spring things

April 28, 2014

as i’m sure anyone in chicago will tell you, this has been a long winter.

and this has been a slow-moving spring.

you can see the hesitation in the soil, in every tree branch, in the sporadic presence of birds. buds waffling in their pods, some sneaking out only to cower back. the bright flowers that shot out weeks ago now hang their heads in shriveled shame. the seeds we haughtily planted in our plot are still hibernating in the cold earth and i’m not sure we’ll ever see them again.

i don’t blame them. i’m hesitant too.

this has been a long winter.

it’s been a solitary season, a season of loss, a season of doubt.

there have been beacons of light in this haziness, to be sure. my marriage is sweeter and closer than it’s ever been, the happiness i find in being a mother deeper, my love for edie intensified, my appreciation for my family at large and the good, good Lord magnified. motherhood is teaching me what it truly means to love someone through the good and the bad. sleepless nights, tantrum filled days, bouts of illness, existential crises with a not-entirely-verbal creature turn the soil of my own soul, dig up my own selfish and self-consumed nature.

so i’ve been putting down deep roots of gratitude. 

and even so, i’m hesitant to stick my head above the ground. hesitant to hope, with these fierce winds still blowing, the cold still clinging to our bones, the deceit of the sun on frigid days.

 

we’ve been reading lots of books about gardening all winter and edith has a fascination with roots. when we talk about going to the garden she asks to “look at roots”. its hard to explain that we can’t see the roots. or, at least, we can’t see the roots without tearing up the plants.

the buds, the sprouts, the seedlings, the plants give us confidence in good roots down below.

while the good roots down below need confidence to push up the buds, the spouts, the seedlings, the plants.

let’s hope for confidence.

in the shit

September 4, 2013

i’ve spent the last month, muscling my way through a book that is difficult to read, a book about the effects of genetic testing on women’s decisions to continue a pregnancy. i’ve had to take a lot of breaks and step back, not because i’m judging these women but because it’s a terrible thing to be drawn in close to the nitty gritty of the decisions they have made.

in august, i began a course to become a certified bereavement doula – that is, a doula who will support women facing stillbirths or the possibility of postnatal death. looking over my required reading was another muddle of ‘difficult’ books. i ask myself why i’m doing this, what is the point. in forcing myself to study tragedy, i’m going to drive myself into the depressive rut that i so carefully and daily combat.

but why am i doing this? in becoming a bereavement doula, i am asking to be repeatedly thrust into terrible, tragic situations. i know that, right?

a year and a half ago, some dear friends lost their firstborn in a stillbirth. knowing this would be the likely outcome, they asked me if i would be willing to still be their doula (plans we had made when they were first pregnant and believed the baby was healthy) under these new circumstances. tragic and terrible as that situation was, sofia’s birth was one of the most powerful experiences of love and of God that i have ever had. truly, truly i learned that hope and love burn most brightly when in the tight context of pain.

we live in a society that is repulsed by sadness, treating it like a disease we can catch, fearful of getting too close to those who are hurting lest their pain rub off on us. but where is the hope? i’ve realized over the last few months that most of my depression is wrapped up in anxiety and fear. and i’m sick of being scared. i don’t want to be scared of pain, of death, of hurting, of the dark, difficult decisions. i want to be willing to be there.

and i am well aware that this is so, so, so much easier said then done. i remember clearly the nagging pain i dragged around me when working with teenage moms in englewood. this very week has had a dark weightiness to it as i converse with a friend considering abortion. practically speaking, i’m not very sure how to walk with women in darkness while maintaining the hope i profess. likely there is no practical way to go about it.

even so, i will finish this bereavement doula course.

i will make myself available for difficult conversations.

i will see where this goes.

one year

May 13, 2013

crazily enough, edith has been on this earth (outside my womb) for a full year now. we celebrated her birthday for 3 full days basically last weekend. it can be kind of hard to let a baby know that a given day is special. as far as i can tell, edith thinks every day is pretty awesome so i worked hard to give her actual birthday a little ump (special food, minimal diaper changes) and her grandparents spoiled her rotten for the two days following. she ate birthday cake and ice cream sprinkle-by-sprinkle and was applauded for everything she did by a large audience of family and friends. by monday morning, she seemed suspicious of my lack of enthusiasm and cake.

people often tell new moms “it goes by so fast – enjoy every minute!” and to them, i usually want to say “screw you! do you know how long these days seem sometimes??” but last week i was getting all mushy and emotional and saying to nearly anyone who even looked at us “it goes by so fast!”

a lot happens in this first year. mark and i often marvel at what a blob edith was this time last year. it sometimes seems amazing that we loved her much at all, crying and needy and thankless as she was. it was like she was cryogenically frozen – no personality, limited mobility. and yet, there were all these glimpses of her future self, in the faces she made, the sources of her frustration, the general calm demeanor that settled upon her around week 3.

now shes an (almost) toddling toddler, saying words, copying everything, dancing with abandon, playing with books, showing love, trying to eat anything she touches. it is pretty incredible.

i know that her first few weeks of life were rough. really rough. but in retrospect, those days seem light and airy, like blinking in the warm sun after emerging from darkness. the whole of her life seems sweet, IS sweet, really sweet. it makes no sense and perfect sense that you can love someone this much.

anyway, i rattle on. i’ve had a happy year of life-sharing with edie-o and look forward to the joy, the grime, the smiles, the vomit, the shrieks of delight, the screams of frustration of all the years to come.

like any good catholic, i am reluctant to go to confession. when i was a child i hated going because i felt like i had to make up sins for the priest. my memory and my conscience were not reliable vehicles when i was 8 so i’d think about bad things i could have done and tell the priest about that. according to the priests at St Margaret Mary Parish, i did a lot of sticking out my tongue at other kids while on the school bus. pulling my sister’s arm out of socket remained an omission.

my parents left the church shortly after i went through Reconciliation (the rite of going to confession, basically) so the issue of hating confession wasn’t an issue until i returned to the church a few years ago. i found that returning to the faith did not instantly renew in me a deep love for all Catholic rites. but since i was an adult now, i could make really mature, independent choices for myself like picking and choosing which rites i was going to get into. thus, i only went to confession every 2 years (and maybe that is a generous assessment).

it’s shameful i know.

the Church actually requires Catholics to go to confession once a year – which, really, is not much at all. and, though i’ll go out of my way to make it to mass on every possible feast day, i still don’t make my yearly confession. i’ll disclose the fact that mark has a similar struggle, so we have not been helpful to one another on this front. we talk a lot about how we should go to confession and then tend to panic sometime during the Easter Triduum each year, trying to find someplace to confess before Easter Sunday hits. it is a really bad cycle.

this year, we managed to go to confession on Good Friday (right in the nick of time, huh!) and i was reminded that confession…is actually not the worst thing to happen to me. 20 (eek) years after i first went through Reconciliation, my memory may be similarly bad but my conscience is a machine well oiled by my fits of anxiety and over-analysis. it’s no longer a problem of conjuring up the ways in which i’ve sinned, it is more a matter of how articulate and detailed i should be about these sinful ways (a pressing concern when the confession line winds along the length of the sanctuary).

when i was an Evangelical, i embraced the sentiment that God forgiving your sins was just the beginning of the story. you were a sinner,  you found God, now go share the good news with others. as a Catholic, my sin is never spoken of in the past tense, never fading in the rear view mirror. and rather than being cause for anxiety, embracing the fact that i’m a sinner – that i sin daily, in creative, multitudinous ways – is somehow reassuring to me. God doesn’t expect me to have all my shit together. so why do i expect that?

talking with mark on the way home from Good Friday mass, he reminded me that people don’t go to mass or confession because they are holy but because they are sinners. so often i think the opposite – that the people going to daily mass, making weekly confessions are the holy pious in our midst (and they probably are). but their motivation to do those things is not a conviction of their own marked holiness as much as a response to the searing awareness of their need for God.

as someone who is all too constantly aware of my own shortcomings, i need to re-circuit my response to this awareness. instead of leading me into insular, unproductive self-loathing, i hope that the imperfection that i am all-too conscious of will trigger in me a desire to draw close to God and to practices that are life giving. not only in terms of going to confession more but in daily moments of insecurity, doubt, and sadness, may i situate myself closer to the uncaused Cause, the all-knowing God, life-giving Creator.

out of the gray

March 20, 2013

while i’d like to think that the intricacies of my emotional patterns aren’t so shallow as to completely match our hemisphere’s proximity to the sun, the fact of the matter is that winter is busting my ass a bit.

i guess march naturally does this to you, right? the hope of spring muted by more gray and cold and gray and cold.

i have a genetic proclivity for melancholy, as i’ve likely mentioned before. and it has become clear this year that my mode of operation in dealing with said melancholy is a complete onslaught of activity – i have basically been keeping myself ridiculously busy for the last 15 years just to avoid being sad.

of course, that was easy when i was single and untethered. and it was easier still when i was working crazy hours as a doula. but busyness is not so easy to attain with a little one in tow. a little one who takes long naps throughout the day and is not so amenable to the cold as one would like. we’ve been couped up much of this winter and, while i do so enjoy my sweet girl, i can only watch her cruise around our coffee table so many times before i start to feel a little loopy.

since the weather seems to be forever uncooperative (seriously, i’ve silently given up the fact that spring is ever coming back to see us) i’m trying to take matters into my own hands in an attempt to reign in my unruly mood. my current plan of attack:

1. be honest about feeling sad. i’m sure people don’t like to hear about it, but i also feel dishonest about carrying on like a happy mom all the time. i’ve been reminded a lot lately about the importance of transparency with those you love and have been encouraged tremendously by the transparency of those around me. it can be hard to be direct about your needs and i am the absolute worst at asking for help but i want to work at it.

2. be more spontaneous. yesterday edith and i made an impromptu visit to the aquarium with some friends and it was the best thing we’ve done in awhile. i usually recoil from spontaneity but it seems to be the answer to the drudgery of monotony these days.

3. be more patient. i know spring will come someday, right? ok. until then, i want to enjoy what i can about winter – the opportunity to indulge in the indoors by cooking, sewing, reading, cuddling. this also applies to my relationship with edith. she has…not been sleeping very well, that is, she has not been sleeping at all most of the time. i realize that this is probably contributing to my depressive mood and also realize that this is not her fault. my mom told me to treat her like she is baby Jesus, but in the middle of the night i like to think of her more as St. Augustine, who took responsibility for his infantile behavior later in life (“the feebleness of infant limbs is innocent, not the infant’s mind”). he became a saint eventually. i treasure edith already as a holy little soul. thusly, i need to be more patient with her evolving self and her evolving needs.

4. be more grateful. i’m not loving working nights right now and i realize that this is also adding to my stress. but if nothing else my work as a doula has really taught me to appreciate the simple blessings in life. there is no way to know the DEEP beauty of your bed until you’ve been away at a birth for 40 hours. same goes for the goodness of sleep, the warmth of your partner’s hug, the sweetness of your baby’s smile. rest, like all things, is only really appreciated fully in the shadow of it’s opposite – exhaustion. and so instead of focusing on the burden of work, i’ll try to revel more in the beauty of leisure.

5. be with people. make plans, get out, share, give. all those good things that i love all year round but get repressed a bit when it requires wearing snow gear.

cheers to the struggle against gloom! we can do it, yes?

out!

March 12, 2013

so, after a week of edith simultaneously teething and having roseola (who knew the latter was even a thing?) i suddenly remembered my uncle offering to put mark and i up in a hotel for a night. and suddenly decided to take him up on it.

my aspirations for the night were not grandiose – i basically wanted to sleep for 12 hours uninterrupted. but we had a pretty grandiose time nonetheless. we looked at an apartment, went to frontera, drank lots of margaritas and wine, and were in bed by 7:00. it. was. awesome.

we both woke up at 6 am, much to our chagrin (turns out edith has programmed us more than we realized) and found the effects of sleep to have a delusionary quality. mark likened it to 2 crack heads who had been clean for months and were suddenly given a bunch of crack. we were groggy and confused and just wanted more sleep. but we were also happy.

we were also lucky enough to score a free brunch at the restaurant attached to the hotel where i had the most fantastic veggie benedict ever known to man. and, lest i ever complain that my child is the reason i’m always covered in food, i will confess that i managed a glorious 3 step outfit destruction in which i:

1. covered my sleeve in hollandaise sauce while reaching across the table to eat some of mark’s food

2. then immediately managed to drop my fork which launched eggs all over the front of aforementioned shirt and

3. spread sleeve-hollandaise onto my jacket while attempting to wipe egg off the front of my shirt.

turns out edith is not the reason why mark never takes me anywhere fancy.

seeds

March 1, 2013

well, folks. i’ve done my best with winter.

i tried. really i did. i got myself all amped up for snow, worked to get my child all amped for snow. i decided to embrace soup (not literally). i checked out really big books from the library.

so the snow fell and fell some more and i was momentarily happy to have something to distract me from how f-ing cold it was. edith and i have been taking daily walks. we made snow angels (that is to say: she unintentionally made a snow angel while flailing on the ground after i thought it’d be nice to lie in the snow together). we ate snowflakes (that is to say: she inhaled a bunch of snowflakes while acting like she was drowning when the wind blew in her face).

but now the fun is over. edith is teething like crazy, has a cold (which may or may not be related to the snow fun i inflicted upon her) and we are trapped in an apartment where nobody is sleeping, the littlest of us has just learned to crawl, and nothing is baby-proof.

it kind of seems like a recipe for disaster.

that is until baby tylenol and a seed delivery saved the day!

i really don’t know how non-gardeners survive winters. because just when the cold has about choked the life out of you, it’s time to start your seedlings! or, if you are like me, it’s also time to start your detailed garden map, time chart, seed logs, and care notes. a 10×10 foot plot seems like an acre in theory to me and i always overdo it but, hey. last season was an incredible flop on account of an infant but now that infant will be more mobile, durable, and not so sensitive to the sun so i have high hopes of near-daily trips to our plot.

P1020338

since edith was born at the outset of that glorious season, my love for springtime has grown incredibly. she will always be synonymous to me with the warming of the air, the sight of sprouts cracking open the bare earth, and blooms peeking out of tree branches. we took so many walks waiting for her to come and so many more once she was born – everything exponentially more brilliant than ever before. she got to come help us plant when she was just a few days old and dutifully endured being covered in dirt bi-weekly thereafter. she has always been so patient with us and i suppose it makes sense as she cooked in-womb throughout the winter and entered the world just as it was slowly waking up.

i’m very much looking forward to growing together this season.

soon and very soon.

P1020344

being here

February 18, 2013

so, part of the huge slew of changes that happened with having a baby was a job switch. faithful readers might remember the burden of having to read thousands of posts about boredom when i was working a shitty receptionist job. and then they might remember reading 2 posts about me having my “dream job” (loosely interpreted) for about a year.

i suppose it is one of those cliché rites of passage into motherhood – reassessing what your work life will look like with a little one in tow. and i guess i already knew the end of the story even before edith was born, but, hey, we all have to figure things out at our own pace. i sort of assumed that i would be a superhuman who could faithfully and effectively manage to mother my child and mother my clients at the same time.

so i worked up until the day i went into labor with the plan that i would return part-time when edith was 3 months old and become full time when she was 7 months old. which, even when i was agreeing to it, made me sick to my stomach. this sickness, of course, swelled as my maternity leave dwindled. what had always been evident to those closest to me, now became more and more evident to me – that i was, in fact, no superhuman and the love i had for the people i was working with was only indicative of the insane love and devotion i would have to my own offspring. and at a certain point i needed to learn how to protect said offspring from the love-without-boundaries mode i tended to operate in with clients.

i had experienced hints of this epiphany throughout my pregnancy. say, when i was spending my nights off helping a client who was kicked out of the house pick all of her possessions off her front lawn and load it into the backseat of my car. or when i was holding screaming babies in the middle of domestic altercations that i felt at a loss to stop. or when i, you know, witnessed a shooting. the critter in my own belly would twist and squirm with uncharacteristic intensity and i would hear my own advice to my clients ringing in my ears: “your baby is affected by your stress!”

so when edith arrived and i was swimming through layers of postpartum depression and distress at knowing how to care for both her and i, it became apparent that i wasn’t going to be able to return to my old ways of operating anytime soon.

thus, two days before i was set to return to family focus, i accepted a job with a doula agency that would allow me to do postpartum work part time and largely based on availability that i chose.

and, as one might imagine, this decision has been a mixed bag for me. it’s VERY clear that i could never have handled going back to my old job. it’s also clear to me that what i want to do with my life is what i was doing at that job. and another burst of clarity is that i really don’t want to be working at all right now. but, life such as it is, means that we need a little money to keep us afloat and the best possible option is what is happening right now.

to be sure, this current job is a gift. i mostly work overnights so i’m with edith when she is awake. of course, this means i’m something of a zombie at times but i’m fairly sure that zombie-hood is synonymous with parent-hood whether you work at night or not. it is also, of course, difficult for me to be caring for other people’s babies when what i really want is just to be caring for my own.

but i’m not sure that i would be as present with edith, if i would savor each silly minute with her, if i didn’t experience the occasional distress of being away. the easiness of being with her is brightened in contrast to the difficulty of handling fussy babies. there is new joy and reverence to nursing her after spending a night struggling to bottlefeed someone else’s baby. i think a lot about women (particularly black women) who have historically had to spend all their time away from their own children in order to care for the children of others and  i’m grateful that my time away is as minimal as it is.

in the jumble of reflecting on where i’ve been and where i hope to be one day (reels which often run on repeat throughout the day), on all the permutations of balancing work and family that myself and others are living, i’m grateful for where we are. grateful to be home when i’m home, grateful for the change of scenery when i leave (or at least, grateful for the dollar bills the change of scenery provides), grateful for the constancy of sweetness that is my family.

grateful that this sweet face has a sweet personality to match. grateful that the multitudinous delight that we daily experience is only a glimmer of the expansive, beautiful being she is becoming.

cropped-img_0146.jpg

quiet riot

February 8, 2013

like any self-absorbed person, i take great delight in how much my daughter reminds me of myself. i mean, genetically we’re very similar so the odds of overlapping traits are pretty high.

luckily, she nabbed mostly good stuff. she’s remarkably laid back, she likes to laugh, she is incredibly social. we literally fell down the stairs a few weeks ago and she instantly stopped crying five seconds later upon seeing her friend, iva. she also nabbed some “lesser” qualities like a deep love of immobility, and the ability to sit on tons of things without noticing (a very clear acquisition from me).

and then there are those middle-of-the-road qualities. like how quiet she can be.

which is good at mass.

and apparently bad at nap time.

it’s becoming increasingly apparent that edith doesn’t actually sleep at nap time. that kid will sit in one place and chew on a book for hours during “playtime”. she’s technically known how to crawl for two weeks but hasn’t employed this skill to move more than a few feet total. but she seems to be throwing ragers at “naptime”.

 

Image

everything you see in this picture is now in the crib.

the mobile i made has been ripped apart, blankets, books, birdhouses, bookends, bumpers all somehow end up in the crib with her. most of these items are not even that close to the crib –  how she reaches them is a mystery. she sleeps like a fallen soldier, body splayed wherever it happened to land when fatigue took it’s final blow.

like most aspects of parenting (“parenting” meaning anything beyond keeping her clothed, fed, and clean), i find myself at a loss. apart from keeping her safe*, am i supposed to stop this? am i allowed to let her know how bizarre and comical this all is? isn’t an exploratory nature a virtue? it’s a good thing to have some buffer months where i’m not sure how cognizant she is of my reaction (though maybe that assumes too much). rome wasn’t built in a day. and i guess it wasn’t destroyed in one either.

Image

tiny destroyer

 

*concerned readers will be glad to hear that her “wall” (we share a room) is looking more like a soviet era cell block – isolated and barren.

9 months ago, i had a baby. and, though i think about that day every day, it has taken me 9 months to actually write about it.

our birth story is actually a story about how i was convinced i wasn’t going to have a baby. well, not yet at least. as a doula, i had been to many (well, mostly) 18+ hour births. granted, nearly all of the births i attended were for first time moms. granted, most of them were induced. granted, most of them were being treated by over-managed care providers who were often pushing them into labor when their body wasn’t ready. but anyways.

nine months ago, i was completely convinced i was going to be pregnant for another 3 weeks. i was supposed to have stopped working but couldn’t help myself – i ended up attending 3 births in the last few weeks before my own. and that was probably what did it. a few days after doula-ing for some good friends of mine (and a week before my own due date), i was texting with a friend saying (LITERALLY) “i’m not even going to worry about having this baby for another 3 weeks”. 10 minutes later my water broke and i was freaking out.

my midwives had warned me that doulas are always the least prepared for their own births and i most certainly fit the bill. i sat shaking in the bathroom, telling mark this couldn’t be happening for a while, then we sat on the bed and talked about whether mark should go to work in the morning. at about 4am, mark got up to make quiche and i tried to sleep while slow waves of cramps started to build in my gut.

i called my mom a million times and, though she had been anxiously sitting by her phone for MONTHS at this point, waiting to hear news, suddenly could not be reached by any avenue. around 6 or 7am, the cramps were getting too uncomfortable to keep laying down so, ignoring the advice of my midwife, i decided to get up and take a shower. though the birth ball didn’t fit in the shower, i stubbornly jammed it in there with me while the contractions continued to build. mark sat on the bathroom floor, eating eggs, both of us relatively unfazed by labor at this point. i wouldn’t let my doula come by since i was convinced i was just in early labor.

you know, early labor where the contractions are 2 minutes apart.

i’m a doula, remember.

we called our midwife intermittently and she would listen to me as i had a contraction. i wasn’t feeling super overwhelmed by pain and was staying pretty quiet through most contractions. i’d bend over the changing table in our sunny bedroom, mark would press on my back, and then that’d be that. let’s recap the fact that i had spent the last year watching teenagers in labor – teenagers who screamed and yelled even when heavily medicated. so i was expecting labor to be downright awful, despite how beautiful i also deeply knew it to be. i was a little surprised that it wasn’t hell-on-earth, at least for the most part.

as one could probably imagine, we realized in retrospect, that i was basically continually faking everyone out in terms of how i was reacting to labor.

our doula and dear friend, annie, arrived 10am and hung out with me while mark did some last minute preparations like, you know, packing our emergency hospital bag (just-in-case) and blowing up the birth pool by hand. i tried all sorts of positions and essential oils that i had used for other people, just to see what worked. my mind was working like a doula through the whole birth, constantly assessing what was bullshit advice and what was helpful. i started running through every suggestion i’d ever given a laboring mother before, now asking forgiveness for making so-and-so sit on a birth ball or rubbing her back in a certain way. it was a welcome sort of relief when the contractions became strong enough to get me out of my own head.

at a certain point, i started getting a really strong urge to push. but i was in early labor, right? so i shouldn’t start pushing. it took every fiber of will and strength in me not to push, and i was not successful at not-pushing. i cried “FUCK” every time i accidentally pushed, which was pretty much during each contraction. i got in every position that i tell others to get into when they feel the urge to push and know that they should not. as one might expect, none of those positions work.

around 12:30p, the midwives’ assistant, rachel, arrived to check out the situation before the midwife got there. as i moved to the bed to be checked, i told annie that i felt like i had a bowling ball between my legs.

and both of us, experienced doulas, just nodded at each other like i was commenting on the weather, not at all realizing what i just said.

rachel smiled and chatted with me, took her time before checking my dilation. i was ready to hear that i was 2cm dilated. instead i watched her smile freeze as she told me: “lauren, you’re having your baby right now.” here, on the bed. not in the lovely birth tub that mark had only half-inflated at this point.

all of us were in shock. i had another 30 hours of labor ahead of me, right?

not the case.

rachel called our midwife, while annie and mark rushed around to get whatever supplies we could: a mixing bowl for the placenta, some scissors for the cord. 30 minutes later, a little blue alien-like baby was hoisted up onto my chest, her arms open, squawking like a dolphin. we couldn’t believe she was here, that fast, that simply.

she had come out sunny side up – a position that is typically really difficult to navigate and most of the time makes labor incredibly long and especially painful. this had been what i most obsessively worried about throughout my pregnancy, my pet fear if you will. it was an amazing gift and lesson to me that what i most feared came to pass and…was not actually that bad. a deep gratitude for God’s grace and the beauty of birth was etched into me that day in a way it never quite had before.

it was a crazy thing to see that face for the first time, all squished and confused. she looked so much like my grandma, so unlike anything i had ever imagined. she emerged from such an intimate place within me and yet we still were so unacquainted with one another. even now, nine months later, having watched her every expression and emotion, i still find myself surprised by elements of her being that burst forth. like her father, she is an extension of me which brings delight in the vast amount of unknown that has yet to be explored. sometimes i feel like my whole life before she was born was just a drawn out passing of time, a waste really. even in the isolation, exhaustion, and frustration of parenthood i feel like this is really living. i feel most myself when i’m with her.

there is no greater gift than that.

IMG_3881

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.