life off-limits to his power.  He would not arbitrarily interfere with laws of nature. And secondly, God would not take away our freedom to choose between good and evil. [When bad things happen] I think God's role is to give us the strength and the vision to come through it - and come through it with our faith intact. God is there to send us people to hug us and hold our hands and dry our tears so we don't feel abandoned, not by God and not by friends. And then in our response to the tragedy, then we have something good that comes out of it."

I visited Liz today. She bears a large scar on her head from the brain surgery. She is a survivor and despite giving so much of herself already for her daughter, I couldn't help but notice a breast pump in the corner to assist her in giving her more; milk from her own bruised body. Shall I sit here and talk of God's great plan and design in all of this?  I can't. I know he weeps for Liz as I wept for Liz today. Shall I attempt to persuade you that there's a meaning behind all of this that we just don't know yet. I can't and I won't because there's not. I have to believe in the God of Rabbi Kushner, the God who gave us mortality and a natural order to life but who gave up the power to intervene. God doesn't favor me more than he favors Liz or favors you. 

Pregnancy is transformative. You are never ever the same, you can't be. In this design, there is no way to create a new life without altering or sacrificing part of yours. For six months now, I have suffered from a type of arthritic pain that renders me stiff from the waist down every morning when I wake up for about an hour. There are times in the day when my joints ache so much that I walk with a limp and I can barely carry Jack up the stairs. I am meeting with several specialists over the course of the next 2 months to hopefully pinpoint the cause of this pain. I don't say this to compare this pain with that of Liz, there is clearly no comparison. Pregnancy changes us. These little souls pass right through us and when our bodies respond to all of it well, we may count ourselves among the luckiest people on earth.  In this time of thanksgiving, I marvel at how much I have to be grateful for. When I got home from the hospital today, I came downstairs and picked up my baby for a hug and a kiss. We can never take these small gifts for granted.

Today at the hospital, I didn't know quite what to say, I held her baby, I passed the time with her family. Sometimes there are no words. What I want her to know is that with each passing day she is writing the first chapter in her incredible new family's history. Her daughter will someday hear the story of those first few weeks of her life. She won't remember them, but she will have photos of her pregnant mom taking sideways pictures of her growing belly. She'll be warmed by the beautiful crocheted blankets her mom worked so hard on. Liz will tell her stories of physical therapy and recovery, of healing. Somewhere under that beautiful red hair will be a scar that tells the story of how she survived.

Some babies come into the world quietly and some come with fireworks, all of them are miracles. To the little one in that small corner room at the hospital who arrived in a storm, your mother is a hero. You are a little hero too and I count your lives among the gifts for which I am most grateful. With all of my heart, grateful.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Your Parents' Love Story

 Dear Jack,
You have something that your dad and I don't have- a love story about your parents to tell your own children someday.  I wrote this last year when I was pregnant with you.  It's the story of how I became your dad's wife and eventually your mother.  It's a beautiful love story set in one of the most exciting summers of my life.  I hope that someday you'll read it and someday even farther into the future you can share it with your children as a lovely part of their family history.  
            The hall was decorated like a circus.  My mother was receiving an award that night among cardboard cutouts of dancing bears balancing on colorful balls and triumphant paper elephants, trunks held high.  The sound of shuffling cards caught my attention.  Two tarot card readers were set up at small tables dispensing advice and sage wisdom.  I sat down in front of one of them.  Her dark red hair was pulled loosely into a bun.  Purple paisley glasses clung to the tip of her nose.   She skillfully began flipping cards onto the table, alternating her gaze between me and the cards. 
“You’re in a relationship right now aren’t you?”
“Yes I am.”
 “He’s not the one.  He has a hard time understanding how to love you.  Soon you will find someone who won’t try to tame you.  If you allow yourself some room to grow you will experience an abundance of blessings.”
As I stared at the images of kings and empresses I let her words hang in the air for a moment before fully absorbing them.  Did I feel tamed?
I had spent the past three years of my life in a huge oversized sweater of safety and solitude.  After studying theatre in college I convinced myself that I could always perform in plays for fun, and that maybe it was time for a real job and a real life; as if at 25 I had any clue of what a “real” existence looked like to me.  The problem was, I had not acted in years.  I had cut off that part of my life like a budding tree limb hoping that someday it would just grow back on its own.  If you allow yourself some room to grow you will experience an abundance of blessings.  Maybe it was time to reclaim some part of myself that I had unconsciously shut off to see what blessings would come my way.
The week after the party I did something that would ultimately change the entire course of my life. 
I sent an email. 
I wrote a letter to the volunteer coordinator of a local theatre asking to be put on a mailing list for upcoming auditions.  Two weeks later I received a reply detailing opportunities for involvement.  At the very bottom of the email was an audition notice for an outdoor summer production of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”.  Anyone who walked past my tiny cubicle that day would wonder why I was grinning like a Cheshire cat at my computer screen.  Since my first introduction to Shakespeare, I had always been drawn to the role of Kate the Shrew.  She is brazen and pulls no punches.  Most notable of all, she is able to hold her own against an equally feisty man named Petruchio.  I spent the next few weeks pouring over monologues to prepare for my audition.  I even started a kickboxing class to make sure I was in tip top shape.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but that huge sweater that had become my life was slowly starting to unravel into a little pile of yarn at my feet.
            The day of auditions came.  I clutched my audition monologue and resume in my shaking hand as I made my way up the sidewalk to the park where auditions were held.  “Breathe, just breathe,” I whispered.  Auditioning felt like flying.  All of the exhilarating feelings I had ever felt onstage came rushing back to me.  I felt amazing when it was all over.  I took a stroll to the amphitheatre where the play would be performed and just sat there listening to the leaves rustle in the wind.  I smiled the entire way home.
            Waiting for a cast list to be posted is quite possibly the worst sort of waiting game.  But this time felt different, worse than other auditions.  Somehow I knew the stakes were higher.  Five days later, when the call finally came that I was to play Kate, the swarm of butterflies that had set up camp in my stomach fluttered away.  I never thought I’d get the chance to play Kate.
            On the first night of rehearsals I saw my leading man stroll up the sidewalk.  He studied theatre in the same program I had, but we only met briefly before life took us in different directions.  I stood on the deck outside of the rehearsal space waiting to greet him.  He climbed the steps and smiled.  There are landmark moments in life when you know nothing will ever be the same.  This was one of them.  In the same way that those butterflies flew away, the shadows of my old life vanished like vapors.  There was the life that was and the life that would be; everything had changed.  I no longer believe in the clich√© of love at first sight.  I now understand and delight in the very realness of it.  Our first rehearsal was magical.  The entire cast connected and the chemistry among the actors was palpable.  As he walked me to my car at the end of rehearsal I knew a very uncomfortable conversation was going to have to take place immediately.
            I will always believe that if I hadn’t been cast in that play during that particular summer, some other event sponsored by the universe would have revealed to me that our relationship had come to an end.  Words came tumbling out, words aimed at providing comfort but that fell flat and lifeless the moment they escaped my lips:  “You are a wonderful person…I appreciate everything you’ve done for me…We’ve grown apart.”  And finally, the dreaded, loathed, despised, “can we still be friends?” As I lay in bed that night replaying the conversation in my head I felt a sort of peace come over me.  And although I would never tell him that my first notice from the universe that something was wrong came from a psychic at a party, her words echoed in my head, He’s not the one.  He has a hard time understanding how to love you.  I shouldn’t have waited for a cosmic Post-it Note.  I shouldn’t have waited for a man to come walking up a staircase smiling at me before I realized this, but when I reflect back on this time in my life I understand that it all had to happen in just this way.  The last strand of the sweater had unraveled itself from its cocoon-like hold on me- just in time for summer.
            June melted slowly into July and the summer progressed in a whirlwind of rehearsals and evenings spent bonding with the cast, laughing and connecting in ways that I had not connected with people in so long.  And “he” was always there talking about our scenes, commenting on how strong he thought they were, how dedicated we both were to making the other person shine onstage.  I smiled and nodded and silently wondered if he had any idea how much I loved him.  I decided to relish the feeling and let him find it in his own time.  I kept this for me like a shiny pearl buried beneath the hard exterior of an oyster.  Having shed my sweater I felt alternating feelings of liberation and nakedness, joy and fear.
            The show opened and closed to laughter, applause, and rave reviews from friends and family.  The occasional inquiry into the identity of my handsome leading man was met with a vague reply: “friend.”  In all honesty, he was my friend, my best friend; we had grown so close that summer that it became hard to remember a time when I was not aware of him.  As we shed the skin of our theatrical personas and came to know each other offstage it became clear that we had each found our match.  Two years later our wedding invitations carried a quote from that most beloved play, “Be it sun or moon or what you please, henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.”
I think back on that summer with fondness and awe.  I think back to the party where it all began and the words of wisdom from that wonderful mystery woman who helped me find the path that was before me, Soon you will find someone who won’t try to tame you. 
She used the word “tame”.  Maybe that is the closest I’ll ever come to having God wink at me.  In our version of “The Taming of the Shrew”, Kate and Petruchio exited the final scene as equals.  In our marriage we continue the pursuit of making the other shine.  As my hand drifts down to my stomach where a new part of us is starting to blossom I take comfort in the final words I received that night, so long ago now, If you allow yourself some room to grow you will experience an abundance of blessings.  I never thought I’d experience those blessings so fully and richly.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Family Opus

5:30am:  Morning Overture- Alarms go off, cell phone ringtones for mama, NPR for daddy.

5:45am:  Morning Sounds- the splashing of water on the shower tile, the soft hum of a pump

6:20am:  Morning Movement- Refrigerators open, plastic bottles containing liquid gold are dragged over a plastic shelf and placed into a lunch bag.  The two of them move throughout the house like pinballs in slow motion brushing into counters, hampers, sinks and each other.

6:45am:  Farewell Suite- Kisses and hugs, wishes for good days, the rumble of the garage door as it makes its way up the track releasing him into his day.

6:50am:  Water Suite- More splashing water in a silent bathroom.  Fans and radios have been silenced so the whir of the baby monitor can take center stage now that only one parent is at home.

7:30am:  Reunion Sonata- Old stairs creak as the mama travels back to the nest to wake up her sleeping bird.  Baby bird is nestled in his crib but is awakened by an invisible force that tell him that his mama is back.  His head pops up and he peers through the rails, eyelids heavy as they resist the call to brush off a now forgotten dream and greet the day. Hugs and kisses as little eyes dart around the room and little hands explore mama's face.  Bigger hands coax warm pajamas off of little legs and arms.  Sleep well my love?  I missed you all night!

7:45am:  A Little Traveling Music-The rumble of the garage door and the click of the car seat as it nestles safely into its base.  The whir of the motor, the soft voices of the radio announcers as they discuss distant lands and local crises that the mama hopes never impacts her little baby who is now gazing out the window.

8:00am:  Joyful Baby Birds- The exuberant sounds of children playing to the chorus of soft sweet voices shouting "Jack's here!"  Kisses and hugs as the mama rubs her hand over the soft smooth hair on the head that hides a billion thoughts and curiosities about this place.

8:10am:  Wistful Silence - The radio voices grow softer as mama reflects on her day thus far.  The sounds of traffic- trucks and horns.  Yellow light, red light, green light; incandescent safety officer keeping mama safe on her way. 

8:20am:  Office √©tude- The click, click, click of a keyboard and the slower click of the mouse.  The whoosh of the air making its way through a maze of vents keeping everyone cozy as they make plans and tackle problems and smile at photos in colorful frames filled with people who are not there but are greatly missed.


4:45pm:  Reunion Sonata Reprise- The click of the key as it unlocks the door.  Joyful birds at play.  Baby bird looks up at mama with a smile of recognition, tiny arms wave up and down like wings flapping.  Mama scoops him up, the soft and airy pant of invisible words as he tries so hard to tell her about his day.  Singular consonants and extended vowel sounds express his excitement, his wonder, his fatigue.

5:00pm:  Homeward Hymns- The gruff rumble of the garage door sounds happier this time as the gates open into the nest.  An old hollow door swings open with a squeak and the silent lonely house is once again filled with energy and life.  Zip, zip, zip of a bag as the bottles are whisked away into the refrigerator.  The playful tinkling of chimes as the soft cloth toys that dangle from the car seat slide as baby is lifted up for a hug and a kiss.  Two feet shuffle across the old hardwood floors making familiar creaks.

7:30pm: Twilight Reverie- From inside the nest the soft click of the door and a welcome "Hello?"  Cheerful chatter of days events.

8:45pm:  Good Night Moon Concerto- Mama and baby climb the creaky steps back to the nest.  The whish, whish, whish of a ceiling fan as a soft light casts shadows on the walls.  Soft sucking noises as baby's eyes grow heavy.  His brain sends signals to his body to coax it into slumber.  Tiny legs covered in warm cotton dance across the mattress as they slow, slow, slow down into stillness.  In the silence of the room, billions of charges of electricity dance inside baby's head making sense of all that was seen and heard on this ordinary day.  Mama's eyes grow heavy, heavier, and close.

9:30pm:  Finale- Creaking under the weight of new feet, the daddy climbs the stairs to the nest where the mama and baby have fallen asleep.  The hardwood floors call out "wake up!  wake up!"  A soft tap on the shoulder and the mama wakes up.  The baby is sailing into a vast galaxy of sleep.  Daddy carries him to the crib.  The soft swish of cotton pajamas against cotton sheets as the weight of his tiny body adjusts into its new space.  A click of a light switch, the creaking of stairs.  The sound of water splashing against porcelain and the clink of toothbrushes hitting a glass cup.  Blankets dance in the air making whipping noise as daddy arranges the bed.  The squeak of metal springs as they climb into their own little nest.  The humming of a baby monitor which sits perched next to daddy's head.  In the darkness it shines bright green letting them rest easy knowing baby is breathing softly and dreaming loudly.  Bodies twist and turn finding their most comfortable angle amidst the pillows and blankets where warm meets cool.  And then, silence...mostly.  Clocks ticking the seconds away, the humming of appliances and whirring of fans.  Slow, steady breathing from three sets of lungs.  Imperceptible heartbeats and the constant flow of blood through veins.  Silence, mostly, as the family symphony takes its repose.

How astonishing your life would be if you listened to its pulse and felt its rhythms.  How breathtaking would the tiniest noise be when you isolated it and marveled at its music.  What is the music of your life?  

We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of the dreams.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lessons from Jack Vol. 1

Today, my sweet baby is 8 months old.  The transition from 7-8 months was a tough one for young Jack.  Some nights I'd hear this mournful little moan from his crib and as I looked down at him he'd be pawing at his mouth.  Somewhere, tiny sharp teeth are making their way down his gums electrifying every nerve ending and causing plump tears to fall onto his cheeks.  I'd pick him up and hug him and hold him and he'd rest his head on my shoulder for 5, maybe 10 seconds and before I knew it, his head would pop up and he'd be staring out into the dark room.  In the moonlight, I could see the look of realization hit his face- even in the midst of all of this pain, I am home, things look familiar.  I haven't descended into some dark scary place, it just feels that way.  I can get through this.  This mama person who is always here hasn't left me yet.  I'll be ok.

And that, my friends, is one of the first lessons I have learned from my baby.  Fear is fleeting, pain is temporary.  It might appear that we have descended into some dark scary place, but in reality, we are always right where we need to be and the people we love who love us in return are only a little whimper (or phone call if you have the fine motor skills) away.

Aside from the teething, Jack formed some pretty intense separation anxiety last month.  Whether it was a quick trip to the fridge or the bathroom, the minute I left the room I'd hear his breath quicken and then came the scared little whimpers until he saw me again.  I admit, it can be stressful to be the only person at home with a baby who won't let you leave his sight.  I'd drag his exersaucer all over the house with me so he knew I was always nearby.  This past month is when I truly realized how scary this brave new world must be for him.

Here is a passage from one of my favorite books "Orbiting the Giant Hairball" by Gordon Mackenzie

Before you were born, God came to you and said:
Hi, there! I just dropped by to wish you luck and to assure you that you and I will be meeting again soon, before you know it.   You’re heading out on an adventure that will be filled with fascinating experiences. You’ll start out as a tiny speck floating in an infinite dark ocean, quite saturated with nutrients, so you won’t have to go looking for food or a job or anything like that. All you’ll have to do is float in the darkness,and grow incredibly,and change miraculously. You’ll sprout arms and legs and hands and feet and fingers and toes. As if from nothing, your head will take form. Your nose, your mouth, your eyes and ears will emerge.
As you continue to grow bigger and bigger you will become aware that this dark, oceanic environment of yours – which, when you were tiny, seemed so vast is now actually cramped and confining. That will lead you to the unavoidable conclusion that you’re going to have to move to a bigger place.
After much groping about in the dark, you will find an exit, the mouth of a tunnel.  “Too small” you’ll decide “couldn’t possibly squeeze through there.”
But there will be no other apparent way out, so with primal spunk, you will take on your first “impossible” challenge and enter the tunnel.
In doing so, you will be embarking on a brutal, no-turning-back, physically exhausting, claustrophobic passage that will introduce you to pain and fear and hard physical labor. It will seem to take forever, but mysterious undulations of the tunnel itself will help squirm you through and finally, after what will seem like interminable striving, you will break through to a blinding light.
Giant hands will pull you gently, but firmly, into an enormous room. There will be several huge people, called adults, huddling around you, as if to greet you. If it is an old-fashioned place, one of these humongous people may hold you upside down by the legs and give you a swat on the backside to get you going.
All of this will be what the big people on the other side call being born. For you, it will be only the first of your new life’s many exploits.
God continues:
I was wondering, while you’re over there on the other side, would you do me a favor?
“Sure!” you chirp.
Would you take this artist’s canvas with you and paint a masterpiece for me? I’d really appreciate that.
I remember reading that passage years ago, but now I see it unfold for me, right before my very eyes every day I spend with Jack.  Every day on this planet is a brave new adventure for him.  He sees an equal amount of the known and unknown.  In the still of the night when he sleeps, he is anything but motionless, for billions of neurons and firing and synapses are being formed that are helping shape how he sees this world.  My greatest desire right now is that he connects Trevor and I with safety and security.  So I drag his exersaucer all over the house, knowing that someday the time will come when he wants to be anywhere that I'm not.  I enjoy him clinging to me for now.

In his 7th month, Jack discovered motion and now he can't be stopped.  He rolls and crawls and scoots his way all over the place.  How inspiring to me to see how much he wants to explore this world.  I think of all of the times I sat on the sidelines or sat out while everyone else danced.  Jack would give anything to have the freedom to move and explore that I have.  He has reminded me never to take this great gift of motion and freedom for granted.

I can safely say that month 7 was a period of immense growth for both me and Jack.  I could see the petals unfolding around him this month as the little bud became a bloom.  With each month that passes, his roots will grown stronger, his colors more vibrant and his spirit more infectious.  How did this little soul know that I was meant to be his mother?  Of the billions of genetic possibilities stored inside Trevor and me, Jack was the one.  I continue to stand in the warmth of this incredible love I feel for him and I feel so blessed that I get to experience the whole wide world again through his eyes.  It is the stuff of Louis Armstrong songs, truly.

 8 months old today!

Friday, September 2, 2011

In Praise of All Mothers, of the Stay at Home and Working Varieties

We have all heard the quote “Making the decision to have a child - It's momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” 

Well I’d like to add to that discussion. 

“Making the decision (or embracing the reality of having) to work outside of the home- it’s momentous.  It is to decide to put your faith and trust in others to assist you in the caring, nurturing, and education of your child; to give them perspectives on life that you cannot; to share your joy in watching them grow; and to become members of the circle of family and friends who will help shape them into the people they were meant to be.”

People have been lamenting the state of the American family for as long as there were families in America.  In the late 80’s, Murphy Brown was at the epicenter of a hotly debated term- “family values”.  The Baby Boomer women who entered the workforce in droves came under attack for their desire to integrate career aspirations with the call to motherhood.  As a 10 year old, I remember being confused about why people were so angry at a television character.  I knew she had a baby out of wedlock, which, to my wee little Catholic brain seemed like a huge no-no; but she didn’t choose abortion, she was having her baby.  Wasn’t that what we all wanted?  More recently, Laura Schlesinger, famed (former) conservative radio host & author penned a piece of non-fiction called “In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms”.  Having listened to her talk show and read sections of her book, I can sum up her position by saying that in her world view, children are best served by having their mothers stay at home full time and that day cares are universally damaging to a child’s growth and development.  Making a blanket statement that all day cares are damaging is as preposterous as saying that all mothers have the temperament and patience to stay at home full time with their children.  This doesn’t make them bad mothers, if anything, it’s a statement about how rigorous a job it is to stay home with your children full time. 

Today, an entire generation of women who grew up with career women as mothers have become very vocal about the fact that they have made the choice to stay at home with their children.  To this, I say I respect and admire you!  I support this sacrifice; I admire your desire to be the primary caregiver, educator, and buddy for your children every day.  I applaud the mothers, like my cousin Erika, who are researching curricula and schedules to make sure her children receive as much intellectual nurturing as they will emotional nurturing. 

But there’s always a flipside, right?

For every mother who has announced her decision to stay at home with her children come the waves of supportive comments.  See if any of these sound familiar:

“Best decision you’ll ever make- there’s nothing better for your babies!”
“You will never regret being with your children, it’s the best job in the world!”

If that same mother made an announcement that she was returning to work after having a baby, how many people do you think would comment that it’s “the best thing for your children” or “you’ll never regret it”?  Instead, she’d get comments like:

“I’ll be thinking of you.”
“Keep your chin up, I’m sure your baby can’t wait to see you!”
“It’s going to be so hard, but you can do it!”

I know, because I got them.  The subtle, but damaging message in these statements is that any one of us can say with any certainty what is or is not best for our children.  We have made great strides in supporting our stay at home moms (and dads!), but let’s not make those strides at the expense of the emotional support our working mothers still need.  We read those comments and it hurts.  Our husbands read those comments and they feel badly that they cannot be the sole providers.  Every time I see a comment that says that staying home with your children is the best thing for them, the guilt that I bring with me to work every time I kiss my baby goodbye bubbles up to the surface and I start to second guess all of my choices.  And when I felt like the world was sending me sympathy cards for having to return to work after maternity leave, I started dreading going back and lost a lot of the self-affirmation I had spend 12 weeks building up in an attempt to remind myself that Jack will love me and be proud of me no matter what.  How inspiring would it be, if we all simply replied with love and encouragement?

For the stay at home mom:
“I’m so happy that you get to share so much time with your children!”
“I look forward to hearing about all of your adventures!”

For the working mom:
It’s wonderful that your children will have a positive example of how to integrate a career with motherhood!”
“Enjoy your time at work re-connecting with your co-workers and diving into new projects!”

I was raised by a stay at home mom and have wonderful memories of my childhood.  By the time my youngest sister Mary Laura was in preschool my mom had returned to the workforce.  I remember looking through her childhood photos at her graduation open house and remarking at what a happy, playful child she was.  There were photos of her at day care wearing a birthday crown while our brother Frankie playfully smiled at the camera right alongside of her.  There they were on the swings together and building forts; all the while laughing and smiling.  If you compare my childhood photos to hers you will see two happy brunette babies who loved to play and be creative- one grew up with day care and one did not and I bet you couldn’t tell which one was which.  What was the thru-line?  A loving, devoted mom who made the most of the time she had with her children and who ensured that only the most loving, creative and responsible people helped care for her children.

We knew that having a baby at this point on our lives would mean that I would continue to work full time while Trevor finishes school and enters his new career.  This is our life and these are our choices and finding self-affirmation can be hard when the guilt creeps in.  When we begin to look at our path and compare it to others - we start to resent and fail to see the great blessings of our unique and wonderful life (thanks mom).

Having talked with friends who stay at home, they deal with all kinds of stressors that don’t impact me, and vice versa.  We’d be foolish to assume that one scenario is any easier than another and for that reason, we’d be foolish to assume that children will turn out any better or worse based on who helps care for them.  A stressed out frazzled stay at home mom is as equally unavailable for her children as a stressed out frazzled working mom.  I believe it's more about the women herself and the way in which she integrates all of the many aspects of her life.  Every woman has her own story and every family has landed where they are through a series of difficult decisions. 

There is this magical moment I get to relish every day around 5:15 when I pull into the driveway.  I grab my bags and go into the house.  When Jack sees me, his eyes get big and his arms start flapping around.  He looks at me and then he looks at my husband, then back to me and then back to my husband.  It's like a little mental roll call.  A smile spreads across his tiny lips.  Everyone is together again.  And despite the long hours we just spent apart, we go on with our evening all together without skipping a beat.  We play and talk about our day, eat our dinner at the table as a family and enjoy every single second of our time together.  As I tuck him into bed at night, I pause and look around at the house we've given him, the warm clothes on his back, the cozy room that's all his own and I remember that being a mom who works outside of the home has allowed me to provide these things for him without skimping on the love and I think he's turning out simply wonderfully.

There’s too much woman-on-woman violence in the world- that is, the tendency women have to tear each other down to keep the playing field equal.  We all need to do a better job of judging less and supporting more.  In a world of social networking, each of us shares our thoughts, our victories, our failures, our fears…our lives.  When we throw those thoughts out into the universe, all any of us can hope for is a little love and affirmation in return.  I don't need any sympathy, I love my life and I love your life if it makes you happy.  And if there is anything I can say with 100% certainty- when the mama's happy, everyone is happy!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How I Spent my Maternity Leave

Where the birth story ends and the adventure begins...

The gold stars were recently taken down from Cece's house.  In December my friends threw me a fantastic "celebrity themed" baby shower at Cece's house (which is right down the street from my house) and bright gold stars adorned her doorway.  I love that she kept them up, a small reminder of the final days of my pregnancy.  All of the anticipation, fear, excitement, and questions.  After bringing Jack home from the hospital, seeing them when I drove up the street reminded me that he was still new.  But recently they came down, fitting in a way since I go back to work this week and it's time to move on from the scared, anxious mom I was to the confident, brave working mother I'm to become.

12 weeks.

It passed in the blink of an eye.  Hardly enough time to establish a regular routine, but when I think of the changes Jack's made in 12 weeks, it seems like an eternity.  Where there were no eye lashes, there are now long curly ones.  The 5 lb baby I brought home has been replaced by a chubbier 12 lb baby with dimples where his knuckles will be (kitty dishes as my mom calls them) and a proper double chin.  I get glimpses of the little boy he will become, but for now, he's still my cuddly baby who grips onto my shirt as I take him for tours around the house showing him different rooms.  Poor winter babies hardly get a glimpse of the outside so we need to make inside an adventure for him.

So how did I spend those 12 weeks?  They say when you give birth, you are reborn yourself and in many ways I believe that's true.  I am not exactly the same person I was on January 6th.  I'll begin where my journey ended- with forgiveness. 

I asked my body to forgive me.

In the days that followed Jack's birth, I was unbearably hard on myself.  I was still wearing my maternity pants, my wedding ring didn't fit and where there once was a round basketball under my shirt, I was softer with the ghost of that precious passenger still lingering there.  Two weeks ago I stood in a dressing room wearing pants in a size I have never been and looked at myself honestly for the first time.  I looked at the curve of my hips and the fullness of my breasts.  I thought of my beautiful healthy baby at home.  Staring right at my reflection, I just kept thinking over and over again, "I'm sorry."  And, "thank you." The roundness of my hips helped me deliver my baby quickly and without any complications.  My breasts contain all the nourishment he'll need for months.  My body is a miracle machine that couldn't be replicated by any engineer.  It created life. 

Trevor always says he provided the blueprints and I took over from there.  Looking at Jack, I can honestly say we are quite possibly the finest architects in the world.  The words of my beloved Tim Gunn rang in my ears that day.  People will never know the number on the tag of your clothing so wear clothing that fits you and makes you feel great.  Thank you Uncle Tim.  He's so right!  So I learned never to say "I'll never wear that size again!"  Because it really doesn't matter.  My body is a miracle and I should start loving it more and judging it less.

I learned to live consciously. 

With my return to work date hanging over my head I learned to be fully conscious of each moment.  For my wedding, my mom shared with me a prayer by Anne Morrow Lindbergh:

"God, let me be conscious of it!  Let me be conscious of what is happening while it is happening.  Let me realize it and feel it vividly.  Let not the consciousness of the event (as happens so often) come to me tardily, so that I miss the experience.  Let me be conscious of it!

There were many times when dishes sat in the sink and phones went unanswered because we were sleeping together or I was feeding him.  Calls can be returned and dishes can be washed later, but my baby is sleeping on me now and I will never regret letting the world pass us by while I watched his chest move up and down and stroked his head while he smiled in his sleep. I found out how best to rub his head while he was nursing, I finally hit just the right tone of voice to make him smile.  We danced in the living room to "September" by Earth Wind and Fire on more than one occasion.  I don't regret a single minute of this past 12 weeks, I have sustained my baby using nothing but my body for nearly a year.  I understand now the bond between mother and child.  I will positively lose it the next time I watch Dumbo.  If you mess with my baby, you might as well lock me up in chains too.  (I'll never be able to hear "Baby Mine" without a waterfall happening :)

I think the biggest fear of a mother who works outside of the home is that she'll miss something.  I have to remind myself that you could easily miss something while you are in the next room over and that if you live consciously you won't miss a thing.  As parents, "firsts" are a big thing.  I may miss one of his firsts, but when that thought makes me sad,  I think back to 1/7/11.  I was there for his first breath.  Everything he does for the rest of his life is one miraculous extension of that moment.  So God, let me be conscious and present for the moments I am there.

I loved my husband more, I probably showed him less.

During the most fragile, precarious, first weeks of a human's life, they are entrusted to the care of delirious, sleep-deprived parents.  Seems like a recipe for disaster, no?  I absolutely fell more in love with Trevor, but I know there were times when I looked at him, frustrated and exhausted when we couldn't find a way to get the baby to sleep like "why can't you figure it out already?!"  We married each other for many reasons, not the least of which was how intelligent we thought the other person was, but when it came to raising Jack, both of us felt like dummies many times.  Trevor, I know you're reading this.  You are the most wonderful human being I know.  I get tears in my eyes because my words cannot express the gratitude that my heart feels for you helping me to create Jack Rigel.  He is the greatest gift I have ever received.  He embodies the very best parts of both of us and I know you will play a major role in shaping him as a man.  The world needs more strong, caring, sensitive and brilliant men and there is no one better I can think of to make our son such a man.  Thank you for the late night diaper changes and strolls around the house as I tried to get some sleep.  I know you will treasure those times with him, even when both of us thought we might lose our minds from lack of sleep.  I love you so much.  Thank you for making me a mom.

On Thursday night, I'll pack up  my lunch, I'll make sure my breast pump is ready to go, I'll lay out those pants and I'll disregard the number on the tag.  I'll cuddle my baby and pray that he's proud of me.  On Friday, Trevor becomes a stay at home dad.  I love how excited he gets when he talks about the things he wants to do with Jack this summer.  My two amazing men, how did I ever get so lucky?  On Friday I'll return to the loving embrace of my coworkers, many of them mothers themselves.  I will be wrapped up in support and encouragement.  Friday will be the first day I go to work without Jack.  For 9 months he accompanied me to every meeting and class I taught.  I'll miss him kicking me during meetings, I won't miss the heartburn or the frequent bathroom trips.

To my fellow moms out there who work outside of the home, I am so proud to join your ranks.  I wouldn't trade places with anyone in the world right now since that would mean not being a mother to this amazing creature, who right now is sleeping on the couch next to me.  God, let me be conscious of it all.

A few nights ago, I came downstairs to catch Trevor holding Jack in his lap as they watched an episode of Trevor's beloved show, "Firefly".  I laughed.  "Turning our son into a little sci-fi geek, eh?  Aren't you glad we had a little boy?"  Trevor turned to me and said, "I'm glad we had Jack." 

I'm glad I have them both.

 Picture mail sent to me on my first day back at work

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Birth Story

Birth Story (n): The tale of how a pregnant woman gets a baby out from under her ribs into the waiting hands of a doctor who has gotten way too familiar with her insides without even buying her dinner first.

Once you give birth, other mothers ask you for your birth story.  They want to know what happened, how fast it happened and how much crying and screaming was involved from both you and your husband.  So now I have a birth story which I am willing to share with the many mamas who have asked.  Warning- this tale involves birthing a child.  If this doesn't interest you, do not proceed.  Parental guidance is suggested.

Wednesday January 5th started out like any other day, I went to work, made plans for the weekend, which involved eating meals with various friends.  I even changed Peanut's nickname to Prize Winning Watermelon- ironic now considering he was only 5 lbs 14 oz.  That size watermelon would clearly not win any prizes.  It may even get mistaken for a cantaloupe which I realize now would have been the more appropriate melon.

And then the contractions started.  How to explain contractions.  Imagine someone is taking your insides and wringing them out like a wet towel but the towel keeps getting wet, like for starters, every 15 minutes or so.  And you just keep thinking, "GOOD GOD ISN'T THAT TOWEL DRY YET?"

Wednesday evening, Trevor and I were treated to a lovely dinner with our good friend Lily and her parents.  We were at Martini's for about 2 hours and I had about 6 contractions in that time.  Thank God for the healing powers of meatballs.  I remember thinking to myself "ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, mmmmm meatballs, ow, ow, ow, ow....oooh cannoli!"  On the way home, I was feeling uncomfortable and thought maybe I should start timing these contractions, you know, just for practice.

My amazing modern day husband had the fantastic thought to check his Smart Phone for a Contraction Timer app.  Guess what?  There's an app for that!  It measures the length and frequency of your contractions.  That phone stayed in bed with me all night as I timed out my still very irregular contractions.  Thursday morning came and I was feeling pretty exhausted from spooning my husband's phone all night timing contractions.  I texted my amazing sympathetic boss letting her know I'd be working from home that day due to my insides feeling like pulled pork.  I continued to monitor the contractions using the sassy new app we found and they were steady but nothing too close together.

Friday January 7th.  Wow.  Texted my boss again saying I might be a little late and she just wrote back recommending I stay home.  I am very glad she did.  When I woke up that day, I had no idea it was to be my son's birthday.  When I say that most of that day feels like a blur it's only because Jack was completely determined to be born that day no matter what.

Around 10:00 that morning I made a bowl of oatmeal.  The contractions weren't letting up although they were still anywhere between 8 and 12 minutes apart.  I finally decided to call the OB/GYN who recommended I come in for an exam just to see how things were progressing.  After a super quick shower Trevor and I were headed to Bronson, bags packed in the know, just in case.

Around 12:30 I got my exam.  I was 3 cm dilated and 100% effaced.  When the doctor pronounced me 100% effaced I felt like I should get a trophy.  She seemed so proud of me like me and my little body had accomplished a major feat.  She said that she wouldn't be surprised if he came by the end of the weekend.  Oh good I thought, a couple days to make sure everything is ready!  After strapping me to a fetal heart rate monitor to check the contractions and the baby's heartbeat she sent me to the Labor and Delivery building because the monitor in her office wasn't giving accurate readings.  Around 2pm, strapped to yet another monitor in the L&D triage, Trevor and I made small talk.  We talked about cool days for our baby to be born.  We decided to look up famous people born that weekend.  January 8th boasted some impressive folks- Stephen Hawking, David Bowie, Sarah Polley, cool quirky brilliant people.  We looked up January 7th just for fun.  And who did we find?  Nicolas Cage and Dustin "Screech" Diamond.  Ha!  (Insert irony here) Well good thing our kid probably wasn't coming that day.  (Clearly God was trying to find a way to redeem 1/7 and chose our son to do it)  Trevor and I talked about what we'd have for dinner that night, joked and laughed and just tried to pass the time.  I went down for an ultrasound to check fluid levels.  The tech had to stop 3 times to wait for my contractions to subside.  Hmm, they were feeling more intense...

After another exam and a 5 hour stay in triage, I was still at 3 cm, but feeling weird.  The nurse gave me an Ambien to help me sleep.  That Ambien is still sitting on our dresser in its wrapper and no it's not for sale and no I won't give it to you because that's wrong and illegal and the internet knows everything.  On our way out, I stumbled a bit in the midst of a contraction.  The nurse, who, in voice alone reminded me VERY much of Edie McClurg told me in her folksy "hiya" kind of way that she wouldn't be surprised to see me later that night again.  Trevor helped me back to the car.  Now here's where the story gets magical.  Apparently there is a leprechaun that lives in a pothole on Portage Road.  He is able to dilate pregnant women.  This is my only explanation, I am not a doctor.

We got back home around 5:30 and I was starting to feel sick.  I stood up, I laid down, nothing could ease the pain.  Finally, I put on some blue sweatpants of Trevor's and the Hello Kitty sweatshirt my mom got me in 9th grade.  When I opened that sweatshirt at age 15 I never thought it would be the outfit I'd travel to the hospital with to give birth.  Apropos I suppose since at that moment I felt like a little blubbery girl.  I got into a fetal position on my bed cradling a body pillow while my devoted, wonderful husband coached me through my breathing, gave me water and, trusty phone in hand, timed my extremely intense contractions.  For an hour and a half I laid there as the contractions got more intense and closer together.  Finally after one that seemed to last 8 years, I told Trevor in a shaky voice, "I think it's time to call the doctor."  He told the doctor that my contractions were now 3-4 minutes apart lasting 1-2 minutes.  He told me to come right in.

*Note- if you choose to use an OB/GYN practice with many doctors, be sure you make every attempt to meet them all and get to know them.  You won't know who's on call when you deliver.  If you don't you'll end up like me and meet the man who would deliver my son on the night he delivered my son.  But more on Dr. Lomax later...**

Trevor dropped me off at the door, I could barely stand but sitting didn't feel so hot either.  We slowly made our way to the elevator until I collapsed against a column in the lobby and a kindly Bronson staff member who I will call Mr. Awesome asked if we needed a wheelchair.  I mumbled something incoherently and Trevor said, "Umm yeah, we better."  Mr. Awesome wheeled one right over to us.  Trevor zipped me through the lobby as I writhed around in the chair.  Some lady who I will call Mrs. OHMYGODSHUTUPLADY chuckled and said, "Oh I know where you're going!  I did it many times myself."  If at that moment I could speak I would have yelled, "WANNA DO IT AGAIN FOR ME????  IF NOT SHUT UP AND GET OUT OF THE WAY!"

We made it upstairs, checked in.  They asked me to pee in a cup.  Do not ask me why.  Was it for a pregnancy test?  Is there anything at that moment that could be gleaned from my pee aside from the fact that a head was about to poke out of me?  Nurse Edie McClurg saw me go past in my wheelchair and said in her plucky Wisconsin-esque accent, "I knew I'd see you again tonight!"  "Oh really??" I wanted to yell.  Then why did you give me an Ambien thinking I could possibly sleep though this medieval torture currently happening in my uterus??"  So yes, I was that pregnant women who wanted to rip faces off of people, but only well meaning strangers.  Trevor made it through the entire process unscathed, I promise!

They got me a bed and had me change into a gown.  Bye bye Hello Kitty sweatshirt, thank you for your sweet face to take my mind off of the pain.  2 weeks earlier I found out I had tested positive for Group B strep, a bacteria that many women carry that poses no harmful side effects, but could be harmful for babies which meant that I'd need to get an IV of penicillin right away.  After a quick exam the nurse said, "You're at 7cm!!"  She was amazed.  I had gone from 3 to 7 cm in 2 hours.  Like I said, thank you Portage Road Dilating Leprechaun, you saved the day!

Things started moving quickly as I headed into transition labor.  They had to get the penicillin started.  Then the big question- "Do you know if you want an epidural?"  I think Trevor saw the look of pure panic and fear in my face.  He very calmly said, "She doesn't want one, but might be keeping her options open."  They told me if I wanted one it would have to be right away.  He turned to me, looked me right in the eyes and said, "I support you no matter what you decide, but I really think you can do it without one."  I just nodded.  My hero.

They wheeled me away to Delivery Room #9.  I remembered because it's Trevor's lucky number.  That must be a good sign.  By now it was around 7:30.  Me and my shadow AKA my IV tried standing through the contractions, then I got into a warm bath which helped a bit.  The nurse who was absolutely amazing remained calm and along with Trevor coached me and helped me.  Trevor stayed by my side the entire time reminding me to breathe.  She had me sit on the toilet to try a couple of practice pushes.  Don't worry, Jack wasn't delivered in the toilet.

I finally made it back to the bed for show time.  Dr. Lomax entered the room, a smooth talking Southern gentleman who was all business.  My kind of doctor.  I said, "Nice to meet you, I was supposed to be seeing you on Tuesday for a regular checkup."  Oh well, nothing like getting to know a guy by having him look up your lady parts.  I looked up at my nurse the way I imagine a wounded soldier looked up at Florence Nightingale and in a faint voice asked, "how much longer?"  The nurse assured me that I was moving at lightning speed.  Before I knew it, I was at 10cm and the pushing began.  So many women have told me that pushing was so great, that it felt good.  Let me be the first to call shenanigans on that one.  Pushing HURTS.  It's a different kind of pain than contractions, but make no mistake, it's not a walk in the park.  And it's not like in the movies.  I didn't sweat and scream and threaten to murder my husband.  Dr. Lomax praised my pushing.  I have always been an overachiever and certainly didn't leave it at the delivery room door.  I pushed like my life depended on it.  I pushed like crazy, I pushed and pushed so anxious and eager to meet my son, knowing full well that in a matter of minutes I would be sharing him with the world.  He was no longer my little secret nestled inside of me.  As I felt his body move slowly down and out from me, I was determined to not let those emotions prevent me from getting him swiftly and safely into this world.  After about 40 minutes of pushing, I felt a huge release and then heard the crying.  First from Jack and then from me.

I will say this about a drug free birth, and make no mistake, having gone through it, I do understand why women choose pain relief.  I went into this entirely open to any possibility but would I have another drug free birth?  Absolutely.  The intense wave of euphoria, the sheer rush of adrenaline, the overwhelming endorphin rush was something unlike anything I have ever experienced.  I couldn't have done it without Trevor.  When I heard Jack cry for the first time, I wept.  I blubbered.  Tears streamed down my cheeks.  I looked over at Trevor who was also crying.  I couldn't see my boy yet, I looked down and saw tiny fingers and toes waving in the air as the doctor unwrapped his umbilical cord which hung loosely around his neck.  I looked over at Trevor who cut the cord and within a few minutes they placed my baby boy, my son on my chest.  Tears fell from my cheeks onto his arms, his first bath.  I hugged him and stared into his face for the first time.  "Happy Birthday baby!"

5 lbs, 14 oz, 19 1/4" long.  No prize watermelon to be sure, but all mine.  My mom came in shortly after followed by Uncle Cris.  We hugged for the first time as equals, both fully aware of the change in our relationship.  We're both moms now.  We both understand on the deepest level possible what it feels like to love a little stranger unconditionally.

My new little family was wheeled to the recovery room.  My mom ran down to get us some dinner.  That 10am oatmeal was the last thing I had eaten.  She got me a turkey sandwich, it was the best meal of my life.

My life changed on January 7, 2011 at 11:21pm.  Not many milestones come that precise. So here we are, 10 days into the world, a brand new family.  I don't get much sleep but the sleep I do get is heavenly.  Jack is the best baby with the sweetest disposition, the loveliest smile and the brightest eyes.  In the wee small hours of the morning as I breastfeed him I talk to him and tell him about life.  I call him my little bird.  I am keenly aware of how fleeting these moments are and I try to treasure them.  When I look over bleary eyed and see Trevor changing his diaper at 4am talking sweetly to him I fall in love with him all over again.

I know how unbelievably, extraordinarily blessed I am, there's no other way to put it.  That's my birth story.  The story of the birth of our family and how with a lot of pain, the warmth and compassion of my husband and my trusty Hello Kitty sweatshirt, I became a mom.