The Long Road

(Okay, this shit is a little heavy. That’s just where I am today, okay?)

This morning, I was listening to the news and there was a story about a family coping with the current flooding in Texas. Their home had been flooded up to two feet, and they were now  sorting through what could be saved and what could not.

The couple, originally from Canada, had two different views (or at least how the story framed it up.) Though both were upset, the mother was on the verge of tears. She recounted how she ran around the house gathering up her children’s favorite toys, books, and other memories before they could get destroyed by the water. She was audibly emotional when she told the reporter that her grandparents’ chest was likely ruined. This wasn’t what she wanted for her family or her kids.

The father, on the other hand, said something along the lines of “I think this is good for my children to experience struggle. It’s good for them to see what recovery looks like.”

And I’ve been thinking about this all morning. What does “recovery” look like?

I’ve often thought about infertility as I would any other disease. Getting pregnant isn’t a cure, but more a temporary treatment. I will always be infertile, just as someone who has had cancer will have always had cancer, even if they are in remission. Or an alcoholic will always be an alcoholic, even if they haven’t actively relapsed.

[Before I continue, I want to be 100% clear. I don’t mean to be flippant about cancer or alcoholism. These are serious diseases, and I have nothing but compassion for people who have experienced them.]

Pregnancy doesn’t erase infertility like it never happened. I think of it almost like a skip in the record, one that jumps to the next track without warning. Treatment allowed me to temporarily become “fertile” so I can to have and maintain a pregnancy. After Chick is born, it isn’t like I’ll magically be able to get pregnant without a whole lotta scientific intervention. This, in a sense, isn’t curable as much as it is by-pass-able.

Which brings me back to my original question… If I’ll always be infertile, what does my recovery look like? What does it mean to put myself back together once the metaphorical waters have subsided?

The thing about recovery is that it also implies wreckage, doesn’t it? Going back to the couple in Texas for a minute… their home was destroyed, and recovery meant going through what could be salvaged and what had to be thrown out. In order to recover, you have to recognize that something happened, that you can’t just go back to how things were, that there are pieces of your life you can’t save. Even the things you loved most, like your grandparents chest or your child’s beloved toy. You have to let go of them, or else they could carry toxic mold spores. (Perhaps I’m taking this flood analogy too far…)

There is a thread here that connects to my recent fatwa on Spring. I’m not “over” infertility. I can’t just go back to my life before the repeated disappointments, frustration, and heartache. As with my mother’s death, I realize there is no getting past this. Like natural disasters, these things happened to me, tore me apart, and I have no choice but to look at my life differently now.

It sounds cliched, but recovery is a long process. I’m now admitting to myself that it is taking a lot longer than I would like it to. Can’t I just skip over the hard part where I don’t cry everyday about how much I miss my mom, or wake up at 3:00 am convinced something is going to go wrong with my pregnancy? I want a goddamn easy button for this.

It isn’t that I don’t respect struggle. In a sense, human beings were born to struggle. It’s how we learn everything from walking to feeding ourselves to changing our tires. Who we are is forged, and that process can be hard and ugly and painful.

Maybe that’s what recovery looks like. It’s hard. It’s painful. And it can’t be easy.

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Baby Celebration Guest List

a) I’m having a baby shower. Only I refuse to call it a baby shower because the idea of one gives me hives. Instead, I have insisted on having it co-ed and at a brewery to distance myself from the whole shower concept. If possible, I would probably have it in a parking lot of a 7-Eleven, but even I’m aware some societal norms must be observed. I’m clearly in denial, so henceforth it will be called a “Baby Celebration.”

b) There are currently 78 likely attendees. 78?! I don’t even like that many people!

How the hell did this happen? Just a few months ago, I seriously entertained the idea of never telling anyone I was pregnant until Chick turned 18. And now I’m having a non-shower for 78 people.

Pardon me as I go into hiding…

Just Me and My Bump. And Unsolicited Opinions.

One of the many things I’ve found weird about pregnancy is how freely people will comment on your body. Like it’s no big deal. Here is a sampling of the observations I’ve received thus far:

  • I’m carrying high.
  • I’m carrying low.
  • My feet are swelling.
  • My face is “glowing.” (What the hell does that even mean?)
  • I’m massive.
  • I’m tiny.
  • Am I actually pregnant?

I also have been on the receiving end of many a warm nod toward my bump from just about every old person I see. While on the bus/train, people will stare at my bump for a moment or two, then offer up their seat to me in a panic. Yes, panic. Like I might go into labor any minute if I don’t sit down.

It’s so odd to be so conspicuous.

My feet are massive! Wait, no... they are tiny!

My feet are massive! Wait, no… they are tiny!

The Feet Swelling comment came from none other than my co-worker Myna, aka the Queen of Oversharing and Inappropriate Behavior. She looked me up and down, landed on my feet and announced “You’re feet look really big. You’re swelling.” Followed by a 20 minute monologue about how her feet swelled 3 whole sizes by the end of her pregnancy. Sigh…

First of all, it was the end of the day after the first warm day of the year. Yes. My feet were swelling because they do that sometimes even if I’m not pregnant. But mostly I just thought “I’ve just been checked out by my coworker. And that’s creepy.”

Think about it for a minute. It’s totally weird that for a brief period of your life, everyone feels it’s okay to stare at your body, analyze, and offer up commentary about it. Of course, as women, our bodies are always subject to some inane form of public scrutiny, but I feel like there is something different at play here. I’ve been looked up and down before by skeevy boys on the street, but it was rarely followed by “Damn, girl…. you’re feet look really big.” I find this behavior appalling, even without the odd comment about my feet.

Can we start some movement about street harassment for pregnant women? As far as I’m concerned, it is never okay to make comments about other people’s bodies. I’m not sure why it is cool to do this just because I’m harboring a tiny life form. But as with most things in pregnancy, rules are rewritten and bizarre expectations are set.

Perhaps next time I should say “My feet look big? Well, your crow’s feet are coming in gloriously!”

ARTICLES: The Do Nothing Summer

In the past few days, a few posts have popped up in my Facebook feed that make me want to roll my eyes. Or punch something. It entirely depends on where my pregnancy rage is at these days.

They go a little something like “This summer, my kids are doing nothing.” These articles expound the virtues of not over-scheduling your kids this summer and embracing the art of slow parenting. Here are two that have been making the rounds:

The aforementioned “This Summer, My Kids are Doing Nothing”

“I’m Opting for a ‘Slow Parenting’ Summer”

Admittedly, I’m not currently searching for camps. Chick will be attending Camp Uterus this summer, where I am the one and only counselor. However, when I read both these articles, I just had to wonder who these parents are and who they think the rest of us parents are.

Over all, I agree that kids these days seem to have a lot of extracurriculars. I remember having hours of free time in the summer to lounge around in bed and read all day. It was glorious. I also, however, had parents with exceptionally flexible schedules. Unless something drastic in my life changes between now and when I’m facing this dilemma, I will still be working 9-5, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year. Into the summer camp fray I go.

So yes, it sticks in my craw that these articles imply not sending your kids to camp is some how “better.” They fail to address the reality of working parents– camps aren’t about making sure your kids are always busy, but also about making sure they have a safe, engaging place to be while you’re at work. It isn’t because we want our kids to be over scheduled, more like we don’t have a choice.

It also echos the larger debate over daycare. I’ve lined up daycare for Chick because I have to. Neither my husband or I want to give up our jobs because they are the foundation of our financial security (yes, even with the obscene tuition rates of infant care.) For some, being a stay-at-home parent is a more viable choice. If that is something a family can afford and prioritize, fantastic. It is equally fantastic if a family can arrange to have affordable and safe childcare outside the home when the return to their jobs. For many, this isn’t optional– going back to work after having children is the only way to provide a stable future for them. Can we just get away from this whole parenting-pissing contest, please?

Do I begrudge these parents for having their flexibility for a slow summer? Not really. If they can be around with their kids in the summer, that’s wonderful. But for the love of Pete, I do wish that people would realize the act of parenting is complex, and certainly not a one-size-fits-all job.

#rantover

Now is the Spring of My Discontent

How does a pregnant woman who has just lost her mother celebrate Mother’s Day?

Denial. Denial, denial, denial.

It’s worth noting that we were never a “Mother’s Day” family. Breakfast in bed, flowers from the back yard, and a homemade card. That would be it. Of course, this was how most holidays were celebrated– everything was pretty low key. It’s almost like we were Jehovah’s Witnesses…

I have been dreading Mother’s Day. Not in my usual “Damn Commercialization!” sort of way. In a new, exciting “I hate all people who have mothers” sort of way. This sounds crazy, I know. But in the same way that you secretly hate all pregnant women (or used to) I now secretly hate all people who have living, breathing mothers. Lucky me, there is a whole holiday dedicated to celebrating this relationship which I sorely miss! De-light-ful!

So I decided to pretend like none of this was happening.

In a weird and unfortunate scheduling snafu, Mr. O planned a vacation with his cousins for this week, meaning I would be by myself on Mother’s Day. He freaked, offered to change the tickets, but honestly, I didn’t care. I miss my mother every single day, and I didn’t see how this one would be any different. I’ll just cry a little more than usual, and that is no reason to incur change fees.

Still, it did seem like nice excuse to do whatever I wanted, so I mapped out what my day would look like. It started with a long walk in the arboretum near my house.

I wear black on the outside, because black is how I feel on the inside.

I wear black on the outside, because black is how I feel on the inside.

The arboretum has been my sanctuary in many ways. When I’ve lost jobs, suffered personal defeats, or just needed to clear my head, it has been the first place I go.  I’ve been running there almost every day for the past two years, and I’ve seen it change in all seasons. It’s kind of like an old, trusted friend. I can lose myself in this space, and it always seems to reflect where I’m at.

The winter where I live was brutal this year. I actually welcomed it because it gave me a perfect excuse for not wanting to leave the house. After my mom died, I would go for runs in the arboretum. It was freezing cold, the trees were leaf-less, and everything seemed gray and barren. Striped down. And exactly how I felt. It was a place where it was okay for me to cry and run and lose my breath– and keep moving because if I didn’t I would literally not be able to feel my face. Even as March approached, it looked like winter here wouldn’t end, and this didn’t strike me as a problem. Rather, it felt fitting.

Why do trees have to be such assholes?

Why do trees have to be such assholes?

But here’s the thing about seasons… they are temporary. I may have wanted winter to last forever, but Spring is always just around the corner. On this particular Sunday, Spring wasn’t just around the corner– it was in full effect, and RELENTLESS. Birds frolicked from branch to branch, and bush to bush. Flowers were everywhere. Trees which up until a few weeks ago reflected my emptiness were now full of adorable little green leaves bursting from their ends.

I have never wanted to start a forest fire more.

Instead, I cried on a park bench. I have become, by the way, an expert at public crying. The key is to not give a shit what anyone thinks about you. Should someone give you funny looks, fling the mucous which you are producing in abundance in their general direction.

After I collected myself, I headed back home for a spot of breakfast then to my prenatal yoga class. It seemed like a way I could “celebrate” Mother’s Day without actually doing any celebrating. Hell, I would have gone anyway– it just so happens that my class is on Sundays.

This week, Randi decided to do something a little different. Instead of our usual meditation on intentions for the practice, blah, blah, blah, we meditated on motherhood. This shouldn’t have surprised me– I was in a prenatal yoga class on MOTHER’S DAY after all– and yet my first thought was “Motherfucker, do we have to do this right now?!”

Part of the meditation was to think about the emotional connection that mothers have with their babies while carrying them. Just like they get nutrition from our bodies to grow, they also feed on our emotions and our state of mind.

“Well, my child is screwed because I’ve been an emotional train wreck since January.”

What am I teaching this kid? Am I teaching them to be sad all the time? That seems like a depressing legacy (literally and figuratively.) Just as I was about to burst into tears at the idea that I’m harming Chick by crying all the damn time, I caught myself. Rather than teaching Chick that life is painful and terrible and morose, perhaps I’m showing them how to love deeply and completely. While this can be painful and terrible and morose, it can also be such a gift.

The truth is that I’m not ready for Spring. I’m still hurt and sad and angry, and I’m not ready to give that up. Yet there is something comforting in knowing that eventually seasons change.

ARTICLE: Time to rethink our social construct of motherhood

When I spoke with my benefits coordinator a few weeks ago about maternity leave, it was a bit of an eye opener. Not in terms of my benefits– I had those practically memorized. What struck me as nuts was the tone.

You see, I am one of the few employed Americans who works for someone who does offer some kind of paid parental leave. (And by paid, I mean 60% of my pay for 6 weeks.) During my conversation, I was reminded repeatedly how “fortunate” I was, and how “generous” this policy was. It was mentioned more than once that my employer isn’t required to extend this benefit– it is a choice the company makes to better support its employees.

Sadly, I am aware how fortunate I am. The vast majority of Americans do not receive any paid paternity leave because as a country we do not prioritize the needs of working parents. I don’t believe this has to be an issue of gender– dads are parents too. I’ve always believed this is more an issue of economic policy than anything else. As I recently learned, paying for childcare can cost as much as college tuition. Without paid family leave, working parents have to make hard choices that have real impact on their financial health and their family structures.

Which was why I was so happy to read this op-ed in the Boston Globe by Katherine McCartney, “Time to Rethink Our Social Construct of Motherhood.” She argues that our country’s stunted policies stem from deep seeded cultural beliefs about what role women should play within the family. Some of my favorite bits are:

When correspondent Meredith Vieira left her job at “60 Minutes” after the birth of her second child, commentators lauded her decision to put her children first. Employed mothers like me felt too guilty to publicly proclaim that we, too, put our children first.

For some, employment isn’t a choice but a necessity that allows them to financially support their children. Jobs are not always “optional.”

Our romanticized views about motherhood continue to sow division and guilt, undermining our energies to organize for the policies that employed mothers and fathers deserve.

As long as we hold on to an antiquated idea that all childcare must happen in the home and must be done exclusively by women, we will never be able to get policies we need.

Mother’s Day is a good day to double down on the work required to reconstruct our conception of motherhood. An essential step is to make the invisible visible, helping young mothers and their partners realize that social constructions of motherhood are just that — constructions.

This Sunday, as you celebrate all the awesome moms you know (yourself include, if applicable), take time to re-evaluate what motherhood means. It isn’t about fitting into one model of parenting. It is about making the best possible choices for your children, and advocating for policies that give all parents the freedom to do so.

(Aaaand I step down off my soap box.)

Make Way for Baby

This weekend, I begrudgingly took a prenatal yoga class.

Since I’ve had to quit pilates and running, I knew I would have to pick up something else or I would lose my shit. I need to move, but I also have come to terms with the reality that I need to slow down. That is, I think, what my abdominal muscles tearing apart was trying to tell me.

I have resisted yoga my entire adult life. It just seemed so fruity to me. I need exercise where there is yelling, grunting, and the occasional need for obscenities. The idea of being trapped in a room smelling like patchouli sounded like torture.

But my body and my baby are trying to tell me something. This shit is not about me any more. Aaaand as luck would have it, there is a yoga studio right down the street from my place that offers prenatal yoga on Sunday afternoons. I was running out of excuses.

As I prepared for class, I realized exactly zero of my workout clothes fit me any more. None. All the spandex I own has been stretched to their last stitches. The sports bra that had fit just two days prior practically screamed for mercy. I cried on the couch for about 5 minutes because I couldn’t back out– I had already pre-paid for the class.

Decked in Mr. O’s sweatpants and a ratty old t-shirt, off to prenatal yoga I went.

I was the first one there and filled with a lot of anxious energy. “I’m going to hate this. Someone is going to read my chakra or something ridiculous and I’ll just have to leave.” And in walks the instructor, Randi, who is the picture of calm, graceful, voluptuous, earth mother. I told her about my injury, and she said she’d suggest certain modifications, but the class should be just what I was looking for.

It turns out I am a yoga natural. Yes, it did take me some time to slooooooow doooooown. There were a few times when Randi had to remind me to “make room for the belly” and this helped me sink into positions and fully experience my body as it is now. As the class went on, I fought it less and something clicked inside me. Specifically, someone kicked inside me.

This body, the one I have today, is something I have never known before. Up until this point in my pregnancy, Chick and I were living like roommates to a certain degree. I wasn’t bothering Chick and, with the exception of some seriously unpleasant constipation early on, Chick wasn’t really bothering me. Then around week 24, Chick literally busted through my abs. No longer roommates, someone is taking over all the communal living spaces. (Hint: it isn’t me.)

At the end of the class, we had a moment of meditation where Randi encouraged us to put our hands on our bellies. Yoga had woken Chick up and sparked a dance party in my uterus. For a little while at least, I started to feel a connection to my child. Me and Chick, we’re in this together.