Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Things Which Stop Us from Writing

I so badly want to write. I want to write all the time. Writing is when I feel the most alive and connected, yet there are a hundred things that keep me from connecting, plugging into the main line of enthusiasm.

For a long time I felt like blogging was at least keeping me connected to writing; if even just for those few hours a week, those few thousand words I was keeping my creative spirit alive through weekly blogging. But I’ve come to realize that it’s more of a writing placebo.

I feel like I’m getting the good writing energy (or at least I should be) when I sit down at start tapping on the keys. When I carve out that small amount of time in between changing diapers, pumping breast milk, trying to teach my daughter to clean up after herself without gritting my teeth, paying bills, putting people to sleep and down for naps, when I find that small nook of time, always sacrificing something else for it like sleep, time with friends or a tidy house, I feel like I am in fact writing. But am I?

What I’m really doing is writing about writing; writing about the process of writing, of trying to publish, writing (like tonight) about how much I want to be writing. Blogging has become for me like a Christmas card; like a weekly update of what I’m doing, what my life has been these past days since last we talked—maybe all blogging is like that. And like a Christmas card, I often wonder: does anyone really want to read this?

Christmas cards are informative and sometimes clever and artfully crafted but their purpose is by and large utilitarian. And writing, real writing is not meant to be utilitarian. It’s meant to be a journey; a journey the reader takes; a journey the author takes. If writing is done properly, the author doesn’t know where a newly conceived story will take her any more than the characters do.

When I started writing my novel some six to nine months ago (sixty-nine months?! No, six to nine months—parents will get this, non-parents should go out and rent Madagascar and Madagascar II post haste because the penguins and Sacha Baron Cohen as the lemur king will bring you ridiculous amounts of joy) I was exhilarated to work on it. Now, 150 pages and almost a year later, I am still totally exhilarated when I sit down and read the words I have written, enjoy the framework of the journey which still hangs in the balance. I want to find out what’s going to happen next in a way I have only experienced upon buying the new installment of Harry Potter. I want to spend time with this novel, with these characters. I want to get to know them and find out what they’re going to do. But I am kept from writing.

It’s okay, really, because life is so full right now and overall, it’s full of truly wonderful, wonderfulness. Even now as I sit in the evening, typing these words, my two-week-old is strapped to my chest in a stretchy sling and her soft head presses gently against my chin, sweet fleshy smell filling my nose, making little grunty infant sleep noises that they stop doing...I can’t remember when but Twila doesn’t do them anymore and I don’t want to miss it. I don’t want to miss this, this wonderful infant time. And I don’t want to miss Twila’s sometimes wonderful young girl time either. I’ve chosen to be a mother now and I don’t want to miss any of it.
But I do want to write. Like an older child pushed out of the way by the new twins, I miss my writing.

I know there will come a day much sooner than I can believe that my daughters will be too busy for me. I will want to spend time with them like they now want me to spend time with me but they will say that they have plans and are busy with school. So I won’t be too busy for them now, even if it means that I allow life, motherhood, to keep me from writing.

Life is long and I am young and there is time for all of this. Who knows the things we will look back on and regret. I could wish I spent more time writing, I could wish I spent more time with my daughters. In the end I guess I would rather regret missing an opportunity in writing than realize I missed any part of my daughter’s youth—these joys and struggle are fleeting and cannot be retrieved. I won’t give up on writing—I can’t. I need it. I need my umbilical cord to life-giving enthusiasm. So I will continue to seek balance between my daughters’ needs and my own.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Finding our Way

The last two weeks have been a process of recovery, relearning, and rejuvenation. I have rested to allow my body to heal from giving birth; having an uncomplicated and fast labor, the thing I’ve felt the most is exhaustion. It’s an amazing toll on the human body to birth a child. My every muscle aches from the work of it. Additionally, my body is creaking and moaning from the back-lash of nine months of pregnancy. My lower back is protesting its short but traumatic journey back to its original position having been stretched to an awkward sway for the last eight weeks or so.

But aside from the physical ailments of this third-timer feeling the significance of another three years of age on an otherwise healthy, young, pregnant body, I am actually feeling quite fantastic. The difficulty of having two now instead of one is far outweighed by the wonderfulness of being a parent for the second time and actually feeling like I know (a little) what the heck I am doing.

When I first gave birth ten years ago, I was surprised to discover I loved the act of giving birth—painful and difficult as it was. Once my baby was born, however, the other aspects of motherhood remained a mystery as I placed my birthdaughter for adoption. Though my milk came in heavily and stayed for weeks in abundant torrents, I did not know the joys and challenges of breastfeeding.

When my first daughter was born three and a half years ago, I nursed for the first time but was surprised by how painful and difficult it was and how sad it made me. I nursed anyway; I nursed my daughter for over two years and it got better, easier. But all the joy of motherhood (including breastfeeding) was couched in anxiety and fear and quite a lot of sadness for at least the first three to six months. So much was going on emotionally and cognitively in my life at the time that I could not, or did not experience any of the euphoria of breastfeeding new moms report.

This birth and the first weeks of being a mother of two have seemed filled with all the joy and euphoria that was absent from my first two births. It is hard to describe how happy I feel now: like Jada polished off this family, this mother in a way I could not have predicted. My heart feels full of irrepressible love. There is a store house of joy in my lungs that presses forward and outward each time I breathe.

As the four of us drove to buy bagels this past weekend, I found myself grinning like a fool out my side window. I giggled to myself and could not explain the ridiculous joy I felt. I think it had something to do with the fact that Jada seems to like the car and I could just cry from the relief of this news. Twila so desperately hated the car for a full twelve months that I thought very seriously about any trip I considered taking. If there was a forty-five minute drive in front of me, Twila would scream—scream at the top of her lungs for forty-five minutes. I arrived absolutely everywhere feeling like I wanted to lie down and die just to hear silence in my ears.

But Jada stares wide-eyed out the window and then falls asleep when we drive and I can’t describe how much we all needed that from her.

So as we enter week three of this new life, with a different looking family, and as I attempt my first day t home with the girls by myself, I feel positive and hopeful. Now is the process of finding our routine, our dance; finding out how to shower, when my time to write will be, how to entertain the three year old on these cold and snow-blowing days, and how to give the second child the attention, affection and love she deserves. By going slow and being patient with each other and ourselves, I am confident that we will find our way.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Most Delicious Cookies in The World

“Why is everything delicious in the world, chocolate?” I asked as I rummaged through the cupboards last night, looking for a treat to satisfy my snackyness that would also not leave my infant in fits of cranky, gassy, wails.

The midwives have been very specific about what not to eat (and drink) for the first twelve weeks.

Twelve weeks, three months, basically a fourth trimester. They smiled and nodded patiently along with me when in my prenatal appointments I talked about the pure pleasure I would experience from having coffee again, enjoying a glass of wine with dinner. “Just a few more days,” I would say joyously, toward the end of my pregnancy.

They didn’t rain on my parade until after the baby was born and they announced pleasantly that for the first twenty-four hours I could eat or drink anything I wanted—chocolate cake, a big glass of wine, cheese…

“What do you mean the first twenty-four hours?” I wanted to know.

“Well your milk doesn’t come in for a day or two so your body will have a chance to process everything out before you start making milk!”


“And then you should avoid foods and drinks that typically cause irritation in babies to make sure there aren’t any sensitivities.”

“Like…coffee and chocolate"

“And alcohol and dairy and vegetables that typically cause gas like broccoli and cauliflower and cabbage. Then you can slowly start to introduce back in those foods one by one to see if any cause an issue with the baby.”

Well, broccoli and cauliflower I can certainly live without for a few months but chocolate? Red wine? Caffeine? For another three months? It didn’t seem fair. Haven’t I abstained long enough?

I always bragged that I could eat anything when I breastfed Twila but now that I have indeed seen a correlation between what I eat and Jada’s temperament, I wonder if in Twila’s case ignorance played its role in that bliss.

I remember her two fussy hours each night and think, could that have had anything to do with the coffee I drank every morning?

The other day after days of being very, very careful, I ate four dark chocolate covered almonds rolled in black cocoa powder—oh man, delicious! Within a couple of hours Jada was arching her back when she nursed and screeching angrily. I wanted so badly to believe it was coincidence. But mentally, I scratched chocolate off my list.

The conundrum of course is this: I need cookies right now. How can I be expected to raise two children cheerfully, write a novel, cook and clean and not have delicious cookies on hand to satisfy my hunger? As I pillaged the cupboards last night I realized that the world is terribly prejudiced against people who cannot eat chocolate.

Before I got pregnant, I was never a big sweets fan so my eyes weren’t open to this obvious social injustice. But now as I sit in post-holiday piles of treats and sweets I see clearly that everything delicious in the world is made of, or covered in chocolate. You will find this hard to believe but we actually got chocolate covered potato chips for Christmas this past year.

Fortunately, this tragic story has a happy ending. I made a very delicious discovery at my local co-op today. Matt’s Real Cookies. This brand of cookies contains no artificial ingredients, no corn syrup (you know how I feel about corn syrup) and nothing I feel ashamed of eating and there is a wide range of non-chocolate containing flavors like peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, cranberry walnut. They are amazing and I think the world needs to know about them.

Matt’s Real Cookies, do yourself a favor, buy some right away and lavish on yourself a soul and body satisfying treat. Prove to yourself that you don't always have to be ignorant to experience bliss.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Family of Four

What is it about flour, butter and sugar in baked combination that is so appealing to the human palate? The only thing wrong with these M&M cookies is the darn bits of crunchy chocolate that get in the way of this floury, buttery, sugary perfection.

We have been so well cared for by our friends, bringing food, delicious cookies and treats, and much needed company. It’s good to have a baby because it reminds you that you are still living in community even though life feels so individualistic. There is nothing like the exhaustion after giving birth and being kept up at night by a tiny baby to remind you that you really do need other people. A healthy reminder for me.

Jada is already differentiating herself as an individual in this family. She likes to sleep all morning: in arms, in slings, in the co-sleeper, on the couch, on the bed—the sole night owl of the family, while the three of us bustle around and carry on as morning people.

She loves to be held and cuddled like her sister, but likes the motion of the swing and the car enough to be willing to give up our arms…at least for a little while.

She loves to nurse and is blessed with an abundant supply of milk, leaving mom spurting and spouting like a giant Charlie-and-the-Chocolate-Factory style milk geyser.

My stomach continues to shrink but is much more rubbery than I recall it being three and a half years ago. And don’t even get me started about giving birth when I was eighteen. Societally, eighteen is far too young to have a baby; physically it’s just about perfect. My labor and delivery with Nicole was by far my easiest delivery; in retrospect, hardly painful at all. And even without nursing, (and with a steady diet of keg beer and junk food) my body was back to normal in less than six weeks. I guess ten years later I am not quite as elastic as I was. Bygones.

So we make our way through each new day, stumbling as we go. Ryan and I struggle to find the routine, juggle girls as we work to meet each of their needs, get them the sleep they need and stay sane ourselves.

As I watched Ryan and Twila trudge across the frozen lake today, heading for a nearby park that during the spring and summer and fall we have to drive or bike to, I settled Jada into her swing by the window, sat down to write (if my fingers would remember how) and thought in this moment of peace that we will be okay as a family of four.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Announcing Jada

I hope you all had a good week. I was absent from the cyber world, indeed from the world in general this past six days since the birth of my new baby on Sunday night.

The last six days have been long yet have gone by so quickly. My new daughter’s first week is almost over. Looking back on Twila’s first three years, it’s almost unimaginable that she was ever a new born yet I remember details of her babyhood as if we were still in it. The smell of warm, wrinkly baby skin moments after birth, the sharp looks out of the corners of baby eyes as they first learn to latch onto the breast; the sound of a new baby’s cry as she and her parents try to understand what she needs.

Jada entered our lives at ten twenty-one on Sunday night here at home. I woke up Sunday morning at about four in the morning to one of our three Cornish Rex cats yowling outside our bedroom door. After giving animal-like chase to the nasty beast I pounced in as way that no nine-and-a-half-month pregnant woman should ever do and wrestled him to the “cat quarters” in the basement. After that pulse-pounding pursuit, sleep was no longer an option for that night. I lay in bed pretending for a while but eventually got up with my early-riser three year old and had breakfast.

Too tired to go anywhere I rested on the couch while Ryan and Twila played and eventually left to run errands. That was when I started paying attention to the subtle squeezes in my lower abdomen. They were crampy but nothing very serious feeling and had to consistency whatsoever. I went back to ignoring them.

The day passed this way with cleaning, eating and eventually napping. The exhaustion of my early morning caught up with me and I slept a heavy deep sleep for over two hours. When I woke up, Ryan and Twila were gone again and I was starving. I began to cut thick slices of my Dad’s famous Christmas coffee cake and didn’t stop until I was stuffed with white flour, cinnamon and walnuts.

As I went back to cleaning, I suddenly felt another strong squeeze and this time I paused doing the dishes and rested my head on my arms, folded across the counter. Several more contractions got my attention this way and I paged my midwife to give her an update. She was bright and positive and reminded me to drink water and keep eating. I turned on the Packer’s game at three and lay on the couch to begin timing contractions.

5 minutes...8 minutes…12 minutes…3 minutes…no pattern.

Midway through the game Ryan and Twila returned home. By this time I was enjoying the game but sporadically needed to stop talking, stop watching and lay my chest on the couch, moving my hips as I breathed through another contraction.

Twila rested her hand gently on my back with each contraction. Ryan set up a contraction timer on his computer which Twila insisted on starting. But after thirty minutes or so of Ryan asking why the next one wasn’t starting yet or getting up to get something after one contraction ended only to have to run back and start the timer again, I asked that he stop timing. They just weren’t lining up.

The game ended. Twila was tired and ready for me to cuddle in bed with her. Just about that moment, it became very clear that I was not cuddling with anyone that night. It was seven o’clock, we called my mom to come and play with Twila, maybe read her some books in bed. As Ryan hung up the phone with my mom I said to both of our surprise, “Call the midwives; have them come too.”

At eight-thirty that night, three midwives arrived, let themselves quietly in the kitchen door, washed their hands and set up duffle bags full of equipment in our bedroom, all without making a sound as I labored very nearby at the foot of the bed.

My mom arrived as they set up and not a moment too soon. I suddenly needed space from Twila even though she was so quiet and supportive. Labor began to feel emotionally intense as well as physically exhausting. Each contraction left me on the verge of tears, panting and gripping Ryan’s shoulders as if they were my very link to life.

Around nine o’clock, I began to feel my body pushing at the end of each contraction and I asked Ryan to retrieve a midwife from the living room to see if I was dilated. After a brief check she smiled at me and said, “You’re doing just great, the baby’s head is so low. You have a little ways to go still, just keep breathing through the contractions.” And then she was gone. I smiled at Ryan after the door closed. “I must not be very dilated or she would have said. That’s okay though,” I said to comfort myself as much as Ryan, “We know from Twila’s birth that I dilate fast.”

And indeed I do. After Jada was born an hour and a half later, as the midwife propped me on the bed with pillows and helped me to arrange the baby in my arms with enough blankets to keep us both warm, and after the champagne had been poured and Ryan had proposed a toast to me and our daughters and our midwives, I asked her, “so, how dilated was I?”

She smiled and said, “maybe three.”

“Thanks for not telling me,” I laughed.

The last hour and a half of labor was like a horse race. Twenty minutes after my midwife left, it became very clear that I could not prevent myself from pushing. Much in the manner that I pushed involuntarily as Ryan raced us to the hospital, I sat on the birthing stool gripping Ryan’s biceps as I moaned and pushed my way through each contraction.

“Get the midwives!” I spat in the seconds between mind-blowing contractions. “I can’t not push!”

When the three midwife team filed back into the bedroom, this time to stay, they smiled and reminded me I was doing great and that my body knew just what to do.

“I’m pushing!” I screamed the very obvious.”

“That’s okay,” they assured me calmly.

“Do you need to check me?” I demanded thinking of her diagnosis less than an hour earlier.
“No,” she smiled almost too calmly, “I can tell from how you sound that you’re ready.

And then, I had to be. Suddenly her head was coming and I could feel it. I mean I could really feel it. I knew exactly where she was in my body in an almost unnerving way. Like a grapefruit coming through a garden hose, her head was sliding down fast. One of our midwives announced she was crowning and then she was born.

Her slippery body fell into three sets of hands. I collected her chubby, wet folds into my arms awkwardly as my tears flowed in earnest. I laughed and laughed as I cried; I couldn’t stop asking, “Is she really born?”

Could it really be over? Am I really capable of delivering a baby that fast? My head is still spinning. Even now as she sleeps in my left arm, and I type one handed in the manner I did three years ago when I first started writing my memoir when Twila was this tiny size, I think: “Can it really be over?”

Friday, January 8, 2010

Top Five Waiting Games

I’m choosing to wait for my baby.

The waiting has at times been difficult, at times very peaceful. I am treating myself gently, making plans, but not too many. I’m allowing myself the luxuries of napping, not cooking, and doing nothing when I feel like doing nothing. Often I feel like cleaning—I think I’ve been nesting for about six months now.

The difficulty of waiting is not knowing when exactly I am due. I didn’t have a regular cycle when I got pregnant so I relied on regular pregnancy tests when we started trying. For some reason, I came to believe that I had received several false negatives before I got a true positive. If that had been true, I would have been due about three weeks ago. According to the ultrasounds, I was due eleven days ago. According to my estimated due date, I was due about eight days ago. So…I’m late. Not that all babies gestate the same amount of time. The midwives still say that she is fairly small, maybe she’s waiting to bulk up. Or maybe she is just very happy and content to nestle in the warmth of my womb; perhaps forever.

As a natural child birth advocate, I’d like to say that the wait has been a pleasure, but admittedly, there have been moments, hours…okay days of ungrace. I have been kept up with contractions, given false hope and then dropped out of the world of labor and back into the world of pregnancy.

That is the difficulty of waiting in these last days I think; it’s not knowing if I am in early labor, or the last days of pregnancy. I don’t know where to put my mental energy. Should I be resting, bathing, eating and keeping my husband home, or running errands, cleaning the house and keeping busy? I haven’t been able to cook a vegetable in days. Food is unappealing to me which means preparing it has been near impossible.

Ryan keeps bringing home take out, staying home from work when things look imminent, playing with Twila while I nap or sleep in. He’s been much more patient with the process than I have. Though I want the baby to come on her own, I also really want to know, at least vaguely, when her arrival might be. Or if that is too much to ask, I would like to know when I was actually due. Why? Why do I need to know? Maybe I just have too much time on my hands but this waiting and speculating has really come to dominate my life, that and eating junk food. Maybe it would be easier if it were nice out and I could go for walks. I feel lethargic, puffy and unable to look a piece of broccoli in the eye without grimacing.

So this is the best I have come up with in terms of what to do when waiting has become unbearable. My top five favorite waiting games:

1. Bathing with way too much Epsom salt. My arms and legs float weightlessly in the tub!

2. Doing way too much. Twila and I overbooked ourselves the other day, we had tea at the Tea Garden, lunch with my mom, played at the children’s museum, had a prenatal appointment, and met some friends for dinner. We both cried that night and fell asleep midsentence but the day passed.

3. Doing nothing at all. Yesterday was a luxurious day in our jammies, napping, eating, making tea, watching movies, and refusing to do anything productive—not even writing or checking email.

4. Getting dressed up to run an errand. Even when I have nothing on the calendar but bringing Twila to school, some days call for perfume and mascara and washed hair. This reminds me that I am still human and at least capable of looking like a woman and not some over-due, puffy pregnant rhinoceros—or one of those animals who gestates for like a year and a half.

5. Writing. As has always been the case in my life, writing is a necessary escape. No matter how big, puffy, pregnant, and fuzzy-brained I feel, when I sit down and listen to my characters talk and make plans, my own self reduces and shrinks for the benefit of those brought into existence through my narration. A welcome escape and relief.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Moments in the Adoption Journey

It’s funny the things that stick with you forever.
I bought a little bag of walnuts for cereal and maybe for making banana bread if I feel ambitious this week and my baby girl still has not arrived. I tore open the corner of the bag yesterday in the darkness of the early morning and suddenly the symbol in the corner of the bag caught my eye. Fritzie Fresh.

Suddenly I am back in my boyfriend’s parent’s store, stocking shelves and cleaning in the middle of July, seven months pregnant. A portly middle-aged woman with frizzy hair, yellow teeth and a smoker’s cough enters. Her arms are laden with boxes of candy, trail mixes, cashews, almonds, walnuts.

She begins stocking our shelves with fresh snacks and candy. She glances up to acknowledge me and suddenly her eyes fix on my round belly, then she looks up to my face. “Are you going to keep it?” she snaps, “cause my husband and I are adopting, we’ll take it if you’re not going to keep it.”

A lioness racing across the savannah and pouncing on the un-expecting jackal stalking her cubs; she pounces and rips the jackal’s jugular from his throat before he realizes what’s happening. The cougar chasing a giant bear away from her baby even as the bear snarls and claws at her.

These are the animalistic images I envision when I peer into my past and witness this scene again. I view that middles aged woman as a threat, a predator sensing my vulnerability, my weakness, and closing in. And when I look back, I am something else too. I am strong and aggressive, fiercely protective. The indignation I felt on the inside then at just barely eighteen is allowed to come out, to manifest its self in violent fury.

As I stand in my kitchen—more than ten years later, looking sadly at that little blue brand that will always take me back to that afternoon, looking into the eyes of that woman—the feeling that surfaces is shame.

I felt so angry with her, furious that she would assume I was looking to get rid of my baby, indignant that she would think herself deserving of my offspring simply because she was older than me, offended that she would dare approach a pregnant teen and solicit adoption without going through the proper legal channels. But rather than showing any of these emotions, rather than saying anything in my defense, my baby’s defense or the defense of pregnant teens the country over, I simply smiled shyly and nodded, gently brushing her off.

Where was the anger, the indignation, the fierce animalistic protectiveness? Turned inward; I put it the only place I knew where to put unattractive feelings at that time, back into my own emotional vault where it would sit and fester for years and eventually turn to anxiety and fierce protectiveness of my first daughter.

I crumbled the walnuts onto my cereal and sat in the darkness, eating and thinking about this next child and how her birth order and my adoption will impact the kind of parent I am for her.