Tag Archives: birth

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month– You Are Not Alone

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All these posts have been popping up on my Face Book newsfeed about October being the month in which we recognize and become aware of pregnancy and infant loss.

Which is kind of funny.

But not funny hah-hah.  Funny weird and karmic.

Because five years ago, in October, I lost a pregnancy.  It was in between having Jack and getting pregnant with Emily.

I purposely say I lost a pregnancy and not a baby.  Because it was early on–  only 10 weeks–  and I really didn’t think of it as a “baby”.  It was more or less a clump of cells.  And it didn’t grow the right way after it implanted in my uterus.  It was science, really.  But it was also heartbreaking.

I found out there was no heartbeat at the eight week “confirmation” appointment, when a tech stuck a wand up my lady parts after unsuccessfully trying to probe my flabby abdomen.

I’ll never forget her words, “Yeah, there’s nothing in there.”  She went off to find a doctor to confirm what she had already confirmed.  No baby.

It was an awful experience, and my husband had stayed home with Jack so I was all alone in the doctor’s office.  They put me in a chair to wait for a doctor, in a hallway where other pregnant women were wandering through for their own appointments.  I wept openly.  People stared openly.  After it was all said and done, I promptly switched OBGYNs so I would never have to go back to that place.

A flurry of blood tests and ultrasounds ensued over the next few days, to “confirm” that there was indeed no viable fetus in my swollen and nauseous belly.  It was exhausting and sad.  I cried.  Like, a lot.

No one had known I was pregnant other than my husband and best friend.  For some reason, I hadn’t wanted to tell anyone I was pregnant.  I’d been terribly sick and the combination of nausea and exhaustion led me to depression.  It was like my body was giving me a message that the pregnancy was not to be, and to be completely honest, I didn’t really bond with it.  Whatever “it” was.

So, I cried, but not because I was losing a baby.

I cried because I was really tired.  I cried because it was unfair that I had been so sick and my boobs had been so sore and it was all for naught.  I cried because I was pissed about having to pay the deductible on my insurance for emergency room visits and an operation because my body couldn’t even miscarry a baby properly, let alone carry one.

And that was the rub.

I felt like a failure.

I was embarrassed and angry with my body’s ineptitude to grow a human.

It sounds ridiculous, I know.  But after living in a certain shell of muscle, fat, water, and bone for 30-something years, I had grown into the assumption that I could expect certain things from my earthen vessel.  And when it failed me, I faltered.

Back then, when I lost this pregnancy, I didn’t want anyone to know.  I had to take a leave of absence from work for three weeks because my body wouldn’t stop bleeding, and my blood count dropped, and I could barely get out of bed.  No one other than my direct supervisor knew what was happening to me.  That was both comforting and isolating.  I thought to lie to people and tell them I had Lyme Disease, or mono, or a psychotic break–  anything would be less humiliating than admitting I’d had a miscarriage.

Furthermore, I did not want to see the look of pity in people’s eyes, and I did not know how I would respond when they offered words of condolence.  I didn’t know how to explain that I was not sad about losing a baby.  I was sad about my body failing.

Looking back on this experience, through the veil of time, I can see it was a very transformative time for me.  I learned some truly humbling lessons about myself, my body, and life.  I also learned about the strength of my family, the adoration of my husband, and the treasure of Jack’s presence in our lives.

I’m not ashamed to talk about my miscarriage anymore.  And even though that pregnancy never took the shape of a baby in my womb or mind, it left an indelible imprint on my heart as both a woman and a mom.

Women have all kinds of feelings about pregnancy losses.  None of those feelings are wrong, or better, or worse, or right.  They are all just feelings.

A friend of mine from work had been pregnant at the same time as me.  She was further along, and had her baby a few weeks after I finally “completed” my miscarriage.  I continued to pat and talk to her pregnant belly, and it felt fine to me, although she had confided in me that she was worried I would feel bad.  It’s a weird survivor’s guilt moms have around other moms.  But I was able to honestly reassure her that I felt nothing but joy for her.

A few weeks after that, she brought her new baby into work to visit.  A tidal wave of despair smacked me off my feet and I couldn’t even look at her baby.  It shocked me.  I ran to my office, locked the door, and bawled.  Fortunately, my friend is one of the most caring and understand people I know.  She got it.  And while she never held it against me, I’ve felt bad about that reaction to this day.

It just goes to show what a charged issue this is.  We sometimes have feelings about it we don’t even know we have, or that we could ever have.  I think part of this is our culture of multitasking and not really being aware at times, or suppressing and repressing intense emotions because we just don’t have time to deal with them.  I think another part of this is just the inherently unpredictable and infinite nature of grief.

I’ve known other women who have lost pregnancies and who have lost actual babies–  babies they have named and held in their arms and loved with their entire hearts.  I would never lump my miscarriage in with their losses.  I know I’ve glimpsed but a shadow of their pain, and yet, I feel a sort of camaraderie or sisterhood with these women.  My loss was real too.  It was different, but it was real.

Lots and lots and lots of women have miscarriages.

We are not alone.

And even after all these years, and all this processing, when I see those posts pop up on Face Book, I still feel some pretty intense feels.

It’s not a bad thing, though, because it lets me know I am not alone.  That I was never alone, and in some way that helps to retroactively repair the self-imposed pain and isolation I felt back then.

You’re not alone either.  If you would like to talk about your loss, please feel free to comment below.  I’d love to hear from you, and to be here for you.  xox.

I Feel Gross and Feeling Gross Feels Sad

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Let me preface this post by saying I have not slept well the past week, mostly due to the heat.

And birds.  OMFG.  Do people actually enjoy their cacophony?  Because I do not.  Especially not at four or five in the freaking morning.

Anyhoo.  I feel gross.

I wake puffy and bloated from baking in a witch’s oven all night long.  My skin is a shit show of heat rash and acne.  I can’t seem to find any make up that makes me not look old, creased, and fluffy.  Everything is either too white or too orange on my skin.

Normally I present an aura of “I feel great about myself and I am practicing acceptance for who, what, and where I am in the world.”

Most of the time it works, in a sort of “fake it till ya’ make it” kind of way.

Look.  I’m a decent-looking woman (who used to be beautiful but didn’t know it) and I’ve learned to love myself.  So, that’s cool.  I also realize I am not interested in overhauling my diet or starting a new exercise routine.  So, I figure, it is easier (and more genuine) to be happy with what I have than to complain about it without desire to make an actual change.

Because I have a daughter, I think it is super important to project self-love and esteem about myself.  She has no clue that I’m fat or that my skin is shitty, which is cool, and I don’t want her to start worrying about her own appearance.  I started feeling ashamed about my body as a four-year-old ballerina and it was confusing and icky.  Emily still feels awesome about herself, and I figure if I can implant that self esteem early on, she will be the better for it.

As for my son, I want him to see beauty as something all-inclusive and holistic.  I want him to understand that beauty is so much more than shiny lip gloss, tight buns, and perky boobs.  I believe staying positive about myself is important for Jack to see, as well as Emily.

Fortunately for me, my husband does not seem drawn to women who have the qualities of taking excessive care of themselves.  Case in point:  I came trundling out of the shower and he asked me what was wrong.  I rattled off my list of complaints about my stomach, my skin, and the heat.  He replied by grabbing my ass and asking if I was trying to turn him on.  Because it was working.

And, no.  He was not being ironic.

Bless his heart.

Where I work, a group of co-workers are obsessed with their weight, fitness, and diet.  Most of the time, I either ignore it, or feel good for them that they are doing stuff that feels good for themselves.  Chatter about wheat bellies or crossfit don’t usually phase me.

But lately, I’ve felt vulnerable about it.

Some of the younger women started taking diet pills to shed that extra whatever, and it bummed me out.  I felt sad about women not feeling more confident and happy in their own skin.

Then I started feeling unhappy in my own skin.

I wrote a post a few years ago about my stretch marks which ended up getting published over at the former Offbeat Families.  The post was about my journey towards self-acceptance and how I was going to stop obsessing about my weight.  A woman commented on the post, something along the lines of, “I think all this self-acceptance stuff is an excuse women use to let themselves go and to get out of exercise or grooming.”

Ok.  I see her point.  Our culture is pretty unhealthy.  The state I live in made number one for obesity, which is terrifying since I live in the smallest state in the country.

But self-acceptance has not been an excuse for me to “let myself go”.  I don’t think I have done that.  My wallet would also argue I have not let myself go based on the cash I put towards makeup and beauty products.

IMG_8005And while we are on the subject, does wearing makeup and dying my hair make me self-rejecting?  Because if that is the case, then I feel extra gross and fraudulent about myself.

I’ve struggled with my weight and body image for my entire life.  For my teens and twenties, I was an underweight dancer who thought she was fat.  I restricted food, practiced vegetarianism, and would only eat a small selection of foods I considered “allowed.”

In my late 20’s I went through a phase of exercising to the point of passing out.  I’d go to the gym and take three aerobic classes a day, or stay in the weight room until it closed at night.

When I met my husband, got married, had children and my body changed.  I went from fit and firm to curvy and soft.  I realized I needed to knock that eating disorder shit off if I wanted to have a stable relationship with another human besides myself.  I was happy in my relationship and life, and it helped me to feel more happy about myself.

Then I got pregnant and had children.  I went through a series of harsh emotions towards my body after having my first baby.  I was totally disgusted with myself, and frustrated I couldn’t lose the weight quickly enough.

Four years later, the miraculous birth of my nine and a half pound daughter in three pushes with zero pain relief altered my perception of my body.  My perception shifted from being annoyed with my extra curves, saggy boobs, and stretch marks, to feeling a sense of awe about what precisely my body had accomplished with both of my children, in terms of growing, birthing, and nurturing them with my breast milk.

I would find myself gently stroking my silver stretch marks in the dark, praying they would never fade.

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At this point, I am 30 pounds overweight.  I swear at least a third of that weight is postpartum boobage.  I eat healthily and drink tons of water.  I also love pizza and wine.  My blood pressure is low and I’ve never had a problem with cholesterol.  I don’t formally exercise like I used to, but I stay active, stretch daily, and walk as much as possible.  Since I am healthy, my doctor doesn’t hassle me about losing weight.

I’ve accepted this is my body.

Or so I think until I start to feel insecure and creeped out by people publicly and loudly dieting and weighing in all around me.  Since I am a heavier woman, I don’t think anyone would stop to think it would bother me in the slightest as someone recovered from years of disordered eating.

It’s not that I worry about going back to restricting, purging, or addictive exercise.  Frankly, I just do not have the energy to live like that anymore.  Plus, when I restrict I get really bitchy and bitchiness is not conducive to being an effective mother, wife, or social worker.

I also know if I did lose that 30 pounds, it wouldn’t make me “happy”.

I know this for a fact, because I have been skinny and being skinny did not make me happy.  It might feel nice to slip into a smaller size pair of pants, but feeling “nice” does not equal happiness, because it is a sensation balanced on the inner statement that “I am only good and I only feel good if I am thin.”  There can be no real happiness in that statement for me.  Maybe there is for you, but there is not for me.  I know because I’ve been there.  There was no satisfaction in it.  I’d never been so lonely or distraught.

In a reaction to all the weight loss frenzy at work, I decided not to weigh myself and see how it felt.  There is something reassuring to me about getting on the scale and seeing that my weight hasn’t changed.  But it can become obsessive.  I’ve gone though phases where I weigh myself ten or more times per day.  Before morning coffee.  After I pee.  After I shower. Before I poop.  After I get dressed.  It is exhausting, but most of the time these days, in my working-mommy-life I have no time for such narcissism.

Sometimes I get on the scale and if my weight has dropped a pound or two, I feel awesome all day.  So, I guess I haven’t come as far on that self acceptance shit as I’d like to think, if my mood and sense of self worth is still governed by numbers on a scale.

During the days I didn’t weigh myself, I felt fine.  I ate mindfully and no different than usual (except for those peanut m&m’s demanded by PMS).  Then I broke down and hopped on the scale.  I’d been feeling so fancy free, I thought for sure I’d lost some pounds.

But I didn’t.

I was five pounds heavier.

Suddenly, my mood crashed.  I looked in the mirror and called myself some awful names.

So, here we are.  I feel gross.  And I feel sad that I feel gross because it makes me feel fraudulent that I haven’t actually completed that goal of self-acceptance.

All this self-indulgent and neurotic rambling basically boils down to this:  it is a struggle.  Loving myself is a struggle.  Like anything else.  It is ongoing.  Sometimes it is genuine and strong, and sometimes it is fake and angry.  I would argue it is as arduous an undertaking as any crossfit session.

IMG_8006There’s a pitcher of minted lemon water in the fridge with my name on it.  And I bought some extra greens and beets at the market–  not because if I only eat lettuce I will lose that pesky five pounds, but because drinking naturally infused water and eating organic greens feels like a loving thing to do for myself.  I also bought goat cheese.  And chips.  Because that felt loving too.

I gave myself a mini-facial,went for a walk, and went to bed a bit early, so at least while I’m sitting with feeling gross and sad, I will maybe feel a little fresher and better rested.

It’s all a work in progress.

Maybe just because I have a day of feeling gross, it doesn’t mean all the progress I’ve made is lost. . .  What do you think?  Do you ever have gross days?  What do you do to show love for yourself?  

About the Time I Tried To Sell My Newborn On the Internet, Or, Postpartum Depression

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Jack's few-day-old feet

Jack’s few-day-old feet

I’ve ruined my life.

The thought thundered, endless as the tide, in my ears.

I’ve ruined my life.  I don’t know how to do this.  I just want this creature to go away.  

I was a week into my new existence as a new mom.  What was supposed to be the most precious time, full of adoration and cuddling a darling new baby, was turning out to be the darkest time of my life.

Upon birthing a tiny human, everything was suddenly different.  Routines in which I’d been comfortable for decades were altered by the nonstop needs of my son.  I couldn’t find time to brush my teeth or drink a cup of tea.  Being out of work and home alone with a baby felt isolating and scary.  I missed being alone with my husband.  I hadn’t slept in days, and couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to balance my checkbook.

I sat, at our dining room table, trying to make sense of the numbers in front of me– a chore I’d done hundreds of times in my adult life.  I knew the shapes in front of me were numbers, but there were black holes in my brain where I was supposed to know what to do with them.

In desperation, I looked up as my husband appeared in front of me with Jack in his arms.

“We have to sell the baby!”  I cried.  “I can’t make these numbers make sense.  We’ll never be able to afford life.  Do you think we can sell the baby?”

It is a fortunate thing I married a level-headed individual.  “We don’t have to sell the baby,” he said calmly.

My eyes were bleary from not sleeping as I looked at him.  He swayed with our son in his arms.  Why was Jack so peaceful with him?  I felt clueless when it came to comforting him.

Nursing was excruciating, not at all the tender and nurturing experience I fantasized about while pregnant.

In fact, nothing about motherhood was what I expected.

My pregnancy with Jack had been idyllic.  I had never been happier or more emotionally balanced.  I slept great and was barely uncomfortable, even at full-term.  In all honesty, I could have stayed pregnant with Jack forever, it was so awesome.

But now he was on the outside, and I felt devastated.

His cry sent me into tailspins of panic the likes of which I’d never known.  Somehow, my husband had the patience to rock and coo at our son in ways that calmed him, but instead of reassuring me that it was possible for us to have a content baby, it infuriated me.

It was like the two of them were conspiring to make me see what a failure I was as a mom.

“It must be nice being the fucking father of the year!” I sobbed, enraged that my husband was already a better parent than me.

It is another very fortunate thing I married someone who didn’t take this sleep-deprived insanity personally.

And we were so very sleep-deprived.  We hadn’t slept more than 45 consecutive minutes since my water broke at one a.m. and a 22 hour labor and birth ensued.  I was totally prepared to follow the advice of “sleep while the baby sleeps,” but Jack did not sleep for more than an hour at a time, and it was shocking how much he wanted to nurse.  My nipples were inflamed and raw.  This pain plus sleep-deprivation equaled the revulsion I felt towards this tiny being who never ceased caterwauling.

I felt a despair at being a new mom and it was shameful.  Fury grew as I internalized it.

I never wanted to hurt my baby.  Never.  I did adore him.  I thought he was the most beautiful baby I’d ever seen.  But sometimes when I couldn’t get him to stop crying, I just kind of wanted to open up the window and quietly slip him out.

I felt like the shittiest person in the world for feeling these awful feelings, hence my desire of looking into selling Jack on the internet, which at the time seemed like a totally plausible epiphany.

Postpartum depression is a complex combination of factors.  As a social worker, I could give you a bunch of clinical jargon and criteria.  But I’d rather talk to you as a mom who has been the fuck through it.

For me, a hormonal roller coaster met my history of anxiety and depression, acute sleep-deprivation, and the result was a sense of epic failure.  Though I have no evidence to back it up, I also believe having pain meds during my labor complicated my recovery and was an impediment to successful initiation of breastfeeding.  The poor breastfeeding relationship fed insecurity, and deepened my sense of failure.

Motherhood seemed a trap in which I had ensnared myself and my husband.

Nothing prepared me for motherhood.  I had worked with children for over 15 years, but nothing prepared me for the exhausting onslaught of new responsibilities.  Jack was what you would call a “high-needs” baby.  He wanted constant holding, needed lots of soothing, and was incredibly alert.  Meeting the needs of this kid while still recovering from birthing him was intense.

I really can’t over-state how fucking miserable sleep-deprivation is.  I’m not talking about pulling an all nighter, staying out partying until 3 a.m., or having an occasional bout of insomnia.  I’m talking about not sleeping for days and nights on end, to the point where your nerves are so frazzled if you actually got a couple hours in which to sleep you would be too anxious to even put your head down.

Sleep-deprivation has been used as a form of torture, and I learned first hand why it is so effective.

It was like I could hear Jack crying, even when he wasn’t, and it would startle me out of my skin, flood me with anxiety.  I’m sure this hyper-nervous state also did nothing to help my milk supply, which in turn frustrated my ever-hungry baby.

Two weeks after Jack was born, my husband had to return to work.  He had really been holding me up through this disaster we were calling- air quote- parenthood, and I dreaded him leaving us, even for a few hours.

I paced around the house and refused to hold Jack.  It pains the deepest core in me to admit this, but I wouldn’t even look at my beautiful, new boy that morning.  I wouldn’t nurse him.  As luck would have it (not) I had burned off half my areola in an unfortunate attempt at using my breast pump, so I had no pumped milk for the critter.  My husband had to mix and give him a bottle of formula.  Jack guzzled it down in breathtaking cooperation, but I sank deeper into the abyss of self-hatred.

I want to note this intense refusal to parent my son lasted a few hours at most, but it was awful.  I still feel guilty when I remember turning away from Jack to lie on the couch, my breasts engorged and soaking the front of my tee shirt.

Jack was never alone, my husband or other family held him, and I know that connection to other humans was really important.  I can’t help but think of other women who don’t have this kind of support network, who suffer without help, and who’s babies claim the unfortunate side effects of maternal depression.

Jack and I were lucky.

Of course my husband could not leave us like that.  Something had to be done, so he basically shoved me into an intensive therapy program where I went, with Jack, every day for two weeks.  It was almost immediately helpful.

There was a poster on the wall that said something like, “It isn’t always about stopping your baby’s crying, but learning to tolerate it.”  Seeing that poster was an “ah-ha!” moment for me.  I slowly learned to stop taking it so personally when Jack was crying, as long as I was attending to his needs and he was safe, warm, fed, and in dry clothes.

I saw a psychiatrist and was started on a very low dose of an SSRI, considered safe and compatible with breastfeeding.  Jack and I were evaluated by a competent lactation consultant who diagnosed a tongue tie in him and mastitis in me.  Once we got these issues treated, we were on track with our nursing, and my self esteem soared each time I put him to my breast without pain.

I participated in group therapy with other women and their newborns and learned I was far from the only woman experiencing this crazy confusion.

I also learned it didn’t make any of us bad mothers.

Medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy went a long way, but another thing that really helped was learning to sleep in shifts with my husband.  We altered our schedules so I would go to bed each night from seven to midnight.  If Jack needed to be fed during this time, my husband would give him a bottle, which allowed me to get at least a five hour chunk of sleep.  Then he would bring Jack to me and I would nurse him whenever he woke for the rest of the night.  This allowed my husband to get a chunk of sleep before he had to get up and go to work the next day.

It was amazing what a few hours of sleep did for all of us.  Within a month of Jack’s birth, we had gotten into a routine that was not altogether convenient, but did work.  I continued to attend weekly therapy, which helped me keep my thoughts in check, and also helped me feel supported and connected.

A couple other things were really helpful for my growth as a new mom.  At the suggestion of my best friend, who’s daughter was three months old at the time, we signed up together for a baby yoga class.  It was a fun way to interact with our babies, and was great for getting us out of the house and among other new moms.

I also took Jack to an infant massage class, and learned some new ways of bonding with him.  Since it turned out Jack had reflux and was a bit colicky, massage was a great way of comforting him when he was uncomfortable, and proved to me that I could meet the needs of my child.

In this process of childbirth, postpartum depression, treatment and recovery, I learned many women share a similar experience.  My depressed brain drowned me in the belief that I was the only shitty person who had ever thought she’d ruined her life and would never learn how to be a good mom.  The truth is, none of us are shitty, and many of us struggle.  It isn’t an easy world in which to be a mom, what with all the constant judgement, scrutiny, and pressure to balance everything and look sleek and sultry doing it.

And experiencing postpartum depression does not mean we stop loving our babies or love them less for even one second.

The good news is we are getting better at recognizing and treating postpartum depression and anxiety.  The bad news is there are still tons of women who struggle and feel too stigmatized by cultural notions of mental illness or ideas of what makes a “good” mom.

In retrospect, I could be pissed with the nurses who breezed in and out of my hospital room while I sobbed with newborn Jack in my arms as depression stole my soul mere hours after his birth.  Or I could hold a grudge with the crappy lactation consult who gave me about four seconds of her time and didn’t recognize Jack’s tongue tie.

I could berate our shitty system of managed care that has women pop out babies and then tosses them out of the hospital in a remarkably short time span.

And I could rant about how in this country, it is a crime against the human family that women are pushed back into the work force to support their families merely weeks after giving birth, when nursing relationships are barely established.

I could grieve those first few days I “lost” with Jack.

But I’m not going to go there.  Not today.

Instead, I’d like to focus on the small victory of all those who championed me through that dark chapter of my life.  I’d like to celebrate all I learned about myself, motherhood, and the strength of my family at this time, and the fact I birthed another baby and did not have even the slightest twinge of PPD with her.

I’d like to share this story in hopes that it might light someone else’s way.

Finally, I’d like to pat myself on the back for not selling my baby on the internet, tempting as the idea seemed at the time.

There’s hope.  Don’t be ashamed.  Get help.  Know you can and will do it because there is nothing in the universe quite as strong as a mother.  And please don’t sell your baby.

It does get better.  We have not ruined our lives.

I’d love to hear from you. . .  Have you experienced PPD?  How did it affect you and your family?  What did you learn?  What was helpful?  What advice would you give a new mom who is depressed?

If you or someone you love are struggling with emotional issues beyond the “baby blues,” please talk to your doctor today and learn what is available in your area for help and support.  

Hearts

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IMG_7220The morning my son returned to school after February vacation, I opened up his backpack to clean it out.  Among the stale crumbs, random legos, and broken pencils, I found a handmade card.

It was a Valentine.  On the front there was a big heart, colored in a pastel rainbow.  It read “To Jayla”.

Puzzled, I opened up the card to find out how my seven-year-old son had mistakenly gotten this card.

Inside, in neat, red pen, it read:

Dear Jayla.  Will you be my Valentine?  I love you, but I now know you think I am a jerk.  I think you are butifull and prity.  You are the best girl in the world.  I love you.  Love, Jack.   

On the opposite side from the writing, there was a drawing of a blonde, little girl in a heart.  My own heart skipped a beat, as I realized Jack made this card.

For a girl!

Who he loves!

And who thinks he is a jerk?!?

WHAAAATTTT???!!!

Did I mention my kid is seven?

A mix of emotions flooded me.

The obvious work and care Jack had taken with this card initially impressed and touched me.  I was also a little annoyed and slightly jealous that his unsent card to Jayla was nicer than the card he made his own mother.

IMG_7137I felt a little sad for my little boy who had been rejected by this Jayla, whoever she was.

And why does this chick think my son is a jerk?  Can we talk about that?  I mean, he can be aggressive and obnoxious at home, but to my knowledge, he has never been anything other than well-behaved and “normal” outside our home.  Jack is almost always the youngest kid in his class at school, and as such, sometimes he struggles with knowing when enough is enough and we have gotten comments from his teachers that sometimes he is overly “social.”

But no one has ever accused my kid of being a jerk, except possibly his father and me, when Jack is well into his fourth hour of irascible behavior on the weekend.

So, again, why does this girl think Jack is a jerk?  Is he being crappy to people?  Do I need to have a talk with my seven-year-old about consent and how he treats women?  OK, I guess it is never too early for that, so I’ll put it on my list of things to do, right after sorting through the markers, cleaning out the crud on the bottom of the kitchen sink, and changing the sheets.

Or is My baby boy the victim of a bad relationship? Because let’s face it, girls can be pretty mean.

I stood holding the card, then placed it on the counter and finished cleaning out Jack’s backpack.

Jack was in the living room, putting on shoes for school, watching Yoda Chronicles, or some other Star Wars cartoon.  He needed his hair brushed.  He was wearing “cozy” sweatpants and one of his red shirts with a whimsical Christmas picture on it.  He just seemed so young, innocent, guileless.

Where the hell did the impetus for this poignant card come from?

Does my small boy have a private life about which I am totally clueless?

This query led to a sense of guilt for being a working mom, and for spending so much time away from my children.  As well as I think I know them, maybe I don’t know them at all.

“Jack,” I called.  “Who is Jayla?”

“I have no idea!” he screamed and covered his face with a pillow.  I fought between wanting to give my kid some dignified privacy, and the urge to know what the hell was going on in his life.  Aren’t responsible parents supposed to be involved?

I pushed forward.

“Well, it looks like you made a Valentine for her?”

He rushed at me, head butted me, and grabbed the card.  “Why would someone think you are a jerk, Jack?”  I asked, feeling every ounce the nosey, awkward mother, while also recognizing the irony in my question in light of his head butt.

“Because I am a jerk,” Jack said.  He disappeared the card into his room, then came back out.  Did he look sheepish?

“Jackie, you’re not a jerk.” I said.

“Yes I am.”

“Well do you want a hug?”

“Not really,” he said, but sidled up to me and leaned into me as I put my arms around him anyway.  We left it at that, and I took him to school.

When I was pregnant with Jack, someone told me that, as a mom, you grow another heart.

It is true, and pretty incredible, if you think of it.  You literally grow another person from scratch, with not only their heart, but all their other internal organs, and every hair on their head.  And while you are doing that, you grow this new heart of your own, inside of yourself.

As a mom, your new heart is enlarged, constantly working overtime, especially prone to attack and breakage.

As I drove off from Jack’s school, I began to worry about Jack’s sense of himself.  Does he really feel he is a jerk?  At seven years old?

What is the world coming to?  And how do I fix this?

Maybe in the end, this bothered me most.  My husband and I strive to raise our children to be independent, confident, and proud of good choices.  For the most part, I feel we have been successful, as evidenced by our children’s strong wills and creativity.

We also have structure and consequences for poor choices.  Jack gets “in trouble” at home almost daily for his surly temperament and typical sibling nastiness towards his little sister.  But I never thought of this as anything other than typical, or that our responses to his behavior could be affecting our son’s self esteem.

Jack is a highly sensitive child, there is no doubt in my mind about that.  He has always been sensitive to any change in his routine, textures, and the emotions of others.  But his words on the card to Jayla (whoever she may be) revealed a totally new, introspective, tender side of my kid.  At SEVEN!  As thankful as I am for that, it also makes me freak out a bit.  It scares me that he could be hurt, that at the young age of seven he already takes things so seriously.  It also worries me that as a working mom, as hard as I try to be involved in my children’s lives, it might not be enough.  And as innocent as I try to keep my kids, it may be futile in this world where they seem to be growing up way too quickly.

It also makes me realize how difficult it can be as a parent to communicate with my children about things I feel are really important–  self esteem, respect, kindness, and boundaries–  in a rational, relatable ways that aren’t going to freak them out or push them away.

I have to take a second and recognize I might be waaayyy overthinking an innocent and sweet gesture on Jack’s part.  This may be something about which I laugh hysterically at a later date (kind of like how I freaked out when Jack was three, and watched 101 Dalmatians for the first time, and I feared he had been scarred for life because I exposed him to a maniacal chain-smoker who constantly called people “idiots” and wanted to butcher puppies).

I realize I am also resorting to some primitive ego defenses of rationalization and intellectualization, or at least Freud would say so. But motherhood is nothing if not primal.  Maybe the most primitive thing we do on this earth.

You grow another heart.  

Then that heart leaps out of your body and learns how to draw and color hearts of his own.

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When Words Fail Me– Happy Birthday, Daughter

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The day Emily was born was without a doubt the best day of my life, and the day I would chose to relive, if given a chance.

After an uncomfortable pregnancy, birthing her was the most invigorating experience, and the closest I have ever felt to euphoria.  I had gone into the hospital to be induced, but Emily surprised us all by deciding to make her grand entrance before the induction even started!

She arrived in a gush of fluid, after 45 minutes of excruciating labor, and three pushes.

I’ll never forget the moment she was placed in my arms. It was such a surprise she was out of me, and I was looking at her loveliness.  She was so placid, peeking around with huge, round eyes.  She had a face as luminous as the moon, but she was pink as a little piggy.

That was my first impression of my daughter, as I nuzzled her warm body against my chest-she was a delightful, pink piglet.

 

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Because her birth was so fast, there had been no time for any pain medication, let alone an epidural. The rush of endorphins, adrenaline, and oxytocin left me feeling like I summited Mount Everest and made it safely back to base camp.

This hormonal high was also a surprise to me.  My induction with my son had been protracted and so painful and I’d sworn I would never be induced again.  However the epidural I had while birthing him allowed for a peaceful and lovely birth.  I’d fully expected that an epidural was in my birth plan with Emily due to the fact I was being induced again (something I would never wish on my worst enemy, but opted for in this case for a variety of reasons).

It was an amazing gift that she came so fast, and with no need for pain meds.  Don’t get me wrong; had I labored for longer, I am sure I would have begged for medication.  Contractions are no joke, especially during transition when they are so fast and hard.  I tip my cap to women who labor for hours and hours al naturale.  The fact that my body allowed me to have this experience is one of the greatest of my life.  My head was completely clear after Emily’s birth.  I was able to get right up and walk around, bathe, and tend to Emily.  I also believe that not having pain meds or epidural helped me initiate breastfeeding more successfully, and kept the postpartum depression at bay.  So, while it is true there is no official “award” for having a natural birth, there was definitely a huge reward in it for me, and one I never expected.

Another surprise was Emily’s healthy weight of nine and a half pounds.  I had thought the ease of her birth meant she was a tiny peanut, so I was shocked when she weighed in as such a little pork chop.  I always tell women who are afraid of birthing, or afraid they have been “cursed with a big  baby,” that giving birth to a larger than “average” baby in no sweat.    Birth is what our bodies are meant for, and Emily’s birth gave me a whole new admiration for and confidence in my own body.  

Emily is turning three.  At 5:58 in the morning, she will have completed yet another cosmic revolution around the sun.

We have spent over a thousand days and nights together now, yet she continues to surprise me as much as she did on that day she was born.  I look at her, awed by her fierce determination, vivid spirit, and wild humor.  I watch the light get tangled up in her amber curls and words fail me.

Words for how much I love my children have not yet been invented.  I could say it over and over again, and it still would not accurately capture what it really is.  So, for now, just happy birthday to my little girl.  My daughter.

How’s that for a sentence?

Life gave me a daughter.  And she is turning three.

Magic, Biology, and Birth Stories

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My son is turning seven.

Every year, I wax poetic and thoughtful regarding the few days leading up to his birth, the events of going into labor, and the actual birthing of him.  My pregnancy with Jack was idyllic.  I tell people I could have stayed pregnant with him forever.  I felt great physically, mentally, and emotionally.  It might have been one of the happiest periods of my life.

Anyhoo, last year, on the eve of his birth, I told Jack the story of his arrival into the world.  I was thinking of telling him his birth story again, and how I would tell it this year.

The day prior to your birth, I went to the doctor.  She examined me and said, “Nothing to see here; move along.”  She assured it would be another two weeks, probably.  That was fine, because you weren’t due for another two weeks anyway.  

I went to work, worked a full day, and went out to dinner with my Daddy.  We had pizza and fruit at Whole Foods, then came home.  I chilled in our air conditioned bed room and fell asleep.  Around one a.m., I woke to pee.  Upon returning from the bathroom, I felt a little pop and sploosh!  I poked your daddy.  “Uh, honey?  I’m fine, but I think my water just broke,” I said calmly.  

At this part in the story, I paused.  Jack would likely ask what it meant that my water broke.  I thought of explaining to him that while a baby is growing in a mama’s tummy, it floats in a bubble of watery fluid that helps to keep baby safe and warm.

Of course Jack would want to know how a baby breathes in there, so I thought about explaining to him that a baby doesn’t need to breathe when he is the mama’s tummy.  There is a magical cord that connects baby to mama and it does all the work of breathing for the baby.

Wait.  Should I use the word magical?  I mean, it is scientific and biological, not really magical, right?

I thought of how I would describe the umbilical cord as an important link between the mom and baby, how it feeds and beats for the baby.  I thought of how he grew inside of me, how my body fabricated each and every hair on his head, all the cells in his organs, and even the big, imaginative brain in his head.  Sure, my husband made a genetic deposit, but I was the one who invested in this endeavor, and returned with interest, an eight pound miracle.

The next morning, we took a long walk, and then we went to the hospital so you could be born.  You took your time coming out, and it was way past dinner time when I finally held you in my arms.  Seeing your face for the first time was the most amazing moment of my life, and I cried because I was so happy.  You snuggled on my chest and got nice and warm, and then you had your first meal of mama milk.  

Jack’s birth was extremely peaceful, despite the fact my contractions had not started on their own 12 hours after my water broke, so we had to go to the hospital and be induced.  While I would not wish an induction and epidural on my worst enemy, it was still a remarkable and wonderful experience I would relive in a heart beat.  After laboring for 12 hours and pushing for another two, Jack was out with us.  My husband cut the umbilical cord.

It is definitely magical.  There might not even be anything that is more magical.

November 16th- To My Daughter

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Nothing in my life compares to the surge of delight I felt when you were placed in my arms for the first time.  I remember it with clearness I pray never fades.  You were pink as a piglet, and slippery with a thick coat of vernix from your time under my ribs.

Wildest dreams pale in comparison to that ecstatic moment.

We gazed at one another.  You squinted as dawn poured into our labor and delivery room.

5:58 a.m.

Your birth was fast and easy.  You barreled out into the world after less than an hour of active labor, and three massive pushes.  I felt you slip out of me, peered up between my legs, and gasped in surprise at the wriggling pink baby lying at my feet.

“Oh,” I remember sighing.  “She’s here!”

Your face was perfectly round, luminous as a pearl.  My treasure.

The cord had been wound around your neck twice, but it was of no concern.  After the doctor unravelled you, I reached out, clutching you to my bare chest as nurses covered us with warm blankets.

Since there had been no time for anesthesia of any kind, your birth was completely unmedicated and natural, and left me with a surge of oxytocin, adrenaline, and endorphins.  All those hormones created a euphoria the likes of which I’d never felt.  Summiting Mt. Everest could not have thrilled me more.

I was shocked to learn that after such an uncomplicated and nearly painless birth you tipped the scales at nine pounds seven ounces!  “What a little pork chop!” your father declared.

I nursed you and then you were whisked away to be bathed and examined while I had a shower and something to eat.  I knew you were with your daddy in his proud and watchful care, but I could not wait to have you back, to hold and cuddle you.

I never tire of telling your birth story, as I never tire of telling your brother’s birth story.  In my mind, they are the two greatest tales, with epic happy endings that are really beginnings.

Since that early morning when you burst into my arms, we have travelled around the sun two times.

You have gained 21 pounds, and grown many inches.  You have learned many things in your exploration of the world.  You have distinct preferences which you do not hesitate to make known.

You have a laugh that could bewitch an ogre.

At two, you love Elmo and Winnie the Pooh, and ask for them by name.  You “woof” ecstatically each and every time you see a dog.  The elephants are your favorite animal at the zoo.  You like to watch them get their bath, and your curiosity at the way they suck up water into their trunks from the zookeeper’s hose is worth every cent of our zoo membership.

Your favorite song is Baby Beluga, which I sing to you every night. We have an illustrated book of the song, which we read often.  Today, we took you to an aquarium to see Beluga whales for the first time, and you danced before them, calling, “Beegah, beegah, beegah!”

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You are an early bird.  It is as though your early morning birth foretold these many mornings when you rise before the sun.  Since, you still sleep in a little crib right next to me, you are the first sight, sound, and sensation I experience each morning as you stand in your crib, pat my face with your cool little hand, and call out, “Mama.”

When our day is done, I slip into my bed, next to yours, and fall asleep to the gentle rhythm of your breath.

Your physicality is relentless.  You love to run and climb and jump on the playground, sometimes scaring me with your daring.  You are tough and brave.  I am so proud of your strength, but also of the tenderness you show towards your baby dolls and stuffed animals when you play on the living room floor.

When I was pregnant with you, the word that constantly came to mind was “delight.”  Although I did not yet know you, your essence was delightful.  And so you are a delightful little human.

The word that comes to mind when I think of being your mom is surrender.  Being your mom has been an experience of true and blissful surrender.  When I opened my arms to you that first morning, I opened my life in ways I never would have expected.

It would be disingenuous to say every day has been perfect, but I am so thankful for every moment you have allowed me to hold you, nurse you, sing to you, and play with you.

In some ways, your second birthday marks the end of a chapter.

Sweet, placid baby days are behind you.  The days ahead will be filled with love and laughter, but also with challenges as you assert yourself in the world.  These can be difficult and tiring times for both parent and child, but I do feel our first two years together have given us a remarkable start on this journey as mother and daughter.

I heard a lullaby that brought tears to my eyes because it made me think of you.  Here are some of the lyrics:  “You took your first breath, and you took mine away. . .  Heaven and earth full of wonders to see, the greatest of all is right here with me.  There was a dream I once wished on a star, but now you’re right here in my arms.”

Happy birthday little girl.

Ready, Set, NO

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My daughter turns two tomorrow.

I’m.

Not.

Ready.

But it’s gonna’ happen anyway, because, that’s life.

My BFF and I had our first children within three months of each other.  So, we’ve been blessed to go through a lot of milestones together for the first time.  With every child’s birthday, one of us will ask the other, “How do you feel about your kiddo turning X?  I mean, this birthday seems like such a big one!”

We did it when they turned one, and two, and three, and four, etc.  Every birthday seems such a turning point.  The end of infancy.  The beginning of toddlerhood.  The introduction of potty training.  The birthday before pre school.  The birthday before kindergarten.  Every birthday holds such monumental significance, for us, the mother as well as for our baby.

But this birthday. . .

My daughter’s second birthday looms over me.

She is my last baby, and turning two marks the end of her babyhood and beginning of her ‘terrible twos’.  Not that I believe my daughter will be terrible, but like every other toddler in the world, she will start to assert her independence, have tantrums, and test limits.

Gone are those baby days that smelled of powder, strained sweet potatoes, and Dreft.  Numbered are the days I can carry her on my hip, nurse her to sleep, or nibble her toes.

I ponder this existential limbo in the few moments I have with her at the very end of the day, when we lie together at bedtime.  Sometimes, I sing to her, but more often than not, I just lie there quietly gazing into her hazel eyes, twirling a fine, flaxen curl around my finger until she bats my hand away.

I remind myself to stay in the moment, not to worry about the future, or long for the past.  Sometimes, I can do it, and it feels really good to just be there.  Other times, I just go completely numb from despair at the relentless march of time.

It seems unfair, but that’s life.

I try not to calculate all the minutes I am away from my children, weigh them against the moments we do have, and subtract those times from the times when we have mega-unenjoyable-frustration, and at the very end wonder what is left.  I try to dwell on quality and not quantity, but I can’t escape the sense that I am being robbed.

In the end, there will be cupcakes.  We will sing and she will blow out two candles.  The day will pass and then another, and I will grow accustomed to saying, “my daughter is two” when people ask.  I will help her navigate the world, celebrate toddler-hood, and love her a little more every day.

It will look graceful.

But I’ll never be ready for her to stop being my baby.

Reflecting On The Day You Were Born As You Turn Six

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Amniotic fluid leaked to my ankles

while I stood by the bay,

posing in the sun for your father to take photos of us,

my hands on the belly you had made me in 38 weeks.

I planned to wear the black, comfy pants to the hospital,

but smiling widely at the camera,

squinting in the August sun,

I knew I would have to change, for the relentless flow,

the ebbing tide of birth upon us.

Walking through mild pangs,

I had time for vanity- a hair-do, make-up,

and play for the camera

before the grand costume change of becoming your mom.

Stretching in the sun, like a fat seal for photos,

wearing my tight white camisole stretched over you,

and those black, comfy pants I’d planned to wear, 

I had no clue.

My fingers perched on the belly of you,

the flesh stretched taut,

the protracted navel with which I’d grown familiar,

the stretch marks like fire licking the lowest region of my abdomen.

My fingers perched on the belly of you,

my center of gravity,

which I knew was changing with every drip and gush of salty liquid,

flowing down my thighs.

 

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Jack turns six today.  Thank you for letting me share this poem with you.  I wanted to edit it a little more, but life is interfering at the moment, so I am posting it as is.  

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