Friday, January 27, 2017

On "Stuff" for Babies

          I remember years ago, our friends warning us that if we thought registering for our wedding was tough, then just wait til we registered for baby stuff.  And, yes, registering for our wedding was tough, mostly because we didn't need too many things to create a new home together, but every time we had put anything on it, my mother insisted we needed 17 more of the same thing, for "just in case".  Most times, we did not actually need all those duplicates, but if you don't understand why my mother in particular would say this, please reference virtually any other post in this blog.  

          So, back to our friends and the baby registry.   I remember saying to them at the time; "Well yeah, a baby registry seems hard because you haven't even met the kid yet."  This is certainly one reason.  Not only do you have to do all this research on what all the things are, but some of those things are great for one kid are not for another.  Example:  Everyone raved about a certain kind of swaddle and said we needed to have six of them, but they essentially swallowed our petite daughter whole until she was nearly two months old.  At this point, they declared that swaddles were no longer considered safe for anyone over two months old because these babies could roll over and not have access to their arms.  The pervasive they are always making new proclamations like this on PBS and NPR.  Thus, we promptly ditched the swaddles she'd just grown into.  Said friends with children only a few years older had their heads spinning that the recommendations could change so quickly on that one.  It's impossible to keep up with all this stuff...

          But the other reason it's difficult to create a baby registry is that, well, babies are little.  Little things should not, in theory or in actuality, take over your house with a burden of crap.  To quote The Princess Bride; "... anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something."  And you'd better believe they really sell it.  When I first got a phone call from someone at our baby registry site, just to see if I were satisfied with their services and if I were open to their suggesting more products, I had to quickly come up with a nice way of saying; "Oh my God, please don't ever call me again for something this trivial."  I'm still not certain I fully succeeded on the "nice" part of that. 

          When I think back on the first few months of our baby's life, if we had nothing more than a car seat with stroller base, a co-sleeping bassinet, a sling, some onesies, diapers, and Butt Paste, (yes, that is a brand name), we would have been totally fine and prepared for several weeks, if not months.  The "rock n' play" chair hand-me-down and bath tub we received were totally great bonuses.  And we love her "sleep sheep" that creates nap-inducing white noise.  You also have to take as much free shit as they will give you at the hospital; their swaddles, those little baby kimonos, diapers, etc.  But really, our grandmothers didn't have all this other gear and our babies don't demand it either.  I checked the safety of our car seat on Consumer Reports, but I'm not the type to research every trendy piece of baby gear for the perfect one for us.  We didn't try out strollers ahead of time and we didn't do any online registry surveys or anything.  If that's your thing, you do you- it's just not for us.  In fact, better yet, go ahead and do it and we will be happy to yoink all your research and copy your purchases!  For better or worse, we found that many people ignored our online registry anyway, because we didn't have a baby shower and because well, kids clothes and books are just more fun to shop for than, say, bottle sterilizers or breast pump attachments.

          Now, I may not be into the most trendy baby items ; the ones that denote some sort of baby social status but we do have some standards.  When I was still pregnant, my mother took us up to their attic to show us a bassinet we might want to use.  The husband had never been up there, but I think I can safely say, he will never forget the space.  My mother is not actually a hoarder, so everything is organized and labelled and sectioned off.  Most people, however, don't have several sets of 100 year old shoes or a section of clothes marked "Polyester pant suits: 1970's" in their attics, so the images are remarkable and can certainly make an impression.  My mother was our tour guide into this vast land of family heirlooms and elementary school art projects, as only she can really know its intricacies.  (Every once in a while, she goes up there and says she is doing a big purge, but she mostly just gives away a few items and then re-organizes and moves stuff around.  This is also true for the basement.)  We crouched across the low-beamed space and were taken to a covered mound just spitting distance from the absolutely enormous Bonnie and Clyde poster that I cannot figure out why we still own.  When the bassinet was unveiled, the husband and I noticeably shuddered.  It was a 70 year old, (at least), faded wicker piece resembling more a dilapidated rickshaw than something we would ever imagine putting a newborn in.  My mother tried to insist on the soundness of its structure by shaking it around, which proved in no way reassuring as ancient, (possibly lead paint?) dust mites went flying.  We politely declined.  Let me correct that.  The husband politely declined and I probably said something to her to the effect of; "Are you high?  We're not putting anyone in that."

          I was reminded of all this today when scrolling through Pinterest, which yes, I do like to do, because all this being said, I do revel in decor projects.  I love a good "before-and-after" blog, photo series, TV show- you name it- I'm on board.  I did eventually have fun when our girl was about 6 months old, and outfitted the nursery, which was previously a guestroom, all ready for her to spend nights in and for us to play in.  For a while, I just kept saying; "I wouldn't have picked this green, but it's fine.  She's a baby.  People are ridiculous with these nurseries; she doesn't care what the wall color is."  Later, the husband loved that the wall color, previously deemed "fine" for a nursery was suddenly deemed "unacceptable".  "I tried to live with it, but I can't!" I said.  The wall color was then changed another more acceptable shade of... you guessed it... green.

          I thought of all this "stuff" for babies when reading a style blog I found today.  This particular post was about an admittedly beautiful nursery, but the writing on the subject had my eyes rolling immediately.  The mom who had designed the space was quoted as saying; "I have a deep passion for wallpaper, so finding the perfect one was very important to me. "  I honestly didn't know one could have a "deep passion" for paper that gets put on a wall, like just the paper itself and not the idea of creating a space.  The paper... that goes on a wall...she has a deep passion for that...  She felt so passionately about this paper, in fact, that finding the PERFECT one was of tantamount importance.  I mean, what would have happened if she hadn't found the PERFECT WALL PAPER?!  I can only imagine the despair of knowing that maybe your kids could have gotten into Harvard if only you'd found "the one".  I can tell you what else this woman has a passion for; putting her children in overly twee winter hats indoors and awkwardly posing them for professional photos on a perfectly white carpet that will be surely soon be covered in snots and Gogurt, (yes, that is a brand name).  But it's all good, because the wall paper behind them is perfect.  It is literally the best thing she could find; superior to all the other wallpapers.

          Personally, my very favorite thing about our girl's nursery is this antique mirror from my parents' house.  As a child, my mom had it hanging in the garage and I could never understand why.  I thought it was so beautiful and deserved a place in the house.  It is beautiful in its way, but as an adult, I can understand why it never made it inside.  It's cherry wood with a mirror in the center and two flowery paintings of Victorian moms and daughters.  It has four coat hooks and one is half broken off.
  It's worn-looking and mildly ridiculous in its ostentatious formality bordering on kitsch, but several weeks into the fog of having a little girl, I called my mother and asked if she still had it in the attic for me.  "Now that I have a girl, will you send me my mirror?" I said. She still had it, of course.  It was wrapped up in the attic and a Post-it was attached with my name on it.  And with all the new stuff out there, for this room, this antique is perfect for us because it speaks of my childhood.  Just like the husband's teddy bear sits on top of our girl's toy chest, I hope she looks at these objects with the same wonder that we did as kids.  That is the real magic of "things"; the way they make us feel.  And we get to relive our own feelings watching our daughter make memories with them. 


Monday, January 9, 2017

Reporting back from the front...


          It's taken me nine months to write this.      

          So, there I was, face up on a hospital gurney, staring at the hospital ceiling when I got knocked for a second time into a door frame on our way to the operating room.  "Oh man, we got the screwed up gurney again!" the resident yelled over me to her colleagues.  "It's got that bum wheel like a bad grocery cart." And they all laughed.  I was headed into my first major surgery and about to meet my first child, and they were all making casual jokes about dysfunctional equipment.  
          We had our little girl.  We didn't know who she was and now we do and we discover more about her every day.         

          I'd like to tell you that I have gotten to the place where I feel super grateful about my birth experience because she and I left the hospital in one piece, or two pieces, really.  That's not exactly the case yet, but I'm getting there.  One friend's very sound wisdom was that the more I tell my story, the more it will lose the trauma and simply become the tale of how she was born.  Or in this case, I'll quote the late, great Carrie Fisher and say; "Take your broken heart and turn it into art."

          Our favorite night nurse on the postpartum ward at the hospital stopped what she was doing once, looked me right in the eye and said; "You are going to get through this."  And later, truly in the middle of the night; "After all this, after everything you've been through, she's still at the breast.  You should be so proud."  And I was proud.  And not just of myself, of the two of us, the three of us in fact.  The husband was there every night on that stupid hospital cot, changing her every diaper that I was too slow on my feet to get to, holding my hand, calling people to come visit to raise my spirits, and reminding me that there would be bacon the next morning at breakfast.

          I did not have a textbook labor like my mother and I certainly didn't drop a baby and bounce back immediately like my Ukrainian ancestors.  To start, I went home from work early on the Monday before my due date because I had a cold.  I slept for about an hour and a half that afternoon.  That was probably my last uninterrupted stretch of sleep for a week.

           What can I say about my expectations about childbirth versus my reality?  And I say "my" reality here, because childbirth certainly seems to be one of those deeply personal, intense physical and emotional experiences that varies so much from person to person.  The anticipatory moments, the during moments, and the after moments of having a newborn all present different levels of challenges for everyone.  Even the reality of the husband's experience was so different from my reality.  

         Well, I'll put it this way: when we finally left the hospital, several nurses who had been faithfully cheering us on saw us off saying; "See you in a year or two!"  To which I smilingly replied; "Fat f#$king chance!"  So this is your opportunity, dear Reader, to abandon ship if you like.  I do not recommend reading the following if you are say, eight months pregnant...

         Several hours following my afternoon snooze on that Monday evening before my due date, I was home alone, (the husband was teaching), and standing in the kitchen, looking out the back window when my water broke.  I kept being told how unlikely this would be.  "It only happens to 10% of women that way", they said. "It happens in the movies that way but not often in real life."  But let me tell you.  The feeling was unmistakable and the sense of; "shit is getting real" excitement quite palpable.  Since I'd already started having a few mild contractions, I was encouraged by my doctor to stay at home where I'd progress better.  So this thing they also tell you about waiting for your contractions to be five to seven minutes apart?  Yeah, that never happened for me.  My contractions went from 20 minutes apart to much closer together within a few short hours and never became regular.  When there were some that were two minutes apart, my doctor told me to come in and we went to the hospital in the middle of the night.  We then were sent home because tests to find out whether my water had broken or not were "inconclusive". When we then returned four hours later, I had dilated five centimeters, 45 minutes of which we were stuck in rush hour traffic, (super fun!). The staff admitted that my water had to have broken when I said it had, (no kidding).  Later the next night, I pushed for far too long and ended up having a last minute C section.  We found out after the surgery that it was because our baby was posterior, i.e., facing "sunny side up", which can be problematic for first time moms, as well as some others.  I was also posterior at birth, I was the second, and as we have discussed, my mom is a horse.  So that was labor for me.  

          I want to be clear that I had an epidural and I have no regrets on that.  Not that anyone said this to me during labor, but experienced midwives will tell you that posterior babies often cause irregular and close contractions, and instead of getting closer together, the contractions just get longer.  I've heard stories about women carrying on full conversations between contractions.  That sounds cute.  You'd better believe that as an opera singer with solid vocal projection, the husband confirmed that the whole triage area knew exactly when I was having another contraction.  And I wasn't carrying on conversation in between.  I am so certain that my epidural did not cause my Caesarian that had I labored without one, I think I would have been even worse off knowing those last hours of pain were futile.  Along with the stories about how labor is "not that bad", my mother had always told me; "As long as everything is normal, you should do fine."  (But seriously, regardless of any of that, if you want it, get the epidural and don't let the hippies shame you.)  With regard to keeping flexible as surgery became necessary, in the back of my mind, I remembered that on the German side of her family, an aunt had labored too long and lost her first baby.  Labor wasn't "normal" for me, but what ultimately matters is that we were both fine in the end.

           Later, I would be telling people that I only pushed for an hour or so, and the husband would have to step in and say; "It was closer to four hours, dear".  I had what's called a "lite epidural", so I had some control as to how much I could feel the contractions while I was pushing and was even able to stand up with support and try different positions, but I was completely delusional about the progress I was not actually making.  There is this weird time suck of adrenaline that happens.  I really thought we were going to meet our baby any minute.  The hard thing about being told that it's time for surgery, is that you know it's not the end of pain with a C section.  It is just the beginning of a different type.  And for a singer with my type of training, the recovery from having a large abdominal incision is not always an easy one.  The OB on call said there was no time limit for how long she could let me continue, but it was getting dangerous with the baby's heart rate and my fever.  At this point, our fantastic labor and delivery nurse rushed over and said; "Remember how you were so excited to meet your baby?!  That is still going to happen tonight."  I was given a few minutes to adjust to the idea before they upped my epidural and brought me in for surgery.   From somewhere, after bawling my eyes out, I reminded the OB on call that I had a large but benign ovarian cyst that would need removing during the surgery.  It had been there for years and this fact was supposed to be on my chart and didn't make it on there for some reason.  I consider myself kind of a badass for my clarity and presence of mind in that moment.  I also reminded the husband what my cousin had once warned me was a common mistake for C section husbands: "When they give you the gown for the operating room, keep your pants on!"
          When the baby was finally unleased, so to speak, we heard a cry and the doctor called out; "Dad, yell out the gender!" And then there was a pause.  The husband explained later it was just his catching his breath at the sight, the reality, of our baby. "We have a girl," he said.  We felt enormous relief when she was declared a 9 out of 10 on the Apgar infant health evaluation scale and they followed that proclamation with; "And we don't give 10's!"  She was 6 lbs, 11 oz of ruddy perfection with a full head of brown hair like her father's and nothing like the bald babies of my family.   And because we didn't know the gender ahead of time, I was a basket case of happiness that I got a little girl and the close connection I feel with my mom and felt with my grandmother could continue on in a daughter.  Then the doctors loudly nerded out for a while at the second part of the surgery, removing my cyst, which as the owner of my body, was weird, and I don't need to get into.  I wanted to keep looking in the direction of the husband holding our baby, but (fun fact!), there is an intense amount of shaking that happens during the end of labor and this doesn't go away with a C section.  It just travels up the body.  The anesthesiologist told me this was hormonal and to try not to fight it.

          The first moment they put her on my chest in the recovery room, we both breathed more easily.  Literally.  My temperature went down and hers went up.  That parent/child chemical connection is pretty amazing.  But in looking back, I didn't feel as much a sense of wonder as much relief, like; She's back with me now, after only about 20 minutes apart. 

          If, right now, you were to offer me the option of 24 more hours of unmedicated labor or another week-long hospital stay, I'd take the labor.  And yes, we were unexpectedly there for a full week.  

          First off, after surgery, when, after a day or so, I could barely get back to the room from a hallway walk, I consented to taking a small dose of the narcotics the hospital seemed to be relentlessly pushing.  That night, I had horrible, fast-paced, manic nightmares, so I requested there be no more of those, please.  In between, we, like most new parents, had some rough midnight hours trying to get a baby with a full head of steam to eat something.  I was struggling to get out of bed with a fresh incision and the husband is just an extremely sound sleeper in the wee hours of the morning.  Things went something like this: 

Baby: Crying
Husband: Snoring
Me: Attempting to get out of bed... in vain 
Me: "Brendan... Brendan?  BRENDAN!!!
Husband: Jumping out of bed: WHAT?!
Baby: Hysterical

 But this was really only the beginning for us.

          To put this into context, our girl was born early on a Wednesday morning and that Friday morning, I woke up feeling very short of breath and told the hospital staff.  My vitals were apparently normal.  I called attention to the same issue the following morning and they were not normal.  I was placed on oxygen and moved to another floor to be monitored because of fluid in my lungs.  Again, that new mom delusion is pretty amazing.  People might be telling you that you are pretty sick, but all you can think about is whether your baby is hungry or not and whether you can be discharged the next day and finally get some sleep without having to tell someone your name and birth date or have someone ask; "Has anyone offered you narcotics yet?" for the billionth time.  That Saturday, in having to rule out a pulmonary embolism, a rare postpartum cardiac condition, and the flu, all while treating me for the potential of a virulent hospital pneumonia, by Saturday afternoon, I had been given antibiotics through two hand needles, three blood tests, (two of which failed due to my veins), a strong diuretic that interrupted a nursing session, a flu test which feels like a stick is being shoved into one's brain through the nose, and a CT scan during which I had to try to control my already erratic breathing and wheezing.  And get this; before the scan, they asked me if I were sure I weren't pregnant.  I did not miss a beat on that one: "If I am pregnant, then that Caesarian section I had a few days ago went horribly wrong..."  The technicians apologetically fumbled to help me onto the machine, no easy feat given my incision. The OB who had performed my surgery said my pelvic floor muscles were incredibly strong and hard to cut through.  Gross.  Everyone had told me ahead of time that my being in touch with this region of musculature would be a boon to me...

          Anyway, that Saturday afternoon, I had undergone as many varying uncomfortable physical sensations as I could tolerate, and keep in mind, I had just been through two nights of labor, so that is saying a lot.  It was then that I started telling the husband; "I think these people are torturing me".  He assured me he could understand why one might think that, but that they were not.  Later that day my father-in-law, having just two years ago spent his first week in a hospital, said; "You are being tortured," which was strangely validating.  I don't think I slept for more than an hour at a time in the entire week's hospital stay between the fluid in my lungs, the constant interruptions for vitals, meds, and you know, feeding my child.  The most peaceful sleep I got altogether was actually during an EKG.  The husband, of course, was terrified that whole test that I had the post-partum heart condition they were testing me for, whereas I was just grateful for the minutes waiting for transport when no one would wake me up to ask me an inane question or tell some bit of information I already knew.  Ahem... resident who woke me up at 5am after a 4:30 feeding to blather in my face about nothing.  Oh, and to ask if anyone had offered me narcotics yet.  In my world, and I thought in most, 5am is for sleeping.  I digress.  Thankfully, my EKG was normal.

          Oh, let's not forget there was also the crying.  Ohhhh, the crying.  Some combination of postpartum hormones and sleep deprivation made sure that when no one was visiting, I cried literally every five minutes.  I'm pretty sure the husband thought I was broken.  When the baby fed well, I cried.  When she didn't feed well, I cried.  I cried the first time I took a shower.  I cried the first time I walked down the hallway.  I cried the first time our transport person got lost on another floor of the hospital, (this happened twice, for a staggering rate of 100% of the time people transported me from one area of the hospital to the other).  So, you get the idea. I did a lot of crying.  I also pretty much had no idea what day it was or what city we were in or what month it was.  The news would come on every once in a while and remind me that we were literally minutes from our home, but to me, it felt like we were on some twisted vacation in hell.  Friends were texting me assuming I was glowing with new motherhood and when I read my responses now, I rather comically come across as though I am writing from prison.  At one point in the middle of the night, a nurse handed me our baby and I was so delirious that while I was nursing her, I actually thought; "Whose baby is this?"  It's funny now.  Thankfully, I didn't say it aloud.

          Please try to imagine that on the Thursday and Friday following the birth of my child, I had been a person.  I'd showered, done my hair, and even put on makeup.  By Saturday, I was back in the hospital gown and hooked up to oxygen.  I was a patient.  Our visitors from earlier in the week could hardly believe there was talk of pneumonia.  The best news was what we were getting was from the pediatricians.  After I'd been recently moved to the more acute floor, one pediatrician came in to report that the baby's weight was normal, she was doing well, and that her slight jaundice would go away on its own.  (She only looked vaguely like a Simpsons character for about a day.)  After so many depressing reports from other doctors on my mysterious health issue, my mother happened to be there for this and chased after him with a tray she had baked yelling; "DO YOU WANT A MUFFIN?"  I told the nice doctor we only offered muffins to people with good news.

          Our favorite nurse was quick to point out that she'd been doing this for 25 years and while many of the changes in maternity policy over those years were positive; skin-to-skin and a focus on breast feeding, etc., she felt that by requiring parents to do almost everything themselves, hospital staff are not actually preparing parents to go home.  Instead, they are sending the mothers home still recovering with their energy completely sapped.  For just this reason, we did take full advantage of the nursery at night between feedings, because we knew someone would have to be awake and relatively sane on our return.  Fortunately, our delivery hospital is not one of the new "baby-friendly" facilities that has removed their nursery entirely. 

          On the following Monday night, they had ruled out everything more serious than pneumonia.  When it was looking like my oxygen levels were improving and we were going to finally be discharged the following day, I had a bout of sleep apnea during the night.  They whisked our baby away and when we woke up, the husband sat at the edge of his cot saying; "Where's our little munchkin?"  We were despondent.  Then we heard her very distinct cry coming down the hallway and shortly afterward, my own OB actually showed up for the second time in her street clothes and said that it was clear I wasn't getting any sleep there; that I was a reliable patient who would come in if I got sicker, and she was personally making sure that we'd be discharged that morning.  To say we were grateful was an extreme understatement.  Our family was finally on our way home.

          Much of this experience was just the perspective of a relatively healthy person who had never actually stayed in a hospital before.  I was, because of the time that my labor started, beginning this week at a deficit of two nights' sleep though.  Of course it could have been much worse.  I can only imagine what it is like for parents with babies in the NICU for an extended period of time.  And for those who are discharged before their infants are, being separated with long nights full of worry can't be easy, to say the least.  I haven't lost sight of how truly lucky we were in the end.

           So what part did I envision about this process that actually came to pass?  My fantasies of nursing my beautiful baby and receiving visitors in my kimono did all come true at least.  In many ways, we have been lucky.  I have wonderful paid maternity leave through my office job, a luxury I know most of this country does not share.  Our baby nurses well and for us, the extreme sleep deprivation ended the second we got home, because my day's schedule was fluid and because our girl seems to like sleep as much as we do.  Our families helped us settle in and our friends banded together and thanks to them, we never went hungry those days when it seemed difficult to eek out time for getting to the grocery store and chopping vegetables.

          Tonight, our girl cried before bed.  She doesn't usually keep crying in our arms.  She was getting tired, but she really needed a bath.  That added chore seemed to push us into having an over tired baby, which is always one of those things that sounds like total bullshit, but when you actually see it in any child, you know it's a thing.  After a fussy night, tomorrow, she will wake up, smile at us, and make our hearts melt all over again.  Sometimes I look at her and tell her aloud as I am registering it to myself that we are this fluid circle of love.  She looks at both of us, and we look at her and at each other and we're all a bunch of smiling, moony-eyed idiots.  I may not be over it all and my story may have to be told a few more times, but I'd say that that cliché they tell you is true. It was all worth it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Memory, Baby-Brain, and I forgot the other noun I was going to use for this title

          I have written about memory here before. In summary, it was an observation that some people seem to have brains that go back a long way in time and others have brains that are able to actually remember what they were supposed to pick up at the grocery store. I have always been one of the former, who has distinct memories all the way back to two and three years of age, but I've been forgetting why I went into a room since at least age nine. I did not pick the age of nine at random for this post. I specifically remember this instance. I always find it fascinating to ask people when they can pinpoint their first memory and how this correlates to the way their mind works.

          I am boggled when people tell me they can't remember anything before age five or six, like my mother. This explains why my first Christmas memory was of my family taking down the fake tree from the attic and unwrapping it from the plastic storage bag in parts and assembling it. Other hearty New Englanders will understand that this was not meant to be my first Christmas memory. It was supposed to be of a live tree. When I remind my parents of that year, my mother is horrified because we started buying live trees a year or two later. "You weren't supposed to remember that," she will say. She wrongly assumed that my memory would stretch back only as far as hers, but I take after my dad in this way, who also has memories from two and three years old. This first Christmas memory is not a bad one, mind you. My beloved grandparents were there. We were putting out a tree for Santa! It would be covered in small and large bright red waxy apples that would years later be discarded because mice started to think they were real apples. And tinsel! So much tinsel! I have no real problems with this artificial Christmas memory, because to me, it was as real as anything else a child could feel at that time.

          So why has this question of what the mind remembers come up for me? The answer is pregnancy. Pregnancy seems to have exaggerated all of my mind's inherent flaws and strengths. I didn't think it possible that my short term memory could actually get worse, but it has. The husband and I went to Montreal for a post-Christmas sort of Babymoon, (boy, Capitalist America will turn any idea into a thing now), and even though I read that the forecast would be quite a bit colder up there than this year's unseasonably warm New England weather, I forgot gloves. Not only that, I nearly forgot to pack up the delicious cheese we bought there for our return home. I HAVE NEVER BEFORE FORGOTTEN TO PACK THE CHEESE.

          Now, I knew that the phenomenon known as "Baby-Brain" was a thing, probably caused by hormonal changes in pregnancy, but I didn't realize it involved not only memory loss but a very specific kind of obsessive memory retention as well. It seems that, much like the chin acne of my teenage years that made a comeback for a few weeks in my first trimester, in many ways, the fecund nature of my mind from my teenage years has made a comeback. As a teen, I bought a 1977 edition of Halliwell's Film Guide at a tag sale and in combination with viewings on TCM, I read and passionately took so many of those old films to heart that now, much of its contents are never to leave my brain. To my mathematician father's dismay, I absorbed basically none of the Algebra that I was supposed to have learned, and to this day I'm pretty certain I can't muster a simple equation.

          So in the same way, for the past few months when the husband asks what I've done that day, it's usually something along the lines of reading 100 pages of a pregnancy or baby book, but on the same day also attempting to put a plate in the toaster. I didn't intend to arm myself with so much information on the topic of pregnancy and infants, but I can only describe it as a type of compulsion. And I don't just mean going to the apps that tell you what kind of fruit your baby most resembles this week. I mean everything I could get my hands on. If you had asked me before I got knocked up, I would have said that there is such a thing as too much information, but I have been unable to help myself. And I'm hardly a baby novice. I grew up with a lot of young cousins and family friends and have many friends now venturing into this arena. In the second trimester alone though, I voraciously devoured about six or seven baby books, at least three novels, countless baby science articles and am working on Amy Poehler's Yes Please, which is largely devoted to childbirth in its first chapters. (I usually am geared toward depressing fiction of the searing feminist genre, but in the past few years as an essentially humorist blogger, this seemed weird, and I have tried to fill in my gap in this reading.) At the same time, I had to memorize a Verdi score, the contents of which seemed to fall out of my brain at a much more rapid rate than these things usually do for me.

          I haven’t yet even reached the post-partum phase, where it’s said that the mother’s brain will likely fall out along with the placenta. If you come to the house during those first few weeks, which I harbor many delusions about as an awestruck blur, be patient with my brain. In my fantasies of new motherhood, I picture myself besotted with our new human, even if, like most freshly-baked babies, he or she is a little funny-looking. Nevertheless, I envision myself a drowsy Bohemian earth mom who can’t find time to shower, but who wears an elegant kimono style robe over all her dirty clothes, as though just prepping to go onstage. No, you say? The reality will be way more disgusting and bizarre? Well, so far, I actually have liked being pregnant, so I am still holding out some amount of hope here. Try not to rain on my parade too much. 

          Oh, it's true that I have my fears and anxieties about life with a newborn for sure. It’s just that at this point, most of them have to do with my struggles to wake from a nap and actually feel refreshed or with the idea of turning around in my home and discovering that my mother has just alphabetized the spices and I can’t find anything. Given the state of my brain, this could be inevitable whether she takes the liberty of doing so or not. I haven't yet found a book or article yet that can relieve my mind of these concerns.

          Ultimately, it's delusional at best to think that the reserves of compulsive research I have done have been stored at all for when this baby arrives. It is more likely that the little bean will just teach us the way through new parenthood with his/her own personality, throwing us for a loop at every turn. We will just have to see. And if this child remembers our fumbles as new parents, it hopefully won't be without some fondness, like my own first memories. What I am actually excited to see is whether I can ever get around to blogging and if it produces any lucid thoughts during this time. Please join me on this journey. Just don’t ask me to make any toast.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Our ancestors didn't waste the trip back to the house

          I think the most “my mom” statement that has ever been made was her recent comment; “I hosted a tea while I was in labor and no one even knew it”. If you’ve ever read this blog before, this will make sense.

         Let’s just start with the “hosting a tea” aspect of this scenario and just how “my mom” this is. Her assumption that teas are a normal everyday life activity that aren't novelty-themed bridal showers is just so 19th century of her- in the best way possible. Let’s get down to the other aspect of this though that is quintessential Jo-Anna Holden. She has asserted for many years that “labor is easy- it’s nothing like the way it’s portrayed in the movies”. She has said many times she would rather give birth than go to the dentist, her logic being that labor is natural and gradual and that the dentist is forced upon you externally. Let’s just acknowledge here that my mom had a terrible dentist growing up, who, it became known later, had a severe alcohol problem. She also had a textbook twenty-four hour first childbirth experience and a textbook quicker second experience, both completely natural. Let’s also say that my mom is a horse.

          When it comes to withstanding pain, I have witnessed my mother practically slice a piece of her finger off at the restaurant, and literally not stop moving through the kitchen for the rest of the night, as is her way (with the thing hygienically bandaged enough, of course). When she swam into the side of the pool while doing laps one day, she still served a lunch to friends that afternoon. My godmother, a nurse, had to force her to lie down after it hadn’t stopped bleeding for several hours, all the while threatening that if she didn’t get out of the kitchen, they were going straight to the ER to get stitches.

          My mother attributes her high threshold for pain with her Ukrainian side. Her grandmother reminded her often that we are descended from a people who gave birth in the fields during a farm work day. Mothers were expected to carry an armful of crops back to the house along with the new baby so the trip back wouldn’t be a waste.

          As I get closer to this baby’s birthday, I am actually grateful for having grown up with this attitude toward childbirth. And yes, I say “birthday”, because that’s what it is. I resent these blogs that refer to it as “D-Day” for delivery day. I mean, really? Who at “The Bump” thought a WWII reference was adorable? Not adorable. At all.

          The more I read, the more I learn that yes, it’s going to be painful, but you get distinct breaks unlike other types of unrelenting pain. (I say this as someone who's had kidney stones, migraines, a pretty bad car accident, and one walloping ear infection on an airplane.) And I've read childbirth is a bit like the anticipation of a blood tests, vaccines, and needles in general. Dwelling on the anxiety is only going to make it worse in a scenario where relaxation is your friend. Is it often described as “intense”? Yes. But I think people mean that in more ways than just pain. There are so many feelings of vulnerability and love that you experience at this time of life, and on that day, it happens in a span of a few hours, and all beyond one's control. Twenty four or forty hours can seem long when you’re thinking about pain, but when it’s (hopefully) gradual, and the result is so emotional, it really seems so short and finite, compared to all the challenges to come. The way I see it, at the end of that long day, you get to meet your baby! However, I am a realist. I’ll report back.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Smile, listen, agree. Then do whatever the f#$k you wanted to anyway. ~Robert Downey Jr.

          There are many magical things about pregnancy; taking that first positive test, seeing your baby’s profile via ultrasound, and feeling the little bean’s dance parties of one rollin’ around down there.  For some women, the most magical time might be the day they finally stop throwing up all the time.  One of the not-so-magical things about pregnancy in my experience so far, is the abundance of unsolicited advice from acquaintances and strangers on the topic.  The amazing thing about babies is that they are a lot like people… only smaller.  What I mean is that they come in a multitude of sizes, shapes, and personalities.  In fact, every pregnancy, even in the same woman, has its own personality and symptoms. 

Particularly in America, women are precious and fretted over when they are a vessel for a child and then are chucked out of the hospital in practically a matter of hours.  Then postpartum time is this sequestered thing that others aren’t always privy to.  We don’t have that “it takes a village” kind of society anymore, where everyone chips in and is exposed to infants on a daily basis and everyone has a similar child-rearing philosophy.  Part of this is good, considering what we know about communicable diseases today, but it almost seems that the less exposure we have to very young babies ahead of our own children, the more our one or two stories become the largest truths in our minds.  Combine this with very little mandatory parental leave and parents being faced with a decision to return to work or not, and early parenting has thus become the most commented on and criticized topic in the lives of women in particular.  Not only are doctors giving expectant mothers more restrictions on diet and health than ever, but the regular people want to chime in too.  Can you think of another context, for example, in which it is appropriate to ask where the people in one's home are sleeping?  It seems that when you make a person, people suddenly think they have some sort of free pass to make statements about your decisions as a family.  

It also seems that a large amount of people tend to forget the gamut of individual pregnancy and postpartum experiences when doling out recommendations and are just anxious to share their stories.  Most of the time, these are done out of love for one’s fellow man; i.e. “Learn from me!”  People don’t want you to be stunned by something that they wish they had known.  However, in my limited experience so far, I have some ideas of what could be left out and what could be included instead.  Though I think I have a lot of baby experience compared to the average bear, I haven’t done the whole baby-living-in-my-house thing yet.  What I can speak to here is what I think has been personally helpful to me as a mom-to-be.

Everyone from my mother, (appropriate), to my dental hygienist, (inappropriate) has put her two cents in to advise me on how I should handle my medical care or how I should raise our baby.  And yes, I say “I” here, because the husband has received none of this advice.  Zero amounts of advice for him.*  

          Let me give you an analogy about a new pet peeve of mine.  I have a friend who’s been a server at restaurants for years.  And by far, the most common everyday annoyance he has to withstand is that same old joke about empty plates he is clearing.  About 14 times a week, diners will indicate to said empty plates and say; “Well, I obviously hated that... [insert hearty chuckle]”.  Admit it.  You’ve done it.  We’ve all done it.  So in the same vein, let me say: Good People who talk to pregnant women; listen.  Resist the urge to commit the oh-so-easy, but equivalent, not-funny joke of pregnancy.

The pregnancy version of that default empty plate joke is; “Get sleep now while you still can!  Once the baby comes you’ll never sleep again!”  Hilarious, right?  I mean; “REALLY?!  You’re saying babies don’t sleep a full eight hours at a stretch?! This is shocking news!  I do wish I’d known this before I got knocked up.”  

Newsflash: I am aware, if not on a visceral level, at least on an intellectual one, that my sleeping patterns are likely to be very much interrupted going forward.  I am a person with an ardent love for sleep.  Any one of my friends can tell you that I have succumbed happily to many a plaintive siren call of a weekend sleep-in session.  If you think that I am ignorant of the fact that future little ones will rob me of my sleep, I can assure you I am not.  It is, in fact, one of the reasons I put off this whole procreating thing longer than I could have.  I’m not having my first baby at 22 years of age after all.  And I just don’t love people saying; “No, you have NO IDEA what tired is until you have a baby.”  Well, I have some idea of what tired is.  This world wasn’t exactly designed with my circadian rhythm in mind, where I would naturally go to bed at 1am and wake up at 11am.  My own mother says she did not sleep for two years after I was born, mainly because I was born and have remained a night owl.  I also didn't imagine this entire process to be like frolicking through a field of butterflies.  Of course I have no idea what it will be like to have another person added to my family.  That is part of the beautiful risk that one takes when making this leap.  We haven't even met the kid yet, so I don't know what it will be like for us.

It's perhaps also important to remember that many pregnant women are not dozing blissfully all night.  This could be due to heartburn, back and hip pain, and a myriad of other reasons, so maybe this shouldn't be everyone's go-to contribution to conversation.  For other ideas on not-so-sound input from acquaintances, see also: questions/comments on weight gain, horrific stories of labor, horrific stories of postpartum depression, and horrific stories in general.  I'm not even particularly afraid of labor because it's a very finite thing in a controlled environment, but you can just go ahead and leave those tales out of conversation for now.  Of course I want to know the stories of my good friends, and share their experiences with them, but if it was distinctly traumatizing, maybe we could wait until after I'm done with this whole gestating thing.  For the most part, I do know that labor is not the way it's portrayed in the movies, but movies are more fun, so people glob onto that.

If you are completely stuck on what nice things you can offer to a couple whom you know, who are expecting, here are some lovely things that I have heard said and have felt very well about:

- You're glowing. (One day, when someone said this to me it was surely a a very kind lie, because on the same day, someone else told me I looked tired.)

-I know a great website for maternity clothes!

-We'd be happy to bring over some casseroles you can freeze in the first few weeks.

          -In retrospect, infants don’t need a lot of “stuff”.

          -The first three months will be hard, but you’ll be running on adrenaline and you can do it!

          -I wasn’t successful at nursing and was so disappointed in myself.  I have accepted it and moved on though, so don’t judge yourself if something doesn’t go to plan.

          -Going back to work is hard, but if it is something you are particularly scared of like I was, you should know that my baby and I are doing really well with it.  She loves her caregivers.

          -If you have any questions or just want to vent, please feel free to call.

-I’m done having children, but I’m almost envious, because what you are about to experience is just such a wonderful journey.

          -You don’t need to listen to anyone’s advice.  In fact, you can cut someone off mid-advice.

          -You’re going to be a great mom/dad.

-Actually, I really don’t know why we waited so long to have kids.

So there you have it; my definitive advice on how to give advice to an expectant pair.  Feel free to ignore it, of course.  That is ultimately, your prerogative.

*The only advice that I am aware of the husband having received is; “Get a stockpile of alcohol your wife might like for after she delivers”.  I support this advice.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Our Real Home is Home Depot

          After feeling like we had to sell our mothers to gypsies in order to even buy a house in the Greater Boston area, (the first home out of four that we bid on in this brutal Boston winter had 14 other offers on it), and after getting through the massive amounts of superfluous paperwork for the bank, we are now being introduced to the joys of home ownership. 

          When one rents an apartment, and this may just be me, if there is a hole in the wall it’s usually best to just find the nearest piece of artwork/poster/tapestry and just throw that shit over it, right?  I’ve been known to grab plates for the same purpose; perhaps even a well-appointed plant.  (Those did not exist in my home alive until I moved in with B, mind you).  Now that we own though, we feel obligated to fill and spackle every damn hole and actually find the ideal placement for every wall hanging.  Annoyingly, we can’t seem to get the steps of any process complete without a period of several days going by and multiple trips to Home Depot.  And no matter how many times I go in there, I am completely mystified about where to find anything and, much to the husband’s dismay, I have to bother every employee I can find on the floor of the store.  I am completely missing the handy gene.  The entire canon of my carpentry and home repair knowledge can be boiled down to the phrase; “Righty tighty, lefty loosey,” which a friend’s father once taught me.  My own mathemetician father has earned the title “Captain Theory of Relativity” among his friends in part because of his tendency to call the repairman when a lightbulb goes out. Thankfully, B knows the difference between a phillips head and whatever the other screwdriver is called… along with a lot of other basics I can’t claim to ever have any interest in learning.  He's already saved the day a few times.

          Our third night in the new place, we had mattress adventures, and not the good kind.  After the movers couldn’t get our box spring up the stairwell, we had to wait for a split box spring to be delivered.  In the meantime, our bedframe had already been assembled and there wasn’t much floor space for the mattress, so B took extra planks from the guestbed to support the mattress on the bedframe.  This worked for the entire weekend until Sunday night of course, because that was obviously when we had to get a good night’s sleep for work the next day.  

          At 3am, the planks nearest our heads started loudly falling out from underneath us.  Next thing I know, I’m groggily sitting on the floor while B is like a car mechanic sliding under the bed with a flashlight.  He’s able to fix it and we crawl gingerly back into bed.  At 4:30, they fall again.  This time, I yell; “Screw it!  Just roll over and go back to sleep!”  When we wake in the morning, our feet are so far above our heads, which are practically on the floor as part of some sort of weird reverse-acid-reflux position.  B had a stroke of brilliance later that day, when he took my car’s brand new jack and propped up the frame.  This did the trick.
          My main problem right now, is that when I come home after my office job, I have all these unrealistic expectations about what the husband can accomplish while he’s home for the summer from his teaching year.  He just is way more detail-oriented than I am.  Inevitably, I walk into the foyer every day to see that two blaringly dingy doors with actual holes in them have not been touched, while the husband gives me a proud smile about the third coat of trim touch-ups he did in the upstairs hallway.  I assure you, I never would have noticed the difference, but perhaps in the long run, slow and steady, the details will make a difference for resale.

None of this, however, goes along with my fantasy of returning home every night and eating bon-bons on the couch.  In fact, we are still waiting for our living room couch because of course, I ordered it custom.  I think B died a little inside when he heard me tell the consultant at Jordan’s that I was “looking for an English rolled arm.”  I think, and he agrees, that I was spectacular at negotiating a couple thousand off my last car.  I sure don’t care about many car features, but when it comes to things like furniture, that lady had my number so fast she probably could see the virtual commission amount before her eyes.  Oh well.  Our last sofa cost less than a small dog and is sitting in the basement collapsing slowly.  This new fancy one will hopefully hold up for more than three years…  One of the myriad choices we had to make on this piece was whether we wanted detached or semi-detached back cushions.  In response, we stared perplexedly at the sales lady.  “It’s got to be either detached or not detached, no?” said B.  The woman paused and said; “You can make forts with the detached cushions.”  Sold. 

          Also, when you buy a new place, you must gird your loins for everyone who comes through to speak his or her mind.  When the house and decor are still in flux, people go: "Yilch, that light fixture!  I mean... unless you like it and want to keep it?"  I recall a story about my aunt heading to her daughter's house and giving my uncle a pep talk about how they weren't going to say anything about the decor this time.  They were going to bite their tongues.  When they walked into the front hallway, they nearly got whiplash because just the ceiling had been painted.  My uncle's first words were; "Well, that's brothel red."

          I think my proudest success on the house so far has been our half bath off the kitchen.  It’s the room in the house that is nearest completion and that may well be because it’s the smallest.  We painted it a deep peacock/teal and it looks smashing against the white trim, like a little jewel box.  And our critics agree.  Our friends came over this weekend and their three year old boy said; “What a beautiful bathroom!”  He’s welcome back anytime.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Saying 'so long' to JP, but bringing the weird with us

Ah, we’re moving again.  It’s a great reminder that we have too much stuff, as well as the absurdity of the stuff that we own.  It’s also a reminder that my parents have a lot of stuff and that my mother is trying to foist a good percentage of it in our direction, sometimes while we are not looking.  Don’t try to question it: it’s one of her love languages.

Meanwhile, I say this as a person who has recently spent a good amount of time patting herself on the back for getting rid of the majority of her VHS collection.  I say the majority, because, yes, we do have AppleTV and Netflix, but we also still have a functioning VCR.  And no, you can’t always just replace some of those videos taped from TV!   I mean, can I view the Claymation version of Rudolph around the holidays without those 80’s M&M commercials included?  Yes.  Should I have to?  No.  (Please imagine the husband listening to this monologue as I say it aloud to myself on the floor of our living room.)  And Netflix doesn’t carry all the classics.  I mean, seriously, Easter Parade may only be in demand if you are an octogenarian, or me, but I need to watch it annually, so get it together, Netflix!

And then, there have been the other surprise items we own, things generally forgotten about, that emerged from our cabinets like old, weird friends on Facebook.  There was virtually an entire kingdom of bizarre crap covered in dust on the top shelf of our hutch.  It had been so long since he’d seen it that B didn’t even know what the hookah was, for example.  It was a housewarming gift from a Jordanian friend for my first apartment in Boston.  Then there’s the half yard beer glass from my grandparents’ trip to Germany.  While these pieces may be a little strange for display, I assure you they've both been used fondly at many a party, along with our porron, that fanstastic booze-guzzling gadget also from my grandparents' attic:

But do not try to imply that my Yul Brynner commemorative plate is too strange for display, because I currently lie awake at night wondering where his next uplit throne will be in the new house.

And in between all this packing, we also have had to have a few sad moments where we say farewell to the apartment itself; the charming walls that kept us safe and warm and happy, the good old bones of our first home together.  I guess we are both like our families in this way. We get attached to places.  They become infused with meaning.  In the ten years I’ve been in Boston, I’ve only lived in two apartments, after all.  We’ve seen our friends come and go in this neighborhood for the past four years.  We’ve made a lot of jokes about our very quiet neighbors across the street in beautiful Forest Hills Cemetery.  We’ve hosted birthday parties, holiday parties, and even engagement parties.  In short, we’ve eaten a lot of cheese and toasted a lot of friends as we went from boyfriend and girlfriend to husband and wife.  In our time here, I’ve made sure to take advantage of every fest Jamaica Plain has to offer.  I’ve been to Wake up the Earth Fest, the Fermentation Fest, Porchfest, JP Open Studios, the Lantern Fest; all the Fests.  We will miss living in Jamaica Plain in all its kombucha-brewing, art-creating weirdness.  We’ll still be able to visit of course, and without much effort, we’ll take some of the weirdness right along with us to our new home.