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Mindfulness

Bear Traps, Chinese Finger Cuffs and Motherhood

There are a million and one metaphors I could use to portal into this topic. But the one that is most vivid is a bear stuck in some sort of a paw trap in the woods. I have no idea if paw traps exist, or if they are used on bears, but bear (oy vey…) with me.

You know how this goes. The trap locks down on aforementioned bear’s paw and bear startles and struggles, tries to get away. In so doing, she keeps injuring and re-injuring her paw in the sharp metal confines of the trap. Finally, she surrenders, relaxes, submits to reality. And the paw, still throbbing and sore, feels better. The bear, still trapped, feels a little less terrified and takes stock.

        Here I am. Now what?

Now I’m going to compare motherhood to being stuck in a bear trap.

There are many moments a day when I struggle against some known or unknown force and then finally submit and feel both defeat and relief.

I have a bushel of things to do this morning—meal planning, grocery shopping, nanny-share hunting, thyroid lab procuring, prescription filling and blog writing. This long list, in and of itself, is a problem. Some days, I do manage to keep things more simple and take on less. But let’s face it, I’m a creature of the here and now, and we’re pretty big on dodging traffic between appointments while checking our voicemail and sucking down a latte.

Since I’ve got this big list and one child who is off to school for the next 3 and a half hours, I assess my other wild card—baby Cal—to get a sense for how to organize the morning. It’s nap time, and I will triumph. I’ll put Cal down for his nap and get the meal planning and shopping list ready during that sweet 40 minute reprieve.

I do the song and dance (literally) and place Cal down for the nap. He won’t have it. I try again with a modified song and dance (literally) and still no. I could leave him to cry for a few minutes—sometimes he can put himself to sleep quickly this way, but I decide that it’s too much for me this morning, and I relent. Though I know he’s not hungry, I settle into bed and give him another long nurse. I hold his pudgy, white hand. And tip my head back against the wall and close my eyes. The bear takes stock. Her paw hurts less.

The other metaphor that was in contention this morning was that of a Chinese finger cuff. You know the little, cheapy tubes you can win at seedy carnivals—they’re woven out of contrasting strips of wood? bamboo? When you shove both your fingers in and try to pull them out, the cuff stretches and narrows and traps your fingers inside.

Photo by Casey Fleser

The way to get out of this particular pickle is, once again, to stop trying to struggle out of it. If you move your fingers towards each other, the cuff relaxes and voila! you’re free.

Now I’m going to compare motherhood to struggling out of a Chinese finger cuff.

Thirty five million times a day, I have something that I need or want 4 year old Jo to do. About thirty five million minus five times a day, Jo doesn’t want to do that thing. It is exhausting and frustrating for both of us.

I’ve been finding, thanks to a Hand in Hand Parenting class, that Jo is often a lot more cooperative when he feels connected to me. In other words, if I can put all the groceries and the baby down and turn off whatever is boiling over on the stove and get closer to Jo and look in his eyes and play with him for a few minutes or ask him what’s going on, things after that point go better. Not always, but often.

This morning we had 15 minutes to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth and pack lunch before his carpool got here to take him to pre-school. We only had 15 minutes because I strategically took 7 minutes to send various cars and animals rocketing down a track he had built on our stairs in the hopes that this connection would see us through the morning gauntlet. It sort of did.

I still wound up restraining him from throwing cashews in the kitchen that he didn’t want to eat and the toothbrushing was a lengthier negotiation than I wanted. Finally, the car arrived to whisk him off to school. I wanted nothing more than to toss him inside and run for my life. Instead, he hid behind my legs and willed his body to weigh 80 extra pounds, his little shoes sinking into our patio like a rusty anchor. At this moment, I wanted to say, through gritted teeth, with all the authority and domineering I could muster, “Jo, you have to let go, its time to get in the car.”

She struggles to pull her fingers apart, and the Chinese finger cuff wraps its grip even tighter.

Instead, I surrendered. Got down, looked in his eyes and said, “Are you feeling shy?” “Yes,” he said. Connection? Check.

He shuffled those 80 lb feet all the way to the car and got inside like a champ.

While the motherhood-as-trap metaphor sounds defeatist and sad, it also feels deeply true. There are so many moments that I just want to use my free will and strength and smarts to muscle through. Often when I do this, there is so much collateral damage in the form of tantrums and resistance that it’s really not worth it. But there are some days when I just really, really want to run free. Fast and unencumbered.

And then I take stock.

       Here I am.

I have 2 children. That means that there is a built in, hour by hour surrender to my days. Sometimes, that surrender feels like giving up. Other times, it feels old and true and wise. I want less struggle. I want more connection. But I also want freedom.

       Now what?

Some relief, courtesy of big pharma

Well things are leveling out around here. Sort of.

I *might* be finding a new Zoloft dosage that works better for my new friend, Anxiety, who has decided to hop on the post-partum emotions bandwagon. It’s only been a few days at the new dosage, and it’ll take a few weeks for things to level out.

We’re still not out of the woods yet, but I actually experienced what it is like to live in the body of a normal, non-anxious person for two nights in a row, thanks to a bit of Lorazepam. I’m always nervous to take a new pharmaceutical, but my friend C nudged me to give it a try, after two horrible mornings of feeling what can only be described as hyper-hell-restless-everywhere syndrome. In the early morning, between 5 and 6 when AJ would bring Cal up for his early morning feed, my body would come online in a bunch of worried, jittery bursts that kept firing over and over and over. As if my whole self was trying to jump/stretch out of my body. And then I’d spend the next several hours reminding myself that I was not dying and that I and my family are all perfectly okay and even doing well.

So an hour after I took the first wee, white circle of Lorazepam, my entire self heaved a huge deep sigh. Relief. I didn’t realize how long my body had been feeling this way until I had my first real break. I’ve been walking around with this tight, fearful, panicked body every day for the last few weeks. And it has been draining as hell.

Last night, after I took my new favorite drug, I just laid on the couch and soaked in the feeling. No aching limbs. No tightness anywhere. Just a tired lady on the couch at 9 pm. Oh, the joy of feeling like a regular person.

Photo by Jorbasa
If I were a cat with a small, wicker ottoman, this is what I would look like after taking my Lorazepam.  Photo by Jorbasa

I feel somewhat guilty for being reliant on prescription medication for my basic sense of wellness these days, but that guilt can just shove it. There will be a time and place when I have more time and resources to try other things. Life is long. Maybe in a few months or a couple years, I’ll be feeling great with an occasional therapy session and the drops of some horrendous tasting tincture. For now, though, I need the big guns, and I’m gonna use them.

Anxietyville USA

It’s been so touch and go around here that when I wrote this post last week, I decided to focus on my recent experience of depression. I just didn’t have enough time to go into the whole kit and caboodle. The truth is, a couple weeks after starting the Zoloft, I found myself smack dab in the middle of Anxietyville USA. The last time I visited anxiety-town was during that special time in Jo’s 4th/5th month of life that I often refer to as “The Downfall.”

Like then, the anxiety has had a consistent and tight grip. The layer of my body beneath my skin and above my muscles is always tense and on alert, particularly in my arms and face.

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Photo by arbyreed

My mind and body feel as though things are always about 13 seconds away from complete catastrophe, even if I’m just strollering baby C up the sidewalk while Jo runs and whollops everything he passes with a stick he found.

Anxiety. A real dream come true, let me tell you.

When it first crept in, I thought it was because I’d had a couple nights of sort of crappy sleep and because baby C started doing the old 40 minute napping routine that Jo started doing just before The Downfall. (Thanks to my sister-in-law, I’ve learned that this whole 40 minute thing is a Thing commonly referred to on blogs and parent forums as “the 45 minute nap intruder.”)

Desperate to reign in the anxiety, I made a plan to get more sleep (Ambien) and to simplify my daily routine (put the cloth diapers on hold and supplement with formula a bit if necessary). Check and check. I was going to nip this in the bud.

I got the sleep, and am still getting it. Our trashcans overflow with disposable diapers. And we did supplement with formula a few times. But my little friend Anxiety is still kicking. Right now as I type, I’ve got that old familiar tight ache in my biceps and wrists, as if to say, “Stay on guard. Be ever vigilant. You might be needed for swaddling at a moment’s notice.”

I’ve started to wonder if the anxiety could be a side effect of the Zoloft. I don’t remember this happening the first time I started taking the stuff, but I was also goggle eyed with exhaustion and depression, and anxiety already had me white-knuckling it through every day. (It was quite a time, let me tell you.) My primary care doc confirmed this for me today–anxiety is a common side effect particularly during the first few weeks on Zoloft. But I’m already 5 weeks in.

Whether it’s a side effect or situational doesn’t really matter, though. Because it’s happening. So what I need to do is figure out how to manage it while its here and hopefully to help it go away.

I made an appointment to talk with a psychiatrist (it only took 26 phone calls to find one who could see me this month and accepts my insurance–such a joy to do that while parenting 2 kids and feeling emotionally unstable) so I can wade more efficiently through my questions about side effects and what the best meds (if any) would be for me, given that I’m breastfeeding.

And I also have had some great revelations about things that calm me down and things that leave me feeling like a frayed live wire.

  1. Trying to connect with the anxiety in my body makes it feel better than trying to wish it away. Thanks to yet another great idea from my miracle therapist, I try to find the time to sit quietly for a couple minutes during the day and touch my arms and face where I feel the coiled up tightness. That physical connection often makes it feel better within seconds, and helps me feel less afraid of it. Yep. That layer of my body feels tight. And here I am. And everything’s okay.
  2. Trying to control things makes it worse. When I nurse baby C in the early morning between 5 and 7, I try and get one or two of his infinite burps out of him and then put him back down to sleep in the co-sleeper. Then I creep over to my side of the bed and lay down. And then I find that I’m barely breathing because I’m trying to disappear any possible sound I might make for fear of waking anyone up. I lay there, in whatever strange position I landed, worried about rustling the covers because I might wake AJ or the baby. I flinch when I hear a blunt thud –is Jo waking up? Is he going to burst in the door with his new helicopter and wake up the baby? Shockingly, being in a state of hyper-awareness and frozen silence does not help me get back to sleep. And on those rare and blessed mornings when everyone else actually sleeps till 7:30, it would be lovely to be sleeping myself or at the very least resting and relaxed in bed. So I’ve trying to breathe a lot more deeply in the morning, and, god forbid, let myself make some noise. I walk around like a normal person who takes up actual space. I even flush the toilet. If I wake someone up, so be it. We’ll figure it out. Cause its not worth the emotional and physical toll it takes to try to make myself so small and silent. And even when I barely breathe and tip toe around, they still wake up sometimes.
  3. Simplicity rules.

I might be am trying to make myself feel better with all these lists. Groping for some sort of structure in the midst of the soupy uncertainty of my days and hours. Here’s the deal–I don’t know if I’m okay. Sometimes I feel brave. Others, I’m scared and defeated. Either way, I have two boys in my care, and I’m still feeding them and smiling at them and trying to find ways to maintain an environment of safety when one of them (take a guess) rages in his little kinetic body and wants nothing more than to hit, kick and throw things at me. At any moment, I can’t say how my seretonin-challenged brain is going to react to all of this, but I do know its flipping out sometimes. I’m just hoping I can stay above water.

It's not about winning or losing

One of the hardest things about the dance I’ve been doing with my depression over the last month is that I feel like I came out the loser in some sort of competition I didn’t even know I entered.

I was so hoping that this time I’d be able to set things up in just the right way to not have to experience this. Enough meals in the freezer, connections with friends, supplements in their little day of the week cubes–enough preparation and I could just avoid having to feel the feelings that are hardest for me.

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What happened to land me here? Things were going so well. I was sleeping (and still am!). Baby C is still so much easier than J was. I’m still taking all the fish oil and vitamin d and placenta pills.

There are a whole bunch of stories I could tell, theories that I have for why I started feeling depressed in the first place. In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter. Because about a month ago, right when I wrote this post, the flat, heaviness that is my depression started to roll in.

After a week of feeling its ebb and flow, I opted to go back on my Zoloft. That was a hard day–not unlike this day, before baby C was born when I had to let go of having him at home and pack for the hospital. My decision to go the pharmaceutical route again was another moment of surrendering to reality. I cried to my dear friend M on the phone, saying, “I hate feeling this way.” And she said, “Well, you don’t have to for long.” The truth of that statement was sobering. There is something I can take that helps this feeling go away and helps me perform the myriad duties that my children and life require of me. So why was I feeling so resistant to filling my prescription?

Some time since I stopped taking the Zoloft that helped me cope with J’s infancy, my brain decided that if I didn’t need the Zoloft this time that I would win.

After turning that thought over a few times and recognizing it as a complete piece of crap, I started accepting reality. I needed and wanted help.

So my little green pills are back. And they’re helping. And I feel really good about making that decision to help myself and, in effect, the people I love, so that I don’t get so stuck in my weepy, catatonic, existential place. It’s a relief all around.

Today also happens to be Jo’s 4th birthday, and the marker of the day I became a mother. Happy birthday, little weasel. And happy birthday to me.

On being tipsy and resenting children and Eckhart Tolle

My nearly 4-year-old J has really been getting to me lately. God love him, he knows how to push my buttons. (Perhaps anyone’s buttons–because really, who likes being communicated with in a steady stream of whiiiINE?)

I’ve found myself wishing, at times, that I had a different child. One less kinetic, less fiery. One less interested in turning every object into a weapon. I’ll take that boy over there, the one talking to himself while he colors at the table, absorbed. Or that little girl, sitting in her mom’s lap, watching the other kids at the park.

As luck would have it, I’ve started leafing through my still unread copy of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I’ve had previous love affairs with Eckhart, but the last few years, I’ve found him so hard to relate to. Does he ever wear colors? Or burst out laughing? Or swear? Is he really a person? Or just a little alien elf, ported down on earth to write unnervingly insightful books and high five Oprah?

Anyhow, I stumbled into this:

Place your attention on feeling the emotion, and check whether your mind is holding on to a grievance pattern such as blame, self-pity, or resentment that is feeding the emotion. If that is the case, it means that you haven’t forgiven. Non-forgiveness is often toward another person or yourself, but it may just as well be toward any situation or condition–past, present, or future– that your mind refuses to accept… Forgiveness is to relinquish your grievance and so to let go of grief. It happens naturally once you realize that your grievance seres no purpose except to strengthen a false sense of self. Forgiveness is to offer no resistance to life–to allow life to live through you…The moment you truly forgive, you have reclaimed your power from the mind. The mind cannot forgive. Only you can. You become present, you enter your body, you feel the vibrant peace and stillness that emanate from Being.

Thank you, Eckhart, for this life-altering little nugget. You may be a strange, impish man with a monotone voice who wears too much beige, but damn, you’re good.

This whole forgiveness thing helps me understand a momentary break from my resentment towards J that I had last night:

After the 35th whiny intonation about why the chalk road I was drawing needed to be longer or orange or “more crazy,” I poured myself a nice big glass of wine.

I had a few sips. And I felt a little less resentment over the fact that I was squatting in our driveway, maintaining a slight jiggle to to keep baby C asleep in the moby wrap, and managing by some feat of flexibility and balance to draw a road for J’s dump trucks and dragons with teeth and spikes.

Halfway through the glass, I was actually enjoying J. Well, first, I was angry because I couldn’t find him, and was ready to enforce the rule about staying on our side of the white fence. And then I saw a rustling in the grass on the little planted strip between the sidewalk and the road. There he was, all nestled down, staring up at the golden seed pods arcing into the sky.

JinGrass

I had done the same thing as a child. I followed our black and white manx cat, Dolly, up a grassy hill near our garage and found her in a perfectly soft and matted cove in the tall grass. I crawled in after her, layed down, and had that dreamy feeling of being underwater, light filtering down through the green.

The nest in the grass that J had found was a few feet beyond The White Fence border past which he is not supposed to go unless he asks. But in that moment, in the glow of the wine and my childhood memory, I just connected with him.

As we smiled at each other and talked about how beautiful the grass was, I felt less angry, less resentful, less a beast of burden.

I don’t know how Eckhart would feel about this, but I think the wine helped me forgive. I think the wine helped me get out of my incessant mental chatter stream about all the really good reasons I have to feel resentful towards J. And I was able to just see him. And be there. And see how beautiful he was all nestled down under a grassy sky.

On empathy, and how it helps me and my oldest son

J’s most common response when baby C cries is to furl his brow, put his hands over his ears and start screaming himself.  I started by trying to explain to J how it would actually be in his best interest to stay quiet, since his screaming would probably only make C cry more. That explanation didn’t get much traction.

So I’ve been trying to connect with J about it.

I don’t like it when he cries either. It’s loud, huh?

Empathizing with him like this has been relieving some of my pent up anxiety, and I’ve realized how much J and I have in common here. I really don’t like it either. And if I weren’t commissioned as the caretaker in this scenario, I might be moved to go for the screaming option too.

I’ve also been taking the empathy a step further, thanks to some advice from my dreamy therapist. She recommended that I try and stretch J’s awareness, and point out that while he feels mad right now that C is crying, he also feels love for C sometimes too.

I’ve been saying stuff like this:

I see you’re feeling really angry that C is crying. I don’t like it when he cries either. Remember this morning when you were playing with C and laughing? Isn’t it crazy that you feel angry at him right now and that you also felt all that love this morning?

Lo and behold, when I’m saying this stuff to him, it reminds me of the same thing–to see things in terms of both/and rather than either/or.

Hey there, self, I see that you’re feeling scared that you’ve been up for 2 hours in the middle of the night trying to get C to go to sleep. And now you’re wondering if the decision to have him was a huge mistake. Remember when you were taking a shower the other day and you thought that having C might be the best thing you’ve ever done? Well, both things are true.

Both things are true.

And if I can just take a breath and stick with my life for another 5 minutes or 10 hours or week, the feeling I’m having will change into another and another and another. And they’ll all be true.

Yesterday, J stopped me in my tracks as we were talking again about C’s crying. He said (in that wonderfully casual and earnest way that only he can), “I love him when he’s crying too.”

Well, knock me over and call me Nancy. He gets it. The bigger we make the space, the more feelings can fit in.

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Photo by BugMan50

We are expansive enough to feel upset and loving at the same time. Or frustrated and hopeful. Or scared and excited.

Hopefully I can remember the same thing the next time I’m awake and exhausted in the wee hours.

How I came to love the hospital birth that I didn't want, Part 2

We’re picking up, right where I left off last time–in the hospital, having rhythmic and mild contractions after taking Misoprostol and feeling vindicated for choosing to be induced after the baby’s heart decelerations returned with my contractions. Between the oxygen and IV fluids they gave me, the baby recovered beautifully, and we all tucked in for some sleep around midnight.

(In the event none of this makes sense to you and/or you’d like to know the back story, here’s Part 1, in all its glory.)

Four hours after I took Misoprostol, the doctor suggested that we add Pitocin to my IV drip. My cervix had dilated to 2.5 centimeters with the help of the Miso, and Pitocin would likely continue that process. If the baby had more decelerations, we could always turn the Pitocin down or completely off (which is not an option with the Misoprostol pills). She made this suggestion at 2:00 am.  My partner, A, asked her if we could start the Pitocin in the morning, after more sleep and some breakfast. “Sure,” she replied, casually.  And with that, he earned me 4 hours of sleep and a big plate of eggs, bacon and toast to fuel my labor.

(Why a doctor who specializes in helping women have babies would not think of this small adjustment on her own, I’ll never know. But I’ve found in my own births and as a doula that when you ask if you can have more time to make a decision or, say, a few hours sleep, or some food before engaging in one of the most taxing experiences known to human kind, the doctor often says “Sure.”)

My doula, C showed up at 9:00 am. We started Pitocin at 9:45, and contractions were strong enough that I wanted to get out of bed by 11. My preferred method for coping with contractions: I wanted to be on the birth ball, leaning back into someone. With each contraction, I would go limp and slump forward into a still, silent lump. And then I would just tunnel into my uterus. The center of all that pain and energy and power. I would think of lightening.

I’d envision this.

Ixchel

It’s a card from a deck of goddess cards my friend A gave me—and when I’m feeling particularly lost or confused, I’ll draw one. So that’s what I did before we started the Pitocin. I happened to draw the Mayan goddess of childbirth, Ixchel (whose name I still don’t know how to pronounce). Score.

Between contractions I felt pretty blissed out. I’d look around at my midwife, my doula, the nurses and tell them all how beautiful they were. At one point, I smiled and cooed, “I love pitocin.” (I’d also like to mention that I knew to look for the bliss between contractions because of Nancy Bardacke’s masterful way of explaining labor in pages 86-89 of her book, Mindful Birthing.)

When contractions got stronger, I got into the shower with A and did my whole birth-ball-still-and-silent thing. When we got out of the shower at 2:35 pm, I confessed to my doula that I was starting to want the labor to be over—and she said, “Yeah, since you got into the shower your contractions have started to space out a bit, so I think you’re having more time to think.” Somehow, that helped.

Ten minutes later, at 2:45, they checked me, and my cervix was dilated to 5 cm. I know better than most that dilation numbers are meaningless–women can stay at 5 cm for 10 hours or go from 5 cm to having a baby in their arms in 30 minutes–but I was still deflated. Then I had a fierce contraction while I was lying in the bed. It wrapped all the way around my hips and down my legs. When it subsided, I told my doula, “That one made me want an epidural.”

With that, I got out of the bed, back on the ball, and thus began the “never-ending contractions” portion of my labor. They rolled in, one after another, hardly a break between. And my still, silent meditation became the still, bellowing moose meditation. It was mind-blowing. To be certain, there was no time to think between contractions.

Fifty minutes after my 5 cm cervical check, and I heard my own power moans turn into pushy grunts. With the first mammoth grunt, my water broke. My midwife laughed and said, “The baby’s right there,” and I reached down and felt the wet toadstool squish of head. In the next few moments, in the stillness between contractions, and as I felt my body gathering up its power into pushing the baby out, an earth-shaking awe flooded my senses. It was as close to terror as I’ve ever been without being terrified. I was laying back, head turned to the side. I could see my doula’s blue eyes and the black plastic side of the computer screen next to me. My eyes were focused to the tiniest pinpoint and wide, all-encompassing, to take in the gravity of the timeless, massive, awe-inspiring place where I was.  My body trembled on the edge and at the center of a shocking and immense moment beyond time.

I pushed with my own instinct and then with the urgings of my midwife. And in 6 minutes, I felt this immensely hard, huge, lumpy head fill up and then come out of my vagina. (There’s really no other way to put it.) And then I pushed out a shoulder. And then I opened my eyes and reached down to grab this warm slippery thing, and bring his body up to my chest.

And that’s how it happened.

Had I known beforehand that this is the birth I would have–in the hospital, induced, pitocin, the works–I would have cringed with disappointment and sadness. On this side of things, I feel aglow and triumphant. What a tumble into the space of letting go! Once I was able to shed my own hopes and expectations, I was just left with what was:

  • my steady and balanced partner A, who should really consider moonlighting as a doula
  • the doula of my dreams, C, who helped me through with her presence and humor
  • my midwife, with her remarkable skill and empathy
  • a rotating array of hospital nurses, midwives and obstetricians, all of whom listened and worked with us towards the birth we wanted
  • baby C’s incredible body
  • my incredible body

It was a beautiful birth.

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Small victories for a new mother of 2

1) I had 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep last night. My dearest A. took the first nighttime shift with my new dearest baby C. who is taking a bottle like a champ.

2) Rather than trying for 2 hours to put C. to sleep between the hours of 5 and 7 a.m., I just held him this morning and dozed off and on. In the end, when my dearest 3-and-3-quarters child, J woke up at 7:20 a.m., C was asleep and I was able to put him down and go enjoy a full 45 minutes of morning time with J. It was blissful to have some uninterrupted time with him, all warm and rumpled and bright.

3) At some point in the afternoon, A. said he’d make dinner, an offer that nearly moves me to tears these days, since I’ve been nearly 100% on dinner duty for the past months while A. does things like demolishing bathrooms and putting up siding. I handed both boys off to him, and they all headed for a quick runaround at the park. I went off to do some caulking the bathroom of our rental. The caulking was dreamy. I was unencumbered by the stream of spontaneous toddler and baby demands and able to focus on one single thing—in this case, creating a mildew-free, water tight seal around our renter’s bathtub. And I listened to this episode of This American Life, which I found characteristically soulful, charming and thought-provoking (I just effing love that show). Just as I was finishing up, I felt my own hunger pulling me towards dinner time, so walked back to our place to find it empty.

My mind immediately hopped on the hamster wheel it runs in such situations.

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Photo by Beth L. Alexander

Yep. 6:30. Also known as dinner time. And he offered to cook dinner, and he’s nowhere to be found and now dinner will be late, bedtime will be late and J will get all hopped up and hard to put to sleep. Not to mention that I’m hungry and just want someone else to make dinner for once.

 I figured that they were still at the park and got ready to walk over and go find them in order to pull out all the passive aggressive stops to make sure A knew that I was pissed about the lack of dinner.

But instead, I stopped. I felt myself revving up in this familiar way that I do when I’m tired and frustrated. And I just stopped for a moment. I was hungry. Almost shaky with hunger as only a breastfeeding woman who has been caulking a bathtub can be. And I also remembered for a moment that A. is capable and smart and caring and probably had some reasonable thoughts about why he wasn’t in the kitchen working on dinner.

Instead of marching out to the park to let A. have it, I opened the fridge, found some leftover chicken and a beer and sat down to eat it.

Tonight, I took part in a quiet revolution at my dining table: I was hungry. So I fed myself. And I gave my partner some credit.

A few minutes later, he came home with C sleeping in the sling and J trotting beside him. “Sorry we got held up at the park. I’m just gonna figure out a quick dinner for J.” And he did figure it out. More importantly, I let him. I did not bang around angry to find a quick dinner for J. And when they all walked in the door, wasn’t resentful because I was already eating my dinner and drinking a beer and knowing that A. was a capable, reasonable person.

4) I am now going to stop typing, turn on the white noise, pop in my earplugs and go to sleep alone in this queen sized bed while A. takes another night shift with baby C. Here’s hoping for another 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. But I’ll settle for 3-4.

p.s. I’m posting this at 7:30 am after 6, count them SIX hours of sleep.  And C. is sleeping in our bed with A. And J. is awake but playing in his room quietly.

Small victories.

How I came to love the hospital birth that I didn't want, Part 1

Two weeks ago today, I had a baby.

He’s right over there, in bed next to me.

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He is very blonde.

Two weeks and one day ago, I agreed with my midwives that the home birth I had hoped for was not the safest option, and I sobbed while I packed my hospital bag.

Three weeks ago, I was 41 weeks pregnant with an emotional state the equivalent of soggy tissue paper, battling the daily mind-game of “Why isn’t my body going into labor?”

I had forgotten, since the birth of my three-and-three-quarters (!) year old, J, how strange and vulnerable it feels to stay pregnant significantly past the “due date” of a baby. I mistakenly thought that my experience as a doula and of birthing J 13 days after he was “due” would carry me through. I know that statistically, most women carry their babies past 40 weeks. I talk my doula clients through this all the time—and even gave myself the same pep talk I gave one of them in the latter part of this blog post (which may also delight you if you like gluten free baking).

But memories and knowledge barely stack up against the gravity of an extremely pregnant body and the wash of emotions constantly lapping at the shores of the extremely pregnant brain in a culture that celebrates planning and “due dates” and has erected a very intimidating, medically-recommended cut off date of 42 weeks to most pregnancies.

Let’s just say that in those last couple weeks, I swung dramatically between 1) a tower of mindfulness and brave surrender and 2) a complete disaster puddle.

One day, I would feel completely unfettered and at peace—enjoying the relative simplicity of life with only one child and eating these incredible doughnuts.

Thank you, Doughnut Dolly.
Thank you, Doughnut Dolly.

The next, I would be plagued with worry that despite all my efforts at natural induction—sex, acupuncture, membrane stripping—that I would reach 42 weeks and, according to my home birth midwives’ policy, no longer be able to have the home birth that I wanted. And then I would envision a whole host of unlikely and horrendous birth defects that might be the reason I wasn’t going into labor, and also the complete financial disaster that would ensue once we had our complicated hospital birth of our very sickly child on our not-so-great insurance policy.

And then, it happened. I had to jump headfirst into my hospital birth fear and let go of the last shred of control I thought I might have when my midwife said, “This looks like a baby that wants to be born in the hospital.”

At a routine non-stress test (used to assess the health of the baby by monitoring its heart rate and amniotic fluid levels) the nurse saw one significant deceleration of our baby’s heart rate. And my amniotic fluid levels were quite low. My midwives consulted with their back-up obstetrician and recommended that I check into the hospital for an induction in a few hours. Their concern was that the low fluid levels were leading to cramped conditions in utero and that some sort of compression was leading to the heart deceleration that we saw. If those decelerations continued and intensified, they would lead to consistently reduced blood flow and oxygen to the baby.

I was devastated. I would never light all the candles that my friends had given me when I went into labor at home. I wouldn’t hear my own moans in our living room as I labored our baby into the world.

I was scared. Would I feel cornered into making decisions that I didn’t want to make at the hospital? Would the Pitocin make my contractions unbearable? Would the post-partum nurse cram this baby’s head onto my breast in those first few minutes instead of giving me and the baby time to try breastfeeding on our own?

The questions rolled through my head and I cried. I packed. I ate dinner at our house. And said goodbye to my mother and J. It felt like I was heading to a kind of death. Two hours to pack and say goodbye, and don’t forget to pay attention because your family will never be like this again.

We drove to the hospital and stopped on our way to get a popsicle. I allowed myself the extravagant purchase of a local, artisanal, tangerine gelato version from Whole Foods. My partner A. and I scarfed them down while we lugged our bags up to Labor and Delivery.

Photo by sleepyneko/flickr.
Photo by sleepyneko/flickr.

That popsicle was my turning point.

We settled in and unpacked. Hung some colorful scarves on the wall. Chatted with our midwife and laughed with our nurse.

I took some Misoprostol at 10:30 pm, and contractions started 5 minutes later. Sweet, blessed contractions that I’d been dreaming of for days. They were nice, rhythmic, easy ones. The baby had more heart decelerations with those contractions. They gave me oxygen started an IV drip so fast that it left me shaking with the flood of cool fluid in my veins. The decelerations stopped. And I knew at that moment we had made the right decision.

When I agreed to be induced at the hospital, I was overwhelmed by disappointment. This was not what I wanted. And I needed to sob myself silly over it. Now, here I was, thanking my baby for those heart decelerations. They helped us all make what we hoped was the best decision for him. And they confirmed, as I breathed in oxygen and watched the methodical IV drip, that it was.

***

It has taken me the better part of a day juggling one toddler and one baby to write this, so in the interest of my own sense of accomplishment, I’m going to post this now. I hope to deliver part 2 “soon.” ((And here is part 2…only took me 3 weeks…))

My adventures with manifesting, even though I don't like that word.

I had a religious experience with finding an apartment once.

I knew what I wanted: a little nest where my partner and I could have a baby and sun pouring through the windows and happiness by the bucketload. Without being aware of it, I also believed that there was exactly 1 apartment like this on the planet earth and if we didn’t find it, we would miss our chance. So naturally, I was filled with fear and dread and refreshed the Criagslist housing listings 85 times per day. It was a delightful time.

Thanks, in large part, to my therapist, I was able to re-orient myself toward a few things.
1) There are actually a whole bunch of places out there where we could live and be happy,
2) It’s possible to get what you want, and 3) It’s helpful to get really clear about what you want, do any work you can to help yourself get it, and then (and this part killed me) prepare to receive it.

Prepare to receive it.

I struggled with the language and the new age hippie connotations. But the strand in her advice that I could relate to was a concept that the world works in mysterious ways and can help things come about in a much more elegant way than I can all by my little self. So I held that image in my mind–great big galaxies weaving their magical spells for apartment hunters everywhere–and I wrote down all of the things I wanted in an apartment.

I wrote it all down. EVERYTHING I wanted. I put it on our mantle. I even lit a candle. And then I prepared to receive it.

After weeks of more Craigslist refreshing, struggling, not believing and feeling angry and scammed, I finally started to understand what that meant.

I was flying to El Paso to be with my dying grandmother. The timing, in terms of apartment hunting, was horrendous. This was the week when, in a month’s time, it would be move-out day, so we would be able to sign a check for an apartment on the spot. I had been waiting for this window of time, and now I was going to miss it, and that one dreamboat apartment was going to be snatched away by someone else. Probably a really cute, young couple who were wildly fertile and loved their high paying jobs.

Then I heard my therapists voice: Do the work, and then prepare to receive it.

So I did the work–I re-posted our months old “Housing Wanted” ad on Craigslist, and then I boarded the plane. While we were in the clouds, I had a moment of mental and physical lightness. My body just felt like it knew things would be okay. In that moment, I trusted. I handed the whole burden over, and let go.

A couple days later, we got a reply to our ad, and it was our future, best landlord of all time, asking if we might want to live in what was to be the cottage we loved for the next 4 and a half years. I remember walking through the cottage for the first time, stunned–nearly everything from the list (save more closets and a dishwasher) was there.

So I know this process can work. I shy away from calling it “manifesting.” All those hippie-new-age connotations again. I think other people would call it praying or handing things over to God. Any way you cut it, it worked.

I credit the same exact process for helping us find this duplex we just bought. Granted, I never wrote down that I wanted a duplex. We were looking for a place to rent. But then we stumbled into an open house one day, realized we actually had enough money to make an offer and then I went back and looked at my dog-eared list that was sitting under a pile somewhere. The duplex had everything on my list. Everything.

Now that I’m 2 for 2, I really do believe in the process. I also know its hard as hell in the midst of it and that there are many days that I look at those damned lists and curse them for not working fast enough. Or seeming not to work at all.

That brings me to the present day. We’re searching for renters for our back house. I have a clear vision of what I want. The list has been written, the candles lit. Seemed like everything was going according to plan. And then we offered it to our favorite family. They said no. And we did the same thing again, twice. Two more no’s. It’s made me doubt the magical universe.

In the past week, I’ve been completely off the rails. Feeling fearful, worried, all tight and constrained in my chest. We’ve stopped getting as many email replies to our ad. So I’ve been relaxing my criteria and showing it to folks I don’t feel much connection with. Things crescendo-ed yesterday when I cancelled an appointment to show the place again to a guy who I had a strange gut feeling about, and was met with a string of nasty emails.

Blleeech. I feel yucked. And tired. And pregnant. Like this whole venture is screwed.

So, once I got myself up and J to daycare this morning, I decided to spend some time doing a whole bunch of things that my brain likes to tell me are a waste of time. I put on some ambient music featuring sitars and gongs and Native American flutes–sounds that conjure up visions of fog and smoke and magical galaxies.

I got out the candles, and I ate some applesauce while I wrote down all of the things that I’m freaked out about on a piece of J’s art easel paper.

Then I burned it.
The paper, not the applesauce.

IMG_7406

I carried the hot bowl outside and blew the ashes into our street.

Then I washed my hands and made a list of the work that needs to be done for the rental: re-post Craigslist ad, install new doors, find a better light fixture for the living room. And then I re-acquainted myself with the list of things that I want in our new renters. It’s a lovely list, really.

Wanted: responsible, warm, funny family who can afford the rent and wants to garden with us sometimes.

So here I am. Lute music playing, hands smelling of rose soap. I feel a bit better. Still traces of tentativeness and worry, but my thoughts feel more sorted and my body calm. Things to do, check. Prepare to receive…well, I’m working on it.