Defining death. To a child.

I love words. I love reading and writing and hearing peoples’ stories, and telling them, myself. Anyone who knows me will freely say that I’m not often at a loss for words. I’m finding, though, that as a parent of a nearly three-year-old child,  attempts to describe or define the meaning of words and actions often leave me without the means to accurately convey a concept. To be sure, some of it is developmental; small children are not the most abstract thinkers. But beyond that, there’s a desire to shield him from the ugliness of the world, at least for now, while still making good on my values to raise him in honesty and reality.

As we walked through the cemetery in our neighborhood yesterday afternoon, I thought of my mom, as I often do, and that I should visit her grave. It’s been awhile; I have a hard time ascribing meaning to that space. I asked D if he wanted to visit Grandma Patti’s cemetery, and he said yes. He immediately started chattering as we walked home, about seeing her, bringing her some of the chocolate strawberries his dad had made for me the day before. We talk to him about my mom a lot, show him photos, tell him stories, to help him understand her importance in our lives. It broke my heart to listen to him, knowing that I needed to try to explain the reality of the situation.

We got to her grave, and he smiled, recognizing my mom and dad on the etching in the headstone. “Is Papa Steve coming here, too?” he asked. I told him no. A car pulled up, and he stood, wondering aloud if that was Grandma Patti. He really believed he was going to see her. I took a breath, and asked him to sit with me. I said, “Grandma Patti isn’t with us anymore.”He asked where she was. Knowing that he attends church with his other papa, I tried to use terms that he might have some concept of; “She’s an angel now. She’s all around us. She watches us.” He just looked at me. I finally decided to try to level with him, as leveling with a three year old is always the smart choice (ha ha). I said, “Honey, Grandma was really sick. There was something in her body that made her very, very sick, and it made her heart stop working. We need our hearts to live-so we can breathe, and play, and be with other people. She can’t do those things anymore. Her body didn’t work, and now it’s here, in this ground, to be kept safe. This big stone helps people to remember who she was, and lets us come visit her and think about her.” The entire time, I kept telling myself to stop talking, to stop being so pseudo-biological and blunt about it.

He listened, looking at the ground and running his fingers through the thick grass around him. “She’s in heaven?” he said. “Yes, baby.” “Oh.” For a moment, he looked like he might start crying, and I regretted all of it. Enough of us had shed tears over her loss, and I didn’t want him to take on that burden. Not yet. He never even got to know her, just being held by her once, when he was three days old. And then she was gone. But, I think he understood, as much as his three year old abilities would permit him. “You miss your mommy, Mom?” I blinked back tears. “Yes, I do.” He gave me a little smile.

We started to get up to leave, and I said my goodbyes aloud to my mom. He followed my lead, and said, “Bye, Grandma Patti. I love you and miss you. The doctors will come and fix your heart to work again, and you will come back to life”, blowing her a kiss. More blinked-back tears. That innocence over the permanence of death, the desire to make someone else feel better, made me both incredibly sad and happy at the same time. He’s trying to understand how others feel, while learning to manage his own emotions within those contexts. That’s a hard thing, something that most of us struggle with well into adulthood.

As I drove home, him watching a show on my phone, I thought about what happened. Maybe it was OK that I shared what I did; after all, life does not exist within an absence of conflict and sadness. I want him to grow with the understanding that it’s OK to display emotion, to communicate pain in a constructive manner. Maybe he can’t really grasp the concept of death, but he can understand sadness and hurt and love. Something that my mom instilled in us was empathy, and to truly see people and their complexities, even if they aren’t on full display. This experience with D yesterday made me hope that perhaps I am starting to lay the same foundation for him, to help him intuit what is in other people’s hearts, even if he can’t fully know what has hurt them.

Full-On Mom Jeans.

That’s the nickname I’ve given myself-Mom Jeans. Alas, I have become that asshole that I have always hated-posting a million photos of my baby on IG/FB (that no one ultimately cares about, I know this; I mostly didn’t care about your baby, either), posting inane status updates about my lack of sleep/loss of independence/back pain/baby screaminess, and commiserating with other moms about the glamorous life of parenthood. It’s annoying, and here is where I issue my blanket apology-I’m sorry. I will also not stop, so it might be a good idea to remove me from any social media feeds or defriend me altogether. Maybe block my phone number too, if I’m texting you unwanted photos. But it’s a baby! In tiny shorts!

Even more startling are my behaviors in private-perpetually tiptoeing around the house, squealing D’s name over and over again so I can get through a shower without him losing his shit (this only works 14% of the time), singing every ridiculous made up song I can conjure off the top of my head, and putting more thought into his outfits in the morning, than my own. Oh, my eating habits? That consists of anything I can grab with one hand, and stuff into my mouth, like a raccoon. This runs the gamut from healthy (apple) to disgusting (finger swipe of peanut butter). I know this is normal, and I don’t hate it. It’s just..shocking, sometimes.

And don’t even get me started about my appearance. My crowning achievement has been that I shower and dress every morning. That’s a non-negotiable for me (although I understand how many people don’t get to it). However, my mascara wand has never seen less activity, my hair is in a perma-knot atop my head, and I don’t so much care that there’s a rivulet of baby spit/drool/milk all over my shoulder. My dirtiest little secret? Even though I fit comfortably back into my pre-pregnancy clothes, I cannot make myself stop wearing my maternity jeans. Please note, I know this is in no way flattering, as they are huge and baggy on my legs and butt, but weeee! Jeans that also feel like sweatpants! Just toss a longer cardigan on, and no one is the wiser…unless you’re walking behind me in Wegman’s, and watching me hike my pants up every 2-3 strides.

It’s all just interesting to me, how you become almost unrecognizable to yourself once you become a parent. Maybe not everyone feels this way, but I do. Like I said, I certainly don’t dislike it, nor do I find it to be a bad thing, but I didn’t always intend to be a parent. I never daydreamed about having kids and all that jazz, nor did I ever think it would actually happen. But now, here I am, with this little redheaded, doe-eyed boy, and I love him so much that it almost takes my air sometimes. He has taught me so much about myself, made me happier, much less willing to abide nonsense from other people, and has given me a sense of purpose that I thought I always got from my career, but is so much more fierce now. I feel incredibly lucky to be his mom, and to have the opportunity to help guide another person to the best life possible. So what if I AM doing it with bags under my eyes and ill-fitting pants? He will grow more independent, and I will look presentable in public again. And I bet, when all is said and done, that I’ll probably miss this time.

What the hell just happened?

I’m writing this as Dempsey sleeps on my shoulder, my computer balanced precariously on the Boppy pillow on my lap, and wondering…how did we make it through this past month?
He is 5 weeks old now, 5 weeks that simultaneously dragged and flew by. And I have to be honest-the first 4 were incredibly rough. I didn’t anticipate the difficulty I would have in adjusting. On top of the garden variety lack of sleep, I couldn’t even sleep when he did, because I had such bad anxiety. Trying to recover from a c-section and care for a newborn, dealing with my mother’s death, and just generally worrying about how I was going to adapt to it all, really took a toll on me. I frequently felt sort of out of my mind, and yes-I was suffering from a little depression as a result of it all. And just as swiftly as it all hit me, it all lifted, on the day he turned one month old. I’m not sure what was responsible for the flipped switch, but I am incredibly grateful to be feeling like myself again, happy, much more rested, and able to more freely enjoy the experience.

It got me thinking about the messages that we’re sent about parenthood, and what to expect. I got the impression that sure, I would be sleepy, but life would be so lovely with a new baby, all mushiness and love. And while there were those moments, there were more frequently really difficult ones. I would cry uncontrollably in response to a simple inquiry of “How’s it going?” And no one ever talks about those things, which then makes you feel like there is something wrong with you. I started to feel like a bad parent for feeling like that, for wishing at times that I had my independence back (or even just a free pair of hands), that I could have even one more night of uninterrupted sleep.

Once I started feeling normal again, I felt more comfortable coming clean about these feelings. As I talked to other moms, I began to hear a lot of my statements echoed in their own stories. So many people said that they experienced the same thing, and that those who had multiple children recalled feeling incredible anxiety when they became pregnant with their second child, unsure if they could do it again. So, the lesson in all of this becomes: talk about it. We as women need to share our stories with one another, support each other, validate what others are feeling. Because if we don’t, we continue to perpetuate feelings of isolation, shame and guilt. Women need to know that they aren’t alone in those feelings, that it’s OK to ask for help. Feeling overwhelmed doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you normal. Healthy, happy babies need healthy, happy parents, and that’s ultimately what we all want for our families.

I’m amazed everyday at how much easier it gets-how we just adapt to this tiny (yet huge) little person in our lives. I look at Dempsey, watch the way he changes each day, see him growing and developing and becoming his own little person, and I feel so grateful for the opportunity to be his mom. Even more so, I’m grateful for the support of everyone in my life that supported and encouraged me in those first few weeks-it lifted me up at a time when I needed it most.

For my mom.

I lost my mom last week. Fifteen months of battling lung cancer that spread to her bones and kidneys, and it finally became too much for her. I knew on the very day of her diagnosis last year that this would take her, and the manner in which it would do so, and so I began to prepare. We all watched as she dealt with the side effects of her chemotherapy, losing a startling amount of weight, her hair, as well as her normally endless energy. We almost lost her last year after her first round of chemotherapy left her so weak with pneumonia that I still don’t know quite how she survived it. I often felt frustrated at the universe for giving my mom so many “sick days”, when I would see other women out shopping with their friends and daughters, clearly battling some sort of cancer, but healthy enough to enjoy life regularly. My mom didn’t get that. I remember telling her that, and her getting upset, having taken what I was trying to say the wrong way. She thought I was blaming her. I wasn’t, I was trying to communicate my sadness for what she was experiencing, but that was the nature of our relationship. Contentious, edgy, misunderstanding each other around every corner.

I never understood who she was, thought she had no interests or hobbies, wondered silently throughout my life why she didn’t “get a life”-go out with friends, cultivate interests, be her own person. In turn, she often felt that I was uptight, had self-absorbed interests and ideas, and I believe that she often thought that I believed I was smarter than her. In fact, she said as much to me, a few years back. During what I thought was a pleasant conversation, she suddenly erupted, “You think I’m stupid, that I’m not as smart as you are.” I remember confusion being replaced by shock, and my dad quietly suggesting to her, “That is your thing, not hers. She’s not implying that.” Our conversations were frequently a near-miss.

In all the horror of her illness and death, there was a beauty in learning about who she truly was. My mom DID have interests, joys and hobbies-her family and friends. She loved my dad with her whole heart, and never wanted to be a day without him. And each of us, even me-she worried endlessly about our happiness, even if it came out wrong sometimes. “Call or text me when you get there”, she say to me as I left town for work. I would roll my eyes, and say, “No, Mom..I’m a grown woman, I’m not going to do that.” I wish now I had just appeased her anxiety, and said, “OK, Mom”. Her passion and caring often erupted from her in a loud voice, and I would shut down, feeling “yelled at”. She was just trying to convey how much she felt what she was trying to communicate. In the last few months before her death, I spent many days caring for her, and while it broke my heart to have to remind her multiple times about why she was taking medication, or to wash her bald head with “that soap that smells so nice”, I feel so lucky that I had that time alone with her, for us to really connect for the first time, to talk about life and what her greatest joys were, what she would miss. She worried endlessly that she wouldn’t meet Dempsey, and it made me so happy on the day that she was able to rub his little head and kiss him. I feel at ease knowing that she died knowing how much I really did love her.

In the days after her death, there was an outpouring of stories from my mom’s friends, family, co-workers and students about her impact on them. The common thread in all of them was that she made them feel cared about, accepted, worth something. Despite all our differences, I always knew that my sense of social justice, of inclusion, of doing the right thing came directly from her, but I was humbled at the far-reaching impact this seemingly simple woman had on so many people throughout her entire life. I can only hope that I’ll have half the impact on others that she did, that I will raise Dempsey to be a man of strong moral character, with a heart of love to offer the world. Those were her gifts to the people that she loved, and even now, I can feel those things all around me.

To everyone that has shared their love and support with our family over the past year and a half, and particularly in the past week-thank you. You will never know the gratitude that we feel. Each of you has been a beautiful tribute to my mother, and her life.

Holy crap, we have a baby (the birth story).

So, by now, most of you know that we have been graced with a healthy boy. He came on 6/16, which reallllly helped the fact that I was stumped about a Father’s Day gift for Andy, weighing 9lbs, 6 oz, and measuring 22 inches long. So yeah…he was huge. Nothing went the way I had planned…in fact, I pretty much had every intervention that I hoped to avoid. But, as I said in my birth plan, our ultimate goal was a safe delivery and a healthy baby. We got that.

A few days before he arrived, I started having contractions. Irregular, and nothing major, but surely a sign that things were happening. I dealt with it, went about my business, until Saturday evening around 7 when I thought perhaps my water broke. I mean, I don’t know what the hell that feels like…so how would I know? I called my MD, who told me to head up to the hospital, a 45 minute drive away. We did just that, and once in triage, we were met with a nurse with all the warmth of Miranda Bailey. She asked what was going on, then if I was having any contractions, and when I told her…she rolled her eyes. Oh, it’s on now, I thought. She left for a moment, and I tossed up a middle finger behind her. Long story short, my water had not broken, and so we went home.

We got home at 11:30, I drowned my sorrows in a half bag of mini candy bars, and went to bed. At 2:30, I was woken up by a violent, popping sensation followed by….oh yeah, so THAT’s definitely what your water breaking feels like. Contractions immediately got regular and intensified, so I woke up Andy and off we went, 4 hours after we got home. Once back at the hospital, Miranda Bailey emerged again from behind the curtain, and I decided that I should make a joke to repair our relationship. She laughed, and became a fantastic nurse. My water *had* indeed broken, but there was also meconium staining, so I had to be continuously monitored (intervention #1).

We were admitted to a room, and I struggled really hard to stay on top of the increasingly intense contractions. All that BS they tell you about “getting a break” in between contractions is just that…BS. Mine were coming nonstop, radiating from my stomach to my back, and rendering me paralyzed during the peaks. I tried all my pain management techniques-birthing ball, squatting, walking, you name it. I could barely do anything, but stand perfectly still and shake. At 7am, the words “So, can we talk about drugs?” left my mouth, and within 15 minutes, I had an epidural in, and life was restored (intervention #2). They started my IV fluids, and put a catheter in, which was really quite convenient, not having to bother with a stupid full bladder (interventions #3 and 4).

At 9am, they started me on pitocin (intervention #5), to hasten contractions and dilation. I didn’t want it, but given that there was the risk of issues due to meconium, I kept my mouth shut. By 1pm, I was ready to push. And push I did…for 3 f-ing hours. Dempsey was at -2 station when I started, so he was still up pretty high. And after all that time spent, pushing and shedding all of my human dignity on the table, for all to see…he remained at -2 station. While my MD had herself forearm deep inside me (a real pleasant experience while trying to push), she said, “I’m not shy about telling people they are bad pushers…but you are great. This guy just isn’t budging. You can push another half hour, or we can start taking you back now for a c-section.” Terrified, but exhausted, I agreed (intervention #6). I just wanted him here.

Back in the OR, I was pumped full of more drugs, and my vitals were going wacko, my pulse highly elevated, and my blood pressure vascillating between hypertensive and bottoming out. I watched the conversation that I imagined the anesthesiologist and his assistant were having with their eyes, and became convinced that something was awry. Being a nurse is frequently the bane of my existence, but that was never more true on this day. I laid on that table, carefully cataloging every possible calamity that could affect us. I think I said, “Am I OK?” approximately 456 times, to anyone that came within earshot. Once everything was in place, they got started.

HOLY CRAP-I was not prepared for that sensation. Sure, the drugs numbed the severity of any pain, but I felt literally every movement made. The scalpel across my skin, the pulling, tugging, rearranging, etc. It was making me super anxious, because it almost felt like I was on the edge of actually really feeling it. Pain, that is. Of course I didn’t, but it terrified me every second. At one point, I turned to the super-stiff, formal anesthesiologist standing to my right, put out my arm, and said, “Will you hold my hand?” He obliged, and I heard my doctor let out a little laugh from the other side of the drape. Guess no one asks this guy for physical reassurance on the regs. He asked me if I was scared, and when I told him yes, he patted my head robotically. Nonetheless, I appreciated his attempt. They finally pulled Dempsey out, and lifted him up over the drape so I could see him. His massive body cast a shadow over me, and he was screaming his face off. Holy shit, he’s huge, I thought to myself. They took him to examine him, and I started getting more drugs pumped through me.

“Nine pounds, six ounces!” the nurse shouted. Good lord, I thought. That came out of me?? I started feeling really drugged up, and Andy came to me with the baby. I looked at him, so perfect, and said, “I feel like I am reacting in an inappropriate manner to my child because of all the drugs I’m on.” So, yeah, my pretty standard response-neurotic. The MD came to talk to me and said that they had to take Dempsey to the nursery, because his temperature was slightly elevated, and there was a concern for infection. So, off he went while I was sewn up and went off to recover. Those drugs were amazing, by the way.

After a few hours, I was taken to the nursery to properly meet my son, and attempt to nurse him. Once I saw him, it was all over. I fell in such hard love with that little face, and he fed like a champ from the beginning. Remember those amazing drugs? Yeah, well, while I was feeding him, I remembered that I needed to count his fingers and toes (you know, since the medical staff can’t be trusted), and I counted…SIX TOES on one foot?! “Andy, oh my god, he has six toes!” I shout-whispered. “Yeah, why don’t you take another pass through on that? There are only five”, he said. I did so, and he was right. Thank God. One deformity safely behind us. He had to spend the night in the nursery to get antibiotics, but was able to come stay with us starting the next morning, and it was ultimately determined that he never had an infection, so he would be able to come home on time, with us.

The next few days in the hospital sucked, to be honest. I wasn’t impressed with the care we received in the postpartum unit (but the labor and delivery unit was amazing), and I was a total and utter emotional and physical mess. If the baby cried, I cried. I couldn’t sleep, so I asked the nurses to take the baby in the night and bring him back to feed. Once they took him, I cried, feeling like a deadbeat mom for passing my baby off to strangers. Never mind that when I worked in L&D, I always encouraged moms to take advantage of the built-in assistance while they could. Oh, and then there was my first postpartum shower.

Once I was able to shower, I was anxious to do so, and the midwife told Andy to make sure that he was able to assist me, because I would need it. I took this to mean that he might stand sentry on the other side of the curtain, should I need help, but what this REALLY meant, was that I showered with the curtain open, with him physically helping me complete this task. The real icing on the cake? The giant, full-length mirror directly on the other side of the tub, allowing me to see my swollen-in-some-places, deflated-in-others body in all its glory. I have never felt less attractive in my entire life. Oh, and those Shrek feet and ankles that wouldn’t quit didn’t help, either.

After a few days, we were finally sprung from that wretched hospital room, and went home. The next week or so continued to be a blur of no sleep, discomfort, tears and anxiety (and Shrek feet), but that shall be saved for another post, because I feel like there’s so much to say, that often isn’t said about this point in time. We’re slowly but surely adjusting to life with a baby, and despite all my worry and doubt, I am assured he is a happy and healthy little boy. Nothing went as planned, but we got everything we wanted. Funny how life works out that way, sometimes.

Months 3-6: Times, they are a-changin’.

Today marks my entry into the third trimester. A line I’m crossing happily, but also with a bad limp, and slightly winded. The past three months have been full of transformations, realizations, and, well…sugar. Lots of it. But, that’s neither here nor there. So, a few highlights on this journey:

For those of you not in the know, we’re having a boy. I felt all along that it was a boy, and also (not so) secretly hoped it was. Girls-they’re great and all, but I just don’t feel excited about pink, and dance lessons, and her slamming her bedroom door in my face at 15 years old when I ask her how her day was. Of course, I know he will come with his own set of challenges, but that’s stuff I can handle (scoffs naively). Or outsource to his dad. His name will be Dempsey, a name we both love, and were able to decide on easily. Not common, but also not “Pilot Inspektor” weird, either. And his middle name will be Reid, which is Andy’s mother’s family name. I like the history and significance of that. So, one tiny task down. He has a name!

I no longer recognize my body. Over the past three months, my stomach has grown to (what I perceive as) epic proportions, my back feels like someone started a garbage fire in my spinal column, my boobs are huge(r), and nearly everything winds me. I stood in front of the mirror before getting into the shower the other day, and marveled for a minute. It’s certainly not disdain or disgust I feel, because let’s face it-growing a human is a pretty powerful, amazing thing we do, but it was more like, “Is this ever going to go away?” It feels like I’ve always been pregnant, and will always be. Perhaps this is the pre-cursor to me feeling like I can’t remember what my life was like before him. Or, more likely, it’s because all I want is some effing brie, and a bottle of the smokiest red I can get my hands on. And what a glorious day that shall be. I’m also excited about the prospect of painting my toes again, without requiring a nebulizer treatment.

Humiliation 1: For the first few months of my pregnancy, I saw the nurse practitioner at my practice, a woman who I adore. She is warm, and engaged/engaging, and kind, and willing to answer any questions I have. I loved visiting with her. So, the last time I saw her (two visits ago), I brought up my mother’s illness, and how I worry about how that affects my body and the baby, because of the stress it puts on me. We had a great conversation that helped put me at ease, and she shared the fact that her father faced a very similar situation. Of course I cried a ton, because that’s something I do all the time anyway now, but I felt better. I stood up to leave, and thus started the “I think we’re going to shake hands, but you now feel obligated to hug me, given the conversation we just had” dance. We got entangled in this weird embrace that felt like it lasted for 5 minutes, and also ended with her kissing my cheek, which I don’t really think she intended to do. My face was aflame with embarrassment-I don’t particularly like physical interaction with people I’m not close to, and this was off the charts weird. Totally well-intentioned, but just really awkward. So, with that, I decided that when making my next appointment, now was the time to start rotating through the physicians in the practice. Now when I see the NP at the office, we can share a quick smile and wave from a safe distance, and go about our business.

Humiliation 2: I got a packet of stuff in the mail, that was mostly pregnancy/child-related deals, coupons, etc. So, a few of them were for free crap, like baby slings and a nursing cover. So I thought, why not? I hopped online, ordered them up, raised an eyebrow at the URL of the nursing cover website, but otherwise moved along. The next day, I paid some bills online, then ran over to the mall to pick up the iPhone 5. I made my intentions clear to the sales guy, rebuffing all his offers of additional accessories (no, I don’t want that wood-veneered Bluetooth device, OR that terrible phone case), and handed over my card to pay. Declined. Wait, what? I asked him to run it again, please, and again…declined. So, that of course embarrassed me, and I asked him to hold tight while I ran to the satellite office that my bank has in the mall. The girl at the window informed me of my balance, which was exactly what I thought it was, and allowed me to make a cash withdrawal, but also told me that maybe I should call ‘fraud protection’, because sometimes they place holds on cards that aren’t immediately visible. Having had my identity conveniently stolen previously, during Christmas 2011, my stomach tightened. Not again.
I ran back, picked up the new phone, and then got into the car, and called fraud protection. Todd, who was most likely not older than 21, took my call. He informed me that they had tracked some potentially odd purchases, and locked my card as a precaution. So, then he started to read them off to me to verify. Yes, I said, as he read 3 purchases off that were legit. Then, he says, “And this next one from “ooo, oooo-der covers.com?” “What?” I asked, and he repeated himself. “Oooodder covers?” Jesus. Oh my God. That stupid nursing cover I picked up online had a shipping charge associated with it, which I placed on my card. My face flamed red again, and I cleared my throat, trying to be an adult. “Um, it’s uddercovers.com.” “Oh, um…”, he said. “Look, don’t worry about it, it’s legit, nothing to be concerned about,” I said. I heard him take a breath in, to start speaking again. Oh my god, I thought, we are going to keep discussing this, aren’t we? “Well, usually, odd-sounding websites trigger us that something isn’t right. People’s cards get stolen and used for porn sites, stuff like th-” I stopped him. “Whoa, no no. This isn’t that sort of thing. It’s a baby site. For nursing covers,” I said. “Uh, um, yeah, well, OK, as long as it’s a purchase you made,” he hesitated. Clearly, he wanted this done as much as I did. “OK, great, thanks for your help. Are we all set then?” I asked. Given an affirmation, I hung up. Just another incident in an increasingly-long string of things I never imagined having to participate in. I guess given all the indignities that I will have to endure over the coming years, this is small potatoes. But, God, come on.

So, that’s where I am. This is all starting to get very real to me, signing up for childbirth classes, and not being able to tie my shoes without assistance. It’s scary, but it’s exciting. I can’t wait for him to be here, to figure out what our new normal looks like. And stay tuned-my friend Angie and I recently decided to attend a La Leche League meeting, which ended up being a totally hilarious (and slightly terrifying) debacle. But, that’s its own post.

Happy Sunday, ya’ll.

Happy Holidaze.

It appears that I’ve survived another Christmas.  Another year of rushing around for gifts, vowing to “start early” next year, and ultimately forgetting that idea once I see that people are digging the things I bought them.  Pffft, I work best under pressure. Although, I did do most of my shopping in November this year, which technically is early for me.  Maybe once I’m wearing my Mom hat next year, I’ll be magically motivated to get it done in September.  More likely, though, I’ll forget Christmas is happening until approximately 27 hours prior.

Christmas felt a little off this year.  I think it’s a combination of things-my mom being sick (and fresh out of the hospital, after a week-long stay), Matthew, Jess and Jack not being around, and the general feeling that no one was really into any of it.  It’s such a stark contrast to the way Christmas felt when I was a kid.  I know that’s part of the deal that comes with adulthood, but sometimes I wish I could get even just a drop of it back.  Everyone has been telling me that once you have a child of your own, Christmas feels like magic again.  I look forward to that, being able to see the holidays through the lens of a child.

It’s been a very difficult year for me, in a lot of ways that are not worth delving into.  I was sitting here this morning, reflecting on how much life changes in twelve short months.  During my Christmas break last year, I sat parked on the sofa for most of it, eating candy, drinking wine and watching all the seasons of Mad Men.  This morning, I spent nearly three hours researching strollers and breast pumps, before deciding on (and registering for) them.  Last year, my normal jeans fit me.  This year, I only fit into jeans that lack a zipper and have a panel that pulls all the way up to my ribs.  A side note about aforementioned jeans: 1)I’ve developed a very deep love affair with them-their comfort makes up for their hidden horrible-ness; 2)I am continually shocked by how many people have asked me to pull up my shirt so they can get a better look at that f-ing panel.

Anyway, my point is…we’re taken down roads that we don’t expect.  And this year has made me a little gun-shy about anticipating what might come next, but it’s my hope that it’s nothing but goodness and love and light.  And I wish the same for all of you-I hope 2013 brings you joy and health.  Thanks for sharing little glimpses of my life with me.

From the Baby Growing Files: The First Three Months.

I stared down at the test, that test that turned positive the very second it had the opportunity to, and thought-Huh. That is happening.  Then laughed-like a maniac. Like Kristen Wiig’s character in Bridesmaids when Maya Rudolph’s character tells her she’s engaged.  A crazy person laugh. Who in the universe thinks I’m suitable to parent a child?  It’s one of those scenarios where you’re at that age where you make the decision not to try, per se, but not to not try.  So, while it may eliminate some of the stress of trying, it also terrifies the shit  out of you when it actually happens.  Delusional as it is, I don’t feel old enough to be a parent.  I like to sleep in, and read for 4 hours straight, man.  How’s that going to work?

And oh, what a time o’ learnin’ it’s been for me so far. Some things I’ve discovered:

1)For someone with a pretty nasty temper as a baseline, my rage has reached hair trigger proportions that surprise even me.  Make a stupid mistake at work? You should lay low from me for a few days. Say something thoughtless, no matter how well-intentioned? You should probably get a helmet. And please, PLEASE don’t make me repeat myself, or worse, tell me I’m wrong. I will kill you.

2)Method cucumber-scented dish soap is the worst smell in my world.  Second, of course, to the sudden onslaught of unwashed humans I seem to encounter everywhere.

3) I am never going to stop being sick. Ever again.

4)My body has betrayed me around every corner.  The sickness, the fatigue, weird aches and pains and stretching and joint stiffness. And everything is so…cumbersome. I am not used to having to take it easy when I don’t want to, move slower, not lift things.  And where the hell are all those veins coming from?

5)Babies require a ton of shit.  In the past few days, I have ventured online to check out registry items…and it’s terrifying.  How the hell do you even start? I need a framework, or flowchart, or something.  And possibly a flare gun for when I actually enter one of these stores.  Hooter Hider Nursing Cover…I think I’ll pass. And why is baby stuff so…babyish? I don’t do frilly and cartoonish and animal motifs…and neither shall Jenn H 2.0.

6)People are realllll comfortable giving unsolicited advice, from their throne of parenting perspective.  To you folks, see item #1 above.

Now that I’m heading into my second trimester, the reality of all this is settling in.  I am going to be responsible for navigating life for another human.  Me, who can’t even wrap a gift properly.   And it’s not the safety and health of a baby that scares me-I have that down pat, that’s the easy part.  It’s raising a good person. A smart, empathetic, well-rounded, strong, happy person.  That’s a big job.  So, I’m off on this path, not quite sure how I’ll navigate it, but I think I’m ready. Or at least I will be.  For now, though, I’m focusing on growing this little person…and trying to keep myself from ripping someone’s head off in the process.

The personal IS the political.

It’s a given that I’m an Obama supporter.  Anyone that knows anything about me knows this.  However, I am not naive enough to believe that he is capable of solving all that needs to be solved.  It’s a job far beyond the time and scope of any one administration.  If you believe otherwise, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.  Knowing this, I am voting for the man who I believe best understands the needs of the Americans he will represent, and works to align himself with meeting those needs.

We’ve all got issues that are important to us.  For me, those issues are health care, poverty, education, the environment, human rights, the economy, and equality-in marriage, adoption, legal protections, military service, and the general right to enjoy the freedoms that others are afforded.  And today, this last one is heavy on my mind.  I caught this Huff Post article that talks about Romney’s attempts to marginalize the gay families of MA during his tenure as governor, by supporting an amendment to ban gay marriage, and to also make it all but impossible for the non-biological parent of a same-sex family to appear anywhere on the birth certificate.  Each sentence disburbed me more and more, but this is what sent me over the edge:

Julie Goodridge, lead plaintiff in the landmark case that won marriage rights for gays and lesbians before the Supreme Judicial Court, asked what she should tell her 8-year-old daughter about why the governor would block the marriage of her parents. According to Goodridge, Romney responded,“I don’t really care what you tell your adopted daughter. Why don’t you just tell her the same thing you’ve been telling her the last eight years.”

Mind you, this “adopted” daughter he dismissed was, in fact, her biological daughter.  A fact Romney was quick to overlook, because he ultimately doesn’t care.  He’s made it clear on multiple occasions-gay families are lesser than straight families.  He has no interest in protecting the rights or interests of an entire subset of the population he desires to serve.  For a man who believes in the idea of reducing big government, he certainly has no problem with forcing that same government into the homes/beds of thousands of Americans.

You may say that this isn’t an issue that affects you personally; 90 % of the population will never contend directly with the difficulties that same-sex couples face when trying to be a family.  Many of you may not even have anyone in your lives whom this affects.  I do.  So, allow me to introduce you to Corinne and Lisa:

Corinne and Lisa are two very dear friends of mine, who were married a little over two years ago in MA, in one of the most beautiful ceremonies I have ever attended , and are expecting their sweet baby boy this February.  Pretty standard story, right?  Only, these two spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to conceive, and contended with the heartache and hurt that came with that process.  It was heartbreaking as their friend to watch them struggle with the failed attempts, and incredibly gratifying to get the news that they were finally pregnant.  As difficult as this was, it was far from the most trying challenge they continue to face in trying to start a family.

These two women are going to be the most amazing parents, and I cannot wait to see them as a family, raising a baby boy who is going to be surrounded by so much love and happiness, that his little heart will overflow.  I am excited to see pictures of the three of them over the years- on the beaches of their home state,  celebrating holidays with their families, the little guy running around and playing with their dog Olive, and the little moments of pure, unabashed joy that fill their lives.  I can’t wait to hear them talk about how no matter how badly they always knew they wanted him, nothing could have prepared them for the love they felt when he was finally in their arms. I am looking forward to these things not only because I love them, but because they deserve it.  They deserve the right to find happiness and joy wherever they can in this world, to experience every sweet drop of life as a family.

Even though his arrival is just a few short months away, there are still battles to be fought.  There is all the legal paperwork to contend with, so that Corinne is protected as the other legal parent of their son.  And with that, comes exorbitant cost and jumping through hoops to prove herself to the state, a state that doesn’t yet recognize their marriage.  For example, Corinne AND Lisa (the biological parent) must complete fingerprinting and background checks, as well as a home study.  Lisa is a veteran of the US Air Force, who served this country proudly for six years, and is being made to follow an exhaustive process, because that same country doesn’t recognize her marriage or family.  Corinne must provide letters of recommendation regarding her character, from multiple sources.  Corinne also has to follow a tedious process to ensure that if, God forbid, something happen to Lisa before,  during or after childbirth, her child isn’t taken into the custody of the state and taken from her.  Because without all of this, he would be.  The state would find foster parents, strangers, better suited to raising this child, than his other mother.  Disturbing as this all is, same-sex adoption wasn’t even legal in Florida until two years ago, so this is what progress looks like.

These are experiences most people never even have to entertain, when deciding to have a child.  Why is the default that parents are considered fit unless proven otherwise, when the parents are straight?  I think time and experience has shown that children are no more secure in straight-coupled homes, yet heterosexual couples don’t have to prove themselves to be suitable parents before being allowed to have a child.  So, when you find yourself thinking about this issue, this topic that may never directly impact you, I want you to remember their faces, their story…because this IS personal to them, and thousands of families just like theirs.

And although you may say you disagree with Romney’s policies on equality, yet still plan to vote for him for his economic “policies” (which are what, again?), remember that by voting for him, you are still responsible for perpetuating anti-gay legislation and rhetoric.  Remember that your decisions, and Romney’s (if elected) have human consequence.

A bit of gratitude.

I feel better when I write. I’m not always the most verbally articulate person when it comes to naked displays of emotion or concern, so I put pen to paper (or fingers to keys, as it were) to try to make sense of things. And I wrote about my mom’s illness yesterday, because I needed to lay it out in front of me, to take time to put my thoughts into conscious, organized words that did justice to what we’ve experienced thus far. As I expected, it released a lot of the frenetic energy that has set up shop in my spirit. What I did not expect, however, was the outpouring of love and light and good thoughts from those who read it-my family, my friends, and acquaintances whom I may not have spoken with or seen in years. So, to all of you, I extend my deepest gratitude for the kindness you have shown my family and me. It’s in these moments, that I am reminded of how connected we are to one another, as a people.

In keeping with that, I also feel the need to recognize the staff at University of Rochester Medical Center/Strong Memorial Hospital for the care that was provided to not only my mother, but to my father and me. From admission to discharge, the level of skill and care and support that was given was nothing short of exceptional. And I am not merely talking about the physicians, mid-level providers and nurses. I am also talking about the therapists, the environmental services team, nutrition staff, transport, and every other staff person we encountered during my mom’s time there, who may have offered a smile, small talk, directions, or a laugh. Strong is where I began my nursing career, and I have always been proud to have worked for such an amazing institution. Our time and experience there on the other side of things only reinforced that pride. My approach to nursing practice has always been that one should provide care for patients and their loved ones in the way they would expect themselves or their own family to be cared for, and I am infinitely grateful that my mother received that sort of care from everyone. It definitely made the difficulty of the time there a bit easier for everyone. I am always humbled by the graciousness of strangers.