Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Note to Self

Dear Body,
You can stop carrying the weight of it around every day. 384 days. I am only a little stronger for it. We are slowed by it and crouched under it and slighted by it. We are carrying grief with us everywhere, Body, but we just don't need to anymore. Today is the day. The first yahrzeit. The first anniversary. And we can release it like a balloon! Okay, no, it will never float away. It will follow us like a shadow. Sometimes growing long and light and barely there; and others it will be heavy and underfoot. But we can let it walk beside us, Body, instead of carrying it. Let grief do some of the walking now.


The first year after a loss is marked in (what feels like) many ways. The headstone unveiling can happen after 11 months. There's the secular calendar anniversary. And of course the Lunar calendar. The unveiling happened closer to 11 months, and this is a leap year on the lunar calendar, so we have been remembering for almost 2 months. The first is different. There will never be another first for Mom. Today it is marked. The novelty of grief is welcome to fade any time and this can become ritual.

Maybe now I can write about more than "just" my mom. I won't apologize for not wanting to write about anything else - it helps with the weight of the grief. But I hope for myself that I can talk about other things that aren't weighty for me. Like motherhood. Or my make-up routine. Or trying to be a good mom while putting on makeup. You know. The usual.

I feel heavy when I come here. I remember how my mom encouraged me to write and spoke so highly of my writing (something that I have never felt confident or comfortable with). So now, when I try to think of something to write (any topic - any weight), I find myself wondering what she would think of it. And that weighs down the entire process.

Anyways. Any day now. I will wake up lighter. And the grief will learn to walk.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

One year later

Almost one year has passed since my mom's death. Just over 11 months. Eleven months? It could be eleven days for the fresh sting or it could be eleven years from the numbness.
In the first weeks, and even some months, following her death, I had to actively remind myself she was gone.

Our first moose-ears

They day we found out Knish was going to be a girl, I was going to call her. In fact I reached for my phone and got all the way into my favorites list before I had to remind myself: she's not there. I suppose she knew already that news.

I felt it again as the holidays approached, though not in the same sting you might think. Thanksgiving had been hit or miss as a family holiday since I was in high school and a USY retreat met over the holiday every year. And unless Hanukkah fell late, I hadn't consistently celebrated that at home since I left for college (although last year I did get to celebrate with mom since she stayed with me after my tonsil surgery). Until we got to New Years. New baby body and no mom to help play fashion police. Small budget, big ideas, and lots of angst - and wasn't there to trade shopping links on our chat app. Her friends helped and I found an option. But the party was hard. A cloud hung over it (maybe it was just over me) and after midnight I cried the rest of the night. She was supposed to be there. 

The baby still came without my mom there to help. Other family helped. I was still supported and fed and someone could hold the baby while I peed. But she was supposed to be there.

I have been sick and missed her the most. I am making a job transition and have questioned every step - many conversations would have been run by her. Would she like the house? Does she like the baby's name? Does this top go with this skirt? What are you making for dinner - I'm hungry. The big and the little. She has missed it all. We have missed her.

This weekend we will unveil the headstone. Our final step in the grieving process. The first year of holidays and birthdays have passed. And there will be big holidays where we will miss her - but new traditions will blur the past and the excitement will still come. Turkey will always be turkey at Thanksgiving, even without mom. But it's the little moments where I feel her absence the most. Getting our nails done together. Somone to whine to (or wine with). Our cruise director, fashion police, and care taker.

The first year is done but there will be many more years. Harder for different reasons. And with every new phase with the baby will leave me missing her afresh - countless new firsts that Mom will always miss.

Mayim Bialik shared this poem at her own father's unveiling last month and I found it very moving.

Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep (Mary Frye, 1932)
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Maternity Leave - A Time for Self Reflection and Peace (NOT)

A great friend of mine and his wife shared some thoughts here on this article. And then I got all sorts of ragey. The comments on the post were more enraging than the article itself.

It is not that parents look forward to maternity leave in order to effect some significant change on their life and career path, but it happens to be a convenient segue. Where the author gets herself into trouble is naively comparing a soul-searching sabbatical to a 6 week period where you recover physically and emotionally from delivery and get to know this tiny person who has be left in your care. Does any parent go into it think any part is easy? No. But there is genuine physical healing happening, as well as genuine bonding and learning. While I had a happy and relatively easy baby, I still wouldn’t consider the time I took as “me time”. It wasn’t luxurious. I won’t go on about “woe-is-me” because that’s not productive either. But maternity leave serves a function. So much of a function that nearly every other country on this planet has a better-funded leave program to encourage new mothers and families to spend time with each other.

The comments of course hit both extremes. But the ones that inflamed me were those that compared adopting a puppy to adopting a child (oh if it were only that easy) and since so many families and children are left wanting the other, families should be grateful to have children at all, suck it all back together, and get back about the work day. For starters, life isn’t about work (children or not). And a smart employer will realize this and incentivize their employees to return and work on a balance after having a kid. Employers need families as much as families need employers.

The other comments that got me (and woe is me for fighting with the internet) is those that theorized that having children is selfish. That no one forced you to have children so if you can’t handle it, you brought it on yourself. I don’t even know where to begin. But to start (and in no order in particular) the desire to have kids is biological. And I won’t even get into the other side of the argument that NOT having kids is selfish – I know people taking that route and it is no more selfish than those having children. I won’t try to defend my child by saying I had her for the greater good of society (but obviously I did – YOU’RE WELCOME), but if everyone stopped having children, what would happen? Would all of the orphans in the world suddenly have families? Probably not. Would society slowly crumble and wither? Obviously. (Okay, so I roped in the drama - but as long as people continue to die, children will need to be born)

And then we reach the point regarding workplace dynamic. If you think for one moment that parents don’t feel the pressure or punishment for leaving early when little Timmy has a stomach ache, then you are absurdly mistaken. Some of the balance in a workplace is regarding entitlement. Should everyone put in the exact same number of hours? Maybe. But some people work more efficiently and some people spend just as much time bitching about picking up the slack for Glen last night because his daughter was sick. AGAIN. Can you believe it? Some of that is about team work and coming together for the success of the company to ensure that everyone gets a paycheck next month. But that’s the corporate side of me. The mom side of me wants everyone (parents and child-free alike) to get home at a reasonable hour to enjoy their life, raise their dependents (child, dog, or other).

So if you don’t have or want kids, but hate your job and want a break, then I suggest you save up your PTO (like moms do, because unlike the recently viral changes that select major employees have rolled out, MOST pregnant women do not get paid maternity leave – they rely on PTO and savings) and take a long vacation. Or sabbatical. But unless you’re recovering from major physical trauma as well, I think the analogy is hurtful to the progress of paid leave for *everyone*.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Parenthood - The New Frontier

I realize that I haven't said a lot of positive things about parenthood yet. The first 3 months are a bit dicey as we move around in a sleep deprived state of adaption. It's all about survival. But as we arrive at the end of the 3 month stage, I wanted to share some thoughts I've had as I neared the end of my maternity leave and in the blurry mornings before work this week. Below is something that is uncharacteristically sappy - something I never quite pictured about myself - but it rings true just the same. I don't feel the radiating love or mush that some people talk about, but I feel this.

Knish has changed from a sleepy newborn to a giggling baby. So much change yet so much the same. She is still so new yet has always been here - as if our lives have been saving room for her. We are still learning how to listen to her, and how to comfort her, and how to make her giggle. But we're all getting better at living together.
From the very beginning, Knish will raise her left eyebrow from time to time. My mom did the same thing - with the baby pictures to prove it. When Knish does it, I see so much of my mother in her, and it's almost like a reassurance from beyond.

Knish's smile is infectious (what is it about baby smiles??). She can now recognize Hubs and me, and will smile when she sees us almost every time (that won't last long, I know). She smiles at toys and at nothing at all. Everything is wonderful and entrancing to her.

I'm back at work this week and I'm very lucky to have been home for so long (by American standards), but I'm still struck by how time can be so slow and so fast at the same time. Days full of tedium and endless new experiences. Knish is still so new to us yet she fits right into the family. I am amazed at the duality of every feeling - nothing is simply anymore. Complex feelings of love and guilt and freedom and dependency. 

And as much as I had wanted a baby, felt the achy love of what could be, it was still always hard to picture myself a mother. I never felt like my life was incomplete without a baby, much like I don't feel a different "completeness" now that she's here. I'm glad she's here and she's definitely ours. But there are some parenting cliches that are hard for me to identify with. And yet I am so amazed by this baby. From her neck rolls to her sweet yogurt breath; the way she sleepily looks at me and slowly recognizes me before smiling in the mornings; from her eyelashes to her Johnny Bravo cowlick. It's all so familiar and new and sweet.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Fog is Lifting

How is it already February? I feel like everyone says that, as if the fog from the whirlwind of the holidays has finally lifted, and suddenly everyone realizes they've been back in the real world for a month already. Thanks to maternity leave, and the fastest 12 weeks I have ever in my life experienced, I get to rejoin the work force just as this fog lifts for everyone else.

On February 15th of this year, I sat down to my second lunch of the day - a bowl of pasta carbonara. There was an ice-pack stuffed into my sports bra (the twins HURT) and I was feeling restless. The night before, Valentine's Day, after a negative pregnancy test, Hubs and I had a fantastic dinner out, complete with cocktails, wine, and too much dessert. February 16th I would get a positive test.

My irrational craving for Hobbit style meal day (I think I ate 7 times that day), was my first hint I might be pregnant. Or hungover. And today, as I sit at home watching a snoozing baby, I searched my bare cupboards to find all the fixings for another carbonara. So I sit here, munching on a fully loaded carbohydrate lunch, confessing my need to go grocery shopping to the entire internets, and hoping Wee One doesn't wake up before I can finish my grocery list and watching Love Actually. (Edit: she woke up before the list, hot dinner, or blog post was finished). I’m feeling a little bit sentimental, chowing on the same pasta.

2015 was exceptional. Not necessarily in a good way. Losing a parent and gaining a child in one year is an experience without words. I have tried. But there is nothing to say. There are lots of little stories to tell. Happy and sad.
  • Weekends in Portland with our nephew.
  • Passover in LA when my parents and husband got drunk enough to jump a fence (yes, parents).
  • My 29th birthday – I was on a work trip in Utah and my mom was supposed to meet me there. Instead, she was home on pain medications, waiting for what would be her cancer diagnosis, but too lost to actually talk to me.
  • A work trip spent looking more at my phone than my computer screen.
  • Her funeral.
  • Friends moving.
  • We’re having a girl!
  • My last work trip – halfway around the world at 24 weeks pregnant.
  • Girls weekend in Minnesota.
  • Weddings.
  • Baby Showers.
  • Ferris Buller’s day off (Seattle style).
  • Babymoon.
  • Crafting with my aunt.
  • Baby arrives.
  • *Enter baby fog*
  • Then the holidays happened and suddenly it’s February and I’m as confused as everyone else.

Once I have some time in the office, I hope I can share some of my insights from The Sisterhood of Crying in the Daycare Parking Lot.
Happy New Year!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

It's easy to be the martyr

I had had a rough day. I cooked three square meals and then washed and put away all of the dishes. I planned meals for the week, did the grocery shopping, and put the groceries away. I was the main care provider (and food source) of a 7 week old baby. I fed the cats and did some laundry and paid the bills. All while my husband worked his full time day job. I made dinner and washed up in between feeding the baby while he sat on the couch and watched TV. When I finally got my alone time (at 10 pm), it was a shower. And then off to bed before the baby woke up for her 3 am feeding.
I stood in the shower and felt terrible. Sad for myself. How is it fair that I do ALL that? Yet he just has his day job then gets to have the fun with the baby when he's home. I still feed her and feed us. I wallowed. It's not fair. Where's the justice. What about me?

Then it hit me - what about me? Did I ask for help with any of it? Did I give hubs instructions on how he could help with dinner prep while I breastfeed? Did I ask him to grab a few things at the grocery store? Or leave the laundry until he got home? 

No. No I didn't. Because when you're tired and alone all day with a slobbery babe, it can be easier to push away and stay isolated. It's hard to ask for help and find your place in the world, which has mysteriously kept moving forward despite the new baby or any other imagined trauma has left you alone. 

Last year, I read I Thought It Was Just Me, where the author discusses the isolating impact of sympathy. "I feel sorry for YOU," removes US from those feelings. It isolates the other person; they're sadness or pain is unique and I am above it. Martyrdom (or the feelings of it) is just as isolating. Except instead of being pushed away, it's a way to pull away. "I am the only one to feel this way. My suffering is unique. No one else on the planet works a full time job, with a baby, and still gets chores done..." Oh wait. What a selfish train of thought. Not only do people do all that, but there are people around me who want to help so I don't have to feel this way or do all that.

These thoughts usually crop up out of loneliness and are fostered in that void. By reaching out - either for help or support - it is possible to climb out of the pit (if we want to). Even the most introverted among us can benefit from a good gab session of "Me too!" and "You're not alone." 

And when I ask myself why I'm really upset, it often comes down to where I didn't want to have to ask for help. Are you kidding me, self? So I get into a funk because my husband isn't a mind reader? Real smart, self. If he doesn't cook dinner, how is he supposed to know that I finished the eggs? Sure, there are some mutual chores (like feeding the cats) that always gets done, but why do I have to feel so terrible about doing it? How can I possibly be mad at him for something that he wasn't even around to know? So it comes down to basically wanting attention and wanting acknowledgement. But how is he supposed to know I need this unless I tell him and ask for his support?

This is not just about marriages. How is my friend supposed to know I need her unless I tell her any of this?

Yes, sometimes we need a good sit on the pity-pot. But it's a selfish place to be. There's never room for two on that pot. Take that moment to be alone in the pain and suffering, if you need it. But then leave it there. Come out at the end of the day and tell that person (any person!) that you had a rotten day for no reason in particular. That hormones and sleep deprivation make you think terrible things. That you're not used to sharing every single moment of your life with a dependent squishy non-person and it's draining. That you need to work together to better divide the chores. And that you need a reminder that equality isn't sameness, and that you can both contribute to the future of this tiny human (or cat, relationship, house, etc.) to the same degree, but by different paths. These things are hard to measure, so the inequity is usually in our own heads; by being too selfish to see what the other is doing.

Take a deep breath. And look around. And ask for support. Share your feelings. And for goodness sakes, ask yourself if this is really worth being that lonely for.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Bumpdate - 2 weeks post delivery

It finally happened. At 9 days after our due date, our little girl finally joined us.I have debated on sharing our "birth story", and while I won't now, I haven't fully decided if I will yet. It was exciting, though!

Knish joined us at 9 lbs 11 oz (at least a pound larger than the OB was estimating while I was in labor) and 21.5 inches long (this is about what Hubs and I were expecting - lots of long babes in our families). Complete with a full head of hair (that shocked us both!). She is beautiful, and we are learning about each other.

I sit and write as Hubs is taking the evening shift on a particularly rough day. She and I have both cried our fair share today. We are both clean, fed, and napped, so we're quite sure what all the angst is about. But until today, she was making this whole thing a big easy on me. She latches easily and nurses efficiently. She's an excellent napper. And (at least until today) she wasn't a big yeller - she would patiently fuss until she was fed. Nighttime is a struggle (as with any newborn) - and we bounce between nights where she's up every 1.5 hr to 4 hrs.

I thought I'd share some of my favorite things over the last two weeks that have helped me. And surprisingly enough, none of them is coffee (after 9 months off the juice, it really disrupts my nap time!).

(1) Maternity Leggings
I have not packed these babies up yet. For those who have never had kids, you may be surprised to learn that most women do not leave the hospital being able to fit into their pre-pregnancy clothes (this was a big shock to me). And while I am only 11 lbs away from my pre-pregnancy weight, I have not ventured into any of my pre-pregnancy clothing. For starters - I have all these great, comfy maternity clothes I can still fit. I have two pair of the Target black maternity leggings and I love them. Every day, I hop into those, a nursing cami, and a sweater. I'm dressed for the day! If I need to leave the apartment, I just through on some boots (which thankfully fit again), and I look "put together" (I was actually told that. What? Weird.

(2) Lansinoh Lanolin and Nipple Pads

I love this stuff. Someone on my mommy board mentioned that you can start putting the Lanolin on nightly about 3-4 weeks before your due date, which will help with the suppleness of your skin and help prevent cracking/bleeding as your wee one and you learn breastfeeding. Well I did that and I have to say that I have not had any bleeding, and I only had one sore that healed quickly. This stuff is amazing. I don't quite make it on every day anymore, but I try to before bed most nights. 
This brand of pads is great. They stick on and last the better part of a day. I haven't tried many other brands, but I like these better than the Medela ones that came with my pump. 

(3) Dermoplast

Without going into too much detail, I think we can all safely agree that pushing a watermelon out of one's vajay is not a delicate process. Yadda yadda yadda, sore. Yadda yadda - numb it up with this. I read about it first on Pinterest, and was pleased to see it in my recovery room at the hospital. My lovely nurse even threw in an extra can (seriously - ask for everything!). I didn't need two cans (only needed it for about a week), but I'm going to hang onto this for general first aid purposes.

(4) Lactation Cookies

By putting the word "lactation" in front of cookie, it magically becomes a health food. True story. Okay, but seriously. Breastfeeding burns an insane amount of calories (300-500 calories per day), and it's hard enough to eat the normal calorie limit with a bouncing newborn, let alone enough to keep up your milk supply. Enter cookies. What makes these special are these three ingredients: (i) oatmeal (fiber!), (ii) Brewer's Yeast (milk production), and (iii) Flax (healthy omegas). I made this recipe that I found on Pinterest, which also includes coconut oil (cure all!) and chocolate (...hurray!). I made a batch and froze the whole thing in pre-formed scoops. Every couple of days I throw a few directly from the freezer into the oven. I found that I didn't even need to adjust the baking time. While the additions can make these a sort of supplement, I can say that in my experience, I have actually felt my milk let down after binging eating a few. They taste great, and their easy to eat one handed while I try to soothe Knish with the other hand. I have even modified a normal cookie bar recipe by adding brewer's yeast and flax seeds to it. It did add a bit of an earthy flavor, but Hubs didn't notice a difference (his milk did not come in after eating them - safe for the whole family!). 

A few final thoughts... 
I have not wanted to pound back a beer nearly as much as I thought.
I am less interested in caffeine now than in my 9th month (probably because I know I can nap). 
Having a supportive and patient partner has made all the difference in this experience. He doesn't feel that just because he's out of the house at work all day, his "fair share" is done, just like he knows I don't "sit around" all day while she naps. Parenthood is hard - whether you're doing if for a few hours per day, or full time. I wish more partners could share in the empathy - but I am so thankful that Hubs sees his time at work as "missing out" on parenthood, rather than any part of "sharing" duties. Tonight, after knowing I had a rough day being yelled at by my tiny boss, he couldn't wait to get changed and take over. They've had some great cuddle time, and I've been able to eat with two hands and get some thoughts out.