12.31.2012

So there goes the year. And here comes another.

Cheers to you, friendos! (Maybe a haircut should
be one of the 2013 goals...)
Last year at this time we were headed to Cape May for a couple of days of reflection and resolution-making. This year's theme, Values'12, set a solid footing for our family but I also like to set a few goals and resolutions for myself. Let's see how those played out.


Goals
1. Submit a short story to be published. Nope. This one was a fail. I did do some fiction writing, but nothing solid enough to submit anywhere. 
2. Surprise someone. Check! Skersh got a sweet bday cake.
3. Learn to prepare 3 dinner recipes by heart. By heart is a tough one, but I have definitely expanded the repertoire of the dinners I can cook confidently.

Resolutions
1. Keep in touch with family. Yes! I feel good about this one. I saw my parents once a month this year and we are pretty much constantly texting and emailing since Noah was born.
2. Set small goals for myself at work so I can track how I'm doing. I was at a weird spot last year at work, which is why I set this resolution. As things do, my role evolved and the itch to feel successful was scratched. Was a good year.
3. Socialize outside of work. 
Yes, totally yes. I feel like I saw non-work friends more often and for a while I had a weekly standing "dinner with a random friend" date. I also wrote more letters, which helped with this connecting. Plus running NIFW ended up being awesomely social!

Not bad. All in all these goals and resolutions matched what I needed during the year and I feel happy that I set them. So what's next?

2013 Goals
1. Offer classes through NIFW for at least 3 months.
2. Travel on a plane with Noah.
3. Rework our bedroom so it's a relaxing space for me and Chris.
4. Run a race.

2013 Resolutions
1. Practice gratitude. 
2. Socialize. Despite the baby. 
3. Be active about tracking our finances.

In case you haven't noticed, I've used the impending end of the year as motivation to bang out a few posts that I've been meaning to write and publish. There are a couple more coming; the beginning of 2013 is shaping up to look quite different than I expected and I'm looking forward to sharing some changes with you. 

Chris got me a journal for Christmas and I am jazzed to scrawl random thoughts in it. Do you have a journal? Check out this blog post that I stumbled on... I like the questions and am hoping to answer them sometime before midnight tonight.

Happy New Year, buddies!

12.30.2012

Clearly Shutterfly should have sponsored this post.

One of the things I like about reading other blogs is that people post the best ideas, which you can then copy or tweak and make your own. Example numero uno is an idea posted on Feeding the Soil. Sara, the blog's author, writes about sending printed photos to her son's grandparents every month. She mentions in this post that she gave this as a gift to the grandparents one year for Christmas. Genius!

Since we were trying to take a more relaxed approach to gift giving this year (for financial reasons, among others), I decided to create something called the Noah of the Month club. We ordered custom photo frames from a shop on Etsy and promised all sets of grandparents that we'd send them some printed photos of Noah every month in 2013! Boom. Every grandparent's dream.

Here's how it worked:

Step 1: We hired a local photographer to do a newborn photo shoot at our apartment when Noah was one month old. We were on the fence about this because of the cost, but since we knew we'd use the photos for Christmas gifts, it felt like an investment and in the end I'm so happy we did it!

Step 2: We found this lovely Etsy shop that makes custom 4x6 frames and ordered one for each of the sets of grandparents and a few other family members as well. They came out SO nicely!

Step 3: Once we got the newborn image files (and died a thousand times of cuteness!), I ordered a set of prints from Shutterfly for each set of grandparents and some extras for family.

Step 4: We'd been using a service called Treat to make special cards for family and friends since Noah's arrival, so I printed up special "You're now a member of the Noah of the Month club!" cards for the grandparents. We chose a photo for each frame, threw the extra photos in the greeting card, and wrapped the whole thing up.

Step 5: Now the trick is to not post every photo we take of Noah on Facebook so that we can save some for the monthly photos! Once a month I'll upload a few images to Shutterfly and have them mailed to each set of grandparents.

It'll be a little work once a month, but it's totally worth the time and everyone loved them. I can't say enough about Treat and Shutterfly... we love their services and they send out so many coupons for free stuff and discounts that it gets addictive.

OH! One other little gift idea for the way out...

Speaking of free coupons, I had one for a free photo book from Shutterfly so I made a little book for Noah called "Noah's Family." I grabbed photos of all of his aunts, uncles, grandparents, godmothers, etc and organized them in a simple 20 page book. I figure that this will be a fun way for him to always remember his family members, even if we don't live right next door to them. I imagine pointing to each page and saying "Noah, who's this?!" when he's old enough to talk. Fun, right?!

12.29.2012

Team 2013

Something strange has happened to me since becoming a mother: I can't stop seeing people and wondering what they looked like as babies. The neighbors, the teller at the bank, the homeless man sprawled out on the sidewalk. I look at these people and I think "this person had a mother." I look at these people and want to say, "your mother wiped your ass and kissed your cheeks and hoped for you to live a beautiful life."

That's where we all came from - from moments of overwhelming love. Even the most broken of homes must have had several intense moments of a parent's love. What a unifying feeling for us all, to know that our diapers were changed by someone who hoped for our best.

Regardless of politics, religion or race, those are our foundations.

*
We have been embraced by the world this year. Our collective community, near and far, held doors for me as my belly swelled, sent handmade gifts for our boy, held us through tears when parenting was too intense. I will never forget the doorman who walked alongside me as I made my way out to the cab on our way to the hospital; he walked slowly next to me, his hands held out as if to support me the whole way. I bought used baby items from moms in Brooklyn, women who took a few minutes to recommend pediatricians and play groups on their front stoops in the summer sun. The breastfeeding support group I've been going to has brought me to tears every single meeting, when another mother inevitably breaks down and cries, admitting how hard this all is or how much they need a shower or how lonely they are. 

In the sweetest way possible, I have been parented by the world this year, preparing to become a parent myself. And oh, I am grateful for such community. In the face of recent tragedies, I can't do much else than hold tight to these pillars of support and believe in the good of people.

This must be my foundation.

*
I am more drawn to spirituality since giving birth, since watching our boy grow. Yes, he is flesh, but he is also soul. He's a little someone in there, emerging a little more every day. What an honor to parent such a sweet little soul. 

And what of my soul? And of my husband's? I discovered a band a few weeks back called The Hunts, specifically a song called Lifting the Sea. "It's amazing, it's amazing," the female vocalist sings, "isn't it crazy, isn't it crazy that you and me are both in this world?" 

This is how I feel about having coincided on this planet with the souls of Chris and Noah and everyone else we love.

And if there is a god, She must be a woman. If I am moved to tears thinking about the baby we created, She must be bowled over every moment by the magnitude of love She has for the entire world of her creation. Such is the love of literature, of religious promises, of decrees and testaments and belief systems. The love of a parent: the foundation of everything the world religions believe. Powerful stuff.


*
From the Dave Eggers interview in the Harvard Advocate that inspired No Is For Wimps
"Do not dismiss a book until you have written one, and do not dismiss a movie until you have made one, and do not dismiss a person until you have met them. It is a fuckload of work to be open-minded and generous and understanding and forgiving and accepting, but Christ, that is what matters."

A few weeks ago my sister said something on the phone. "Everyone has their own burden," she said. "You just might not know what it is."

One of the things I want most for Noah is to afford others the benefit of the doubt and to consider the burden that others around him are carrying. I cannot expect this of him if I am not an example of this myself and so I'm committing myself to finding the good in people in 2013. It is so much work to be everything that Eggers says, but that's how we make our world better and that's how I can give back when I've been given so much. That's how I can encourage my son to grow up with as little judgement in his heart as possible.

We're all on the same team. If anything, the shootings in Newtown confirmed that, leveled the field where we all agree that no child deserves to be shot at his elementary school. We have that in common. So let's go from there.

Next year's theme is Team '13 and I'm excited to appreciate, marinate in and hug lots of people. Happy New Year, you lovely, lovely friends. I am so very grateful for you. xo

12.28.2012

Les livres de 2012: round 6 (FINALE)

My in-laws built a Little Library for their yard!
Things slowed down considerably since el bebe was born, but I have a few more books that made it under the wire by the end of 2012. Here goes:

44. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
No! Don't read it. The premise is interesting - time gets all funky when the earth starts rotating slower and slower every day. But man, was this book dull. The characters are thin and I kept feeling like I was kept at a distance from actually getting to know any of them. Also, this might be categorized as a Young Adult book because the characters are adolescent? I'm not sure. Either way, skip it. There are better books to spend your time on.

45. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Loved! Loved. I think I loved Happier at Home more, but probably just because it's easier to wrap my head around a more focused project. I read both on the Kindle via the library and would like to buy both in paper at some point to have at home so I can flip through and underline, add sticky notes, etc. They feel like workbooks to me and I would love to take some colored pens to those pages.

46. The Giver by Lois Lowry
"You never read anything I recommend!" Chris said last week. This is not true, but when he said I could probably read The Giver in 15 minutes, I figured I could throw him a bone. Based purely on the cover of this book, I always thought it was about a homeless man at Christmastime. (What? Who knows.) Turns out it's not!

I liked this book; it read like a short story, something science fictionish but also sort of like a fable. The premise is a society in which everything and everyone is safe and the community is pretty perfect. When they reach age 12, children are assigned an area of expertise to study. Our hero becomes The Receiver of Memories and inherits the memories of the world. Interesting stuff. I can see that it would be a good choice for students in school to read and discuss.


47. Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott
I forget where I heard about this little book but I scooped it up at the library today and finished it in a few hours. I loved it so much; I am definitely planning to buy a copy. It's a book about three simple kinds of prayers to offer up to the universe (Help, Thanks and Wow) and was so lovely in spirit and thought-provoking. A perfect final book to read for the year! I highly recommend and warn you that this is not heavy-handed in terms of religion. Fear not! It's perfectly sane and inclusive of all types of thinkers.


And now here's the whole 2012 reading list with stars next to my favorites...

January
1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins**
2. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
3. Mocking Jay by Suzanne Collins
4. The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter

February
6. Learning to Bow by Bruce Feiler
7. An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
8. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
9. Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein**
10. Woman on the Other Shore by Mitsuyo Kakuta

March
11. Bringing up bebe by Pamela Druckerman
12. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides**

April
13. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout

May
15. 50 Shades of Gray by E.L. James
16. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

June
17. Preemie by Kasey Mathews**
18. It's a Boy! by Andrea Buchanan
19. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
20. Ina May's Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
21. How to Rock Your Baby by Erin Bried

July
22. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch
23. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
24. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
25. Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin
26. Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method by Marie Mongan

August
27. Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel**
28. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
29. Divergent by Veronica Roth
30. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
31. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
33. Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel

September
34. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
35. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
36. The BFG by Roald Dahl
37. Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin**
38. An Inconvenient Wife by Megan Chance
39. Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor (earlier this year, not sure when!)

October
40. A Widow's Story by Joyce Carol Oates**
41. Peace from the Broken Pieces by Iyanla Vanzant
42. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling**

November
43. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
44. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
45. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin**

December
46. The Giver by Lois Lowry
47. Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott**


Want to read more book reviews? Check out the posts tagged Book Reviews.

12.23.2012

Make a beautiful corner: Christmas edition.

We didn't get a tree this year. It came down to one Saturday afternoon, way too many things to get done, and the realization that those needles and the extra vacuuming would drive me insane.

Is it even Christmas without a tree?! Answer: yes. I ran out to Paper Source and bought a few supplies to make a wreath and some Gingerbread Man garland, then decorated the apartment with wrapped gifts and Christmas cards. It isn't Rockefeller Center, but it's nice and we'll get to share my parents' tree when we get to their house later today.






Obligatory baby in reindeer jumper shot:



I have tons to post about the way we approached gifting this year, but obviously I will wait until they are opened in a couple days. Wooo Christmas! I sure do love this holiday.

12.19.2012

Random acts of kindness.

Last night around 3am when I was feeding Noah and checking my email, I read one that was forwarded by an old friend. She doesn't normally forward things like this, she said, but she was touched enough as a teacher herself that it felt appropriate to send along.

What she sent was this article by Ann Curry about the idea of doing random acts of kindness in honor of the victims of the Newtown shootings last week.

I love this idea, but I specifically love all of the ways people were reporting back about the good they'd done. People put money in parking meters, bought lunch for others, baked cookies for the fire department, took a dog on a walk so that new parents could get some sleep.

I believe in karma and in "what goes around comes around" and the golden rule and all that jazz, which is why it feels particularly good to set some random acts of kindness in motion in the world. This morning Noah and I wrote Christmas cards to the first responders to the shootings. We picked up a sign for the local candy shop that had blown over and went in to let them know that it's pretty windy out there today. We bought a holiday gift for our neighbors and for the children of a friend who lives far away. We tipped at the bagel store and bought the woman behind us at Starbucks her drink.

"Have a good day," I said to the woman as we headed for the door.
"I will because of what you did!" she exclaimed and I teared up.

I don't think we need more guns in the world. I don't think we need to arm elementary schools with bodyguards. I think we need to chill out with the guns before everyone needs a nuke in their basement and the whole country exudes an eye for an eye in the worst way possible.

But I do think we need more random acts of kindness. And maybe by posting about this, you'll feel inclined to make someone's day too. xo

12.17.2012

And still it was awful.


Last night before bed:
"This weekend was kind of awful."
"It was awful."
"Even though we tried!"
"We did try. We tried so hard."

Then we rolled over and turned out the lights and fell asleep until the baby cried again and we stumbled around changing his diaper and feeding him and hoping the velcro on his sleep sac didn't wake him when we put him down. 

Maybe it was the irregular schedule over the past week, two nights with babysitters and his first overnight trip to my parents' house. Maybe he sensed my mini-breakdown Saturday night, away from Chris and our normal routines and the normal place we keep the diapers. Or maybe he's a baby and he was just pissed.

All day Sunday we rocked, we swayed, we changed his diaper, we tried to burp him, we sang songs, we took him on a walk. We did all the things you're supposed to do and still it was awful.

*

In the background, it was a weekend of horror. I have barely watched any of the news about Newtown because I can't emotionally go there right now. My mom texted me that the memorial service was starting last night and I turned it on, heard three beats of the piano playing the prelude and turned it off right again. 

I don't know what to do with Friday's events. I don't know how you can put all this work into parenting, all this intention into your family, all this energy into loving and someone can steal everything away in four seconds. I can't think about it for too long or I will fall right over and be unable to stand upright for weeks. 

I've been to Newtown; I have friends from there. Newtown is your town and it's my town and it's every small, sweet place on the planet. They do all the things you're supposed to do there and this weekend it was awful, awful, horribly awful.

*

This complex, blurry space is what parenting is to me. You are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to raise this tiny boy AND you are resentful that you have done nothing for yourself in three days AND you know others are so much less fortunate AND your boobs hurt because they're backed up. Acknowledging gratitude while mourning a life you used to know… it's messy. But I have never been one to see the world in black and white and in this way, parenting is literature. It's black and white and gray and fuzzy and swirly and when you are ready to break, your son grins at you and suddenly you can hold on another five minutes. And when you get too big for your britches and think you can bake cookies AND visit Santa AND spend quality time with your family in the same day, reality swoops in and reminds you that you can't do it all. Not even close. 

So that's where we're at. It was an awful weekend, but it was beautiful too, and I suspect it will keep being awful and beautiful over and over again for the rest of our lives.

12.11.2012

The first evening out.

The bottle-hater himself!
We're leaving Noah home with a babysitter (my friend Sarah) tonight for the first time. We've had little mini-dates before but we've never left the borough without him. Tonight is Arc's holiday party and Etsy's is Thursday; we've had sitters lined up for weeks and then just last week he started refusing bottles. And pacifiers.

It has been a stressful week trying to get him to take a bottle again. Finally yesterday he drank some when I switched between me and the bottle (ha! trickery!). I know, logically, that he'll take it if he's hungry enough. But there's some kind of PTSD going on in my brain because of how tough it was when he wasn't eating ANYTHING for the first couple of weeks and we were all in a bad place. I hate messing with what's been working.

All that said, I really need a night out with my husband. I just wrote out the infamous "List of Emergency Contacts" that every parent I've ever babysat for left for me back in the day. How relaxed I was back then about such lists! "Yeah yeah," I thought, "I'll figure it out." I had no idea the parents in question were freaking out about every little detail the way I am currently describing scenarios on this paper.

If X doesn't work, then use AB and if AB doesn't work then try a little C-D-E and if all else fails, JFKLMNOP. And if All else fails, just text us and we'll be in the next cab home!

I told Chris to bring me a latte on the way home so I can stay awake past 9pm. Ah, this new life of mine.

Fingers crossed. Here goes nothing!

12.01.2012

Weights, Waits and Measures.

Weights.
I had an appointment with the midwives this week, a 6 week check-up, where I found out my weight for the first time since before Noah was born. Something that used to cause me a decent amount of anxiety has been put in its place.

"Do you know why women get butts and bellies when they're having a baby?" our lactation consultant asked us when we met her last month. I shook my head. "Because you are going to need to be comfortable nursing your baby for many hours a day. An ass like a Kardashian is going to help you sit and a little pillow belly is going to cushion the baby while he nurses."

Biology trumps vanity. I'm finally grateful for birthing hips.

Noah hit 10 pounds this week. His thighs have rolls and dimples. His belly swells after he finishes eating and he's growing like a weed. Our weight scare early in his life make me grateful for every ounce he gains and much less irritated about the ounces of extra padding I'm sporting.

Weight means health. That's good to remember.

Waits.
After six weeks, any semblance of schedule is beat out of you. When I stopped resisting the insanity of the unreliable number of hours he slept or the unpredictable amount of time I'd have free per day, things got easier. I feed him when he squawks. I sleep through his grunts. I chop things for dinner a little at a time in-between fussing and then I wait until I have a decent stretch of time in the late afternoon to prepare it. I've stopped getting angry when he's STILL hungry or pees on himself AGAIN or fusses nonstop. Now he gets fed, changed or stuck in the stroller for a walk so he can fall asleep.

This has been an exercise in zen, in letting go of the control over my days. It took a long time to beat it out of me, but now here I am. Feeding this kid while typing this blog post and eating dinner with the same hand. I'm patient now.

I used to think I was patient, but that wasn't patience. That was the genius of distraction disguised as such.

Measures.
I started running again on Wednesday night. I'm taking it slow, redoing the Couch to 5k plan. I was dressed and ready to go when Chris got home that night so he could tag in and take the kid while I hit the streets for my first run. I turned the music up so loud that it was impossible to think about anything but the task at hand. Who needs a vacation when you can get so far away by just listening to music? (Me. Me, I will need a vacation in 2013, for the record. That was just a poetic thought.)

Tonight I did the second run; I get such pleasure from moving and zoning out! Running isn't about losing weight this time. It's about motion and music and finding myself again for 20 minutes on the dark streets of Cobble Hill.

And maybe that's one of the best things that has personally happened to me in becoming a parent. Tasks that were stressful chores before, things like exercise or cooking dinner, mean something different now.

Now they mean freedom.

11.27.2012

Life list: Redesign my blog. Check.

Us at Camp Mighty 2011!
I met Lisa Congdon at Camp Mighty last year. She gave a great talk on life and paths and passion and I really liked what she had to say, not to mention the artwork she created. On the plane ride home I wondered aloud to Chris if she might design a blog header for me. I was feeling gutsy, filled with mighty confidence inspired by the weekend - and yet still insecure about it underneath. In the past year alone she'd done work for the Obama campaign, created her own wallpaper, launched her first art shows and done a billion other cool things. Who was to commission Lisa Congdon for my blog header?

Email her, Chris said. Give it a shot.

And so I did. I emailed and then she emailed and then we talked on the phone and then Lisa made this beautiful blog header for me earlier this year. I love it so much; it's a combination of all the things I write about in this space. It's taken me so long to put up here because sometimes that's how wonderful things go. Sometimes you're too intimidated by the prospect of extravagant growth, so you sit on it for a while until you're really ready for it. (Also sometimes you have a baby and you do not have your shit together for many months...)

Well, I'm ready. I'm ready to write under my married name and to display this totally fitting piece of artwork at the head of that writing. Isn't it the best thing ever?! Look at the little stroller! And the two cats! And the Brooklyn bridge! Lisa, you are awesomesauce. 

Also thanks to my lovely husband for making all the technical redirect wizardry happen for the site. Onwards, friends! Here we go.

11.20.2012

Noah's birth story.

They say that birth is the gift you give to your child, the gift of life. That may be true but one of the pillars of the experience I had giving birth to Noah was the gift he gave me - a tangible, priceless memory that I already find myself using to motivate myself through tough days.

"I gave birth to a baby without drugs in less than 6 hours," I think. "I can do anything."

*

Noah was due on October 11th, but he didn't come that day. I woke up the morning of the 12th determined to get the most annoying items left on my to-do list done. I slowly waddled to the post office to mail some gifts, I picked up some books at the library, I went to the bank and closed an account. I bought an acorn squash and texted Chris in the afternoon to see if he wanted to see an 8pm showing of Argo. At this point I assumed the baby was going to hang in a few more days, though I did text my sister to tell her it felt like he was falling out of me. 

"This baby is basically crowning," I wrote to her. "Feel like he's about to fall the hell out!"

"That's good news!!!!" she wrote back. Little did we know.

Chris got home and we ate our acorn squash with maple syrup. I told him we had to leave for the movies really early, anticipating a slow 10 block walk. It was opening night and though I was dying for a seat on the aisle, there were none to be had. We squeezed in past a couple towards the front of the theater and settled in.

*


In the retelling of that night, I don't remember the pain. I have the memory of being in pain and being uncomfortable, but it's just that - a data point - nothing that can harm me now. Nothing I can relive. Halfway through the movie I started feeling really uncomfortable. I couldn't call them contractions, but it was more like a low stomach ache.

"Do you want to leave?" Chris whispered, as I started deep breathing. 

"I want to see how this movie ends," I said. "I'll tell you if things get bad enough." 

They got bad enough towards the end, but we waited to see if the hostages were saved and then ducked out about 5 minutes before the end. We stepped out onto the street and it was pretty chilly; our walk home was even slower than the one there. We wondered if this was it. We decided to get home and have a glass of wine and go to bed; this is what our midwives had advised us to do if we thought we were headed into labor. 

We took the elevator up to our apartment and Chris opened a bottle of rose. I stood at the kitchen table and took two sips. And then my water broke.

You have no idea if it's actually your water that broke when it breaks. Or at least I didn't. There's a lot going on down there anyway and since Noah's head was already so low, it acted like a stopper. I thought it was possible I'd peed myself. (Sexy.) "Oh!" I said and made a face and Chris jumped. "Did your water just break?!" he asked.

A trip to the bathroom confirmed that I wasn't peeing, that a baby was coming. And despite the preparation, despite the classes we took and the books I read and the furnished nursery 30 feet away, it hit me like a bag of bricks. It was 11:06pm. It was GO time. 

It was time to put my money where my mouth was and have this baby.

*

Nothing feels like a contraction except a contraction. For me, it was easy to know that they had arrived; they rolled through me like waves. At first it was exciting. I tracked their start and finish with an app on my iPhone in bed while Chris got in a last-minute shave. Soon enough it was clear that I couldn't press the buttons anymore, so he took over. 

"Start," I'd whisper and then a short time later, "Ok. Done." I listened to my hypnobirthing tapes, which kept me calm and gave me a familiar rhythm. We didn't like the class but those tapes were worth their weight in gold that night. 

Our midwife told us to call when our contractions were 3-4 minutes apart and lasting an hour. Within half an hour we were ranging 2-6 minutes apart, which felt strangely close based on what our classes had said. Nonetheless, we were in New Parent Mindset, which tells you that your first baby will take approximately 400 days to come out once you go into labor. I was focused on conserving my strength because we were only an hour in. 

Then the chills came on, fast and furious. My teeth clacked like one of those cartoon skeletons; Chris put me in my Muhlenberg sweatshirt, gave me socks and piled blankets on top of me. I was FREEZING. I had never been so cold in my life. 

And see, if you described that to me in a birth class, I'd say "that person is going through transition." But when you're an hour into contractions and you're foggy from the contractions yourself, there is no way you think you're already at transition. I got in a hot shower and warmed up, but felt nauseous. Again! Transition symptom! Again, denial.

Chris called the midwife again. We were 3-4 minutes apart, going on an hour. She suggested waiting another 30 minutes. When Chris came back from making the call, I couldn't speak to him anymore. I was stuck in the bathroom, dealing with contraction after contraction. I couldn't imagine how I would put clothes on or dry my hair or get to the hospital. 

"I'll just live in our shower now," I thought. "I'll work remotely from here, I'll eat dinner in here, this is where I will stay forever."

No dice. Chris pulled the plug on staying home and called the midwife to tell her we were heading in to the hospital. GOOD THING, cause if he hadn't the kid would have been born in a cab.

He ran around grabbing bags and pillows and my sandals and I slowly, slowly, painfully, put clothes on and walked carefully towards the door. I would like to say I had some kind of poignant adieu with the cats but that didn't happen. Instead I had contractions all the way down in the elevator and all the way out to the curb where a car that Chris had called awaited. Our doorman walked slowly alongside me the whole way and I had enough awareness to thank him. 

Then we were taking our last cab ride as non-parents. It was 2:30am. 

*

I do not remember much of the cab ride. I kept my eyes closed the whole time, focusing on breathing and visually graphing the pain of each contraction in spikes. (This is hard to explain and it's not a technique anyone taught me, it was just the way my brain tracked what was happening to me.) We took the tunnel and Chris remembers that the guy at the toll booth was asleep when our cab pulled up. Chris texted our families and someone called (I would later find out it was my sister). I remember Chris telling me someone wanted me to know they believed I could do it, but I wasn't able to take the call myself. I was in some kind of timeless pocket in the universe where I wasn't aware of any knowledge but what was happening with the spiking pain. 

The cab pulled up outside the hospital and I felt relief, if only because we had completed one of the steps I had been anxious about. A 25 minute cab ride while in labor! And yet, it had passed like nothing. I stepped out of the cab while Chris paid and looked up at the main entrance. A giant sign announced: "This entrance is closed between 10pm and 5am... please use the ER entrance around the corner between 9th and 10th avenue." 

I kind of flipped out. WHO WAS GOING TO MAKE ME WALK AN AVENUE BLOCK RIGHT NOW?? And yet when an orderly rushed out with a wheelchair, I wanted none of it. I couldn't imagine sitting right then so we plodded along towards 9th avenue, stopping every few feet to have a contraction. I was vaguely aware of the other people in the ER who watched us walk towards the elevators, but was still in my own brain.

The Birth Center where we planned to deliver was closed because of a nurse shortage. I could not have cared less! We took the elevators to the Labor and Delivery floor, where Chris filled out paperwork and I took deep breaths. Our midwife found us and brought us into our room. 

"I'm going to check you now," she said. I had heard that these checks were painful but it wasn't anything worse than what was happening in my body at the time. I remember thinking, "if I am at 4cm, then I will be ordering all the drugs in the world." I also remember thinking that this would be our one and only child because I couldn't imagine doing this again. 

"OH!" she said, pushing back her chair. "You're at 9cm! I need to go get into scrubs!"

And then I was lifted from my personal fog. I looked at Chris and we laughed. WHAT THE HELL! She came back in the room a few minutes later in scrubs and checked again; I was at 10cm. Our doula was not even there yet.

It was time to push.

*

Here's the thing about pushing: I had not read anything preparing me for it. With laboring, you can at least measure it. You go from 1cm to 2cm... and eventually you get to 10. There are progress markers along the way. But pushing? The only thing I'd heard was that pushing was a total relief after the stress and pain of labor.

So when our midwife said "Ok Jen, now you're going to start pushing," I got nervous for the first time in this whole thing. Chris says I actually said that I was nervous out loud several times. Our doula had arrived and was giving me sips of water between pushes and wiping my forehead. 

"You're doing it!" everyone told me, but I found that hard to believe. It wasn't until the midwife said she could see his head with hair on it that it felt like I was doing it. And even still, it sucked. Mentally I was in a bad place. I felt more trapped than I ever had in my life and I wished I could be transported to any other time in my life -- a funeral, an all-nighter of homework, whatever. 

So I told myself I had two options: get depressed about pushing OR decide to own the next push. About this time, Chris reminded me to relax and think of the hypnobirthing tapes... and once I rallied around the next push, progress happened much faster.

Noah's head came out, then after a loud push on my part his shoulders were out, and finally the rest of him slithered into the hands of the midwife. She put him on my chest; Chris was in tears and I was in shock.

It was 4:57am.

*

I blinked my eyes. I went to a movie and blinked my eyes and it was over. The whole challenge, the marathon, the event we'd been preparing for over nine months. A baby came out and we were different people, we had a different priority, we would never sleep 8 hours straight again.

It took me three days to emotionally connect to what had happened; I sat in our glider at home rocking Noah and I cried, full of relief and love and astonishment.

And here I stand in the kitchen, typing this post on my kitchen counter as my 5 week old son naps across the room. These past 5 weeks have been wonderful and awful, but I have never felt closer to Chris and more aligned on what we want out of our lives. We want to raise wonderful human beings. 

Every difficult thing that comes after this will be slightly less difficult because of this. This is the gift Noah brought me when he came out into the world. Because although I have had other accomplishments, there is something about giving birth that you just can't top.

I think it's because birth levels the playing field. You can't pay your way through it. You can't have your dad call someone on the board. Your degrees don't matter, your race doesn't matter, your GPA and SAT score and hourly wage are worth nothing. The birthing mama is literally naked, using whatever and whoever she is to bring her baby out. 

And I am so damn proud of myself. Forever, forever, forever, now I know; I can do anything.

11.17.2012

The birth plant.

Silver philodendron.
I don't claim to have a crazy green thumb, but I am a plant person. I especially love plants that have meaning. Towards the end of my pregnancy I started thinking about getting the baby a plant when he was born, something that would grow along with him, something that could start small and take on meaning just by the fact that it was a gift for his birth.

Last night my friend Anne came to visit Noah and we took a walk and left the baby with Chris. We hit up one of my favorite plant stores in the neighborhood, Dig, in search of a birth plant. My requirements were:

  • the plant could support cuttings, which would let me make lots of baby plants from it
  • couldn't be too fussy in terms of light or soil or whatnot
  • something that would grow in length so that you could see its progress
After chatting with the saleswoman, I landed on a silver philodendron. I chose a ceramic pot for the plant to make it feel special and the woman who rang me up wrapped it all up as a gift to Noah. It's on his windowsill now and I'm excited to watch it grow alongside him. I already have plans to make cuttings for some of the new babies that our friends are expecting... this little guy has a bright future ahead of him in terms of generating offspring!

11.16.2012

Micromovements.

Baby with giraffe.
Gretchen Ruben mentioned something in a recent blog post about how spending one minute cleaning up one area can be so much better than doing nothing. (Read her post here).

Noah is into cluster feeding at the moment, which means that he feeds nearly continuously from about 5pm to 10pm. This makes it really hard for me to do anything more than watch TV in the evenings. When I wake up to change him in the middle of the night and see that the apartment is a WRECK... well, those are the times I am close to breakdown!

Enter the five minute clean. Once he is finally fed enough for us to put him in his sleep sac and stick him in bed, I take five minutes to walk quickly around the apartment and put things in their place. I treat it like a game, like one of those "clean-up" games Preschool teachers play with their students. How much can I tidy in five minutes? What can I throw in the recycling bin or shove in the dishwasher or throw in the laundry bin? I try to put my coat in the closet and move our bags out of the way so I don't trip in the middle of the night. I also take my vitamins and fill up my water cup and fold the blankets so if I end up sleeping on the couch, I won't need to hunt around for something to cover up with.

I don't have time to clean the whole place, but these five minutes are crucial to my survival lately. I know it means five minutes less time in bed (which is where I'm headed right this minute!), but it does wonders for my mental state.

See also: this blog post. Micro! And yet satisfying. I doubt we will get Shakespeare-worthy writing on this here blog anytime soon, so tiny posts it will be!

11.12.2012

Notes from a cafe. With a baby.

Baby + latte = woo!
I am in a cafe down the street from home. It took about 3 hours of prep to leave the apartment with everything I thought I'd need, including a laptop (me), Kindle (me), change of clothes (baby), sweatshirts (both). I don't know what I thought my plan was once we got here (something vague about writing his birth story), but as soon as I got my latte Noah started crying and I had to take him out of the stroller. Immediately I thought "how fast can I pack up this kid, laptop and latte and get him home?!"

Then I took a couple of breaths and he settled down with a pacifier. And though I am now limited to hunting and pecking out this post with my left hand, we are doing it. We got past the scary moment, we looked discomfort in the face and forged on.

*

Good god, if this entire experience of parenting so far isn't a battle of spirit! How long can you last in the same routine? How much pain can you handle when your milk ducts clog and your baby can't latch and the pump works great but the last thing you want at 2am is to clean the effing tubing out one more time? How many days in a row can your beliefs about child-rearing be tested before you start to feel real shifts in the way you planned your life going?

It's like I signed up for Algebra and the syllabus turned out to be advanced Calc. We're in an entirely new world here. It's not unwelcome, but it is very unlike what I imagined it would be.

*

This past weekend kicked off the first of three weekends featuring visiting grandparents. Chris and I got to have a few mini-dates and it was so great. I love hanging out with my husband... we've been a real team so far and it was fun to go out to lunch and focus on each other. We agreed that one of the things we miss most about pre-kid life is time for our own projects, so we're going to try to work that in as things settle a bit. 

Yesterday I bought fabric to make Noah a Christmas stocking. I'm not particularly talented at sewing, but I want him to have a homemade stocking and am oddly excited by the project. It's these opportunities to make our parenting experience meaningful that I love most so far. 

Gratuitous baby shots on the way out...

Dreamboat pose


Modeling cloth diapers!

Out on a walk

Mommy's little pumpkin!


Bahahah. Humiliating. 

HELLO WORLD! 
P.S. While waiting for these photos to upload, the kid got hungry. So now I am bad-assed-ly nursing him under a nursing cover in public. NERVES! And yet, freedom. We are unchained ftom the glider in the nursery and can leave the house for more than 60 minutes. Victory is ours!

11.07.2012

Today's deep breath.

I'm sitting at my desk, writing a letter, watching the snow fall outside (hello, apocalypse) while my friend Kelley holds Noah on the couch for an hour. I'm listening to Mumford & Sons on headphones and eating chocolate covered pretzels that Kelley brought over and just this combination of music, writing and chocolate has brought me back to myself for 60 minutes.

Mental note: I need to reach out to friends and family for this kind of help more often.

Last night we re-elected a strong president; we watched the election results come in all evening while I nursed Noah and it was a very different night than the one four years ago when we all got wasted in my Greenpoint apartment. That said, it felt just as hopeful and tear-inducing. More states are embracing gay marriage, the next few Supreme Court nominees will hopefully not try to revoke Roe v. Wade and the people who spoke horrifically about rape were not rewarded with political roles.

Deep breath. Despite the intense weather lately, the future feels bright.


Speaking of intense weather, a friend is organizing donations to the elementary school she attended along the Jersey shore. There are plenty of ways to make meaningful contributions to the victims of hurricane Sandy, but if you're looking for a tangible one, check out Monmouth Beach school's Amazon Wishlist here. Purchases are sent directly to the school so they can get back up and running. 

11.02.2012

Les livres de 2012: round 5

How I was able to take a shower today...
Book reviews are going to go a little differently for a while, I think. Instead of posting a bazillion at a time, I'll go slow for now. Truthfully, I wouldn't have predicted that I'd have another one this early in Noah's life, but what they don't tell you about breastfeeding is that you have a LOT of time on your hands. I loved reading this book on my Kindle, since I pretty much only needed one hand to manage the reading (and usually just one finger to flip the page at that!). Here's #43...

43. Wild by Cheryl Strayed


I'd read a few of Cheryl Strayed's "Dear Sugar" columns before, but didn't know much about her until I went to hear an interview with her at the NYPL a few weeks before Noah was born. She struck me as a gutsy woman, someone who has been a bit hardened by events in her life, but someone who brings truth to her writing. I liked that about her. 

I put this book on hold at the library and got it last week on my Kindle; it's the story of how Cheryl hiked the Pacific Coast Trail (think Appalachian Trail, but on the west coast) in her 20s. Her mother had passed away unexpectedly from cancer and she was compelled to take on an enormous challenge. Enter the PCT.


Side note: I like to think that I'm a brave person. Let me say this for the record. There is NO WAY IN HELL that I'm ever doing one of these long hikes. My brother hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro a few years back and my sister loves camping... somehow all of those genes passed me right by. Purifying water with iodine tablets? Watching out for rattlesnakes? Coming across BEARS? Um, no thanks. 


That said, sometimes we read books when we really need them and this was definitely the case for me and this book. Cheryl showed up on the PCT without any real hiking experience. The pages of this book make it clear what a struggle it was for her every day, both mentally and physically. As she gained experience pitching her tent, preparing her meals and hitchhiking into towns to pick up boxes she'd pre-mailed to herself, I gained experience breastfeeding. 


Another side note: last night around 5am I had had enough. Noah was going on an hour and a half eating with no signs of stopping. I was raw, exhausted and pissed off. Bawling, I opened the door to our bedroom and asked Chris for help. I was so mad, could not understand how the baby was not full yet, and so, so tired of not having my body to myself. Because he is a hero in a half shell, Chris swooped in, served up a bottle of pre-pumped milk and burped Noah while he listened to me cry. This was a low point for me and I'm so grateful that I have a husband who is so supportive. I literally do not understand how single moms of newborns do it. In the middle of this crisis, I had the thought "breastfeeding is harder than labor," and it surprised me because it felt so true. 


So what I'm getting at here is that, while I read about Cheryl Strayed walking the Pacific Coast Trail, I was on my own insane journey. Like her, I collapse every night with exhaustion and I spend my days putting one foot in front of another. From time to time, the views are magnificent and from time to time, it feels like a thousand ants are biting me. The book is a solid read on its own, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone going through their own challenge because the metaphors stick and help.


Here's where I want to end. Cheryl writes so often about needing to do the PCT alone. She encounters hiking mates along the way, but continually comes back to spending time alone on the trail. The point, for her, isn't to go have a fantastic social hike, but rather to work through some stuff, to dig deep, to find ways to connect with how strong she really is. 


This morning, Chris went into the office for the first time since Noah was born, leaving me alone with him. Given the night we'd just had, I was a bit nervous. He finished nursing a little after 12 and I thought "now's my chance to shower." I propped him up on a pillow, covered him with a blanket, took off all my clothes and spent 30 minutes pacing back and forth between him and the bathroom. Every tiny sound he made threatened the entire operation. And finally, I thought "screw it. If he cries for 3 minutes, he cries for 3 minutes" and I jumped in.


It wasn't the most luxurious shower I've ever had, but when I got out and raced around the corner to find that he was napping quietly, I wanted to give myself the hugest high-five. It was scary, but I did it. I am alone with him today, but I can do it. Though I've loved having help (and will continue to appreciate it), there is something to be said for standing on your own two feet. It's the way I am truly able to own being a parent -- not with the help of my own parents or Chris' parents or friends or the lactation consultant or even my husband. I needed to do it alone to prove that I could. Just like Cheryl. 


P.S. Noah is still sleeping, almost 2 hours later. In that time, I've showered, dressed, pumped a bottle for him, made homemade chai, eaten lunch, written this blog post and cleaned up the kitchen. Maybe he doesn't need to nap on someone's lap all the time. Maybe he, too, has something to prove about doing things all on his own.

11.01.2012

Goals and letters.

Being a mom.
It's hard to believe, but my friend Sima and I have been emailing each other 5 goals and a daily intention every weekday morning for the past 3 1/2 years. (Whoah.) When I went on maternity leave a few weeks ago, it was super-bizarre to have days that were not structured around a short list of tasks to get done.

I went from super-bizarre to downright panicked last week as we hit day 10 of "Keeping Our Baby Alive." I've been spending upwards of 16 hours a day breastfeeding, 6-7 hours sleeping... and the spare bits in-between showering and eating yogurt. I get it. That's the priority these days. But I miss the good old days of feeling even a little bit accomplished at the end of the afternoon.

So! I wrote to Sima and told her that I was back in! Instead of 5 goals and an intention, I now email her ONE goal and an intention every morning. One goal is a lot some days, but damn if it doesn't help me feel better about the crazy newborn times we're living in.

Here are some examples of my single goals from the past week:
  • During one of Noah's naps, open my computer and upload pix. If I'm feeling especially energetic, choose one for the baby announcement.
  • Look up what to dress Noah in to go outside in this cold!
  • Either walk a block or open a window for a few min for fresh air.
  • Lay down for at least 30 minutes today.
  • Talk to Andrea on phone about breast feeding positions.
Not brain surgery! And yet so, so helpful. Just for kicks, here are some of my intentions:
  • Make it through the day with light expectations
  • Go with Noah's flow.
  • Remember to work within the feedings-- I can read tonight while he cluster feeds. During the day I should wear him and eat lunch, prepare stuff for laundry, etc! 
  • Have a more normal day.
  • When negative thoughts come in, let them flow through and out instead of getting trapped in me.
I write about this because I think it can be easy to assume that life is all or nothing when you have a baby. You can't have the same exact life you used to... but you also don't need to settle for the opposite. Look for small ways to feel accomplished or proud or motivated or productive or whatever you need. One goal is better than none!

*

All work and no play make Jack a dull boy... well, the same is true for me. I literally spend the whole day thinking "wash this bottle," "change this onesie," "set my alarm for an hour from now." They're robotic tasks and when you do robotic tasks day after day, you start to miss the deeper thinking you used to do.

Without any conscious prodding on my part, I felt the urge to write a letter to someone last week. Noah was sleeping for an hour and I had a chai latte on-hand, so I sat at my desk and pulled out some stationary. I spent a few minutes thinking about who I'd like to write to and then put pen to paper. An hour later, I sealed the envelope, added a stamp, and sent Chris downstairs to throw it in the mailbox.

There is something so gratifying about the slow, meandering way one must think when hand-writing a letter. For that hour I allowed myself to think about parenting and the crazy life things that have been going on here in a deeper way than the daily tasks they currently represent. I started to explore my feelings on what it meant to be a mom, how I felt about being a home during the day, how Chris has emerged as a father. It felt great.

And so now, most afternoons, I pull out my stationary and flip through my mental catalog of friends and family around the world. I find someone that I'm compelled to write to and I spend a little chunk of time writing... it has been an amazing energy boost most afternoons. Even though the person I'm writing to isn't here, it really does feel like I just spent an hour having a coffee with him or her. Because my mind is with them, I end the hour feeling full and social, albeit in a different way than I ever imagined.

So. Letters and goals! Not just for the non-parents of the world anymore! Just a few small ideas for those of you headed shortly into parenting (or those of you already there!).