Wherein I ask for a favor from you guys.

Whether you know me personally, or a reader of my blog, you know that I lost my mother to cancer, in 2013. It was a horrific ordeal, and honestly, it’s the only thing in life that truly was as awful as I imagined it would be. Actually, it was even worse.
My point is, no one should have to experience that. As a patient, or as a loved one, watching someone waste away. Cancer is insidious, and non-discriminatory, but there are incredibly significant strides being made to combat it. But that requires funding. Funding to continue research, trials, and preventive screenings, among other things.

So, that’s why we formed a Relay for Life team. If you’re not familiar with Relay for Life, you can learn more about it here. Members of my family, friends, and extended circle are working to fundraise for the American Cancer Society.

And this is where you come in. We are seeking donations for our team, and I am hoping that you, dear readers, can help us out. Every little bit helps move us closer to our goal, and closer to better treatment and support services for those living with/affected by cancer.

If you feel moved to contribute, you can do so here. Thank you in advance for helping us out!

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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.

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.

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.