Blah Blah Blahg

A little of this, a little of that, and a whole lot of blah blah blah....

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

What I Learned About Love and Marriage from My Five Month Old Son

Tomorrow marks five months since my son was born. I remember vividly how arriving at the hospital to be induced at 40 weeks and 3 days felt both anti climactic and full of promise. I recall waddling into the hospital room, preceded by my watermelon belly, and staring at the empty bassinet next to my hospital bed as I wondered who and what would soon be filling it up. It just felt surreal. Over thirty hours of medical intervention to promote dilation, induction, labor, epidural, more labor, transition and delivery later, I held my son in my arms for the first time and I thought that I loved him.

Don't get me wrong, I for sure had a deep attachment to him in those first moments. How could I not? I carried that wiggly, squirmy, kicking little boy inside me for 40 weeks and 3 days, remember? And how could I not feel deeply attached to something so deeply attached to me? He was at once strangely familiar and totally foreign. The weeks to come were a blur of nursing, rocking, bouts of sobbing (we won't mention names here), extreme exhaustion and somehow the ability to muster up enough energy to repeat the aforementioned sequence. And something happened in those weeks as they transitioned into months one heart-wrenching and heart-warming moment at a time: I fell in love with the little boy my son became. He is a real person. He is not just "part of me" and "part of my husband." He is full of personality and opinions and tricks up his sleeve. He smiles at me first thing in the morning from his crib. He laughs big belly laughs when I put him in new pajamas. He pouts like a puppy dog when he is about to cry. He screams his head off like bloody murder when I'm in the kitchen and then lets loose a smile about a mile wide as soon as I reenter the room. He smiles so much when I sing him his favorite lullaby as he is about to drift into peaceful slumber that his pacifier falls out of his mouth, sometimes waking him back up to alertness and inducing the previously mentioned pout...

Yup, I love the little guy. I love him because he is a part of me, and that part of my love I could never describe, defend or deny. I also love him because of who he is and who he will become. This, I now understand, is both independent of me and dependent upon me. He is his own person, a little one albeit. And his world and life are shaped by those to whom he is most deeply attached. I still hit those energy walls like a ton of bricks, especially after a long day of mothering, teaching and mothering some more. They are no longer accompanied by hormone headaches and nursing nausea. I'm no longer sleeping away the seconds between the hours of feeding, diapering, rocking and repeating. Now I can see that this truly was just a season in our lives. And now I can truly see what it was that gave me strength and ability to do it all again--even when I was sure that either that season would never end or that my patience surely would before it had the chance. It was love. A love that felt heavy and burdensome on only 40 minutes of sleep at a time. A love that felt over-consuming when in those 40 minutes I had to sleep, I instead worried about the contents of my son's last diaper. It's a love that in the very middle of the night after that little boy woke up and needed my help to fall back asleep, now leaves me peacefully wide awake counting down the hours until morning when I can wake him up and see that smile. And I lay there as he sleeps, now awake myself. I unzip his swaddle just enough to hold the little hand gently smooshed against his side. And before I can count another sheep or even plan another preschool project, my own eyes close and drift to blissful slumber.

I recently began taking a women's class about marriage and intimacy offered by our local Chabad. If you live in my area, I encourage you to attend this class and if you live in another area, I encourage you to look into where it may be offered near you. The first class in the session focused on love and marriage. Students were asked at one point to discuss with a partner two questions: What is love? and Why get married? Talk about loaded questions. Before my husband and I became observant Jews, we both dated the "secular" way. We believed that you got married after you found a person you fell in love with. When each of us made our way toward observant Judaism and began to explore dating for the purpose of marriage within that framework, we were each astonished to be told that the purpose of dating was not to fall in love but rather to determine compatibility and that love would develop after marriage. To me, it seemed rather risky. But with divorce rates on the seemingly exponential rise, and with the awareness that after 28 years of single-hood what I had been doing hadn't worked, I was willing to have enough emunah (faith in G-d) to give this a genuine try. Dating in the Orthodox world was still awkward, but it no longer felt like guesswork the way my old way of dating had. It no longer felt forced or artificial. It felt purposeful, albeit frustrating and frightening at times, and I genuinely felt driven by a spiritual force greater than any reason I could come up with to pursue marriage.

And that is where the answer to those loaded questions lies: my reasons for marriage are much like many others' reasons. Companionship, connection, financial and physical stability, the desire to have a family, shared responsibilities... But the deeper reason behind it is truly a spiritual one. My husband is most definitely my soulmate. And I firmly believe that every person has a soulmate in every part of their lifespan (whether it is the same person throughout or in certain cases different people). Long before a shadchan (matchmaker) I never met or spoke with found our two shidduch resumes and decided we might make a compatible match over an international website, G-d knew that this woman was meant to marry that man at exactly the time we did. Eons before these two people met face to face on a sidewalk in Brooklyn for the first time in this world, those two faces were part of one soul in the World to Come. That soul connection was the driving power that allowed us to put aside any and all reservations and stand beneath the chuppah (wedding canopy) together after three months of dating and four months of engagement. But I did not love my husband then.

Sure, I was attached to him. I chose him and he chose me. But on a deeper level, I was attached to him because G-d chose the both of us and in a greater sense than I could ever describe, defend, or deny, my husband was already a part of me. It was not until later in our marriage, through a multi-state relocation, building a home together and a life under that roof, that I began to know and really love the person my husband was. And it was not until sharing in pregnancy, birth, and now parenthood that I grew to love the person my husband is and the family that we are becoming.

Marriage is hard. Parenthood is hard. The Torah provides us with ample evidence to support this. Secular and religious bookstores are stocked with texts to provide tools of support, tools of encouragement, tools of humor and inspiration. Energy levels fluctuate and seasons of our lives come and pass. As the old saying goes, the hours are long but the years are short. We walk, we run, we stumble and fall, we hit walls and they hit us back like a ton of bricks. And somehow, we find the energy to do it all again. And it comes from genuine and unconditional love. The ability to give of yourself even when you feel completely empty. It is a love that feels heavy as we carry its weight and leaves us feeling weightless as it carries ours. And in this darkest and coldest month of the year,it is the lessons I have learned about love from this chubby little boy beside me that warm and brighten my world. Happy Five Month Birthday, little one. You've taught me and your Tatty more in five short months than we had yet learned in our lifetime!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mother Working...

Before I was married, I taught preschool full time. I used to cover the nap room shift on many afternoons and if all of the children were fast asleep, I'd walk over to the CD player and put one of the lullabies, "You Can Close Your Eyes," by James Taylor on repeat. That was one of my busiest years not only teaching, but also meeting the man who is now my husband, becoming engaged, and planning a wedding. Cozy afternoons watching a room full of sleeping preschoolers were just the space I needed to clear my head. I could very abstractly imagine what it might someday feel like to hold my own little bundle of joy and rock that cozy bundle to sleep with these words:

Well the sun is surely sinking down, but the moon is slowly rising.
So this old world must still be spinning round and I still love you.

So close your eyes, you can close your eyes, it's all right.
I don't know no love songs and I can't sing the blues anymore.
But I can sing this song and you can sing this song when I'm gone.

It won't be long before another day, we gonna have a good time.
And no one's gonna take that time away. You can stay as long as you like.

So close your eyes, you can close your eyes, it's all right.
I don't know no love songs and I can't sing the blues anymore.
But I can sing this song and you can sing this song when I'm gone.

Those days leading up to our wedding sometimes seemed to stretch on forever, I recall. I'd watch the clock, and the hands may as well have just stood still. Now, just over a year later that all seems like a whirlwind. Now I am teaching preschool part time and I am a full time wife and mother. The days now often feel like a whirlwind and I long for the hours, the minutes, or even just a moment to stretch on forever. What I didn't know when I dreamily imagined holding that cozy little bundle of joy was how heavy and exhausting that joy can feel by the day's end. I didn't realize then that even though my baby boy might be excited, playful and ready to fly like a helicopter around the room at 10:00PM, I would be struggling to stay awake while I nurse him once more before hopefully getting five hours or so of sleep myself. What I never imagined was that I could put in 110% of my energy, intention and desire into working and mothering and still desire to give so much more however impossible that scenario may be. 

The numbers just don't add up; the hours somehow always fall short. It is all a much more delicate dance than I had imagined back in those days of waiting for the hours to pass. Now my steps are heavier and my feet a little more worn for the ware. Still this new rhythm moves all around me and within me and I try to dance between it all with pateince and with grace. I feel wholeheartedly that being a "working mother" is the right choice for me, for my son and for our family as a whole. I'd prefer to call it a "mother working," though, as I am first and foremost a mommy. Yes, I feel confident. And I feel ambivalent. I am excited, fulfilled, exhilarated and I still feel all of the guilt and anxiety as any other mother working. Teaching, I believe, shaped me into a more sensitive Mommy. Motherhood now shapes me into a more compassionate teacher. At the end of the day, I like to think that my students and my son go to bed peacefully exhausted. I know I do! 

And every night as his heavy eyelids fight impending slumber and as we both seem to sleepily long for those final moments to last just one more hour,  I want so much to sing these words to my son. I've tried on occasion, but every time I do a lump in my throat seems to get the better end of my voice. So instead sometimes, on a rainy afternoon like this one, I hold my smiley, sleepy, chatty little infant in my arms, rock him gently back and forth and let James Taylor do the singing. (Thank you, YouTube!) My son is almost four months old now. He does not yet have separation anxiety. I am almost thirty; I do. My greatest dream for my son is the same dream I have had for every one of my students. This world is full of friendly faces. In times of uncertainty, I encourage my children--both borrowed and biological--to find the helpers. Everything we could ever possibly need we already have. It is within us and around us and all we need to do is find those friendly faces. My little boy is loved by many friendly faces and I feel blessed to see him look lovingly into his babysitter's eyes or smile when a friend picks him up and holds him. And I feel blessed to feel him peacefully drift off to sleep in my arms each night and find him awake and smiling from his bassinet in the morning--because even if I can't muster the words to tell him that he can stay as long as he needs and no one's going to take our time away, I believe in the deep of my heart that my son already knows this to be true. It won't be long before another day and we're going to have a good time...

Friday, October 03, 2014

The (Now) Hilarious Thing That Happened Right Before Rosh Hashanah

Picture it: it's a couple of hours before Rosh Hashanah. My husband and I are feeling ecstatic and quite proud of ourselves. Even with an infant, half a work day for each of us, and a three hour trip to our destination, we are running early enough to stop at the bank, pick up a few items at the local grocery store, and my husband is looking forward to even having time to stop by the mikvah before yuntiv. We are cool, calm, and collected as we unpack our now slightly cranky car-seat passenger and the copious items of luggage we hauled along. We greet our lovely hosts, and I carry S up to the guest room. My husband mans the baggage. As he prepares to step out again and make his way to the mikvah, he double checks that I'm all settled.

"I'm good to go," I say. "I just need you to bring up the suitcase."
"The suitcase?"
"The suitcase. The one you said I shouldn't carry downstairs myself that has all of my clothes and S's things inside."
"The suitcase..."

It's two hours before yuntiv and the aforementioned suitcase is three hours away in our home. It took me three hours over the course of two days just to pack it! (Ever tried packing for a three day yom tov/Shabbos while entertaining a 12 week old baby, preparing seven preschoolers for Rosh Hashanah and maintaining some semblance of order and sanity in your home?) I lost it, just a little. Actually, I cried. S looks most adorable in any and everything he wears and it wouldn't be too hard to get extra diapers and wipes and probably even borrow some clothing for him from some friends in the area, but I was still in my weekday clothes from teaching preschool. Complete with some paint stains, spit up and who knows what else? This is what I had with me to wear for yom tov: A rain coat, rubber boots covered in orange and yellow flowers, pearl earrings and a pearl necklace, and my sheitel. My husband felt terribly, though it truly is no one's fault--we both worked hard, we both tried our best, and we both forgot together. Now, being the master problem solver he is, he took care of arranging for me to borrow an entire wardrobe from a good friend in the neighborhood (even better friend now that I've shopped through her unmentionables) and for S to borrow a few changes of clothing from some other friends. Another very generous friend went out in the midst of his own preparations to buy diapers and wipes for our little guy. All three of us arrived fully dressed (aside from my husband's hat, which we also left behind) and only a little worn out to our dinner hosts in time to enjoy a festive Rosh Hashanah meal. We dipped our apples in the honey and welcomed in a sweet new year, and as we did, I reflected a bit on what I could possibly learn from this situation (aside from making a list and checking it twice!)...

Everything I need, I have and everything I have, I need. Baruch HaShem, we had everything we did need with us. My husband and my son were here with me: that was most important. Also, any medications and medical equipment had made the trip successfully. The rest was really just more about comfort and sometimes we need to feel a little uncomfortable in order to make a change or remember something important. So everything I needed, I had. But on the other side of that is the lesson to be learned: everything we have, we need. This was a challenging situation and HaShem provided this challenging situation to me. If that's the case, then for sure it was meant to happen.

You can't take it with you; travel light! We're meant to enter Rosh Hashanah fresh and anew. This is when we take the time to reflect on the previous year and decide what's worth being carried forward and what should be left behind. We have those more difficult conversations with one another and ask for mechilla (forgiveness) when we've done someone wrong. We have those more difficult conversations with G-d and ask for His mercy in the areas in which we struggle spiritually. We have those even more difficult conversations with ourselves because at the end of the day, the one person who can be the quickest to anger and slowest to forgive is me. And we're meant to let go. To spend a set time in teshuva and self-reflection, but then to shrug it off, shake off the dust, and make a plan. This is not the time of year to be weighed down by old baggage; it's the time to travel light and move ahead.

The King is in the Field. It is said in the month of Elul preceding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, that HaShem is most accessible. Throughout the year, He is, of course available, but at this time of year, He leaves His holy palace to reside with us in our mundane environment. He's ready to talk and ready to listen. We just need to be willing to start that conversation. Just as resolving a crisis of luggage left behind requires us to be humble and ask for help, so too are we called upon in the month of Tishrei to be humble and ask for help from HaShem. He is ever so willing to answer our call, we just have to be willing to dial the number.

And so with the excitement and drama of Rosh Hashanah behind us and the sweetness of that honey still fresh on my tongue, we are hours away from entering one of the holiest days of the year: Yom Kippur. While the haunting melodies of Kol Nidrei give forth a sense of somberness and severity, this is truly one of the most joyous yom tovim of the Jewish year. This is where we celebrate our deep connection to G-d and our true commitment to Torah values and mitzvot. It's the wedding anniversary, so to speak, of the Jewish people's marriage to HaShem. No longer are we weighed down by the struggles behind us. Nor should we feel burdened by the work that lies ahead. Tonight and tomorrow as we pour our hearts and souls into tefillah (prayer) and teshuva (repentance), we release the disappointments that kept us from moving forward and the expectations that hold us back. May this be a year of blessings, peace, and prosperity for all and may it also be the year of redemption. Wishing all a meaningful Yom Kippur and an easy fast. G'mar chasima tovah!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Day I Broke Up With My Lactation Consultant

I just went back to work two days ago and I think I broke up with my lactation consultant. More accurately, I think I got dumped over pumping. I just joined the elite and ever growing group of mommies who turned to their lactation support for, well, support, and felt judged, bullied, insulted, and overall, unsupported. And it totally feels just like a high school break-up, complete with tearful bouts of remembering the good times, the hurt of words that were exchanged in the end, that empty feeling of imagining life without her--only now I have a husband who is sitting up with me in the middle of that first emotional night and encouraging me to remember the good times and focus on the ways in which our relationship was so positive, rather than the ugly ending. Ok, not such a perfect analogy after all! Nonetheless, I find such great comfort in repeating the same mantra today that I so often repeated after those turbulent teenage unrequited love stories: it hurts a lot right now, but that pain will soften over time and it won't hurt forever.

The truth of the matter is that my husband is right. I should focus on the good times. After I gave birth to my son, I felt hugely empowered and supported by this lactation consultant. I really even put her on a pedestal (which always leaves such vast room to fall)--stating excitedly to anyone who would listen that the greatest benefit of laboring and delivering at the hospital I did was that you came home not only with your baby but with access to this amazing lactation consultant for life. The issue that came up is not entirely so important--everyone is human, lactation consultants included. When you are really great at something, it can be hard to imagine anyone else being able to do your job and threatening to believe that someone else is. Inadvertently I may have caused this person to feel that I was double dipping and crossing her authority when from my perspective I, like so many new mothers am just trying to utilize the resources I do have and do what is best for my child. I am not double dipping, I am proverbially just dipping the other end to maximize use of both my chip and my dip. And my chip could have many ends, you know, chips come in all shapes and sizes. This adorable chubby little baby on my lap did not come with an owner's manual. The one key phrase I took such comfort in hearing from my former lactation specialist was that there were a million right ways to feed and care for a baby; the most important thing was that he is loved and he had no shortage of that.

Knowing that there are a million right ways to care for, raise and parent my son is both empowering and intimidating. In that blank canvas kind of way. And when you hear that it takes a village to raise a child, you just want to utilize that whole village to the best of your ability. In the weeks preceding my return to work I had, thank G-d, major success with breastfeeding and also major struggles with pumping enough to supply my son with bottles when I would return to work. I brought up the issue with my lactation consultant and sought the advice and experience of friends. I was assured by the lactation consultant that things would be ok and it would get better, even provided with some suggestions. Some of them were helpful, others not as much. I took comfort in her telling me that although I feared "the worst"--not being able to breastfeed my son anymore--I was miles away from that point. There were a million steps between here and there and we would cross them as they came up. Friends and other mothers offered suggestions of things that worked for them and empathy for the challenge of the situation. Pumping with a newborn baby in the house who wants you right then no matter when right then is, is very hard. When I met with my son's new pediatrician where we moved, I was actually relieved when he and his nurse provided me with information on how to supplement with formula in these first weeks until I could build up a supply. It felt good to know that my situation was a common one and that this solution was not necessarily permanent but was perfectly safe and acceptable.

Now I did not need to worry about my son starving while I was at work and could focus on the multitude of other worries a working mom has when making this transition. The ambivalence is not about whether I want to work or not--I am comfortably settled in my desire to return to teaching part time while being able to devote my afternoons and evenings to my baby boy. I feel supported in my workplace, supported in my family and supported in my community. I don't know how many mothers can say that--whether they are working-out-of-the-house moms or working-at-home moms. My husband and I even sat down with a wonderfully supportive postpartum doula to help iron out and air some of those other myriad worries. I walked to work on my first day with a genuine smile and feeling of confidence. My son was in good hands while I was gone--hands that are entirely focused on caring for him in that time and not also reaching high and low to complete household chores and other tasks. Returning home at the end of the day was a joyous reunion and a relief. Everything really was OK. I just needed to navigate my way through pumping while at work and when it came to those issues, my former lactation support specialist was always the person I called. So it caught me off guard when in talking she got stuck on the fact that I had spoken to my pediatrician about supplementing with formula and also to my postpartum doula about how to arrange a space and environment to pump at work. She seemed uneasy with my decision to use formula at this point (though I'm not sure what other choice I had) and expressed that she was used to working with the pediatricians where we used to live who "deferred to her unless what she said didn't work." She said as nicely as I think she could that having too many people help me would be "confusing" and that when it came to pumping the only advice she could give me was to "just do it."

The feelings of judgment and the blow to my confidence are not really external factors; I know they are just a heightened awareness of my own feelings of ambivalence and insecurity. The sadness that followed isn't really about losing her support; how supportive is it really to have to nurture someone's feelings of authority while trying to nurture your baby? They are also just displaced emotions and guilt about leaving my boy and actually feeling good about it. But that is where the most important point in this whole experience rises so clearly to the surface. It does take a village to raise a child and thank G-d, we have one. Both in our home and family, in our neighborhood, in our community and extended family and beyond. We have a village standing on the front-lines ready to wage battle when necessary, ready to celebrate victory when they can and ready to console and empathize when that is needed, too. The amount of support and love that my son has in his six short weeks of life is immeasurable. We are blessed beyond comparison. And if my abrasive desire to quell my wounded ego leads me to say that this village is also lucky to have rid itself of one idiot, then be it. I will carry with me the pearls of wisdom that were so helpful when I needed them: there are a million right ways to care for my baby and the most important thing is that he is loved. He has no shortage of that!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Monday Morning Confessions From The Mommyhood Underground

During the last month as we've adjusted to life with Baby S in our home, moved that home from a house with three bedrooms, three stories, two and half baths and a five minute commute to my husband's job to a two-bedroom, one and a half bath, townhouse apartment over an hour away from my husband's job, inquiring minds always want to know how my son is. At first I thought, how sweet, everyone wants to know how S's day is going. I'd give the latest update or anecdote, dirty diaper details and all. But after a while, I've come to realize or at least feel that what everyone really wants to know is what my son is like? What type of disposition does he have? Aside from the unique talent it takes to have a diaper blowout, spit up down the back of my shirt and pee on the chandelier all before 8:30am, what is a day in the life of S really like? I would casually respond to everyone--strangers at the grocery store, pediatricians, grandparents and relatives, friends, even my husband in the same way: with a glossed over cheerful depiction of my smooshy snoogly chubby cheeked bundle of joy who couldn't possibly be one of those "difficult" babies you so often hear about...

About two weeks into his life when S started to interrupt hours of smooshy snoogly chubby cheeked adorableness with moments, minutes and then longer stretches of fussiness, I made excuses. He didn't like his carseat. It was too hot. It was too cold. I hadn't paid enough attention to him. He was having a developmental leap and even my iPhone app could show you that, see?? Until one night my husband mused that he hoped S was having a developmental leap and not just developing his personality. I shrugged it off, eyes glazed over with that deer-in-the-headlights look of sleep deprivation only made possible by 40 weeks of pregnancy insomnia followed by a month of newborn induced sleepless nights. But as long as those nights were (or seemingly too short) the days were even longer. For the twelve hours of time between commuting and working that my equally exhausted and patient and optimistic husband is gone, my son would sleep in 20 minute increments. Only while being held, worn, carried, walked or otherwise attached to me. Sleep when the baby sleeps? Whose baby sleeps? I'd like to shake his hand! I'd like his autograph once he gets his fine motor skills under control!!

Thank G-d, my son does sleep while being put down at night for a good 4-6 hour stretch. Only remember those daylight hours of never being put down? Even with the amazing advent of being able to wear your baby and have access to both hands, there is only so much one can get done around the house that is still yet to be entirely unpacked and organized. Sleep when the baby sleeps? Ok, and I'll do laundry when he does laundry. Dishes when he does dishes. Heck, I'll shower and brush my teeth when he showers and brushes his, um, gums...

A quiet voice I so often hushed in my head spoke louder and louder until last night I could finally say it aloud to my husband: you know those "difficult babies" you hear about? We have one. But I can't call him "difficult." He doesn't get to decide what's easy and what's difficult, we do. And in one month how could we fairly expect him to live up to a standard of lifestyle we took 30 or so years to develop? He is a sensitive baby. He is a needy baby. All babies are sensitive and have needs and thank G-d, our son is very efficient and competent in conveying that to us. He doesn't hate life. He doesn't hate us. No, our son just poop!

Here's where I become one of those parents who discusses in far too much detail the difficulties and dilemmas of diapers and digestion. Feel free to scroll down to the bottom, I'll probably attach a smooshy snoogly chubby cheeked photo at the end of this post for all to see and love. But if you're willing to brave the Monday Morning Confessions from the Mommyhood Underground on this lovely day, here goes. Thanks for coming along for the ride! We have ourselves a Gassy Gus. He cries when he farts. He farts a lot. Who cries when they fart?? Most boys and even some middle aged men think farting is hilarious! Not S. It upsets him to the point of even crying through nursing sessions. That, to me, is the worst. The one thing I can do to comfort and help my son is no longer soothing for him. And his sobs and screams are the saddest ones I've ever heard. S is, thank G-d, a healthy baby boy who eats well and is growing and developing day by day, and like so many of his itty bitty peers, he has an immature digestive system. It's all brand spanking new, freshly minted, just out of the shop! It will get better, I am told. These days, these hours, and minutes and lifelong moments of exhaustion and frustration will be replaced by a time when my son makes jokes about going to the bathroom that will inevitably drive me so crazy I was wish he could find the subject to be more upsetting again! And they will also be filled with smooshy snoogly chubby cheeked cuddles that don't allow me to finish all the tasks I'd like to complete in a day but do allow me to be close to and bond with my baby boy.

And in the meantime, I will tell it like it is. Grin, and bear it. Laugh about it, gripe about it, occasionally possibly in the middle of the night cry just a tiny bit about it because how different am I really from this tiny little guy who is tired and frustrated and afraid and wants to be comforted? And my husband and I will have our senses of humor as always. A couple of weeks ago he played a YouTube video (which, I am sorry, but you'll have to look up for yourself if you're that curious) of actor Morgan Freeman reading the popular children's book, Everyone Poops. My son was not impressed. He fussed through most of it while I bicycled his legs and wriggled his hips and massaged his belly until he could finish filling his diaper. I, however, now hear the soothing sounds of Morgan Freeman's voice every time I enter the bathroom...

Sunday, August 10, 2014

To The World's Okayest Moms...

The love you feel for your own child is one so complete 
and all consuming 
that it can at once ground you and weigh you down, 
fill you up to spilling over,
bend you to the point at which you are positive that surely you will break. 

But there is nothing more whole and more perfectly imperfect than the love one feels for her child. 
It is lofty and heavy and knows no bounds or limits. It tells you simultaneously that as a mother you are everything and also you are no one. 
That you know best. 
That you know nothing at all. 
That you can have it all and do it all but never all at the same time. 

And in the end the three dishes you manage to wash and the single load of laundry you get in the dryer but never turned on in between twenty four hours of nursing, changing diapers, rocking, repeating....

nursing, changing diapers, rocking, repeating....

nursing, changing diapers, rocking, repeating....

nursing, changing diapers, rocking, repeating....

... is somehow both a monumental success and not good enough. 
Not ever good enough. 

But be still. 
Be easy. 
You can't measure up because this love is too big and too great. 
A love so colossal is in and of itself immeasurable and there is little room left for quantifying other, lesser things, like dirty dishes or spit up stained laundry. 
Because this love is blind enough to see it all. 
Ignorant enough to know it all. 
Numb enough to feel it all both moving through you and washing over you. 
It knows from exhaustion and thirst and hunger. 
It knows from deciding in the twenty minutes a day during which you have access to both your hands whether it's more important to shower or use the bathroom or finally turn on the dryer . 
It grows so heavy at times it can feel like a burden. 
How on earth did you go from being this watermelon-bellied princess who was concurrently the center of her world and the center of gravity to being consumed by a force that defies gravity altogether? 

But then he smiles and gazes in your eyes. 
And this time it's not a reflex. 
It is intentional. 
It is silent and it speaks volumes. 

You are mine, it says. 
You are my world, it says. 
You are trying and failing and trying again, 
it says 
and then...
in a wave of weightless flight as you are lifted up by this inconceivable energy to keep going, 
to do it all over again and again and again,
it whispers gently and softly and kindly: that is good enough. 
You are good enough.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

And Then There Were Three!

I've been missing in action from the world of blogging now for some time and it is with great excitement and gratitude to G-d that I announce the birth of our first child, our beautiful son, "S.Y.M." "S" was born on July 3rd at 11:12 PM weighing in at 6lbs, 12.9oz and 19.5 inches long. The experience of pregnancy to labor, through delivery and finally holding this precious creation in my arms was intense, surreal, confusing and beautiful. It was everything I dreamed it could be and nothing like how I planned it would be. It was an epic experience of letting go if ever there was one! It was a glorious reminder of how little we control and how much we depend. It left me begging the question of when motherhood begins, of how and when one truly becomes a parent. It is a gift of awe wrapped in reminders that we must be at once completely vulnerable and open and also as forgiving of ourselves as we would be of a newborn infant experiencing every aspect of the world around him for the very first time.

So when does motherhood begin? Is it that night in late October when not one, but two pregnancy tests confirm that two will soon become three? Is it the first sonogram or the sound of a heartbeat? Is it the first feelings of fluttering inside or later those swift karate chops to the ribs? Do you simply transform when after 40 weeks, 3 days, and over 30 hours of induction processes, labor and delivery you finally hold your warm baby boy in your arms? The answer for me is yes, all of the above, and no, none of the above--because motherhood like all other aspects of my being is a state toward which I'm perpetually reaching and becoming. It arrives in waves, ebbing and flowing with emotions both graceful and raw (like the 40 minutes I spent crying when S was two days old because someday he'd get married and leave home!). It's a role I was born to play, but despite hours of rehearsing and memorizing lines, I'll be left to improvise and ad lib this monologue. I am not wholly transformed to the point where I don't desire perfection--but I want my son to feel and believe it's ok to be good enough. And in that, I strive to be the world's ok-est mom.

I'd like to say I loved pregnancy. I didn't. Thank G-d, I did not have any major challenges or complications throughout my pregnancy and aside from some typical discomforts and exacerbation of my typically well managed asthma, I had a pretty healthy pregnancy throughout. Nonetheless, it was hard. Being tired all of the time, the extreme nausea throughout the first trimester, prenatal insomnia and constantly feeling that my body was not my own often felt reminiscent of being sick. And I was not sick! Baruch Hashem, I was pregnant and a life was growing inside of me! I had to constantly re-frame my concept of these feelings toward being productive discomforts and not a sign of injury or illness. There were, of course, all of the normal anxieties throughout as my husband and I prepared to welcome this beautiful addition to our lives and home. These "growing pains" brought out a compassion and sensitivity in us both that truly brought us closer. If it is possible to fall in love multiple times with the same person, the process of watching my husband become a father has evoked one of the most intense feelings of connection I've ever had.

Toward the last trimester, I started to feel ambiguous. I liked that baby being inside of me all of a sudden. I wanted to keep it there. It was safe in here. It didn't get lost at Walmart. It didn't ask for toys or candy. It didn't cry in the movie theater. By my 37th week, that ambiguity shifted rapidly. I wanted it out! I wanted to be done. June temperatures were in the 90s with humidity leaving the air feeling a humid 10 to 15 degrees hotter. I felt huge. I felt lethargic. I felt entirely ready and completely unprepared. It's the period of in-betweens in which all you can do is hurry up and wait. Baby could come any day now and as the minutes pass to hours pass to days, we joyfully anticipate. However, as I approached my due date, my patience was wearing thin. I was on edge to say the least. I'd figured out from our house to the hospital how many contractions I'd have in the car if I labored at home until they were 5 minutes apart lasting for about a minute each. Our bags were mostly packed with lists reminding us of what we'd need to grab at the last minute. My mother was in town to support me through labor and, with G-d's help at the right time we were all ready to go. I had my proverbial tool belt loaded with comfort techniques to attempt my way through an unmedicated labor. The greatest challenge I foresaw was the mere aspect of not knowing.

"It's hard to wait," I kept repeating to my husband throughout the insomnia-induced sleepless nights that plagued both my first and third trimesters of pregnancy. "I hate the 'not knowing.'" When would labor begin? What would it feel like? Where would I be? Where would my husband be? How long would it take? Meanwhile, my due date came and passed. I was born six weeks early. In an early attempt at one of the worst ever parenting techniques, I told that little baby inside of me at 34 weeks to do as I say and not as I did. I certainly wanted to go full term and give our little bundle ample time to develop and thrive. But I also value punctuality. I grew to loathe the calls, messages and texts from well intending friends and family asking if I was "still around" and "was there any news?" I dreaded walking waddling from my front door in my conglomeration of maternity clothing and modest swimwear to take a load off at the pool in our housing development because inevitably one of the lovely neighbor ladies would stop to ask in a charming southern drawl whether I'd had the baby yet. What do you think? Watermelon belly and no baby in arms, yup, still pregnant. It's amazing how one can manage 40 weeks of waiting and not knowing--right down to the fact that we never found out the gender of our baby (though I intuitively believed from before my husband and I were even married that our firstborn would be a boy) but a few extra days feel like an eternity. Pregnancy is not a permanent condition, I reminded myself. One way or another, this would end and with G-d's help, we'd have a healthy and happy baby to bring home.

At 40 weeks and 2 days, my husband, mother and watermelon-belly in tow, I walked into our OB-GYN's office for what I truly hoped would be our last prenatal visit. We'd scheduled an ultrasound at this point to check fluid levels and the baby's activity. I took comfort and humor in the fact that we'd be meeting with one of my favorite doctors in the practice, a lawyer-turned-obstetrician whom I was confident could serve both eviction notices and induce labor in one magical fell swoop. A lengthy ultrasound revealed very low fluid levels and my little baby failed its first test. Presumably because of the low level of amniotic fluid, the factor of time and the size and position of our little one, movement was rather decreased. It was time to get a move on things. For religious and personal reasons, I'd avoided any cervical checks prior to my due date. Now the doctor wanted to do one to see how far dilated I was in order to have an idea of what to expect when he'd admit me to the hospital the next morning. When this revealed that I was, in fact, not dilated at all, he decided it was time to check in that night and begin a medication to help dilate the cervix. Baby's heartbeat was good, but time was up and we needed to get the show on the road already. I promised the doctor a puppy if he would get this baby out of me.

The doctor informed that upon arrival to the hospital that evening, I'd be given a medication that would take 12 hours to work. During much of that time, I'd be required to be in bed on my back (not something I looked forward to greatly in my current state). In the morning, they would recheck and begin Pitocin to induce labor. He explained that with inductions, the chance of c-section increases to 50%. I immediately heard that as, "you will probably not deliver naturally" but forced myself to focus instead on the equal possibility that I could. Either way, with G-d's help, we'd soon welcome our little bundle into the world. My husband, my mother and I all headed home and got things together. I was in a bit of a stupor as we packed into the car and made our 10 minute drive to the hospital. I sat in the front seat having no contractions at all--guess I didn't need to spend so much time calculating that one!

We filled out paperwork, set up camp, and settled in all in an eerie state of calm as I was not yet in labor. My spirits were high; we were finally here! After the medication, some sleep and twelve hours of being mostly confined to a hospital bed, a second examination revealed that no progress had been made. Baby was still doing well, heartbeat good, head down and ready to go, but I was still clamped shut. I had three options to choose from now. Option A was another round of the same medication, which, to its benefit could be removed if things progressed but could also to its detriment not work again and would take another 12 hours of confinement to a hospital bed. Option B was another medication that came in two doses, each taking about 4 hours. To its benefit, that's only 4 hours in bed! To its potential detriment, it could not be removed in the event that things progressed rapidly or the baby did not respond well, in which case we'd be looking at a c-section for sure. Option C was a cervical balloon, but was likely in my current state not to work at all and to be very painful if it did. I felt ill equipped to make a choice. I looked at the doctor and the nurse with pleading eyes reminding them that I had no medical training whatsoever to make this decision. After talking through it, however, I opted to put my trust in Hashem and felt that Option B was the best step to take. I was given the first dose and left to spend some quality horizontal time in that hospital bed.

Baruch Hashem, things began to progress. "Think open thoughts," the doctor said as he examined me later on. Sure enough, things were moving along. As contractions began, I was so excited to be feeling the signs of labor that I was literally ecstatic. I walked the halls, stopping every couple of minutes to breathe through a contraction. As they grew a bit stronger, I made my way back to the room and started to say Tehillim. I knew they were getting stronger still when by Psalm 83, I had to slow down my pace over certain words. I remembered from a labor class I'd taken with my husband that it was important to utilize many different comfort techniques and to change it up as needed. It was also important not to use them too early on or you'd run out of interest and steam by the end. At this point, I knew it was time to move to the tub. I got into my odd conglomeration of maternity clothes and modest swimwear and the nurse helped prepare the bath. My husband loaded some of my favorite songs onto his iPhone and I settled in. The contractions were growing stronger and longer. This was productive pain, I reminded myself, as I breathed and closed my eyes. My mother helped prepare some cool washcloths with peppermint oil that I'd packed. I thought I'd place them on my forehead or maybe my neck, but for some reason all I wanted to do was put them over my eyes! At this point we were waiting to see if the contractions would slow down enough to take the second dose of the medication or if they would progress enough to move me to where I could begin Pitocin.

By the time I got out of the tub, the contractions were intense enough that I had whipped the "low deep moaning" tool out of my belt. I knew not to waste energy on whining or screaming or yelling. I also remembered that keeping a relaxed jaw and open throat helped relax and open you for giving birth. Contractions were still too close together to take a second dose of medication but a further exam revealed that amazingly, with G-d's help, I'd dilated enough to begin Pitocin. At hearing this, my energy and elation was temporarily restored. The contractions were extremely strong and increasing in intensity with the Pitocin, but this was it. I was here and things were, thank G-d, moving along. I was getting tired, though. Many of those tools in my belt were proving to be not as useful as I'd thought they would be. The massage techniques my husband and mother had practiced were useless to me now. I didn't want to be touched. I'm by nature not the most physically affectionate person and when I am, I always feel it's a reciprocal relationship. I want to take care of the person giving the affection and in this state, I only had energy to care for myself and my baby. I couldn't take the time to make sure the person touching me felt confident they were massaging me correctly or that they were feeling alright about everything. All of the jokes, words of encouragement, distractions and relaxation techniques we'd prepared felt overwhelming. I needed quiet. I needed to focus and rather than turning outward, I drew inward.

A nurse walked in to check my vitals and, in her good intentions, offered the following words of encouragement. "Well, you're finally at the beginning stages of labor." The beginning stages?! It had been over 24 hours since we checked in! I thought I'd been laboring all day! And I hit a wall. I was tired. I was afraid. I wanted to home. I wanted to go the Busch Gardens. I wanted a cookie. I promised a puppy to anyone and everyone who could help get this baby out of me. And I was ready to talk to my laboring nurse about medication options. She was extremely supportive of my desire to labor with minimal intervention and eager to work with me on labor techniques, answer my questions and talk me through options. I decided on a narcotic pain medication to help curb the edge a bit. It did very little for me, made me very tired and rather loopy and after a couple of more hours, I was back at that wall. I wanted to ask about an epidural at this point and discuss it with the nurse. Unfortunately, it was just 7:00 and that was shift change time. When my soon to be new labor nurse walked in and I tried in the few words I could get out in between contractions to state my desires, she was already on the phone calling the anesthesiologist. I was not ready for that yet! I just wanted to talk about it (although I couldn't do a whole lot of talking at this point). All I could do was quickly ask where the other nurse was and then quickly apologize for being rude. The previous nurse came back in on her way out to talk me through it and offer encouragement. Together with the nurses and my husband, I decided to take an epidural. I offered the departing nurse a puppy on the way out and thanked her. She offered me comfort and confidence; she told me I was stoic and graceful in my pain and she'd have gone the same path in this situation. I didn't feel as though I were giving up or failing; I felt empowered as I was making the decision to have the energy and ability to move through these final hours toward delivery. Just then my husband shared a text message with me that had just come in to his phone. A friend of ours who was due with her eighth child a week before I was had also been sent in to be induced the previous night. With Hashem's help, she had just given birth to a healthy, beautiful daughter. Another friend sent a photo of mom and baby with the words "keep your eye on the prize."

The anesthesiologist was amazing. I offered him two puppies. I commented to my husband that we'd better stop at the humane society on the way home from the hospital. As he prepared for the epidural, the doctor explained between my contractions and at times, when necessary, loudly over them, what would take place and how it might feel. These end stages are all such a blur. Directly after receiving the epidural I became very dizzy but was able to talk through it settled down. I was amazed that contrary to what I'd heard and believed about epidurals, I could still feel my contractions quite strongly. I was in the transition stage of labor before I knew it and my contractions were not painless, but the pain was less. It was time to start pushing. As our custom holds, my husband now left the room to daven (pray) and say Tehillim and my mother took over by side. The nurse was on my other side and I looked to them both to guide me. I had never done this before, I needed them to tell me exactly what to do. The nurse talked me through the first few pushes, but suddenly the baby's heartbeat was slowing down. She quickly got a hold of the doctor and instructed me to hold off from pushing.

When the doctor arrived, his lawyer-turned-obstetrician stoic affect was visibly now an expression of concern. One never asks or has to ask what a doctor is thinking at that point. He administered an oxygen mask to me to help the baby and I did the only two things I knew instinctively how to do. I davened out loud to Hashem that He should protect my baby and me and that everything should be for the good no matter what--whether or not things went according to my plans. And then I spoke to my baby who I somehow knew was a boy. I told my son it was time. It was time to come out now and see the world. This place was so full of people who without even knowing who he was and who he would become, without ever having to see him or touch his soft skin, loved him wholly and completely. I told him not to be afraid. That yes, Mommy was in pain but this was productive pain and there was nothing to fear. And less than 25 minutes later, I held that warm, soft skinned little boy in my arms.

When the doctor said "It's a boy," all I could do was whisper "I know." And despite the doctors and nurses and pediatricians in the room busily cleaning up and stitching up and checking up, for a moment of eternity, we were completely alone. We chose to delay cord clamping until it naturally stopped pulsating and once that happened, my mother cut the umbilical cord and my son was placed in my arms. And as I held him for the first time, the only thing I could think to do was sing "You Are My Sunshine." Two weeks later that song still comforts S like no other through hunger, exhaustion, shots and pediatrician visits. Or maybe it comforts me. Maybe it offers us both a sense of serenity--he is my sunshine and watching my son shine is one of the greatest joys I've ever known. My husband re-entered the room as soon as possible. I am admittedly a loquacious woman by nature and to date there are only two people in this world who have ever left me speechless: my husband and our son. It felt eerily familiar to be all three together there for the first time. It was a feeling of completeness and contentment that I cannot describe.

We spent our first Shabbos in the hospital--certainly a different kind of Shabbos experience, but very special nonetheless. The next days were busily spent feeding, changing diapers, getting blood drawn to check juandice levels, loosing sleep and making arrangements for a bris (circumcision). My husband, B"H, took the lead in making calls to rabbis and potential mohels. I never imagined it would be so challenging to get a mohel to perform the bris and I was blissfully unaware of just how hard a time my husband was having until after the event. Nonetheless, while I was busy feeding my son and feeding him some more so he would, G-d willing, gain enough weight and strength to not develop jaundice and be able to have his bris on the eighth day, my husband was striking out again and again as he tried to secure an appropriate mohel for our ceremony. Everything is, of course, hashgacha pratis (Divine Providence). Despite some upsetting and frustrating challenges, we were able to fly out an amazing mohel to perform our son's bris and officially announce his name. (Until he was circumcised we did not announce his name even to family.) In choosing a name for our son, my husband and I combined both Chabad minhag (custom) and our families' minhag and we gave our son three names that represent both tzadikim (righteous Jews in history) who helped change the face of Judaism and relatives who in their lives had changed the face of Yiddishkeit in our own families. When the mohel stumbled over our son's names during the service, I thought at first he was probably very tired from a difficult flight experience the night before. He'd probably had even less sleep than we had and we had a newborn baby who was up every two hours to feed! It was only later that I learned that our son's first two names were the same names as the mohel's recently deceased grandfather, who was a very special and honorable shochet to the Rebbe. All of the challenges we'd had in securing a mohel to perform our son's bris we faced because there was one rabbi who was truly meant to do the mitzvah, and with G-d's help, even after a flight delay and two missed connections, a car rental and hours of driving to stay in a hotel for a few hour before this 7AM ceremony, that very man welcomed our beautiful son into the precious covenant of observant Judaism. And perhaps most beautiful of all is that he is the first frum-from-birth child to be born into either of our families for over three generations.

If there are lessons to be learned from an experience as intense and transforming as giving birth to a child, I can say the greatest understanding I gained was how important it is to be open. Connecting to G-d, connecting to your spouse, and connecting to a child all require that we are open. They all require that we let go a little and sometimes a lot. We must be vulnerable. We must be willing to fail to fall to falter. We must be able to forgive the other and more importantly to forgive ourselves. How ironic and meaningful is it then, that the one thing that kept me from going into labor without the assistance of modern medicine was the physical act of being closed? I pray for our son that he should not know pain and suffering. And I pray that if he does, he should also know the comfort of our loving and merciful G-d. I pray that he always know and feel that everything he needs is already within and around him. We don't have much, but we live in abundance, Baruch Hashem. And with G-d's help, he should grow to Torah, to marriage and to good deeds. L'Torah, l'chuppa, l'maasim tovim!