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A Love Note for Galentine’s Day

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I tend to go overboard on holidays, but this year everything is sneaking up on me. And let’s just say that, although I’m typically all for Valentine’s Day, with a three week old at home still learning how to nurse and a four year old at home adjusting to having a three week old at home – not to mention a body that is still very much recovering from my batshit crazy delivery – I am not feeling tremendously romantic today.

I am, however, feeling tremendously grateful for a particular group of people in my life. So, on this day that’s supposed to be all about love, they’re who I want to tell you about.

Moms.

You guys. Moms – they are the greatest.

I literally don’t know what I would do without the mothers in my life.

I’m talking about the moms I know:

My mother, who is more dedicated to her family than I can begin to describe.

My mother-in-law, who mothers everyone around her until they’re like a big, warm, beautiful, messy family.

My grandmothers, whose lives have asked more strength of them than most people can imagine.

The other moms in my family – sisters and aunts and cousins and on and on, who are there to commiserate and compare notes and lend a hand without judgment.

The friend moms, who drop everything they have going on in their lives to show up with food and caffeine, who never judge the laundry pile in my entryway, who ask how I’m doing and actually mean it, because they still see the person under this nursing bra and baggy maternity pants (and baggy eyes, while we’re at it). The moms who don’t mind if I lose it for a bit, because they’ve been there. The moms who, instead of saying, “have you tried…?” say, “I’m sorry, that sucks.”

The work moms – driven, inspiring women who have had my professional back through the fog of sleepless nights and daycare closures and pediatrician appointments and sudden-onset stomach flus, who have kept it real and shared their own struggles to balance things that simply can’t be balanced.

But I mean the moms I don’t really know, too:

The friends of friends moms who know enough about our fertility story to casually mention they’ve had a bumpy road, too, while we hover over the veggie tray at a party.

The Internet moms, in Facebook groups and message boards, who are always ready to pipe with a no-holds-barred review of everything from local nail salons to school programs. Seriously, people, if you own a business, the moms groups are the people you need on your side.

And the total stranger moms, who have held my screaming infant on a plane so I could take my sweatshirt off, who have helped wrestle my toddler into the grocery cart mid-tantrum, who have nodded grimly in solidarity as I abandoned half-eaten meals to whisk a poorly-behaved kid out of restaurants.

We’ve lost that “it takes a village” mentality when it comes to raising our families. But this parenting thing… it takes not just a village, but a whole, global tribe of moms who are knee deep in it with you.

So today, I’m celebrating Galentine’s Day, and I’m holding every past, present, and future mom on the planet in my big, gaudy, lace-and-sparkle-bedecked heart.

You’re all my valentine. Keep doing what you do.

 

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Two Weeks

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My sweet baby girl is two weeks old today. Just fourteen short days on this earth and already Audrey Sophia is rocking our world.

In some ways, these early days have been easier than they were with Ella. We’ve managed to keep up with the most basic household chores instead of becoming overwhelmed with dirty dishes and piles of laundry and bags of recycling unattended. We’d already become accustomed to broken sleep, so exhaustion hasn’t been the shock it was last time around. And since Ella has been carefully teaching us the magnitude of our own ignorance as parents for the last four years and change, we don’t panic when we can’t immediately divine the motivation behind the baby’s cries. There’s something to be said for knowing what you don’t know.

But in other ways, these last two weeks have been the hardest of my life.

This birth did not go as planned. I’m feeling a little more even-keeled this week, but I’m still not ready to talk much about it – someday I’ll have to, but right now thinking about every moment along the way where we veered off course is much too overwhelming. It’s like an old band-aid I can only pull up a bit at a time, even though it’s excruciating and one big rip might be cathartic.

Trauma is funny. I was OK while we were in the hospital, but the second I walked in our front door on the day Audrey and I were discharged, I crumbled. I spent our first week home marooned on our couch, a shore battered by waves of traumatic memory from my wild labor. The physical trauma was much less difficult than I expected and certainly nothing to the way this experience shook me to my core.

I’m clawing my way out of that shaking, bruised place. I’ll tell you about it sometime, but now it’s still too raw.

On top of the energy it has taken me to process some of what happened while I worked to bring this precious baby into the world, we’ve also had to face some setbacks that have further eroded my confidence.

After a healthy pregnancy with little medical intervention – always my preference – I wound up with postpartum preeclampsia that gave me horrible headaches and required hefty medication. It’s already resolved, but for a few days there my head spun not only with pain but with worry that, despite my best efforts to live a healthy life and make good choices, my family’s dismal health history (very little of which has been determined to be genetic) was destined to repeat itself. Another log on the “I don’t have much faith in my body” fire after our fertility trouble and a surprise c-section was not strictly necessary, but there it is.

And, after having a birth experience that was in direct conflict with my values and my philosophy about birth (and, really, about women’s health care in general if we want to go big on broad strokes here), the prospect of breastfeeding this baby was sort of the last of my hopes and dreams from this pregnancy that seemed hell bent on trashing my expectations from the very beginning. So it was fairly devastating to learn that Audrey, although she’s healthy and wonderful in every other way, has some anatomical challenges that may make nursing impossible.

The door hasn’t completely closed on breastfeeding for us yet – we’re seeing a specialist next week who should be able to tell us more – but in the meantime I’m pumping around the clock to build my milk supply while Audrey isn’t able to give my body the signal that we should be feeding her, and hopefully we’ll know soon which of her feeding challenges can be addressed. The pumping is hard and honestly kind of grosses me out but I’ll keep it up for now if it helps bridge the gap until we’re able to nurse.

Pumping is also lonely. It’s harder to do discretely in front of other people, and, unlike breastfeeding, it doesn’t help me bond with the baby at all. I pump on the couch while my family keeps moving without me – while I’m attached to the milk machine, Jon has to handle any baby needs and manage Ella, who has understandably been a bit of a handful.

Also: I miss Ella! We were attached at the hip before the baby came, and now I’m feeling so separate from her. Everyone warned me that the transition from having one kid to having two would be difficult. Silly me – I assumed they meant it would be difficult for Ella! We’re going on a “just us big girls” date tomorrow, which I’m really looking forward to, and I’ve been trying to give her as much of me as I can, but the reality is that the baby needs me more right now, and Ella has been so excited to have Jon home that she’s not too psyched about me anyway.

I hate to sound like I’m complaining. We have two healthy, beautiful little girls, and in the end that’s of course the most important thing. I’m soaking up all the snuggles I can get, prioritizing sleep above almost all else, trying to stay hydrated, treating my body kindly with good food, thanking God for getting us through it all, and giving myself some grace during this healing time.

And that’s what it really feels like – time to heal. As much as I’d like to be, I am not healed yet. More patience is needed, always. And some trust that, with time, we’ll all find our footing and move forward.

For now, I’m keeping the band-aid on.

 

 

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Overdue

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There are certain things you hear a lot when you choose to do all your prenatal and maternity care in a not-so-mainstream setting, but the biggest, most cardinal-est rule is probably of the “due dates are just a guess” variety.

It makes sense. Due dates, for most women, ARE just a guess, and in reality, only 5% of those guesses end up being accurate. There’s plenty of literature out there about why that is, but the bottom line seems to be that babies come when they are ready, and they like to be in charge of letting us know when that is.

My mantra as we approached Ella’s due date was “this baby is a wizard, this baby is a wizard.” It’s a Lord of the Rings reference – Gandalf rolls up at the 11th hour for Bilbo Baggins’s 111th birthday and Frodo is all, “You’re late.” And Gandalf tells him, “A wizard is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.”

Ella was a wizard. I had absolutely textbook labor, and she arrived late on the night of her due date, with an hour and fifteen minutes to spare. It was the first and last occasion I have ever been on time for anything, probably.

I’ll tell you what: I have felt like this baby is ready to arrive since about Thanksgiving. Everyone, including my midwives, suspected I would go early with this one. I even bought her a Christmas stocking in case she got here in time for the holiday.

But Christmas came and went. In fact, we got through an ice storm, Christmas, a snow storm, New Year’s, a supermoon, and a blizzard. No baby. I even had 36 hours of prodromal labor two weeks ago and was sure it was the real deal, only to have my contractions fizzle out.

Ella’s first dance recital was scheduled for my due date, so of course I was anxious I’d go into labor and miss the show. But nope.

I’m a patient woman, usually. Right now, though, I could climb out of my own skin with impatience.

Partly this is because I’m physically uncomfortable. I mean, of course I am. This is week 41 of pregnancy, I’ve never had to haul this much body around before, and sleep is basically a joke.

Partly it’s because no one on the planet seems to know how to mind their own business when it comes to pregnant ladies. I spent two hours at a crowded grocery store yesterday and when I got home, I told my husband I’m not leaving the house again until we head to the Birth center to have the baby.

It’s not just that I’m grouchy. It’s also a public safety issue. “If one more complete stranger comments on my size or asks when I’m being induced, so help me god…”

Partly it’s because I haven’t only been waiting 41 weeks for this baby. We started trying to get pregnant about two and a half years ago. I’ve felt ready for another baby for more than half of Ella’s life. I am so anxious to hold this one and make her part of our precious little family.

And partly it’s because, due to a number of uncontrollable circumstances, this pregnancy has kept me in limbo for awhile.

I knew my job was headed in the wrong direction by Christmas last year. I’m good at what I do – I know how it should work, and I certainly knew it wasn’t working that way. But almost as soon as I started exploring my options, I found out that, after months and months of trying, we were finally expecting this baby. Stability and security were suddenly our top priorities, and I decided to stick it out and see if I could right the ship.

Irony, right? That ship had not only sailed but sunk.

The layoff in August was equal parts shock, outrage, and relief. It’s been an unexpected blessing to be able to finish this pregnancy without the constant stress of a job gone wrong. But of course, by the time I was laid off I was already quite visibly pregnant. And although I’ve been able to do a lot of networking and have even applied for a few great opportunities, and although it’s technically illegal for businesses to discriminate against a woman because of her pregnancy, the truth is that as a pregnant mom in the U.S., you’re starting at a deficit in the job market.

I’ve been having a lot of work dreams, when I’m lucky enough to sleep. Dreams about confronting the people who put me in this position, dreams about returning to old roles under better circumstances, dreams about entirely new career paths. I’m excited to throw my full weight into what’s next, from a position of power instead of hesitancy.

I’m excited for what’s next in my own creative work, too. I had an audition scheduled for next week (when I thought this baby would be a few weeks old already!), which is looking less likely by the minute. I have plans for this blog that I want to roll out when I’m better positioned to give it my attention (as in, not when I’m adjusting to life with a newborn!).

There’s so much goodness coming, and I’m psyched to embrace all of these changes. I’m also psyched to embrace this baby.

But for the moment, I’m overdue by a week. A week isn’t so bad. At the library, you don’t start racking up fines until you are overdue by two weeks. Babies are like library books, right?

Right?

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Sleepy snuggles

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It’s 7:15. I have an absolutely massive to do list for today, with Christmas only a week away. I probably should get a jump start on my wrapping and laundry while the house is still quiet, but instead I just snuck downstairs buck naked to pour my first cup of coffee and grab a phone charger. And then I tiptoed into my room and climbed back into bed.

Ella came in around 5 and by some miracle is still sleeping. Right now she’s curled around my belly, where her little sister is getting ready for life on the outside. This baby is going to make her appearance any day now – we hit 37 weeks this weekend, which was the milestone we needed to deliver at our birth center of choice.

I am constantly aware that our family’s life is about to change. And while I am so excited to add another tiny human to our little tribe, I’m sometimes a little sad, too.

The last few months have been such a blessing. I’ve had more time with Ella than I got with her even as an infant. There have been some trying days and I am always a little on edge about our financial stability, but for the most part, I have so enjoyed this time.

Ella has, too. We had the sense, before I lost my job, that sending her to school twelve hours a day, four days a week, was asking too much of her. This kid does not slow down if there is any way to avoid it, and she was running herself ragged during those long days. Mornings and evenings and even weekends were a constant struggle, with an over-exhausted three year old melting down left and right and with Jon and I trying to squeeze our life into the cracks around work and commuting.

Our “mumma Monday’s” and “mumma Thursday’s” (which is what Ella calls them) are slow but usually productive. Our school mornings are lazier even when we have to set a wake up alarm. And our weekends have so much more breathing room.

We’re about to throw another person into the mix, just when I feel like we’ve gotten into a routine that actually works us. I know it’s been quiet around here.

I’m keenly aware that all of my one on one Ella-mumma time is limited, so I’ve been trying to really focus on it. Jon worked late one night last week, and we turned it into a girls’ night at home, with dinner on the couch and a Christmas movie (we usually save movies for the weekend, so this was a big deal). Yesterday I stole Ella for most of the day to go see a friend in a production of A Christmas Carol, and then we had a lunch date at an amazing bakery.

And today, I’m ignoring my to do list to bask in these quiet sleepy snuggles. We’ll make some Christmas magic together later, once we’re up and rolling – there’s gingerbread to be made and a feast to procure and wrapping to be done. It could be the last Mumma Monday for just the two of us, so we’re going to make the most of it.

I hope you’re finding some quiet time in this frantic season, too. I’ll let you know when this baby turns up, but in the meantime, here’s hoping you get a peaceful, wonderful holiday.

 

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A Tale of Three Timehops

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My parents used to have a nightstand full of pictures next to their bed. It wasn’t organized in any way – just two drawers jam packed with several decades’ worth of printed photos from real cameras, polaroids, and, eventually disposables. My dad always liked to say that if there was ever a fire, that nightstand was the thing he’d save.

I have this app on my phone called Timehop. It basically searches through your Facebook posts and camera roll to tell you what you were up to on this day in past years. It’s sort of like the digital version of me flipping through the pictures in that nightstand – and it’s a hell of a lot more portable in case of fire.

Probably I have given some terrifying corporation permission to sell my liver on the black market or something by signing the terms of use, but I really love looking at the little gems it finds for me every day.

Sometimes it’s hilarious throw back photos – from shenanigans with my sister, or the early days of my relationship with my husband, or Ella June in years past.

And sometimes it gives you something to think about.

Today’s Timehop is a little bit of both:

1) Ella June at two weeks old, sitting up on her own and squinting at me. It’s clear she is sizing me up and correctly determining she can find a way around me to assume household leadership.

2) Ella June pleased as punch with herself after being forcibly removed from the foam pit at gymnastics two years ago. I had asked her before class if she was going to behave and I got a big grin and a “NOPE!”

If Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s popular quote is at all correct, this kid will be making a large amount of history.

3) From last year, a Facebook post reading, “Twelve working days until winter recess.”

What a difference a year makes.

On this day last year, I was desperately trying to salvage a major project with an impossible deadline and zero cooperation from the department dictating the rules. This was a major project – A Really Big Deal – something that would have an impact for years. In other words, not something you should rush and not something you can produce in a vacuum. But that’s what I was trying to do. It almost felt like I was being set up to fail, and knowing what I do now, that might not be far off from the truth.

I had started counting down to winter recess early to try to preserve my sanity, not knowing yet that I would put in insane hours, winter recess would never happen, and the leadership I was working with would then decide to kick the can down the road.

I lost time with my family – Christmas time, with my exuberant three year old who was just starting to understand the whole Santa thing – and I wound up in the doghouse at work anyway for not having completed an unaccomplishable project that in early January the powers that be decided could wait a few months anyway.

Here’s the thing:

It sucks to get laid off after a year of doing your best to meet unreasonable expectations. It really sucks to get laid off when you are a) too pregnant to be very marketable and b) too pregnant to get even unpaid maternity leave if you do find another job. It sucks that I tried so hard with no possible chance of success, and it sucks that I sacrificed so much to try to please some people that had already decided, I think, that I wasn’t worth collaborating with. It sucks that it’s almost Christmas and I’m counting pennies to make ends meet some weeks. And it sucks to know there was really no way I could have prevented any of this without a crystal ball.

But.

But.

Yesterday was Monday. My husband put the coffee on a timer so I could have a leisurely cup while Ella still dozed. She and I kicked off the week with a donut date at a great local stop. We did our errands, which used to be stressful and squeezed in on the weekends but are now some of my favorite things Ella and I do together all week.

Then we had time for a good snuggle on the couch before I had to get ready for an audition – an audition for an incredibly relevant show that would pay me a little money to do theater again and that would have been an impossibility if I was still at my old job, although it is certainly possible for me to work full time even if I get cast.

I might not get it (it is a little insane to turn up at a theater where you know no one and suggest they just trust you that you are not usually this pregnant…) but I’m proud of myself for having the balls to try.

Today is Tuesday. I’m making bread, getting Ella off to school in time for my yoga class, setting up the baby’s changing area, continuing to decorate the tree, starting some Christmas crafts, and catching up on some family finance stuff I’ve been putting off.

There’ll be some work-related work in there and some networking, too, but basically I’m taking care of myself and my family in a way I couldn’t have imagined this time last year.

Thank you, God, for this reminder that I’m where I’m at right now for a reason, even if I can’t always be sure what it is. Thank you for helping me find the right path forward in the next few months so that my gifts don’t go to waste. And thank you for Timehop, which, while rarely this thought provoking, is my favorite way to start my morning and also easy to save in case of fire.

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We did it!

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*This is a picture of all the champagne I will drink after I have this baby to celebrate meeting my November blogging goal.

Woohoo! It’s November 30! And as long as I hit “publish” on this post before I fall asleep in front of this laptop, that means I’ve blogged every day this month. That’s about 21,100 words in 30 days. Not all of them were great words (or good words, or even correctly spelled and used words), not all 30 posts were particularly interesting or well thought through.

But, I said I would do a thing, and I did it. That’s not something I can often say.

I’ve written before about how I have sometimes struggled with follow through. Probably most people feel like that at some point, but it’s something about me that worries me on a fairly regularly basis. It’s something I’ve always been aware of, but it hasn’t gotten any easier to make my goals a priority now that I have a family.

Actually, it wasn’t even having a baby that did it. I think the first time meeting my own personal goals was impossible because of an external force of some kind was actually when I took my first specialized job at Harvard – I stepped out of a support role into a position that asked a lot of me, a lot of the time, and suddenly the personal projects I had going got thrown on the back burner, or into the trash.

It’s really important to me that Ella, and the new baby when she’s here, see me making time for myself and the things I care about. I don’t think it’s useful for them to learn from a mom who is burned out from caring constantly for other people and continuously neglecting herself.

For some reason, this feels even more important when I’m not working full time. I’d always hoped that if I found myself in my current circumstances (suddenly unemployed), I’d find a way to focus more on my own writing. It was scaring me for a while there that, even now when I have more free time than I’d ever anticipated, I hadn’t managed to making my writing a priority.

And this weird, wonky 30 days of posts has helped me do just that.

So, I’m going to keep it going. I’m going to lay off the volume a bit to focus on quality, which includes a new layout that will hopefully make it easier for me to know what people are actually interested in reading. And I’m going to commit to sharing more broadly and branching out on social media.

Thanks for taking this crazy ride with me this month. I hope you’ll stick around for more, and I hope better, content in the months ahead.

Thank you, God, for this little adventure. Thank you for WordPress and spell check and the notes app on my cell phone, which let me write a lot of these posts from bed. And thank you for my glorious life, which, while probably not always riveting, always gives me something to write about.

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So close!

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Tomorrow is November 30. That means that, unless something insane keeps me from blogging tomorrow, I will have written every day for a month.

I haven’t been over the moon about anything I’ve churned out this month, but I’ve definitely learned some things, and I have some new goals I’ll tell you about later.

One thing I’m thinking about is how often to post going forward. Writing every day hasn’t been hard, necessarily, but it also hasn’t left much room for editing or planning and that sort of thing. Also it’s not like I’ve had something fascinating to say daily! I’m kind of leaning towards every other day going forward, but we’ll see.

That might be a good compromise, particularly since I know December is going to be crazy between getting ready for Christmas and getting ready for this baby.

Here’s a little list of the fun stuff I want to do with Ella in the coming month:

1. cut down our own Christmas tree
2. Make some quasi-homemade soap to give to people
3. Make some Christmas cookies to eat and to give away
4. Go to the enchanted village at Jordan’s
5. See the Christmas Revels in Cambridge
6. Go ice skating (actually I probably can’t do this – someone else will have to take her and I can watch!)
7. See that movie The Star (which I think is the Nativity story but from the animals’ point of view)
8. Read some Christmas stories
9. Learn some Christmas carols
10. WATCH ALL THE CHRISTMAS MOVIES
11. Go downtown for our town’s holiday stroll event
12. Send a letter to Santa
13. Do a few secret Christmas crafts
14. And probably some other things I am forgetting right now!

On the one hand, that means I should maybe plan on writing a little less, since our life will be chock full of Christmas-ing.

On the other hand, it seems like I’ll have a lot to tell you about!

We’ll see how it all shakes out, but in the meantime, I want to thank you for stopping by to check in on this little corner of the Internet. It means a lot to me to see people reading and commenting, even when I haven’t done much to promote this space. I’m very grateful for your support and I hope that if there’s something you’d like to see here, you’ll let me know.

Thank you, God, for helping me stay committed to the challenge I set for myself this month. Thank you for the nice folks who’ve kept reading, even after I posted that insane rundown of the rainbow party! And thank you for keeping me on track after December rolls around, so I don’t lose momentum in the middle of all the holiday and baby chaos.