Bionic Mamas

you're not losing a vagina, you're gaining a son


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Thoughts from the road

Greetings from somewhere in Pennsylvania. I can’t be more specific, as the Bean has commandeered the GPS device (which actually is a GPS for motorcycle use), it’s too mountainous for our phones to be speaking to us, and I have allowed technology to get the better of my map skills. Oh, here: mile 253.2 of Interstate 80. Some peculiarly specific mile markers around these parts. Somebody’s brother-in-law has a sweet contract.

Jackalope is sitting in a giant pile of chocolate cookies. And yet fussing! Not my genes, I tell you what.

We are en route to Chicago, where Sugar has pictures in a group show, and then to the the Sugar Family Manse in midMichigan. (Chicago friends, how I wish we could visit you! We will be under house arrest at the Sugar Family Pied-a-Terre, which is to say her late grandmother’s house on the far, far, far South Side.) We are driving because, well, money. It’s good to have a car, though. This would be a real drag on foot with the granny cart.

Summer, man. It’s a pretty good season.

Item: You know those free tourism magazines at rest stops? They have weird depths.

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Item: We have continued the beach trips. The Bean is getting more comfortable with the water, in his incremental way. He likes me to carry him out into the water while Jackalope naps, and lately he will sometimes release his legs enough to kick wildly, as long as I grip his upper body to me. His friend S, who is a very strong and brave swimmer, dives into the waves around us while they both laugh. She has the sunniest nature, and they are an age when it does not seem to yet have occurred to them to let their differences in skills and constitution get in the way of their fun.

Item: It is now Saturday, and we are in Chicago. The opening was a real pleasure — in a fancy Mies Van de Rohe building and everything. Jackalope marched me directly to the cheese table, and the Bean got a Sprite after he and I examined all of the architecture students’ models. Most of the gallery guests were (like Sugar) alumni of the Institute of Design and true to type, brain-wise, to judge from their satisfied reactions to the Bean’s vigorous use of his name card to swipe them out of the gallery as they exited the porch. Systems people understand each other.

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Also pleasant was visiting with Sugar’s first cousin and his family, which includes two girls, 9 and 5. Isn’t it funny how babies born three months apart are radically different until age 15 months or so, at which point they are functionally the same age? Neighbors of ours have a daughter eight months younger than the Bean, who suddenly became his age when he was three and a half. Likewise, the five-year-old cousin, who was older than the Bean at Christmas, is now his age. The nine-year-old remains amazingly cool. The Bean sat on the sofa next to her, saying hi. Hi, she replied, and returned to her book. They talked dot-to-dots later. Jackalope was beside herself.

Item: Remind me not to let my kids play with the ostensibly nice neighbor here, who helps keep up the lawn and makes generally friendly offers of, for instance, letting the kids come swim in his pool, followed by announcing that the girls — who are FIVE and NINE — don’t have to wear bathing suits. Actually, no need to remind me. I think I’ll remember. Between this and Swamplandia!, which I just finished and recommend highly, I am nauseatingly reminded of the dangers of girlhood, in particular the way you are never quite sure which things are dangers and which are jokes and which might become dangers if you don’t treat them as jokes and the way you are certain it’s your fault for not getting it.

Item: Apparently, Chicago has ended the social promotion of street trees. I assume this is a Rahm Emmanuel thing.

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Item: On the topic of failure, I give the Ohio Turnpike website an F minus minus for their lyrical bullshit description of the history of Indian Meadows, the location of a service plaza in the eastern part of the state. It’s named for the redmen who lived there, you see, prior to the white men who, “unlike the red-skinned farmers, […] learned to conserve the soil.” European conquest was pretty much the least healthy thing to happen to the soil since glaciers, but in fairness, it is responsible for bringing to these lands the Gift of Sbarro.

Item: Guess how many hours we’d been with the Midwestern family before the first non-sequitur remark about the racist/awful South?  (Yes, the South is plenty racist.  It is not, however, uniquely racist, and the comfortable assumption on the part of white folks in the rest of the country that it is the home of all bad things perpetuates racism that doesn’t fly a confederate flag (which frankly, has far more power to harm than most of those flag-wavers) and gets on my last nerve.)

Item: My mental health still blows. A very brave friend with very significant head-demons recently noted that she can do all kinds of hard and scary things, yet have a panic attack at the idea of leaving her apartment. We made a list of panic attack triggers, the things our brains have evidently determined to be so dangerous that Attention Must Be Paid. My list included grapes, cinnamon, and bottled iced tea. Also guacamole and every medicine in pill form. Lo, how the mighty Better Living Through Chemistry have fallen! I can’t take an Advil without wondering if I am swallowing cyanide; I wish I were joking. The world seems so thin, so easily broken. I don’t know what’s become of me.

Item: I am, for the record, actively looking for a therapist. Criteria: does CBT, takes my insurance, is older than I am. I have some issues surrounding talking parental death stuff with chipper young people. Possibly unfair, but there you are.

Item: So far I haven’t even gotten anyone to call me back. This does not make me think good thoughts about the profession or humanity in general.

Item: The other things I think would help are sleeping more and creating things. I haven’t figured out how to manage either. Getting hungry makes everything radically worse. Looks like I will be dumpling-shaped for the foreseeable future, as eating my feelings seems far healthier than acting on them.

Uh, item: Not everything is misery. Jackalope is talking up a storm, which is my favorite, “LET’S HAVE ALL THE BABIES” aspect of child development. She calls her brother “Bam” or “The Bam” and our cat, Orson, “Ohrsine,” in a very French way. She can say “paleontologist,” but somehow not “yes.” “I see you, [person or item]” is a frequent announcement along with “wanna [x],” and “no biting,” usually right after biting me. She eats everything with gusto, followed by hurling it around the room with equal vigor.

She has in no way given up the idea that she should be allowed to nurse for any or all of a day’s 24 hours, despite my having officially stopped nursing on demand six months ago, and she’s come up with the most fiendishly clever way to ask: what’s the one thing a child of mine could request that I will always, but always, drop everything to help them with? That’s right: “wanna nap.”

Item: I have fallen for that a lot of times.

Item: The Bean is no less a marvel. He is tall and tan and proves to have a deep love of capoeira. Brooklyn being Brooklyn, we found a group that does lessons for four-year-olds and will give it a try in the fall. He is not a huge fan of the car, but has learned from our road trip with my Aunt Explorer the joys of chewing gum and washing the windows, which take the edge off.

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“GUM! No gum,” says Jackalope. No gum for babies.

He remarked the other day how funny it is that everyone in our family has the same color skin, an observation whose logical basis I credit to his magical pre-school of the past year. He’s off to public pre-K in the fall, and even though I think that is the right choice — it’s free and around the corner and full time — it’s hard for all of us not to feel wistful. (He could technically go to his old school for another year, at great expense even for a part-time schedule, but he is demonstrably ready for more class time.) The local school is good, certainly fine for pre-K, but I have to take deep breaths when I think of my baby in a building where police officers run the front entrance. Plus the uniform is ugly, no matter how egalitarian in principle. I had a dream the other night that it was the picture for an article about ugly things.

Update: while I was nattering on, we got ready to leave Chicago for the Sugar’s childhood home in rural Michigan. Then the phone rang with the news that her father’s little brother, who, like the rest of the siblings, lives in suburban Chicago, had had a stroke. So we weren’t going anymore. Then, in the morning, his sister the nurse said no more visitors, as he tries to pull his feeding tube out to talk every time he recognizes anyone. So suddenly we were going again, with Sugar’s parents planning to come back in a week. (It is about a four-hour drive.) Everyone is being very sensible and stoic and Midwestern.

Uncle Little Brother is the family clown, the one who cheerfully submits to being the butt of the joke while making you a Manhattan, who somehow knows the perfect presents for the kids at Christmas, who in the pictures of the (large) family as children is always the one mysteriously in a cowboy costume or dressed for a children’s theatre production of Guys And Dolls, in the deep woods of northern Wisconsin. They say he is likely to recover, and I hope they are right.

Item: We are now in Sugar’s tiny hometown, in the house she grew up in, which is somehow also the very cleanest artists’ studio you ever saw. I’ve gotten used to the place over the years and forgotten how cool it is. I’d take a better picture, but I am sitting with a not-sleeping Bean. Update: too dark. You’ll have to take my word for it. Paintings, prints, sculptures everywhere, yet somehow extremely clean. Lots of books. A large cat named Teddy.

Here is the living room:

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The air conditioning is broken, but after freezing my tail off at the Chicago house, my thin, Southern blood is finally coming in handy.

Update: a mighty thunderstorm. The green wet smell of summer camp insomnia.

Item: This is honest to God the sign at the edge of town. The town is too small for a stop light and recently removed its downtown flashing yellow, so you see how this kind of thing could get to emergency levels.

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Item: MIL and I went to the new butcher shop at the edge of town — this is big news, as Carl’s grocery closed some time ago, leaving the town with zero food stores that aren’t a gas station. The new place sells great steaks, fifteen kinds of bratwurst (blueberry???), a smattering of produce, and a surprising array of bulk spices. They will also butcher your deer. Savvy business move, which I attribute to the owner’s wife working at the bank. The staff uniform is a camo hunting cap, which matches the wallpaper near the coolers; transactions are observed by a small black bear, a caribou, assorted fish, a fox, several whitetail, and some others I have forgotten. I have taken an immediate liking to the place. Good steaks, too.

Item: It turns out matching pajamas are crazy-cute. “We’re twins!!” says the Bean.

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Item: I am supposed to go take a nap. Cheers for now.


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Gee, but it’s great to be back home

There’s no place like it, for real. Let’s never leave again, except to visit Starrhillgirl.

Hi, internets. Thank you thank you thank you ten thousand times for your comments on that desperate post so long ago. They were one of the few, precious lifelines that I clung to that week in Little Rock, which was almost entirely miserable. In brief:

Item: I at no point told my father to fuck off, though he without question deserved it on several occasions. I did leave the room abruptly a few times to avoid fighting with him in front of his grandchildren. Peak risk of saying things that can’t be taken back came late on our second to last night there, when he took me faux-jovially off to his room to announce the imminent wedding, in March, since that’s when Ms. Alaska’s sister has spring break. Frankly, March is a great deal sooner than I would wish to face dragging my children across the country, even for an event I wanted to attend, even if I had a break from work, which I don’t, and even if Sugar had vacation days available, which she doesn’t, on account of this delightful trip. When I said March was very soon for us to travel (this after a long, upsetting conversation during which I neither cried nor yelled, but I did break the cardinal rule of disagreements with him by showing even a trace of emotion), he told me that was my fault for, get this, not asking after his girlfriend during our phone conversations.

Item: I spent much of the trip trying not to be a total bitch to Ms. Alaska, on the grounds that she is in my view exhibiting ruinously poor judgement but is not a terrible person. I did at one point try to tell her something along the lines of, “my anger is at my father for being an ass to me for the past year,” but she interpreted that as (only), “I am just so terribly sad,” and proceeded to do this saccharine “Ah’ve knohwn yew yore whole layfe,*” thing which made me want to see if my right hook is still functional. So.

*note that Ms. Alaska originally hails from west Texas.

Item: I was immensely proud of the Bean for showing discretion well beyond his years in the face of a truly underwhelming offering of Christmas presents. Can I just tell you how easy it is to please a kid his age who loves vehicles? Here’s the whole thing: buy. A. Vehicle. It doesn’t even matter if it’s one he already has! But a rolling elephant with a tag announcing it is for 6+ MONTHS is frankly a crappy present from a grandparent with the means to do otherwise if he could think about someone besides himself for two minutes. Anyway, the Bean was a complete champ about it, and he did get a present he loved, which was very cheap and from Walgreens but given with some thought to what he likes, because…

Item: Two of my mother’s sisters came. And, internets, their presence is a terrifyingly large part of the reason I’m still rolling along. The trip was so much worse than I’d thought it would be, and they were so amazing. They were like angels, in every sense. They were kind and loving and cared for my children in every way, to the point where I’m tempted to ask them if they’d like to be the grandparents. They were also my very favorite kind of angels, the Old Testament kind. The ones with swords. I don’t get the impression my dad or Alaska were all that moved by their many firm exhortations to not be such jerks/nitwits, but they protested vigorously, and it was so immense to feel so defended.

Moreover, they were sad. Really sad. It’s not that I’d wish this on anyone, but I can’t overstate the sheer relief of being with people who loved my mom and are sad that she died. I sure did not expect that to be in short supply, but the ongoing jolly from my father…. Well, it makes a person feel insane. Listen, I know the man well enough to have a pretty good idea what the basis of this behavior is and to know that it’s late in the day for him to change, because looking at any of his pathological denial reactions would necessitate facing some hard facts about how crappy his own parents were to him. I get that, and in an abstract way I can have some sympathy. But I can do without being asked to play along in this particular case.

Item: my father just now interrupted this rare moment of peace (I am sick and so Sugar has taken the kids to a birthday party without me) with a “save the date” phone call for early June. Whee. I have a feeling this is going to be one of those times when I wish I smoked. One can just look so detached with a burning cigarette in hand. I do have a flask I’ve never used.

Item: I don’t have to get them a gift, do I? Jesus.

Item: I have other things to say, maybe not on the Internet.

Whew! Now that you’re sort of caught up on all that, I remember that this blog was supposed to at least tangentially concern children. So.

The Bean

Wonderful, amazing, funny, clever, and absolutely maddening. In other words: almost four. Do the elevator button tantrums stop someday? I really hope so, because I think I reached my lifetime maximum at MOMA two weeks ago. And I sure hope his college roommate isn’t bothered by all the night wakings.

But. He’s also so wonderful, you guys. He helped me shovel the whole sidewalk in front of the community garden, with such gladness. He suddenly draws people who have real, thick limbs and bodies, having previously barely drawn anything figurative. He still favors sculpture and abstraction, which he describes as such. He’s a three-year-old who wants to go to MOMA, of all things. Clearly, he’s Sugar’s.

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Possibly he’s overdosed on modern art.

Jackalope

She’s nearly one, and I predictably can’t believe it. She loves every food ever except hot peppers, raspberries, and avocado. Why don’t my babies ever love avocado? They were supposed to be my excuse to buy them by the dozen! She adores her brother and biting me. Guess which I find more endearing.

Her latest trick is standing up in the middle of the floor, unassisted and unsupported. She is immensely proud of herself. The first time, she stood there saying, “oh, wow, wow,” and she has lately mastered clapping while standing. Here is a painting the Bean made of her on that first day. It’s an excellent likeness, I must say:

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Okay, it’s late, I have to teach tomorrow, and an old friend is mysteriously having a Facebook tantrum at me about how unfair the campaign against manspreading on the subway is. I will not stay away so long this time, for reals.


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I Don’t Know What To Say

Crossing the Mississippi in the dark again. The last time I was on this side of the river was exactly a year ago, heading north from my first Christmas with no mother.

My father was with us, invited to join us for a week with Sugar’s family in Chicago and Michigan. Since moving to New York, we’ve alternated, spending Christmas with one set of parents and the week following with the other. My dad was with us for the same reason I’d insisted he come with us on our Virginia trip at Thanksgiving: I was afraid he would kill himself if left alone. He and my mom met in ninth grade. They got married right after college. He’d never been alone.

A year ago today, he was next to me in a coach car of this train, he in the aisle seat and I, pregnant and ungainly, at the window.  I have a happy surprise, he announced. Love is blossoming between me and K, and old friend of my mother’s who had come from Alaska to the funeral.

Love. Blossoming.

At this point, my mother had been dead less than two months. I still spent a portion of each day sobbing, by which I mean not crying, which I still do, but the kind of thing that tears physically at your abdomen, the kind of thing that is screaming so hard in the shower that your throat hurts even though you haven’t let sound escape.

A happy surprise.

And at that moment, as I struggled to stay in control of myself long enough to stumble downstairs to the bathroom to sob some more (because he is my only parent and I can’t afford to alienate him), I lost all the patient understanding I’d tried to feel when there were no Christmas presents for me except the pajamas my mother had bought right before she died, the ones that hadn’t been meant for Christmas at all, since of course by then I was too big to fit in them. Nor did he wrap those, nor get anything for Sugar or the Bean, though we found things for them my mother had already set aside.

I know that the “happy surprise” this trip is to plan for their wedding. Dad wanted Sugar to tell me, but she told him to do it himself. He hasn’t yet. Supposedly, after he drove her from Alaska to Little Rock, after canceling his summer plans to see us at the very last minute for lack of time, she was getting her own apartment, but it’s been obvious that her dogs moved to his house immediately. (The Bean is terrified of dogs.)

I haven’t written any of this before, because how? In the very beginning, I didn’t think I should tell anyone at all, because they would be mad at him. My dad lived at my mom’s house for a summer as a teenager. Her siblings were so clear that they wouldn’t consider him lost when she died: how could I risk bringing their anger upon him? If they felt angry, as I did and do.

Wait, I have a picture for one of the posts on this subject I never found words to write:

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There.

Then I didn’t write about it because it was all too complicated. Yes, I want him to be happy. Yes, I get that this is not uncommon behavior. No, K is not a terrible person. But my father has a terrible tendency to find replacement people; I can name the people he’s replaced me with at various times. It hurts a lot to feel I’ve lost both parents at once, even as I feel guilty for feeling this way, knowing how wasted this time will feel one day. I can’t afford to be angry at anyone when people can just die with no warning.

And there’s something so infuriating and stifling about being really, soul-scrapingly sad in the company of someone with a pathological need for everything to be Fine! Great! no matter what. It is fucked up to segue from asking what you think we should do with my mother’s ashes to telling me how “wonderfully successful” your trip to Alaska was, how you are “living a miracle.”

I do cry every day, or nearly. I am probably depressed for real. I do get up in the morning, get dressed, go to work. I try not to be as short tempered as I am. I take care of my children and enjoy them, at least mostly. But no, I would not describe the events of the last year as miraculous. 

There are other problems, too tiresome to get into in detail. Money issues, broken promises. It hurts my feelings that there was no gift when Jackalope was born, except a pack of cheap onesies wrapped only with the creased but curled ribbon my mother must have taped on them back in October out of excitement, those sent too late to fit for more than a week or two. I don’t know why he didn’t get real birthday presents for the Bean, either. Or me, for that matter. We skype every couple of weeks, so the children can see him. The Bean loves him. I do, too. But I just don’t know what to say.


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Six Months In

Six months in, everything about having a dead mother is still awful. In case you were wondering. Someone remarked today that there is no proper timeline, take as long as you need, but I think the truth might be that there is no timeline at all, that this just continues to suck, world without end.

I know things were worse or maybe more actively bad say five months and three weeks ago, but it doesn’t seem like the chronic stage of this will ever be less painful. It’s true that I no longer contort my face in silent screaming every time I am alone in the shower, but I still cry every day. Sometimes I am in bed at night and it strikes me that I haven’t cried that day. Those were the nights I have the most trouble stopping crying.

The thing is, I really don’t think I’m depressed. I know what I’m like as a depressed person, and this isn’t it. I’m the tired all the time, distant, shut-down kind of depressive. The kind where you can’t shake the idea that the whole world is just a movie you are watching. I don’t feel like that. I engage with my kids, I find things funny and interesting. And then, because she loved my kids and there was literally nothing on earth that didn’t interest her, I immediately want to call to tell her about it. Luckily, that doesn’t happen much more than 150 times a day, usually.

Did I say she loved my kids? Well, she loved the idea of the second one. This girl who is such a pleasure, such an easy baby. Who I am able to purely enjoy in a way that, sick in so many ways, I couldn’t enjoy her brother at this age. To whom I know I am a better parent than I was to him, the kind of parent I wanted to show mine I could be.

(Do not get me started on my father, whom I love very much and whom I feel very hurt by and very worried about right now. Suffice it at this writing to say that I feel like I have lost both parents at one stroke.)

Dear Whatever Doesn’t Kill Me, begins an ecard making the Facebook rounds. You can stop now. I’m strong enough.


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Bionic Family Newsletter

Hey, y’all, she remarked sheepishly. I am sorry it has been so long. I thought I remembered about this phase, how it means just nursing 27 or 28 hours a day, but I crucially forgot that nursing a newborn requires, at least for me, both hands. Also, by 28 hours a day I mean 40.

But anyway, here I am. Mostly because how many places am I free to talk about my nipples and hooha hurting? Y’all are a special group, internet. I don’t have real hope of managing a narrative post in the next two years, but I will indulge myself in some categorized items. (Spoiler: my nipples hurt. Also my hooha.)

[Several hours later….]

Where to begin?  Jackalope, I suppose, since she’s the most novel:

Jackalope

Item: She’s marvelous.  Disregard all the time I spend begging her to go the hell back to sleep at 3am.  She’s healthy and growing and sleeping more than the Bean did, even if I could frankly use a lot more hours.  She seems to be that proverbial easier baby that some people have.  Now I understand the magical beliefs that persist about babies — how they give explicable cues before screaming that they are hungry, for instance, and how they like things like swaddles and pacifiers and soothing.  I imagine some of this is our being more experienced parents, but mostly I think she’s just a wildly easier baby than the Bean.  (Knock wood, knock wood.)

Item: She’s huge!  She was almost two pounds heavier than the Bean at birth (7/13 to his 6/1), and she’s growing much faster.  She was over eight pounds at her last appointment, at age 2.5 weeks.

Item: She’s tough.  At five days old, she reached down during a clothing change, took hold of her umbilical cord stump, and tore it off.  No crying.

Item (related): She nurses well!  This, I believe, is both cause and consequence of being larger (and born two weeks later).  Consequence, because her mouth is larger, her stomach holds more, and she is just more coordinated and, well, finished than the Bean was.  She latched on and nursed better in the delivery room than he did for a month.

Item: I have SO much more milk than last time.  Funny, it’s almost like a person is healthier when she keeps most of her original complement of blood.  Someone should study that.

Item: Nursing a baby who is into it while yourself making adequate amounts of milk is SO MUCH EASIER than nursing a weak, tired, young baby while making not enough milk.  It still takes forever and wears me out and hurts my nipples and drives me a little crazy, but really, not at all in the same ballpark.  I did have a small nervous breakdown at her first out-of-hospital doctor’s visit, when she had lost still more weight and I imagined us spiraling into the same nightmare we had with the Bean.  I took home formula samples and cried and refused to use them, which confused poor Sugar badly.  I couldn’t decide whether it was more irrational to begin supplementing a baby I knew didn’t really need it yet, or to dig in my heels, the way I did last time, and allow us to go back down the road of failed exam after exam, needlessly starving baby, etc.  (Side-item: I really wish we’d been able to see our preferred pediatrician for that visit instead of her young partner.  I think she might have been able to calm me down.)  But then, like in the books, my milk came the rest of the way in, and at our next appointment, she’d regained her birth weight.  Just like they say happens!

Item: As much as I like the lactation consultant we ended up eventually seeing with the Bean (as opposed to the ones we saw before her, who were various flavors of useless), I like not having to see her even more.  And even more than THAT, I like having a baby who can just be fed when she’s hungry and gain weight, without my having to go through routines of timing and facial exercises and diaper changes to wake her back up and horrible teas and pumping and crying and guilt.  Funny.

Item: At the second weight check, when she’d regained her birth weight, I also had my first experience of really feeling like an experienced parent.  The NP we saw that time, who had repeatedly praised her weight gain, asked about her sleep.  At the time, she had been sleeping a 4-6 hour stretch at the beginning of the night, which, I’m sure you can imagine, was heavenly.  (I mean, the Bean doesn’t even always do that, and he’s THREE.)  Oh no, she said, you can’t let her go that long.  You need to be waking her up to eat.  And I thought, lady, you just said this baby is gaining weight and looking great; like hell I’m waking her up.  But what I said was, “We’ll see.”  Because I realized in that moment that not only did I not have to do that, I didn’t even need to tell her I wasn’t going to.

Item: We don’t always get that stretch anymore.  Or it isn’t always at night.  Sugar generally ends up in the Bean’s room, and I am alone with Jackalope, who likes to have a couple hours of being awake for no earthly reason sometime in the 1-5am stretch.  I am tired.

Item: On Monday, my first day home alone with both kids, she stayed awake from 5am until 10:30, napped for 40 minutes, was back up for a couple of hours of continued, constant nursing, took another cat nap, was up again, etc.  There was a period when all three of us were wailing.  It was precious.

Item: On Tuesday, Sugar came home from work early and I took Jackalope to a department meeting at adjunct-institution-community-college.  I had written to ask permission and not heard back, and I need brownie points over there.  No idea if I scored them with the right people.  I missed half the meeting, including the topic I’d come to hear about.  A woman next to me was snide at me while using FB on her phone.  It was one thousand degrees and packed; turns out my comfort level with public nursing does not extend to the front row of such a setting.  I had the unsettling experience of realizing that the woman I thought was the chair of the department isn’t.  But several people said kind things on their way out the door, and I reminded the person who hires adjuncts that I’d like work in the fall.

Item: Poor Jackalope is a second child when it comes to pictures, I’m afraid.  We remember to take them, sometimes, but then they are stuck on the camera.

The Bean

Item: The Bean is THREE.  How in cheese’s name did that happen? We got him a tea set.
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Item: He turned three the same day Jackalope turned three weeks old.  I tried to get a cute picture of them near each other.  Ha.
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Item: We had a tiny little party and a cake with trains on it.  My mom tried to send the trains for his last birthday, but they arrived too late. He liked it.

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Item: Still not eating many foods or sleeping through the night or reliably using the potty. But he can do a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle with almost no help. (Still figuring out how to work that “but” into his doctor’s appointment on Monday.)  I am an unabashed puzzle pusher, and am beyond thrilled that he likes them, too.

[There’s Jackalope waking up….]

[And then the rest of the afternoon and the evening and the night happened, and most of the next morning.  There was an interlude for an unexpectedly early first brother/sister bath, which damn near killed me with the cute.]

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Item: The Bean is so much better with Jackalope than I thought reasonable to expect.  He likes to put his nose against her toes.  We failed utterly to move him to a big bed and decommission the crib/toddler bed in time that he wouldn’t associate the loss of his familiar spot with the arrival of the baby, but as soon as it was converted back to its baby configuration (he helped), I heard him stop mid-sentence, correcting himself to call it “Jackalope’s bed.”  She was fussing in there one afternoon, while I was stuck on the toilet.  I was a little concerned when he went in to her — he is a lot larger than she is and unaware of her comparative fragility — but he sat down on the floor with his legos and said, “don’t cry.  I am making you a tower to make you happy.”  Melt.

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[Whoops, there went the whole weekend.  My dad visited.  There’s a lot to say about that, almost all unbloggable.  He is charming with babies.]

Rotten Things

Item: Our older cat, Michaela, died.  She was diagnosed with kidney failure right before Jackalope was born.  Sugar learned to give her sub-cutaneous fluids every night.  There were supplements but no real hope of recovery.  She seemed okay for a while, and then suddenly wasn’t.  We all miss her, and of course this has started another round of questions and pronouncements from the Bean about his dead grandmother and great-grandmother, with lots of crying from me especially.  I know these questions are a typical part of being his age, but really, the last four months have been over the top for our family.  I am so sick and tired of death.

Item: Michaela came to us as a teeny kitten found in the woods, so dirty we didn’t know she was white.  (Really, she was a secret calico, with a smear of grey and buttery-tan on her head as a kitten.)  She lived with us in Massachusetts and Chicago and New York.  She nearly died of hepatic lipidosis in 2005 and after recovering, slept on our feet every night.  Despite being standoffish with strangers (“Michaela has boundaries,” said an approving friend, comparing her to our more dog-like Orson), she turned out to adore babies, both ours and others’.  We called her the Bean’s nanny.  Here she is with the Bean, in 2011, and with Jackalope:

A Boy and His (Very Patient) Cat

Great Minds Think Alike

_MG_2447

Item: Yesterday morning, Sugar’s paternal grandmother died.  (Her maternal grandmother died in December.)  It wasn’t a surprise, but it is awful.  I am so tired of death.

Item: Sugar is going to Chicago for the funeral for the first part of the week.  I’m not ready to be alone overnight with both Jackalope and the Bean, but, well, I guess I’m about to be ready.

My Addled Brain

Item: Despite everything, I don’t seem to be depressed.  At least, I don’t think so.  It’s almost weird.  I am sometimes sad and sometimes overwhelmed, but yeah, not depressed.  I do still cry about my mom a lot, but I have a hard time categorizing that as pathological; crying seems pretty rational to me, and naturally I think of her all the time, especially looking at this baby, whom she would so have wanted to know.  There’s not much I can do to make that not awful.

My Body, Upper

Item: Remember that Cold of Filth I was complaining about before Jackalope was born? (COF is trademarked to either May or Mrs. Hairy, not sure.) I had this fantasy that somehow the intensity of labor would drive it out like a demon.  Yeah, no.  Instead, I was sick for a solid month, coughing my brains out.  (Other things also coughed out, too, thanks to an enlarged uterus and a pelvic floor that went on strike altogether.)  The Bean and Sugar were sick, too, but luckily Jackalope was not, nor does the codeine cough syrup I was living on seem to have bothered her.  Still, I do not recommend the experience of being that sick immediately postpartum.

Item: Dateline: NIPPLES. The Reynaud’s is back.  For new readers, this means that my nipples are spasmotically seizing up in response to breastfeeding, and if that sounds horrifically painful, well, it is.  I got on the nifedipine in short order this time around, following some minor difficulties getting my OB to prescribe the extended release version in place of a “take as needed” regime of regular capsules.  (Let me tell you, you take one of those at the same time as a slug of cough syrup and WHOA, good luck standing up.)  Unfortunately, the nifedipine isn’t working quite as completely, though things are a great deal better than they were a few weeks ago, when many tears were shed.  Now I mostly have spasms at night, and they aren’t so terrible.

Item: I can’t try a higher dose of nifedipine, apparently.  I called the OB office a couple of weeks ago, when things were getting very bad, to ask about that and about some renewed locchia.  The nurse insisted I come in to see a midwife.  On the one hand, it was nice to feel they were concerned about my health, in marked contrast to Dr. Russian’s nurse.  On the other, schlepping into the city is not easy, nor was there a point.  As I had suspected, the bleeding was normal.  Meanwhile, they are afraid my blood pressure will bottom out on a higher dose.  I suspect that’s not right — my understanding is that, while nifedipine does lower BP in people with pathologically high pressure, it doesn’t have much effect in someone like me, whose body doesn’t have difficulty maintaining a steady BP.  Certainly my BP while I was taking it last time was at my usual level every time it was checked.  But, since my usual level is on the low side and I don’t want to pass out all over the place, I guess that’s how it is.

Item: I started taking some extra B6, on the advice of the internet.  Hard to say whether that helped, but  I already had it in the house.  At least I won’t get pellagra.

Item: The Reynaud’s has new tricks.  Several times a day, associated with let-down, I have what I think must be massive spasms in my milk ducts.  (This happened sometimes with the Bean, but not this early or this fiercely.)  The only reason I’m not weeping over this is that it doesn’t last that long, just a minute or two each time.  It is more of a sore feeling than a sharp one, but it is intense, like each duct suddenly has a fist inside it.  Not recommended.

Item: It was an act of purest optimism to have ordered that breastpump, wasn’t it?  Sigh.

My Body: Lower

Item: I know y’all mainly read this blog for hooha news.  It’s cool.  I mainly write it to talk about my hooha.

Item: Ouch.

Item: In so many, many ways, my recovery from Jackalope’s birth has been nothing at all like my recovery from the Bean’s.  Thank whatever it is you like to thank.  I am healthier and happier and in much, much better shape.

Item: My pelvic floor is shot, but recovering.  For a while there, advertising algorithms were chasing me across the internet with ads for protective undergarments.  Depressing.  Now I am mostly okay as long as I go to the bathroom a lot and, I discovered yesterday, don’t attempt any hopscotch games.  Bad idea.

Item: The hemorrhoids are likewise retreating, like big, ugly glaciers.  Butt glaciers.  Thank God for witch hazel.
(Gratuitous witch hazel shot because I also love the plant, mostly because it blooms so early.)

witch hazel

Item: Stitches still beasts.  The proverbial they say you don’t tear as much the second time, and I guess I didn’t, inasmuch as I’d already, erm, resected my vaginal septum and it’s hard to tear more than that.  Nevertheless, I was fairly shredded, inside and out.  My new vocabulary word is “sulchal.”  That all hurt in a predictable way at first, then got worse around week two, when everything got irritated and the lines of stitches felt like they might rip right out every time I coughed.  Or God forbid sat up.  Things improved again, with a delightful interlude of suture ends poking me in personal places.

Item: Except now I have these hard spots I suspect are scar tissue, and nothing is stretchy enough.  As in, it hurts to sit again, in sharp little ways, and then there is blood.  Not a whole lot of blood mostly, but I think I am tearing a little bit every day now, just from sitting.  I am so not into this, I can’t even tell you.  I have my postpartum appointment on Tuesday, and I sure hope there is something to do about this problem.  I’d like to, um, use that part of my body again someday, for one thing.  Ahem.

Miscellanea:

Item: Sara started blogging again!  Check that OUT.

Item: I have spent an absurd amount of time giggling at this, featuring drawings the Bean describes as “some funny folks!”


12 Comments

Dark night

Winter solstice. We are on a train pulling out of St. Louis, on our way to Arkansas and what I suppose is now just my father’s house. Last time we came this way, my face went rigid with crying: the bridge into the city meant my mother was now dead west of the Mississippi, too. Tonight, I wondered in a disconnected way whether the side supports of the bridge would catch us if our train began to roll over towards the water.

I still cry every day, but not all of the time anymore. (The Bean has gotten too good for his age at knowing that he needs to stop and come hug me when it starts.) I’m better when I’ve had enough sleep, when it is light out, when I have had a few days without a great deal of leaving the house and interacting with the world. There is magical thinking, sometimes of the if only I had/of only I can variety (if I am just the most perfect mother, the most gracious child), sometimes of the darker, if only I hadn’t sort (why didn’t I see what hubris it was,  thinking I could have another child and still keep my mother?).  The world feels too permeable.

Sugar’s grandmother (who lived with her parents, with whom we lived when were first, secretly together) died not quite two weeks ago. I think. Dates are one of the things I am bad at now.

You are all advised that the remainder of our friends and family are under a strict “no dying” order. The Bean asks me if his Mommy is going to die, too.

In other news, my body carries on being pregnant. Which beats the alternative, even I can see.

I am as big now at 32 – sorry, 33 – weeks as I was at 38 with the Bean.  No one at the ob’s has said boo about that, possibly because they are glad I’m eating.

I finally did the week of blood sugar monitoring (as a substitute for the glucola test that so wrecked me last time, and I am very grateful I didn’t agree to try again, as it would have been the day – THE day, if you follow me – and those phone calls were horrible enough without being in a state of total neurological collapse). It was fine, and so were the numbers. Good thing, since an electron microscope could not detect something as small as my interest in making “lifestyle changes” at this juncture. Just survival. That seems hard enough. (In truth, I don’t think my body is doing such a bang-up job of handling sugar at the moment, but I have already adjusted my diet by not eating things that make me feel bad.)

The u/s people day everything is fine with Jackalope, who is purported to be in the 85th percentile for weight. I sincerely hope this is one of those times when the famous margin of error of u/s estimates is in play; a small baby was hard enough for me to get out.

I remain in deep denial about this birth business. Sometimes I think it doesn’t matter, since I’ll probably die in the process. I know this sounds like pure depression, but it feels more like being too aware of that permeability I mentioned above.  Births feel like that; I certainly remember marveling at how thin the barrier seemed when The Bean was born, not because I was thinking about death but because it seemed so unfathomable that a new person had crossed the other way, into our world.

I did break up with the therapist. I’m sure that seems crazy, but the only time I saw her After, she managed to make me feel worse. I have no energy right now for excess exposure to the world. Even the extra subway ride those appointments entailed was draining. I did sign up for some kind of phone counseling program for depressed pregnant people my insurance company suggested. Also for the postpartum version.

I am very worried about the prospect of postpartum depression. I’m not sure whether I had it last time, because I had so many physical problems that contributed to feeling awful, plus that whole birth trauma thing. I was determined to fix all that this time, but it seems the universe has pulled the rug out from under my feet. I am trying to build a list of ideas beyond SSRIs and eating my placenta, neither of which appeals to me.

In better birth news, I am now very glad we decided to hire College Friend to be our doula, rather than someone unknown with more experience. Not having to meet a new person right now is priceless. (CF now has been to several births, also, so she has at least some experience.) I seem to have some kind of profound social exhaustion, to the point of not even managing responses to emails and so on from kind friends. I hope they understand.

It does seem increasingly likely that this baby really will be born. After a week of suddenly increased discomfort and difficulty walking, I remembered about how they drop into the pelvis towards the end. I think that’s happened. The u/s pictures have gotten that squashed quality they do at the end, when there isn’t space anymore for floating.

So here is one from last month, instead, of Jackalope apparently laughing at us, shortly after sticking out its tongue. I hope this is a jolly baby. For its sake as well as ours.

image


30 Comments

Gravid Grief

The TLDR version: It sucks. Horribly. No, worse than that. Don’t do it.

Oh, internets. This is the worst dream I’ve ever had. I’m ready to wake up now.

PicsArt.com
Not pictured: more handkerchiefs

I keep trying to tell myself it could be worse. This might have happened when I was a child. It could have been violent. She might have suffered and suffered — and point of order, people telling me “suffering is over now,” but this is not the same situation as dying at the end of an increasingly painful bout of cancer or similar. Yes, she was sick, but she’d been sick for my whole life, and it’s a bit hard to tell me to think of all of that time as pure suffering. Yes, she’d had some particularly unpleasant migraine and tendon problems recently, but when I talked to her on Sunday afternoon, she said she was feeling much better. Nor did any of that have to do with her dying, though I’m sure plenty of people who don’t know the details basically think, “Bionic’s mom was sick for a long time,” as if that explains it in any meaningful way.

She had a pulmonary embolism. At home, alone. No warning. Given her propensity towards large bleeds under her skin and a fear of stroke, no one would have thought she should have been on a blood thinner (find more info about this type of medicines and troubles they can cause, including class actions – like in the case of Xarelto). Not much narrative satisfaction to be found there, sorry.

(May, please go give H an extra hug for me.)

So, yeah, no warning at all. And hey, there’s could-have-been-worse there, too. We might have been fighting. I think I forgot to say I love you on our last phone call, but at least I’d been saying it pretty often. It might have been the long, drawn out, cancerous sort of death more typical in my family. I’m not sure if that’s worse or not. It might well have been, given her auto-immune disease, some awful series of infections. Cascading, horrible medical interventions. Tubes and wires. Disagreement on the definition of “hopeless.” Soul-rending decisions.

It could have been worse.

The trouble, dear internets, is that it turns out that the Pain Olympics don’t make me feel any better, even when it’s me versus hypothetical me.

Given that focusing on the supposedly positive isn’t doing a damn thing for me (read: I am crying in public, bawling at (mostly) home, and have the emotional reserves and cognitive abilities of a newborn), all I can give you is a list, in no particular order, of things that make grieving while pregnant especially awful. You know, in case you were considering choosing this course.

  • You have to eat. At a time when renunciation of the flesh seems so right, too bad. You aren’t in charge of that anymore, and the very small person who is, is extremely determined. But Bionic, I hear you say, some of us like to eat our feelings. And being pregnant means you can eat as much as you want! To which I reply, hope you like wet sand, because that’s what everything tastes like now.
  • You can’t drink. Yes, I know, I know: plenty of people think a glass of wine doesn’t matter this late in the game. But I don’t want a glass of wine, and I’m pretty sure getting regularly blind drunk is still a no-no.
  • None of the good drugs, either. Sorry, they’re all category D. I checked.
  • You know that thing where you wake up and can’t remember what you were sad about, and then you do remember and it’s like being thrown off one of those 700-foot fjord cliffs all over again? Being pregnant means you get to do that four or five times a night, every time you need to pee or feed the tiny tyrant. See also: crying yourself to sleep.
  • Oh, were you happy about being pregnant? Maybe even enjoying it, despite the discomforts and indignities? Too bad about that. Now you’re not happy about anything. You do get to keep the discomforts as a parting gift.
  • Meanwhile, you’re supposed to “take care of yourself,” which means take care of the baby, even if you don’t feel like it. Vitamins, for instance. Trying not to get listeria. You’re supposed to keep going to your prenatal appointments, even if you’re pretty sure your mother died during your last one, right around the time you started shaking and crying in the waiting room for what seemed like no reason but is in retrospect exactly like what happened when your grandmother died.
  • Speaking of PTSD, guess how much cerebral CPU processing capability is now available for dealing with all that birth stuff you were trying to sort out? What, this isn’t what you meant when you said you wanted to stop obsessing over those fears? Your therapist, who is trying to break up with you*, says it’s appropriate that you aren’t thinking about all that, which makes you wonder if she owns a calendar and knows the basic theory of its use. Of course it’s appropriate, but it’s also a bit dangerous, no, given that this baby is likely to be born more or less on the original schedule? If there were any justice, you’d be allowed to hit pause on the whole gestation thing while you get your sea legs, but if there were any justice, you wouldn’t be in this position.

*Well, what she said was I could keep coming if I just wanted a place to cry and say whatever I feel like, but that doesn’t seem all that useful, really. I’m not working on the birth stuff at all, things being how they are, nor do I need therapizing about the grief in a way I can’t get from people I actually know and trust more. I’m not depressed, per se; I’m just really, really, really sad. Surely I could do something else with the money.

PicsArt.com
Are those clouds? Hills? Giant, fluffy carrots?

  • Speaking of that baby, whose arrival you were already scared about, how on earth are you supposed to take care of it while you’re like this? Let alone do a better job than you did last time, the way you had promised yourself you would? (You know, so your mother wouldn’t worry so much.) Do a little poking around the Internet on the topic, and find reports of a study showing babies born to grieving mothers have a higher rate of serious illness in their first four years of life, plus the news that you are basically guaranteed to get postpartum depression.
  • For the sake of your electronics’ integrity and not being yourself reclassified as an inland salt water sea, try really, really hard to avoid thinking about how this baby won’t know your mother (and your two-year-old probably won’t remember her). Don’t worry; you will fail in that attempt one thousand times a day.
  • In case you manage to steer clear of that thought for a minute, apparently a cavalcade of perfect strangers — work colleagues of your father, that sort of thing — now feels empowered to stand too close to you at the visitation, the last time you will see her body, and tell you how sorry they are WHILE RUBBING YOUR BELLY. This ranks among the most profoundly inappropriate experiences of your life, and it keeps happening again and again and again.


14 Comments

Items From Our Catalog

Hi, Internets.  I wrote you such a post yesterday!  Well, we can all believe it was wonderful, because the WP iPad app ate it, and only the good die young, right?  In the interest of posting something, anything, here are some items:

Current Events

  • Sugar did not get the promotion/new job she has been waiting to hear about since, oh, February-ish.  (The actual interview was in August, but that’s around when she started the application process.)  Waiting to hear has been a stressful situation for our family, and this news is, of course, even more stressful.  The job would have meant more money and the kind of title and responsibilities that make it easier to move to another good job elsewhere, so that sucks.  Then there’s the part where she is a great employee who has been in this small department for eight years, doing the work of this better job for most of a year, and generally feels pretty damn shafted right now.  “We sure hope you won’t take this as a reflection on how much we value your [tireless, underpaid-even-for-this-department, grant-money-attracting] work in your current position,” says her boss, who can eat ALL THE BAGS OF DICKS, as far as I am concerned.
  • Her boss gave her this news following a big meeting about how there would be a lot of work for the department in February.  She stayed after to tell him that he might need to assign extra staff to those projects, since we are expecting a baby at that time.  Nothing like getting additional rejection immediately after saying things like “I might need to take time off if it’s like last time, because my wife almost died.”
  • No, I don’t think that influenced his decision.  He is not a quick decider, just an asshole.
  • She isn’t getting fired, but it feels a little like that, because if they aren’t willing to promote her to management after eight years, yeah, it’s time to move on.
  • There has literally never been a better time to convince us to come be your neighbors!  Seriously, if you have connections in educational technology and/or public health, be in touch, huh?  We are open to leaving the city.  Probably not — full disclosure — for Indiana.
  • Sugar left early this morning to visit her parents for the weekend, so we get to be apart while processing all this.  Whee.

Democracy In Action

  • We voted in the NYC primary this week.  Sugar tried to weasel out of it by saying she wasn’t registered to a political party (required for primaries in this state), but ha ha, turns out there’s a website to check that kind of thing.  The Bean was putting up a fuss about going, but the return of the old voting machines (with LEVERS!) and the advent of never-seen-here-before STICKERS may have won him over for life.
  • I kind of can’t believe that in a field that included a lesbian and black man, I checked the box by yet another straight white guy’s name.  But, hey, at least he’s married to a lesbian.  And I’m married to a lesbian, myself!

Obstetrics and Midwifery

  • My appointment last week went well.  I saw the midwife again, and I wish she were an OB.  This practice has two CNMs who work with OB patients, but only the OBs deliver.  I’m not sure why this is the system, but I wish I could see this MW more often.  If nothing else, it was a nice break from grilling everyone about whether they are competent/emotionally stable, since I’ve already told her my deal.
  • I had told her about the postpartum anemia last time I saw her, but I hadn’t known for sure it was because of hemorrhage (as opposed to general pregnancy anemia).  I told her the numbers from the hospital records, and she said they would definitely have offered a transfusion.  That is reassuring, vis-a-vis hoping to not be that sick again.
  • She noted in my chart that I had had a postpartum hemorrhage, but said she thinks it is unlikely to recur, since it was probably mostly the septum doing the bleeding.  If a septum includes an artery, she says, “those things can really pump.”  I guess that explains why the doctors used up all the gauze in the room and the supply closet both, stuffing my vagina full of it and pulling it out again.  (Which hurt a surprising amount.)
  • I made a supposedly off-hand comment about how maybe none of this will matter anyway, if the placenta doesn’t move, since I’d end up with an automatic c-section.  She waved her hand, as if dismissing a joke.  “Please.  It’s marginal at sixteen weeks.  It will move.”  I think she is likely to be right, but this was still a nice antidote to my mother’s gloom on the subject.  (My mother generally seems to think I don’t take bad news sufficiently seriously, and so takes pains to impress upon me that bad news is bad.  I’m not sure where she got the impression that I am an optimist.)
  • The most surprising aspect of the appointment is that we did not have a fight or even a lengthy discussion about my plan to refuse the glucose tolerance screening this time around.  I told her how sick I had gotten last time, confirmed that I had eaten beforehand and still was neurologically wrecked for three days, and mentioned my low risk factors for gestational diabetes.  (I restrained myself from opening with what BS I think most of the things written about GD are, at least when it comes to bad outcomes among patients without pre-existing insulin resistance.  And since when is an episiotomy in the same category of outcome as a c-section, anyway?)  I was all set to argue, with data and citations and everything (thanks to Dr. J. F. Scientist and my mother), but she said, “We had a patient like you really recently.  Are you willing to do some monitoring at home?” I am — what’s a few more self-inflicted stab wounds for a fertility clinic veteran, am I right?  “I’ll bring it up at the OB meeting this week, but I’m sure it’s fine.  You’ll have to get a meter.”  And then she got out the doppler and we listened to Jackalope’s galloping heart.
  • I feel surprised, relieved, and perversely thwarted.  I have data, damn it!  Don’t you want to even look at it?  Please?
  • In general, the visit was reassuring on the “have I once again chosen insane care providers” front.

Addled Brain, My

  • I am somewhat bemused to report that the one thing that would have irritated me about that appointment, in other times, namely the MW referring to the amount of weight I’ve gained as “not bad,” didn’t bother me at all, except in an impersonal, cultural-political kind of way.  Huh.  I realized that I never gave them the “please don’t bug me about eating/my weight” talk that led Dr. Russian’s practice to label me as an active anorexic (and therefore interrogate me about my diet at every opportunity, FAIL), partly because they have never told me anything dumb like some imaginary, ideal amount of weight to program my animatronic body to gain without exceeding.  Funny, how not setting a person up to think her weight in under surveilance is helpful in the not-feeling-under-surveillance department.
  • However.
  • I am not doing so very well in the “putting that birth behind me” category (the one comment from my last appointment with this MW that, while meant kindly, did in fact rub me the wrong way).
  • And so.
  • I have decided to look for a therapist.
  • I have very mixed feelings about that.
  • Bunny mentioned in a comment a few posts ago that she wasn’t sure of my feelings about therapy except that I had been utterly enraged by the Baby Factory’s requirement that we see their counselor.  For the sake of clarity, my feelings about Our Dumb Appointment are not my feelings about therapy in general, but are more to do with the screening-for-parental-fitness nature of that requirement.  Eugenics is so pre-war, darling.
  • That’s not to say I have no issues with the idea of going into therapy, many of which are conveniently wrapped up in my feelings about my mother, who is a psychiatrist.
  1. I prefer the convenience of boring and annoying my family, friends, and readership.
  2. My previous experience with therapy (in college) was deeply pointless.  I now realize that might have had more to do with my therapist being a 22-year-old intern from Alma Mater’s social work school than with therapy as a whole.
  3. A lot of therapists, however, are tremendous flakes.  I imagine it’s not a majority, but admit it: it’s a visible group.
  4. Therapy is the town pastime here, in a way that makes me feel ooky.  Woody Allen is much closer to a documentarian than I had realized when living elsewhere.  I am not interested in a lifetime commitment, let alone such an expensive one.
  5. While I think SSRIs and the like are very useful in some cases, I am unconvinced they are all they are cracked up to be for many people.  No, I don’t think you should stop taking yours, but I don’t want to start taking them, either.
  • However, I have to admit that while all the processing I’ve done here and elsewhere has been tremendously helpful (and you have been, you really, really have), I’m getting to a point where I could use some more help.  As much as it feels like heresy to claim this about a vaginal birth that brought me a healthy baby, I am beginning to think that the initials P, T, S, and D are not entirely inappropriate here.  I look at diagnostic checklists, and it’s increasingly difficult to deny that a lot of those boxes have x’s.
  • Thinking of this as PTSD and therefore a cognitive issue rather than only my special snowflake feeeelings makes me think that maybe I should talk to someone who has actually studied this stuff. Which brings me to more sub-bullets!  Criteria:
  1. No generalized wading into my feelings in a global sense.  I am not interested in analyzing my whole life and my relationship to food and my mother and the military-industrial complex.  I have a goal (not completely losing my shit as I approach my due date) and a deadline (my due date).  No quagmires.
  2. No support groups.  I have those, in a virtual sense (Hi!), and in-person ones I think will only feed my sense that what happened to me was not bad enough to feel bad about.
  3. No well-meaning idiots.  Or, as a friend put it, “you mean you don’t think talking to someone with no idea about how birth works and what you were going through will help you deal with feeling traumatized be being surrounded by people who seemed to have no idea how birth works and what was going on for you?”
  4. No “natural”-birth fanatics.  None of what happened was the fault of the epidural or modern obstetrics as a whole, and furthermore, I am planning to go back to the hospital, so I will thank you not to freak me out about that.
  5. Here’s the deal-breaker: takes my insurance.  This is hard enough without feeling I am spending money we don’t have on such a self-indulgent project.
  • So far, I’ve called one person, who has an opening at a difficult time for childcare.  Contrary to my desire, I did not spend the rest of the day hiding under the covers, but lordy, this is harder than I thought.  I can’t believe so many people do it.

And now it is past time to run off to the hippie food coop and cut the cheese for a few hours.  I’m going to publish this anyway.  Verisimilitude, all that.  Links later.


24 Comments

Bloody Business

Before I begin, I want to just say, in a small voice, how crushed I feel by May’s latest news, by the utter un-rightness of it, by how badly the universe is flubbing its lines. This is not how the story is supposed to go, dammit. I know we talk a lot about how unfair all of this business is, but sometimes the unfairness is just so fucking unfair. It is not the only thing that has been Not Right lately; that doesn’t make it any less wrong.

I am wondering if any of you happens to know what counts as a normal postpartum drop in hemoglobin and what doesn’t. Imagine you have this patient who, after two days of fairly heavy vaginal bleeding, arrives at a hospital in labor. Her hemoglobin at that point is 13; her hematocrit is 37.8. Following a vaginal delivery, her numbers are 7.3 and 21.7, a drop in the neighborhood of 44%.

Question one: Is that normal? If not, how abnormal?

Question two: Are there causes of postpartum decreases in hemoglobin other than blood loss? Does the placenta itself (or the baby) in some way count towards the starting number?

Question three: Do you do anything about those numbers, beyond suggesting an iron supplement? Do you do anything if the patient calls three weeks later complaining of continued extreme fatigue, dizziness, breathlessness, etc.?

Question four: Supposing a patient with this history is pregnant again. One likely source of postpartum bleeding (vaginal septum) is gone, though possibly the vaginal wall where it attached has scar tissue. Is postpartum hemorrhage in such a case likely to recur? Do you do anything in particular to lessen the chances of her feeling terrible for months again? Is there anything you can say to her to help her feel less frightened?

Question five: Is this patient a good home birth candidate? Just kidding.

My hospital records — the short version only — from the Bean’s birth arrived this week. I’d put off ordering them for a couple of years, which I guess is good, considering that I find myself a little taken aback anyway. This is just the abstract — test results and some nonsense from the lactation consultant, an extremely silly person. There are errors: I am listed as having a didelphic uterus (nope, not that normal), and hemoglobin and hematocrit are reversed in one place. (I flatter myself that a hematocrit of seven might have been more worthy of note.)

Also this week, I finally tracked down a picture I didn’t know existed until recently, of Sugar cutting the Bean’s umbilical cord. That is to say, it’s a picture of my crotch, post delivery but prior to the arrival of the placenta. I thought it might feel sort of empowering to see that, since I was scared to look at that part of my body for weeks after birth, not wanting to see all the stitches. Maybe it would have been, but I found it hard to pay much attention to my flesh, finding the pool of blood I was apparently lying in rather visually distracting. When I say pool, understand, I mean pool. I don’t mean the bed was a mess. I mean liquid. I mean depth. I mean volume.

I thought I was done finding new things to feel angry and scared about, regarding the Bean’s birth, but I guess I was wrong.

I haven’t written in much detail about how sick I was after the Bean was born, partly because at the time, I was filled with confusing hormones, alternately elated and distraught, and, well, sick. I’d been pretty thoroughly conditioned to believe that only people with (unplanned) c-sections were allowed to feel sick or sad after birth, anyway; the websites said I should be exulting in my all-powerful womynhood and resuming my exercise routine while teaching the baby French. All that matters, as you know, is that the baby is healthy. The vessel has done its job.

So, here: I was pretty sick after the Bean was born. For the first week or so, I had an annoying tendency to black out every time I tried to nurse him. The nurse I asked about it told me that was “oxytocin, filling your body with feelings of well being.” Later I realized that was the only time I wasn’t lying flat. I couldn’t hold him during the lactation class and was grateful that lesbian privilege meant I alone among the women there had someone to help. (Men weren’t allowed.) We left early because I couldn’t sit up anymore.

For the endless rounds of pediatrician visits for weight checks in the first few weeks, I took cabs. One day Sugar had a work meeting, and I couldn’t carry the Bean in his carseat. I could barely carry the car seat. We tried to take the subway once. Sugar carried the baby while I shuffled behind her, hips still entirely disconnected, like a troll aunt of some kind. (Sugar got lots of congratulations for her new baby in those days. She deserved them, but my own invisibility beside this gorgeous, healthy, thin woman and her perfect baby was sometimes hard to take. “Don’t worry, honey,” one woman said, “you’re next!”) Sugar went to the store for a different kind of iron supplement for me while I took the dwindling Bean to a lactation group. I remember feeling such utter hatred for the other woman there, so pink and healthy with her fat, pink baby, who was younger than the Bean. While Sugar was gone, I started shaking convulsively. I was losing my vision, trying to figure out how I was going to get myself onto the floor without dropping the baby, who was so, so heavy. Sugar arrived just in time, and held him while I lay my head on the desk and shook. No one asked if I was okay. I took a cab home.

It’s hard to write this without feeling I am exaggerating things, but this happened. Other things happened, too, many of them good. I stayed conscious for the ride home from the hospital, even if I did have to go immediately to bed and so missed the cats greeting the Bean. Friends came over, and I sat and talked with them. But it was months before I could walk around the neighborhood normally. Going up the gentle incline of the train station left me breathless, my vision blotchy. I feel existentially queasy looking at pictures of me with the Bean in the early weeks, because I am so very grey.

I got better. The human body really does have amazing powers of restoration. But does the patient’s recovery mean the treatment regime was wisely chosen? The heroic medicine doctors, the bleeders and purgers and givers of mercury, thought their treatments worked because their patients often survived, when the truth is those patients recovered in spite of the medicine. Regardless of whether I should have had different treatment in objective terms — and I gather from google that sources differ on the guidelines for iron infusions and blood transfusions and so on — I feel sure the other aspects of treatment could have been better. Only one nurse, when I was already in the process of being discharged, mentioned my hematocrit drop and asked if I really felt okay. (Desperate to leave, I said yes.) The nurse practitioner at my OB office told me I should expect to feel tired when I described my trouble breathing while walking. At the infamous postpartum appointment, Dr. Russian didn’t know my hematocrit levels and dismissed my questions on the topic. None of that was helpful, even if it was the case that the best course of action was waiting for my body to rebuild itself. It’s a kind of gaslighting, I think, not to tell a patient that how she feels is not in her head or her weak moral constitution.

Besides angry, I feel a bit scared by these new documents, in particular the picture. My septum is gone and presumably won’t break and bleed again. I expect it caused some of the trouble, in addition to other tears. The midwife at my new clinic says that didelphic cervices can bleed a lot, and suggested they might try rectal cytotec in addition to pitocin if it seems necessary. (I haven’t talked numbers with her, just my experience of being anemic.) If the pre-labor bleeding was a placental abruption — and we’ll never know, since the head of the OB practice didn’t see fit to take it seriously — there’s a chance that won’t happen again, and a 100% chance I won’t let it be ignored this time. I have the reassurance that I did survive, however sick I got. But there is still that nauseating feeling of almost having been run down by a bus, not realizing it was even there until it passed.


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On Sympathy

Oh, internets. I am sad about something unbloggable. I don’t usually do unbloggable, though there are there are some subjects I’m not interested in having public discussions about (my relationship with Sugar, for a prime example). But this is is different. I have a robust sense of what stories belong to me, but apparently even I have limits.

After some consideration, I think what is bloggable about how I’m feeling has to do with sympathy. What are its limits? I don’t mean, when is it okay to not feel it, but more, is there such a thing as feeling sympathy to an extent that one’s own feelings intrude upon the right of the principally hurt party to be at the center of the concentric circles of grief (described here)? And how does one find the boundary line between the sympathetic part of grief and the part that is feeling one’s own, selfish sadness about a loss?

The closest situation to this one I feel I can write about now is not a perfect match, but it will have to do for an example.

At the time we were trying to conceive the Bean, a good friend of mine was also trying to conceive her second child. I had every reason to believe she would succeed first. She had sperm in the house and no diagnoses of anything problematic, whereas I was still thrown by finally really knowing I had endometriosis (which had made it very hard for my mother to conceive) and couldn’t even try every month. She had gotten pregnant easily twice before (with her daughter and with an unplanned pregnancy years earlier, which ended in abortion). I was excited to have a TTC buddy in the neighborhood, but I was also constantly having to check my envious nature.

Sure enough, she got pregnant first, during the period when we had stopped trying IUIs and were waiting to do IVF. I saw a pregnancy book lying on her bed, and suspected she felt awkward telling me. So, when we took a walk to go shopping together later that week, I asked her. She was a little sheepish when she told me, but I had already gone through the worst flames of jealousy before asking, and I think I responded well. That isn’t my baby, I remember thinking. Anyway, I felt hopeful about going to IVF, and it seemed likely enough that we would end up with children very close in age, after all.

We had a nice conversation and a nice time shopping. As we left the mall, she asked if I would sit with her daughter while she went back in to use the bathroom. I was feeling pretty happy about the whole thing by then, as I recall. She returned ten minutes later and said she has started bleeding. And I felt like the Angel of Death, like I had killed her baby with the poison of my unspoken envy.

This was one of those miscarriages that seem to go on forever, with hope always very tiny but not fully extinguished for weeks of OB visits and ultrasounds and so on. Her husband was out of town for some of it and came with her to other appointments; I ended up doing a lot of babysitting.

The appointment that was supposed to yield a definite answer was in the early evening, and I was so glad the daughter (who was two and a half or so) just wanted to watch videos on the couch. Periodically she would ask after her mother, and I would say she was at the doctor, but not sick. I grew up with a very sick mom, and that is a scary thing. And she would look doubtful, probably because I was clearly so sad myself. I’ve never been any good at hiding that. It was so nice, the rest of the time, that we could just be warm bodies together on the couch, and I could pretend I was hugging her in case she was scared, instead of because I was sad. Toddlers are really great sometimes.

After a few hours, her mom came home and said no, it was definitely gone. And I burst into tears. It was just like with the daughter: I should have been comforting her, and instead I was drawing focus, to borrow an acting term. I mean, I did try to comfort her, but of course she ended up comforting me, too.

The friend in that story is the kind of person who seems to like comforting people — it’s very close to her profession, in fact. I think she thanked me for crying, maybe because it gave her something to do, or maybe because it felt good to know she wasn’t the only one this felt like a loss for.

And that’s the thing about this situation and the current one. In both cases, I am genuinely sad for a friend. But in both cases, I also feel a personal, selfish sense of loss. In the case of that miscarriage, it was the loss of the vision of our having babies together, with all the sepia-toned imagery that entails. That is a loss, but it is nothing to the loss my friend experienced. The current situation is similar in that regard: I feel selfish losses, but they are not of the same magnitude as the loss my friend is experiencing.

I don’t quite know what to do with that feeling. Much of the loss I feel is one of prospective bonding, in the way that I imagined having kids of the same age would bring my friend and me closer, but arguably a deeper bond in this current case. That seems noble enough. But noble or not, that loss does not put me in the center circle.

Kvetch outward, I know. Keen outward might be closer to the mark here. But is there a place to grieve with the centermost party, too? I mean to be a careful person, but I am afraid I am sometimes just a weeping bull in a china shop.