Sunday, May 31, 2009

The long goodbye

Since Finn was born, I've slowly been saying goodbye to the likelihood of any more babies by parting ways with the things I carefully packed away for a possible next baby in the past. I've gotten rid of all my maternity clothes, and these days, when I sort through Lilah's and Finn's clothes for things they've outgrown, I've been giving the stuff away rather than packing it away. And it's been a little sad, and a little hard. Today we took a bigger step: we had a yard sale, and I put out for sale all the baby things that Finn no longer uses: the bassinet, changing table, bouncy seat, Bumbo, Boppy, even the swing (as well as loads of other stuff from around the house - isn't it amazing how much crap a family can accumulate?)

Ahh, the swing. It's an old Graco that I got when I was pregnant with Kevin. I still remember, like it was yesterday, putting that thing together on the family room floor while watching A Time to Kill on television, just a few days before Kevin was born. That makes the swing well over 12 years old now, and every one of my babies has used it. And for some reason, that's the thing I seem to be having the hardest time parting with. Michael said, "It's up to you, keep it if you want." But really, who saves a big old baby swing as a memento? Seems silly. Still . . .

But I bit the bullet and put it, and everything else, out in the yard today. However, apparently Sunday is not a super popular day for yard sales. We did fairly well, got rid of quite a bit of stuff and made a nice chunk of change, but a lot of stuff didn't go - we really didn't get a lot of traffic, compared to what we'd have probably gotten on a Saturday. And damn if that swing isn't one of the things still sitting here. Is it a sign? Is it trying to tell me something?

(Crazy talk from a woman who doesn't believe in signs!)

Anyhow, we may try to have another yard sale next Saturday. In the meantime, I'll keep trying to say goodbye.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Bad Mother - Discussion Questions

Although I ended up taking issue with the author, Bad Mother lays out some good points about modern motherhood and there are some discussion questions in the back that are thought-provoking:

~ The author begins by quoting some of the unattainable definitions of being a "good mother" that doom women to fail in the pursuit. What are some definitions of "good mother" that you've come across in your experience? How do you think society defines a good mother? Do you agree with the author that these expectations are generally too high?

Endlessly patient. Soft-spoken, but firm and authoritative when necessary. Enjoys tea parties, Barbies, building blanket forts, endless games of Candyland, playing with Play-
Doh, and reading the same book seventeen times in a row. Is able to hold it all together seemingly effortlessly. Is able to redirect her children's tempers and bouts of misbehavior with just a look. Does not feel the need to keep her house compulsively neat and tidy; revels in the toys, books and games scattered across every room, as the mess is proof that her children are happy. Those are just some of the images I have in my head of what a good mother is supposed to be like. I have no freaking idea where I got these images, except that I'm sure they are shared by society. I do know that I don't live up to that by a long shot. Logically, I realize that it's all very unrealistic, but emotionally, I still can't seem to let go of those ideas of what I'm supposed to be like, and so I often feel like a failure as a mother.

And by the same token, I know full well that I myself tend to be judgmental and sanctimonious in my attitudes towards other mothers about certain things. You don't breastfeed? What the hell is wrong with you? How selfish can you be? You can't keep your house clean and you've got two or three kids and a mother who regularly helps you out? Grow up. I have SIX kids and no help and I manage just fine.

It's a circle-jerk. We all do it to each other, and to ourselves.

~ What do you consider a responsible, attainable ideal of a modern mother?

The author writes about being a "mindful" mother, and I have to agree that that is what we should all be. Aware, engaged, tuned in. The last lines of the book read:

"A mother who doesn't worry so much about being bad or good, but just recognizes that she's both, and neither. A mother who does her best, and for whom that is good enough, even if, in the end, her best turns out to be, simply, not bad."

Wow. Definitely words to live by. I will also add that accountability should be part of the equation. Not that we should beat ourselves up every time we screw up, but I think it's important not to make excuses for our own bad behavior, and to take responsibility for our actions as parents, acknowledge when we've made a mistake - to ourselves for our own emotional health, and to our kids for theirs - and move on, trying to do our realistic best.

~ What do you think of the author's declaration that she loves her husband more than her children? Is there a hierarchy in your household among spouse, children, home, self? Do you think there is a right way to organize affections within a family?

I will not say that I love my husband more than I love my children. I certainly love my husband in a much different way than I love my children, but with pretty equal intensity. I will admit, however, that a good deal of the time, I enjoy my husband's company more than I enjoy my children's company. He doesn't whine, he doesn't crap in his pants, he doesn't argue with me over what he's going to wear today, he doesn't throw himself on the ground and go into hysterics when he doesn't get his way about something. He makes me laugh. He listens to me. He provides me with stimulating conversation. You see what I mean?

Unfortunately, there is a hierarchy in our house, and the kids are on top as far as attention goes, just by virtue of the sheer number of them. However, I am a firm believer that the primary relationship, that is the relationship between the parents, needs to be honored by the whole family. When a baby comes along and replaces the affections of spouse in the mother's eyes, that can only spell trouble. Some day the kids are going to grow up and move out (hopefully!), and the parents are once again going to be left with only one another, and if that relationship hasn't been nurtured and honored, what's left? Kids demand a lot of time and energy, and sometimes it's difficult to find the energy to put into the husband-wife (or wife-wife, husband-husband, whatever) relationship when you've been sucked dry by kids and/or an outside job all day, but you just have to make that effort.

I really think that's a big reason why Michael's and my marriage is in such a good place despite having six kids. We make time to be together, to laugh, and talk and stay tuned in to one another. Not that we're connected at the hip - we're not. He has his interests and his time for himself, and I have mine, but our time together is precious. We hire a sitter and go out to dinner together fairly regularly. We've developed a weekend ritual where, after the kids are all in bed, Michael mixes up a couple of cocktails and we sit in the living room and have some of our best conversations.

I remember a while back, a friend reacted with surprise when I told her that we hire a sitter so we can go out on "dates" together. She couldn't understand why we'd want to go out together, just the two of us, because she apparently couldn't imagine enjoying her own husband's company that much. I just thought that was really sad.

~ Discuss the idea of being honest with one's children. How far do (or would) you take it in your home? Where would you make exceptions?

I am a a big fan of honesty with one's children. I think it's a good idea to be honest without giving more information than the child can deal with, which is sometimes a slippery slope. I think hiding things, or being dishonest with one's children, is pretty much guaranteed to come back to bite you in the ass as some poing. The truth always comes out eventually, and if your kid learns that you lied to him or her, or hid some big truth from them, they're just going to feel betrayed and distrustful of you. That said, there are certainly things that it is difficult to be honest with your kids about. There are things I have not yet been faced with that I'm not entirely sure how I will handle when the time comes - like being asked by my kids if I ever did drugs, or how old I was when I first had sex, or did I ever steal anything. I'm sure those issues have to be handled very carefully, as I don't want my kids to think it's okay to emulate certain behavior I indulged in, but I still think that in the end, honesty is the best policy.

~ In reference to Zeke's ADHD diagnosis, the author discusses her feelings tht the facts of family are somtimes disappointing when compared to our unrealistic expectations. What are your expectations for your children? Which ones derive from your children themselves and which from your and your spouse's traits and experiences? Are you fair to your children with regard to your expectations? Do you think the concept of "fairness" applies here?

This is a tough set of questions to answer. I do think that I am often unfair in my expecations of my children in that I often expect them to transcend their naturally immature selves. In other words, it's too easy for me to forget that kids will be kids - they're messy, they're noisy, they're often obnoxious and inconvenient, even - but that it's the nature of being children and not that they are purposely setting out to irritate me. As far as long-term expectations, I guess I just expect them to utilize their talents and brains and make the most of their lives, which I hope will include meaningful employment and pursuit of happiness, whatever that may be for each of them. Certainly I would love to see them each get married and have children of their own, but I realize that that may be an unfair and unrealistic expectation - and that those are not necessarily things that every person needs or wants in order to be fulfilled. Certainly having Finn, a child with Down syndrome, has taught me a lot already about expectations and how painful and disappointing it can be to have strong expectations of what your kids are going to be.

~ Discuss the author's difficult experience with Rocketship. Why does she choose to include such a detailed description of the events in this book? Do you consider the decision to terminate the pregnancy to be a parenting decision? Were any of the events and decisions she shares surprising or helpful to you?

I think the author must have found it cathartic to write about her experience, and I have to admit that I grudgingly admire her for at least holding herself accountable for her decision, being honest about why she made the decision, and calling it what it was: abortion. She writes, "I killed my baby."

It's a very complicated issue for me. I have always been in favor of choice . . . but I am also in favor of life. I'm not even sure where I draw the line in my own mind. I do know that as the mother of a child with a genetic "defect," a child who is "disabled," it was very difficult for me to read her account of terminating her pregnancy after she found out that the baby she was carrying had a chromosomal abnormality, and as I wrote before, her hypocrisy really troubles me. I wonder if she's even aware of how absolutely hypocritical it is of her to strive to live in a world of equality and tolerance, when she couldn't even tolerate the idea of having a child with possible mental impairment.

~ The division of labor in the household is an important theme in the book - in terms of both the author's actual experience and the statistical information she cites. How does this play out in your family? Do you and your partner discuss these issues, or just let them determine themselves? What are your jobs in the home?

When Michael and I first moved in together, we were a family of three (me, Michael, and Kevin), and Michael and I both worked at jobs outside the home. We had a lot of struggles for a while establishing a division of labor, and it actually got to the point that we wrote down all the household chores and divided them, and he had his list of chores and I had mine, both hung on the refridgerator, so we could finally stop arguing over who was doing more, who should do what, etc. I'm sure this is a very common struggle among couples. So when I was working, I fully expected that the household chores should be shared. When I quit my job to stay home with the kids when Joey was born, I took on more (most) of the household chores, because I just assume those are part of my job as the stay-at-home spouse. So I do the majority of the housework, the laundry, the errand-running, the bill-paying, etc. I do expect Michael to help out when he gets home from work, though, because my shift certainly doesn't end at 6:00, so why should his? And he's very hands-on - he's not afraid to throw a load of wash in, he cooks, he does dishes, he's changed plenty of diapers (although he will clearly get out of it if he can finagle it), he reads stories, he does the whole bedtime routine with the three girls every night, and he definitely plays with the kids more than I do. He's the fun parent. And he's not afraid to take the five oldest kids out to the park or whatnot, on his own. He doesn't refer to caring for his own children as "babysitting." I know I have it far better than some of my friends whose husbands, to hear them tell it anyway, do little to nothing as far as household stuff and child-rearing.

And that's all I have for now, folks. Feel free to throw your own two cents in!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Anxiety and other uncomfortable feelings

Finn had a pre-op appt. this morning with the ENT, as he is scheduled to have tubes placed in his ears next Tuesday. After our appt. with the doctor, I had to go down the block to the outpatient surgery center and pre-register him. And as I was sitting there answering questions and signing forms, knots formed in my stomach. By the time we finished and I got back in my truck, I sat there in the parking garage for a while, just crying. Where did these tears suddenly come from? That's the frustrating thing - my emotions seem to be all over the place lately, and often the tears come out of nowhere.

The truth is, I can't go to that general area of town without feeling anxiety. The ENT's office, the outpatient surgery center, and even our pediatrician's office, are all situated in a big medical complex that covers a couple blocks. Located right there are also the children's hospital where Finn was in the NICU (and the twins were in the PICU as infants, both with viral meningitis), and the hospital where my first four babies were born, and where Michael will be having his surgery in a couple of weeks. Going to that area always brings back bad memories for me, of the twins' stay in the PICU - even the awful memories I have of their birth - as well as Finn's stay in the NICU and the subsequent surgery he had at the outpatient surgery center in April. Bad memories. Lots of anxiety. And it all comes back to me when I'm over there - and I'm over there plenty.

So this morning as I'm signing consent forms for Finn's upcoming procedure, all this usual anxiety is filling me and then it turns to outright dread. It's bad enough that once again I have to hand over my baby and allow them to do stuff to him. I know it's for his well-being, and it will improve the quality of his life, but it's still very, very hard. But worse than that is the fact that being there this morning, signing a form acknowledging the risks (including death) of this minor procedure, made it all hit home what Michael is scheduled to undergo in a very short time.

Sometimes, like right now at this moment, it all seems like too much. Too much to deal with. And what hit me as I was driving home and crying was that I just feel so alone in all this. And when that realization struck me, I about felt like I was going to come out of my skin.

The thing is, Michael is the one who anchors me, who shores me up when I feel like I can't do it. As corny as it sounds, he really is my best friend. He's the one who makes me laugh the hardest, he's the one who listens to me and helps me work through the tough things, he's the one I want to tell every silly, trivial thing that happens throughout my day to. And when he's in surgery, it's not like he'll be sitting out in the waiting room with me, holding my hand, reassuring me. He'll be in there, being cut open. And I'm scared to death, and feel so alone. I have friends, but they are all understandably tied up with their own lives. I don't have a best girlfriend, or a mother, who will be there to make sure I'm okay. And it's always been like that. Through all the trials and upheavals, through having babies and moving and having babies hospitalized, it's always been me and Michael, dealing together, but alone. I am not discounting what my friends have given me - their support and help was incredible after Finn was born, and I will be forever grateful - but it's not the same as having someone you can just lean on no matter what, you know?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Twins

Daisy seems to be making strides in overcoming some of her phobias. She now uses the restroom at school every day that she is there. She used it for the first time a few weeks ago, and ever since then has been fine with it. Of course, I don't know if that means she's over her fear of all public restrooms, or just that particular one. She's getting better about bugs, too. In fact, we were at the park this morning with a friend and the girls found a roly poly and were playing with it, and Daisy wasn't freaking out. She's also making strides with dogs. She will come within several feet of one now and wave to it. This is HUGE.

Her emotions are still over the top, and I'm starting to wonder if some of it might be in response, on some subconscious level, to Michael's illness/treatment. She's 4, so she doesn't really get what's going on with Daddy, she has no idea what cancer is, and we don't discuss a lot of it in front of her or the other kids anyway. Still, she seems to be extra extra clingy lately, especially to Michael. And every time he leaves the house - to go to work, to the store, whatever - she completely breaks down, sobbing and squeezing big fat tears out of her eyes, and wailing "I miss Daddy! He's gone forever!" It usually takes a good 20 minutes to calm her down.

Annabelle has me completely stressed out. We still don't really have a handle on her finger-sucking/hair-twirling-pulling thing. I try to keep first aid tape on her fingers pretty much at all times, because that's the only thing that stops her. However, she now sneaks the tape off her fingers (and I find it hidden under her bed and stuffed between the sofa cushions), and when they're not taped, she's sucking on two fingers on one hand and twirling/pulling her hair with a finger on the other hand. It's maddening. And especially because I really don't know how to resolve this. It's like a total compulsion with her. I had to trim up one side of her hair this past weekend for the first time in about 6 months because it was all uneven again because of her pulling on one side. I was so sad, because it had finally grown out quite a bit.

Michael and I have sort of joked in the past that she has ADHD. Suddenly, it doesn't seem so funny. I really don't know a ton about ADHD but I've read references to symptoms like lack of impulse control, antsyness, and things like that. And suddenly I am just about convinced that she's really and truly got ADHD. She's constantly bouncing around, she can't be quiet, every piece of furniture in the house is her personal playground, she's destructive, and inpulse control? Zero. Which is probably why, at 4 1/2 years old, if you give her a crayon, she'll draw beautiful pictures on a piece of paper, as well as color all over the wood floor, the walls, and all the spines of the books on the nearby bookshelf. If there is something she isn't supposed to get into or mess with, you can rest assured that she will get into it and mess with it. She has to be told to do - or not to do - something 17 times, because when you tell her, it's like 8 seconds later, she's completely forgotten that you just told her to stop doing that!

And really, I'm starting to wonder if the finger-sucking and hair thing is part of it. It seems like the only time she's calm and sitting still is if she's got those fingers in her mouth and that other finger in her hair. It's like it soothes her.

We've always characterized Annabelle as "spirited" and "naughty." It's all starting to look a little different now. And really, it scares the crap out of me (like we need one more issue to deal with). What do we do? Wait to see if she outgrows her obnoxious behavior and hope it doesn't create problems at school? (She's never had a problem at preschool, so I don't know what to think of that.) I'm scared to death that someone at some point is going to tell us she needs to be on medication or something.

And believe me, I'm not the sort of parent seeking out a diagnosis. I've been known to scoff at these things. This must be Karma, come to bite me in the ass.

Book Review: Bad Mother

Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman: I have mixed feelings about this book. Intelligently written and brutally honest, I delved into the book, reading with gusto as the author attacked the ridiculous and impossible ideal of motherhood that we modern, western mothers inflict upon ourselves and each other. I almost felt like I was being given permission to let go of some of the guilt for being so far from the perfect mother - whatever that is. (I say "almost" because, really, what is motherhood without guilt?)
However, I find myself deeply troubled by the author's hypocrisy. Throughout the book she talks about acceptance and how socially and politically liberal she and her husband are, and how they appreciate and embrace diversity among people and are disturbed and ashamed of the prejudice that still goes on in this country towards minorities like gays and Blacks. She talks a lot about how they are instilling in their children acceptance and embracement of differences among people. Here are a few passages:
"How many twin studies have to be done before people understand that homosexuality is innate? It has nothing to do with choice or a mother's smothering nature. People are gay because of genetics or fetal hormonal exposure or some other random physical and chemical spin of the wheel. Every time we have a child, we spin that wheel. . . . Bless mutation and complication and all that gives us such magnificent diversity."
"We have a tendency to value idealization over our own experience with messy reality. We fail to recognize that reality is actually wonderful, but for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the ideal."
"The point of a life, any life, is to figure out what you are good at, and what makes you happy, and, if you are very fortunate, spend your life doing those things."
"The worst thing about being so devoted to your expectations is that it blinds you to the wonders of the children you have."
And yet . . . she devotes an entire chapter to recounting how she chose to terminate a pregnancy because she found out via amniocenticis that the baby she was carrying (her third pregnancy) had a chromosomal abnormality which was not fatal and which may not have manifested in any noticeable or tangible way, but may have manifested with physical and/or mental impairment. It was the possibility of mental retardation that she could not live with - that, apparently, was the deciding factor in her choosing to have an abortion almost midway through the pregnancy, even in the face of already feeling the baby moving and kicking inside her.
Not only that, but with her two subsequent pregnacies, she chose to undergo CVS (chorionic villus sampling), which also screens for Italicgenetic abnormalities in a fetus, but much earlier than amnio. One can only assume that she did this to ensure that she could abort sooner if either of her subsequent babies was found to have an abnormality.
Obviously, as a mother of a child with a chromosomal abnormality (Down syndrome), and presumably some degree of mental retardation (although I haven't seen it manifested in Finn yet, but all the books and experts tell me that he is mentally retarded), this evoked a pretty emotional response from me. For a mother reading the book who does not share my particular circumstances, objectivity may be more possible. For me, however, it made me see the author as hypocritical: she embraces diversity and teaches her children to do the same, but she draws the line at disability? She believes in equality for all people, but doesn't think a baby with possible mental retardation has a life worthy of living? That was very difficult for me to swallow, and unfortunately colored my feelings about the author through the rest of the book.
Still, it's a book worth reading, and I do recommend it to any mother who has lived with guilt for not being a so-called "Good Mother," who has felt her mothering judged by her peers and society, and/or who has passed judgment on other mothers.
The book has some discussion questions in the back which I may try to tackle here over the next few days.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Molding our children

The following is a passage from Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman:

"Sophie's mother [the author is referring to herself] hadn't yet learned that babies of six weeks have, basically, the same personality they'll have when they are sixty years old, and there is not a whole lot you can do to change that. You can do as much baby whispering and charted behavior reinforcement as you want, but the truth is that it's not going to have a whole lot of effect, either for good or for ill. You can probably train your baby to sleep through the night, but if you kid is by nature an insomniac, then the two of you are just screwed. You can probably make your kid work hard to earn enough stars on his chart to buy a Lego Imperial Star Destroyer, but if he's got a lazy streak, you're not going to have much luck stickering it out of him. And by the same token, as bad as your temper is, as prone as you are to nagging, if your daughter is by nature unflappable and confident, then there is, thank God . . ., a limit to how much damage you can do to her."

This strikes such a chord with me. I've believed for a long time that we really have far less influence over what kind of people our children are - over their natures - than a lot of people believe.

When I became pregnant with Lilah I joined an online community of women who were expecting babies in September, 2006 (Lilah came nine days late and thus turned out to be an October baby . . . which is really beside the point). The group included roughly 60-some "members," although the number of women who regularly participated and formd the core of the group was much smaller. There were women from all over the world, although mostly the U.S., from different religious, ethnic, social and economic backgrounds. Some of the women were expecting their very first babies, and some were expecting their second, third, fourth, or like me at the time, fifth baby. I remained a devoted member of this group all through my pregnancy and for several months after Lilah was born, and I even had the pleasure of meeting several of these women "IRL" (in real life), and a couple of them I developed actual friendship with.

My membership in the group, however, began to fall apart when all of our babies were several months old and I had my fill of one particular mom who liked to wax on about how placid and mellow her baby was, she believed, because she and her husband maintained such a "positive vibe" around their baby. This was a first-time mom, and I found it completely laughable that she was giving herself so much credit for her baby's personality. But more than that, it pissed me off because there were many other moms in the group who were struggling mightily with cranky babies who wouldn't sleep, who cried all the time and wouldn't allow themselves to be put down without reacting as if they were being physically tortured. These mommies were frazzled, exhausted, and already feeling like they were failing in some major way. After all, if they could just figure out how to do this motherhood thing right, wouldn't their babies be happy and easy-going? And this Pollyanna first-time mother who took so much credit for her baby girl being so easy-going, I believed, was hurting these other moms by reinforcing this misconception that we have that much influence over our babies.

I posted a message to the group, the exact words of which I don't remember now, but I basically said, "Check your egos, ladies. We don't have as much control over our kids dispositions as some of you might think. It's a crap shoot. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don't."

The firestorm that ensued was worthy of daytime television (and some of you who have followed me here to my blog from that particular site might even remember this particular drama). There were some women on the board who supported me, some who chose not to get involved in the exchange, and a lot of them who proceeded to "flame" me and cyberly castrate me (if a woman can be castrated).

The thing was, being that I was at the time working on my fifth kid, I had the benefit of hindsight and experience (not that either of those things make me an expert, but they do, I believe, give one a more knowledgeable perspective than, say, a woman who is only a few months into her very first mothering foray). And my experience was thus:

Kevin was my first baby, born to me when I was 29 years old. During my entire pregnancy and his babyhood, I lived in an almost constant state of tension, anxiety, fear, and depression. My marriage at the time was slowly but steadily imploding, and there was a lot of very ugly stuff going on. So you would think that Kevin would have been a very high strung, high need baby, right? You would be wrong. He was an angel. Very mellow, very easy going, generous with smiles and not extremely demanding. He slept through the night at 6 weeks old, with no prompting from me. He was my happy little "love bug." I did practice some semblance of "attachment parenting" with him: I wore him in a sling, I nursed him exclusively and for an extended period, when he cried, I responded. I believed that my good mothering was counteracting any negative effects our less-than-optimal home life might have had on his disposition. My baby was happy because of me, because I was doing the whole mothering thing right.

Joey was born 5 1/2 years later. I was in a much better place in my life, having remarried and left much of the unhappiness that had plagued me for so many years behind me. Still, I did experience some postpartum depression after Joey was born. A lot of it was hormonal, and a lot of it, I believe, was because I quit my job of 11 years to finally become a stay-home mom, and I was finding that it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. As with Kevin, I practiced attachment parenting, taking it a step further this time, in that Joey slept with us, in our bed, until we finally forced him out at 14 months old. Joey was a horribly difficult baby. He came out of the womb crying and screaming and didn't stop for close to a year. (This probably played into my PPD as well.) If he wasn't sleeping, he was crying. He never wanted me to put him down. It was exhausting and very dispiriting. And it made me rethink this whole notion that I could mold my baby's personality.

The twins were born roughly two years after Joey came along. The number of kids in our house suddenly doubled. There were so many ingredients for another round of PPD for me (a traumatic birth, no family help or support, the special exhaustion that comes with having multiple newborns to care for as well as two other children . . .), but surprisingly, it never came. Michael and I had settled into a good, comfortable place in our marriage by that time. I nursed the girls on demand, around the clock, and again practiced attachment parenting. And they were crabby babies. Almost as bad as Joey was, but there were two of them. I think by that time I realized what a crap shoot it really was, what sort of kids we get.

So by the time Lilah was born (and she, by the way, was a very good-natured baby whom we parented in much the same way as all our previous babies), I just couldn't sit by and let this mom fool herself or any of the other moms on the board. Maybe it wasn't my place to call her out (though I never did mention any names or direct my postings at any particular mom[s]), but I just couldn't stand her ego, especially because I had been in her shoes once and came crashing down when I subsequently gave birth to the crabbiest baby in the world.

I don't believe that we have so much power over how our children's dispostions are formed. I believe that for the most part, babies are born wired in certain ways - to be high-strung or mellow or happy and good-natured or crabby and demanding. I'll even go so far as to say that I don't believe we have much influence over how smart our kids turn out to be. All these Baby Einstein programs and listening to classical music when you're pregnant and using flashcards with your toddler to give them a leg up? Bah! Kevin and Joey are geniuses, and it's not because of anything I ever did - they were just born that way. The twins? Not so much, although Daisy is lately proving herself to be a pretty smart cookie - but not because of anything I've done to foster that.

I believe that as parents we have the power to provide positive experiences for our kids which will hopefully be translated into happy memories down the line. I believe we have the power to instill confidence or break spirits. I believe we have the power to teach them to manage their feelings and to express themselves in positive ways. I believe that we have the power to teach our kids to make good choices. But I don't believe we have as much power over what sort of people they are as we like to think. I think we tend to give ourselves too much credit, and we tend to beat ourselves up too much over things that really have very little to do with us.

So, thank you, Ms. Waldman, for backing me up on this ;)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Book Review: Saving Fish From Drowning

Now that I seem to be over my little pity party of yesterday (at least for now), here's a review of the book I just finished:

Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan: This book is the current selection for my book club, and probably not one I would have read otherwise. I've never read any of Amy Tan's other works (I know she has a pretty loyal following), so I didn't go into it with any expectations based on the author. In all honesty, based on the synopsis, I didn't expect to enjoy this book, and figured I would give it 50 pages to draw me in. I was pleasantly surprised that I did actually enjoy it, however. Not enormously, but it was a fun read and it kept me engaged. It's the story of a group of friends who travel along the famed Burma Road, and their mishaps and self-discovery along the way. The story is narrated from beyond the grave by the friend who organized the trip, as she died a mysterious and gruesome death shortly before the trip is scheduled to begin. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and I honestly never connected too much or grew to care about any of the characters. Also, as geography has never been my forte or a particular interest of mine, I wasn't actually familiar with a lot of the places discussed in the book. Still, all in all it was an enjoyable read, and I'm very proud of myself for finishing it a week ahead of schedule in relation to our my book club's upcoming discussion!

If anyone is interested in this book, email me your mailing address and it's yours :)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What an afternoon

This afternoon turned positively exciting.

First, Kevin, my oldest, a sixth grader, informed me that a sixth grade girl brought alcohol to school today. Apparently, as the story goes, she did it on a dare. Apparently, several kids were helping her hide it (I guess it was a beer), but two kids decided to snitch on her to the vice principal. She has now been suspended. So the peer pressure talk ensued between Kevin and me. Right now he's at the point - and genuinely, I believe - that such things horrify him. I'm not foolish enough to think, however, that his feelings won't change over the next few years.

Whew. Sixth grade, and they're already doing stuff like that. Although, really, I guess I shouldn't be all that surprised; I wasn't much older when I started doing things like that. It really confirms my feeling that putting Kevin in a K - 8 school for middle school (i.e., a smaller school setting as opposed to traditional, stand alone junior high) was the best way to go. I think things like that are largely overlooked in larger school settings (unless things have drastically changed since I was in junior high). I think it's a little more difficult to get away with things in a smaller school setting.


Later, I was at Joey's school waiting for the buses that were bringing the first graders back from a field trip that ran late, so it was after normal school hours. I only had Finn with me, having dropped the girls and Kevin off at home, and I was standing out in front of the school with several other first grade parents who were also waiting for their children. A woman approached me. I recognized her as the mom of a former classmate of Kevin's as well as a former classmate of Joey's - last year her son was in the same class as Kevin, and one of her daughters was in Joey's kindergarten class. We don't know each other; we met and spoke once last year when I was pregnant, and I learned that she has 7 kids, so the fact that I was expecting my sixth gave us some common ground for a few minutes that one time.

So she approached me this afternoon and I said, "Oh, it's the other mom with a lot of kids! Hi!" We both laughed, and she asked me how old the baby is now, yada yada yada. Then, out of nowhere she says to me, "Do you go to church?" Fuck. I immediately felt defensive. What does that have to do with anything, and why do so many people think it's their business? "No," I told her, "It's just not my thing." She looked at me sadly - I'm serious - sadly! - and said, "Wow, what a hard job you have, raising all those kids without the Lord." I told her that I don't think my job is any harder than hers is, I just don't believe in God. "What can I do to help you believe?" she asked me. I just looked at her dumbfounded. "To believe or not to believe is not a choice, " I told her. "You either feel it or you don't, simple as that." She insisted that it is a choice, so I asked her, "So you're telling me that you could make the choice to believe in Santa Claus?" "That's not the same thing, " she said. Then she went on about how we're all responsible for our choices in life, and I told her I completely agree, but believing is still not a choice. She asked me how I grew up - meaning, I assumed, what kind of religious training I had received as a child, which I took to mean she was going to try to hold my parents responsible for my non-belief. She was really being nosey - I mean, how was any of this any of her business? Still, I stayed engaged in the conversation because I'll be damned if I'm going to let someone push me around for my beliefs. I told her that my mother took us to church sporadically, never anything consistent, but that I had believed my whole life up until a couple years ago when I finally acknowledged to myself that it all seemed like a bunch of nonsense and I didn't feel it in my heart. At all. I told her that my life was no better or worse when I believed than it has been since I stopped believing - that bad and good things happened to me then, and bad and good things happen now. She actually asked me, "If you don't believe in the Lord, where do you get morals?" Huh? I'm not positive I understood what she meant - did she mean what is the source of my morals, or how could I possibly have any morals if I don't believe in God? I told her that I have very high morals, and God doesn't have anything to do with it, that it's actually possible to be a good person just for the sake of being a good person.

Just then, a neighbor whom I hadn't seen in a long while pulled up to the curb and waved to me, so I excused myself from Whatshername. I chatted with my neighbor for a few minutes, and when I turned around, the woman was gone. Then a minute later, here she comes again. Now she has her arms open, and she hugs me and says, "I just don't want you to think I hate you or anything. I love you, and so does God." Blech, blech, blech.

And I did a crappy thing. I told her that my baby has Down syndrome (to which she responded, "Really? It's not even noticeable!" I think I wanted her to say something stupid), and that my husband has cancer. I wanted to make her feel bad. Bad, bad, bad, I know. I just couldn't stand her self-righteous condescension. And when I told her about Michael's cancer, she did feel bad. And I felt just a little self-satisfied. I bet she's praying for all of us right now.

When it was all over, I was shaking I was so offended and livid. With all due respect to my Christian friends (and I have many), where do these people get off? Do they believe they're on commission with God, that they get points for all the people they "recruit"? This tact does nothing but offend and repel. How would it be if I went around preaching to people I didn't know, barely knew, or hell, people I do know, what I believe or don't believe? How would it be taken if I felt free to ask anyone I came into contact with, "You don't believe in God do you?"


Fortunately, Michael and I have a relationship with a family therapist, and we've gotten in touch with her about Joey. We're going to see her next week - actually first without Joey, then with him. I'm thinking I could use some help in that area as well.

Sometimes - like now - I feel like I am this close to cracking apart. It goes in cycles. It all builds up, the stress, the worry, the unending giving of myself (and I don't mean that to sound melodramatic or martyr-ish), until I reach a point of breakdown, which usually presents itself with lots of tears and a temporary feeling of hopelessness and an overwhelming feeling of weariness. Then I pull myself together and am fine for a while, until it all builds up again, and the cycle continues.

Do I sound crazy? Ack, I hope not. I don't think I'm crazy (well, sometimes I question it . . .). It's interesting, though. Michael gets these free magazines sometimes from the oncologist's office - cancer magazines. Depressing, let me tell you. He brought one home a couple weeks ago and in it was an article about how spouse/caregivers cope, and it mentioned that there is a really high rate of depression among spouse/caregivers of cancer patients. Not suprising, really. The spouse often gets lost in the shuffle. Much of everyone's attention and concern and support is directed at the cancer patient, and assuming the spouse is well, the spouse is sort of taken for granted by all the players. Yep, I can relate.

I still don't know if I would characterize what I'm dealing with as depression (and I've struggled with depression throughout my life, so it's not a foreign concept to me). But I do feel overwhelmed much of the time. I feel resentful lately, of a lot of things: the kids misbehaving; Michael not feeling well much of the time; not getting the same support, concern, etc. that Michael gets because I'm not sick. I feel tired and drained almost all the time. I realize that I'm not being a good friend to a single one of my friends - I just don't have the energy to. I feel guilty over a lot of the feelings I'm having and the many ways in which I feel I'm falling short of what I should be. Sometimes my nerves are so frayed that they feel like shards of glass right under my skin. I don't want anyone to touch me or even look at me.

And I feel like my whole existence is about giving right now. Serving my family. Not that Michael is bedridden or anything, but because of his cancer and the effects of his treatment, there is a lot of pressure on me to give, give, give - meet everyone's demands (and with six kids, the demands are endless), and I'm just tired. There's no spring feeding this well, and the well is running dry.

Another pity party, huh? I'm not even going to make excuses or try to offer justification. It is what it is. I'm sure if anyone else were in my shoes, I'd be saying, "Of course you feel that way." So, of course I feel this way.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Uncle! No, really, I've had enough! I don't think I can take anymore.

Joey is having issues. I touched on this in a recent post. He's acting out (I think that's the modern term for acting bratty), and it's become worrisome. Michael and I both realize that he needs some extra TLC, so we've been trying to give him that. Of course I want to make sure he feels loved and valued and safe. We actually had a really nice weekend which included lots of special time for Joey (but not to the exclusion of the other kids; it's a juggling act, let me tell you). And really he seemed more relaxed and happier (and more pleasant to be around) the last few days. This morning, however, he got out of bed in a bad mood. I tried to talk to him and find out what was bothering him, and all I could get out of him was that his best friend, a little girl named Lexi, was mean to him at school yesterday. But see, I'm not buying it. Lexi was out sick for over a week with pneumonia and yesterday was her first day back at school, and yesterday after school Joey was brimming over with happiness that she was back because he had missed her so. If she was mean to him (and she's such a sweet thing, I just can't see her being mean), why didn't he say anything yesterday? I concluded that he was grasping onto something concrete, something that made sense to him (even if it was only imaginary) because he is unable to understand and/or articulate what's really bothering him. In the spirit of good parenting (whatever that is) and communication, I sent a quick email off to his teacher this morning to give her a heads up that he was in a bad mood. She's been concerned about him too, so we've been trying to communicate.

She and I exchanged several emails throughout the day. Joey told her that he was in a bad mood because he was tired because his brother wouldn't let him sleep. I didn't think this was true either, because Joey went to bed about two hours before Kevin did last night, as Kevin was up late doing homework. I told her that I really think that what's at the bottom of all this is that Joey is scared about his dad. She mentioned that the school psychologist was on campus today, and would I like him to talk to Joey? Hmmmm. I was torn. I don't want to make a bigger deal out of this than it is, and I worried that having Joey sit down with a stranger and answer questions might be upsetting to him. However, Michael and I talked briefly and decided to give the go ahead.

Joey apparently enjoyed talking to the psychologist (phew!). What I got from Joey is that the doc asked him about his family, and specifically his dad, and Joey told him that his dad has cancer, that he's having chemo, that he has to have surgery, and that he'll have more chemo, and that he won't get the tube out of his arm until around Thanksgiving. I asked Joey, "When you think about Daddy having cancer, how does it make you feel?" He said, "Well, it worries me that he's going to end up with a BIG problem. And I'm afraid that I'm going to get cancer."

Ahhhhh, I just wrapped my arms around him and tried not to cry. Poor kid.

He asked me if everyone gets cancer, and I told him no, only some people.

His teacher talked to the psychologist after school and sent me this:

Dr V says that making things up is a pretty typical way for children to cope with stress. The problem is that Joey is very bright and he picks up on things that would go over the heads of most first graders. Dr. V says he needs to be more sheltered from the health issues. It's not that you are not paying enough attention it's that Joey is old for his age intellectually but not emotionally. He doesn't know what to do with these feelings. Then he said something about not being able to separate reality from fantasy at this age and that's why they make things up but he totally lost me at that point. All I heard was Blah blah blah lol. He said family therapy is always good when your family is going through a crisis. Maybe you could talk to the social worker where Michael is getting Chemo. They usually have resources available and good advice about dealing with kids and illness.

So. I honestly don't know what to say about sheltering him more from the health issues. We don't sit around and discuss M's cancer and treatment in front of the kids, but they (mostly Joey) ask questions. In the beginning, we gave them all just the very basic facts: Daddy has a sickness called cancer; he's going to get medicine for a long time that will help him get better. It's hard to shelter kids from a fucking tube hanging out of their dad's arm for months on end. I've always been a firm believer in honesty with kids, but not giving them more information than they can deal with (and that, my friends, is a difficult balancing act sometimes). So when Joey asks questions, we try to be honest with him but not overwhelm him with information. He knows M is going to have surgery soon - how could we shelter him from that? I really don't see how we can.

Out of all the kids, Joey is the one who is taking this all the hardest. Not surprising, really, given that he's always been a Daddy's boy, he's extremely bright and perceptive, and he's extremely sensitive. So his issues lately boil down to stress, and I suspect his sleep troubles have way more to do with the stress he's feeling than anything Kevin is doing. And we all know what lack of sleep can do to an already stressed person (just ask moi).

And it turns out that not only is Joey stressed out and worried about his dad, he's also worried about Finn. He's scared that Finn is going to have to have surgery again (he actually is scheduled to have tubes put in his ears in a couple weeks, which is a minor procedure, but I doubt Joey sees it that way). This came out at dinner time tonight.

So now we have to figure out if all this calls for some counseling. Do we make that big a deal out of it? I mean, would taking him to a counselor make it an even bigger deal than it already is? On the other hand, if we don't, what repercussions might that have?

This is another aspect that all along I've just stupidly assumed would go away when Michael's cancer goes away. When he's all finished with treatment at the end of this year, we can all go back to normal - us, the kids, all of us. But of course I'm seeing now that none of us is ever going to be the same again. And I worry so much about Joey now. Is this whole thing going to scar him for life? Will he carry this heavy load of stress and worry around as just part of his makeup for the rest of his life? Is that just another casualty of all this?

As for me, I'm a stress case too these days. And getting by on very little sleep. I'm full of worry - over everyone, Michael, the kids. I feel anxious much of the time. Am I depressed? I don't know. Overwhelmed? Yes. The crying jags are certainly coming on more frequently.

This is cancer. These are some of the many ways in which cancer fucks with a family.

Up for Grabs

This book, Hands of My Father by Myron Uhlberg, which I reviewed here, is now up for grabs. Michael read it. Michael liked it! (That's about all I got out of him.) If you'd like to have it, email me your mailing address (within the continental U.S.), and I'll send it to you, my treat. First come, first served.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


I've been sitting here staring at a blank screen for about ten minutes, not sure what to write. I had all these things floating around in my mind that I wanted to jot down, and now I'm just too tired to think very straight. Don't know why I'm so tired; it was a pretty uneventful weekend. I think it's an almost constant state of mental drain these days from the accumulation of things.

So tomorrow Michael goes in for the second cycle of chemo for this round. The first cycle, two weeks ago, turned out to be an almost all-day affair. I'm feeling some anxiety, just kind of trying to brace myself for the week+ ahead - it's only been the last couple of days that he started feeling okay again after the last round. It's just very unsettling, from my end, thinking about bags of poison dripping into his veins, all to make him well.


As I sat here typing a few minutes ago, the house started making that telltale crackling sound and the floor started shaking. We had what is intially being reported as a 5.0 earthquake that left me shaking. Hate 'em. I've lived through more of them than I can count, and every single one leaves me with a pounding heart. Thankfully all the kids except Kevin, who was shaken up, slept through it.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Happiness is . . .

. . . ice cream sundaes!

Friday, May 15, 2009

First Grade Seussical

The first grade classes at Joey's school put on a stage production of a "Seussical" which is a medley of Dr. Seuss stories. They did an amazing job, and I'm not just saying that. The set was fabulous, and what these first graders accomplished just blew me away. So many lines for them all to remember, plus choreography . . . it was very impressive.

The photos don't do it justice, but here's part of the set:

And here's Joey in purple - he played Ned in One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, and he also made a cameo appearance in The Foot Book.

Michael worked late (but was able to go see the morning production yesterday), so I went with my sister-in-law and Finn, and left Kevin in charge of the three girls at home. I half-jokingly told him that if he put them all to bed, I'd give him a bonus. I did not at all expect him to put them to bed; I put a movie in for them before I left and figured the house would be trashed when I got home. However, when I returned, it was to a very quiet house. Kevin had helped all three girls brush their teeth, made sure they all went potty, read them stories, and had them all tucked into bed just a few minutes before we got home at 7:30. Seriously!


Joey is going through . . . something. He's acting out. At home for a while now, and now come to find out at school as well. At home it's stuff like bullying his sisters (pinching, hitting, pushing, etc.), lying (about having done his homework), stealing (he took some coins of Kevin's that didn't belong to him and hid them, and I caught him red-handed taking a shiny new penny from the bowl of change we keep in the kitchen - not a huge deal, but it's the principle of it), engaging in general mischief (like stuffing markers down the toilet; and it has recently become clear since that toilet keeps backing up that the markers are very likely stuck in the toilet itself and the toilet's gonna have to come up - ugh), and being highly emotional. At school he's become a tattletale, tattling about every single perceived slight he perceives that he has been dealt (and also, according to his teacher, when he tattles and she investigates, it usually turns out that Joey started it with the other kid).

Last night the first grade put on a play at school (more on that in a separate post). After the play, the families went back to the classroom for milk and cookies. When we were ready to leave, Joey's teacher said, "Joey, let's have a little talk outside . . . mom, why don't you join us?" So I followed them out, smiling and thinking she was going to tell him what a great kid he is and how fantastic he did in the play, but turns out, she wanted to talk to him about having hurt a classmate's feelings before the play when they were changing into their costumes, by making fun of the way he talks.

I was so taken aback. First of all, seeing the crushed look on his face as his teacher reprimanded him broke my heart. I felt his pain, but I couldn't protect him. What he did was wrong, and he needed to be told that. I felt as if I were being reprimanded . . . I mean, really, it all comes back to me and Michael, right? Our kid's behavior is going down the toilet because we're not parenting him effectively.

A lot of this stuff is typical "kids will be kids" stuff, I guess. So I don't want to make mountains out of molehills here. But the fact is, this is all very out of character for Joey. He's always been a very sweet kid, very loving and happy. Sensitive and emotional? Yes. But not mean, and not obnoxious. It wasn't all that long ago that we went to his parent-teacher conference at school and his teacher told us how "He's everybody's friend," and "He's so helpful to everyone."

I think he's unhappy. I think he's feeling lost in the shuffle. Partly because of where he falls in the family line-up, and partly because there is so much going on here, so many other big things that are pulling Michael's and my focus and energy elsewhere. And he's clearly feeling it and reacting to it.

I'm troubled. Enough so that I tossed and turned over it all night last night.

I don't even have any epiphanies here, no neat little moral to wrap up this post with. We need to make a better effort with him, that's clear. But those are just words, and much easier said than done.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Thoughts on OBs c-sections, and modern maternity care

Anna commented on my twins' birth story post with this:

I keep wondering about the hospital staff and their attitudes. Do you think they are actually malicious? Seems unlikely... Or just don't know any better? Or know better but want to take the path of least resistance (which often means C-section) to avoid law suits? Which is it? You must have thought about it a lot...

Here's my take:

No, I don't think that doctors and hospital staff are generally malicious. I do, however, think that a lot of doctors - OBs in particular - have a God-complex. I've experienced this firsthand with my own births, and also with the births I attended when I was setting out to become a doula.

I think that doctors have decided over time that they have come up with a better way for women to have babies than what nature intended.

I think the whole climate surrounding birth in western culture has generally become one of fear. It's become something doctors see as a process that needs to be controlled and managed, and this way of looking at it and treating it feeds on society's view that birth is a dangerous undertaking, and one that has potential catastrophe lurking just around the corner at all times. Very few people trust the natural process of pregnancy and birth anymore. Very few women trust their own bodies to do what they were made to do: have babies.

I believe that at last count, the c-section rate in the U.S. stood at about 33%. That means that roughly one in three births ends in c-section. I find that apalling. There are many reasons behind the sky-high c-section rate: convenience (doctors like a controlled process where the outcome is in their hands; women like to have a say in when their baby will actually be born); repeat c-sections (VBACs are once again becoming a thing of the past, so we're getting back to "once a c-section, always a c-section"); fear (women would like to avoid labor and the prospect of pushing something that big out of a place that small is terrifying because women have lost faith in themselves); and the bottom line, money. The fact of the matter is that maternity units tend to be the biggest profit centers for most hospitals, and c-sections bring in more money for the doctors and the hospitals than vaginal births do. There is also the matter of lawsuits. Yes, the high c-section rate is also driven in large part by the desire on the part of the doctors and the hospitals to avoid lawsuits. People don't tend to sue over c-sections, because they are viewed as life-saving measures. If a c-section is performed, then everything possible was done to preserve the well-being of the mother and baby, or so it seems (of course, people rarely talk about the very serious risks associated with c-section, like infection, breathing problems in the baby because they didn't go through the birth canal which stimulates and prepares a baby for breathing on the outside), surgical injury to other internal organs, blood clots, etc.

Hospital maternity care (and I'm speaking in generalities here; I realize that there are exceptions to this out there, but they're few and far between) is an assembly-line process. Once a woman is admitted to the hospital in labor, she is put on an unspoken time clock. She is expected to dilate a centimeter per hour, and if she doesn't, her labor will be augmented with artificial hormones, which have their own risks. Women are generally not allowed to give birth in optimal birthing positions either. Although women are no longer tied to the bed lying flat on their backs like in days gone by, they are generally still restricted to a semi-reclining position. The optimal position to give birth is upright: gravity obviously helps a baby descend, and squatting opens the pelvis to its widest possible position. Allowing a woman to give birth in an upright position alone could do away with a lot of c-sections. Instead, women are made to push in a semi-lying down position, where the pelvis is not completely opened and gravity is not helping the baby descend, and when this position doesn't work for a lot of women, they're told that their baby is too big and a c-section is necessary for the baby's well-being. And then the women are just thankful that the doctors saved their baby's life.

There's also the matter of withholding food and drink during labor. This is an archaic practice that was first implemented in the days of twilight sleep, when women were tied or strapped (literally) to their beds during labor and given a concoction of drugs that didn't actually knock them out but would leave them with no memory of the experience. Withholding food and drink during labor has continued to be common protocol, and the reason given is usually that they don't want the mother to aspirate the contents of her stomach in the event of an emergency c-section (where general anethesia would be used). What an awful practice. Let's go into this thinking the worst. It's silly and ridiculous anyway. Think of all the emergency surgeries that take place as the result of car accidents - should we all just never eat because of the remote chance we might need emergency surgery at any moment? A person put under general anesthesia has their airway intubated, so the risk of aspiration is pretty much nill. Withholding nourishment to a woman in labor is cruel. It's basically preventing her from taking in fuel when she is doing possibly the hardest, most demanding physical work of her life. And then they wonder why she's too exhausted to push - in a semi-lying down position, no less - after hours in labor and no nourishment. Well, let's just do a c-section! That solves that problem.

Yeah, I'm kind of passionate about this :) I really think that anyone who wants to know more about birth in this culture should see Ricki Lake's documentary, The Business of Being Born, and/or read Suzanne Arms's Immaculate Deception II. Very eye-opening stuff.


Thank you.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I suddenly find myself in a very bad mood.

Maybe it's because I have a sneaking suspicion that a certain someone, hiding behind "Anonymous," is trying to get some point across to me (and/or my readers) here on my blog.

Maybe it's because someone said that they're "praying for a miracle" with regard to Michael. I can't speak for Michael, but as for me, it just irritates the shit out of me. While I truly appreciate the obvious love and concern behind the sentiment, I'm so weary of people expecting divine intervention to make anything better. A miracle? Really? So when Michael beats this and is well again, it will be a miracle? Or better yet, it will mean that certain people's prayers have been answered? Doesn't it follow, then, that that would mean that this God people believe in must hold Michael in higher esteem than all the people who have died horrible deaths despite prayers? And what if Michael doesn't beat this? Does God get the blame?

Maybe it's because our effing dishwasher broke down today. The top-of-the-line one that we bought and had installed when we moved into this house. The one that's only four freaking years old a dishwasher should last longer than that, no?).

Ack. I'm going to bed.


Did you know that a person undergoing chemo isn't supposed to be exposed to any live viruses, even indirectly? I learned that this morning. I was back at the pediatrician (every week, I tell you! At least this time it wasn't for a sick child) because the twins were due for some vaccinations that they'll need to enter kindergarten later this year. Apparently they were due for tetanus and MMR, but the nurse told me that the doctor had put a note in both of their charts not to do the MMR at this time because it's a live virus and "father is undergoing chemo." Huh. So I guess my telling the pediatrician that Michael has cancer turned out to be for a useful purpose after all, and not just me purging! Really, silly as this sounds, I was touched that they made a note of it in order to protect Michael.

The girls did pretty well with the shots they did get (tetanus and the TB skin prick). Daisy, our little emotional wreck, was quite calm and didn't even whimper. Annabelle, our little terrorist, screamed and cried and had to be held down by me and a nurse. The nurses gave them (and Lilah, who was along for the ride) all kinds of toys and stickers for being so good.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Q and A #11

Anna at It's Only A Theory sent me these questions:
How did you manage to avoid a C-section with the twins?

In a nutshell, I just refused to consent to a c-section. The doctors had all kinds of reasons why a c-section was "necessary" but I knew it wasn't necessary. A c-section was one of the main things I wanted to avoid if at all possible - for many reasons, among them the fact that I knew that VBACs are becoming a thing of the past again and if I ever hoped to have another baby after the twins, I didn't want to have to succumb to a repeat c-section, and also, I just couldn't fathom trying to recover from major abdominal surgery on top of trying to care for two newborns and two other kids at home. So I did my homework and learned about what really necessitates and c-section and what doesn't. I spent almost my entire labor arguing with the doctors. I'm going to post the twins' birth story, as I wrote it shortly after they were born, below for anyone who cares to read it. I'll say, too, that out of all of my babies' births, I still look back on the twins' birth as the most traumatic, and it was a big reason I chose home birth for the next two (although, actually, we had decided on a home birth for the twins, before we knew it was twins).

Birth Story of Our Twins
Born September 22, 2004
Annabelle Jeanette, 2:21 p.m. 5 lbs. 12 oz. 18 inches
Daisy Estrella, 2:39 p.m. 6 lbs. 1 oz., 19 inches
Finding out I was expecting twins was one of the biggest shocks of my life. There was just no reason to have suspected twins - no family history, no fertility treatment. Michael and I wanted another baby and were thrilled when I got pregnant the first cycle we tried, but nothing could have prepared us for the news of twins. We had hired a midwife already with the plan of having ain home birth after having had two pretty unsatisfying hospital birth experiences. However, I did plan on seeing an OB for the first part of my pregnancy - that was just my comfort zone I guess. At my first prenatal appt. with the OB, during a routine dating ultrasound, I got the shocking news that I was carrying twins. Michael wasn't even with me, as I didn't know beforehand that I would be having a u/s that day. When we found out we were having twins, our plans for a home birth went down the toilet and I was crushed.

First picture of the twins

Although my OB continually warned me of a complicated pregnancy because I was carrying twins, I really had a pretty healthy pregnancy, with the exception of developing both PIH and PUPPS during the last few weeks. I fought hard to be treated as an individual rather than being subjected to routine protocols and procedures just because I was having twins.

I went into labor at 37 weeks + 5 days. I realized I was in labor a little after midnight. My contractions were coming about every 8 minutes and growing more and more intense. I dozed on and off through the night, and when Michael's alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. for him to get up for work, I told him I was in labor. We were both very excited.

We left the house at about 7:30 a.m., and by then my contractions were 2-3 minutes apart and really hurting. We called our doula and asked her to meet us at the hospital. Kevin, who was 7 at the time, was very excited to know that his sisters were going to be born that day. Joey, then age 2, didn't really understand any of it. We got the boys dropped off at a babysitter's and made our way to the hospital.

I knew that because I was having twins, I would have to deliver in the OR, but we were able to talk the nurses into letting me labor in one of the nice birthing suites. It seemed like we had to make a case for everything we wanted because of all the lame hospital policies. Every time I had a request or preference, I had to argue for what I wanted.

When I was admitted, I was dilated to 5 cm. I had already had to agree to an epidural because Baby B was breech, and Dr. Zepeda said he would not try to turn her unless I had an epidural. I was bugged because I know a lot of times the second baby will turn around on its own after the first baby is born, but he wasn’t going to budge on that - he said either an epidural or a c-section. It made me so angry that I was given ultimatums like that - it seemed like so many decisions had been made that way. Because I was having twins, I had to give up a lot of control over how my birth would go and it was very upsetting to me.

Anyhow, when we arrived at the hospital, Dr. Linzey was on call - my former OB/GYN whom I had left after Joey was born because he and I had butted heads on some things that were very important to me at the end of my pregnancy with Joey. Dr. Zepeda was on call the night Joey was born I liked him so much that I chose him to be my OB when I found out I was pregnant again. Dr. Z had promised me in that he would be at my birth even if he was not on call when I was ready to deliver - he left instructions in my chart that he was to be reached when I was admitted. I had left a message with his answering service earlier that morning, and when we got there I was n surprised and a little alarmed to hear that they were still trying to reach him. I did not want to deal with Dr. Linzey.

By 11:30 a.m. I was dilated to 7 cm and was given an epidural. Dr. Z still had not responded to attempts to reach him. I was really feeling disappointed about the epidural because for the first time I really think I could have made it without one. With Kevin, I was induced and begging for an epidural by the time I got to 2 cm. With Joey, I tried to go natural but after 19 hours of labor, I "hit the wall" got an epidural. This time, though, I stayed on top of the contractions and never felt like I was close to not being able to handle it. My doula took a picture of me laughing between contractions.

Me, in labor at the hospital

Dr. Linzey came into our room and was very friendly at first. He talked about turning Baby B once Baby A was born, and he also talked about the possibility of a breech delivery of Baby B if she wouldn’t turn. I was completely open to that, as a c-section was my worst fear. I knew I would be going home with 2 newborns to care for in addition to my other 2 kids, and I had no family or help. I couldn’t fathom how I would manage to try and recover from a c-section on top of being on my own to take care of my kids and house (Michael would only be able to take a week or so off work). Then Dr. Linzey asked about the babies’ sizes and I told him that my last ultrasound almost 3 weeks prior had estimated Baby A (the presenting baby) to be approx. 5 lbs, and Baby B to be approx. 6 lbs. His whole tune suddenly changed then. He said Baby B could not bein delivered breech if she was a pound bigger than the first baby. I reminded him that: (a) the ultrasound had been done almost 3 weeks ago and a lot could have changed between then and now, (b) the u/s weight estimates were just that - estimates - and the report even said "+ or - 12 oz.", and (c) what happened to turning Baby B to a head down position? He got a copy of the u/s report from my file and pretty much became closed to the whole idea of even trying to turn the second baby. He had his mind made up that I should just have a c-section, period. And he was really quite a bully about it, insinuating that I was not making decisions in the best interests of my babies, and saying "We want these kids to be able to count to 10 someday." (He later used this same exact line on a friend of mine and I was appalled to realize that that’s all it was: a line, a scare tactic.) So we had gone from a very high chance of delivering both babies vaginally to pretty much no possibility of anything but a c-section. I was so upset I couldn’t even talk anymore, I was just crying and crying. Michael argued with him and Dr. L was just a total jerk. I still wanted to know where the hell MY dr. was. I felt like if I could just get Dr. Z there, we could clear the whole thing up and go back to the possibility of delivering both babies vag. Dr. Z and I had talked about it at length, even taking into consideration that Baby B might be a little bigger than Baby A, and he was definitely more open to work with me and help me achieve what I wanted, at least as far as avoiding a c-section. So I’m laying there bawling, Michael’s pissed, and finally Dr. L left the room to "give us some time."

Because of the PIH, my blood pressure was being constantly monitored, and by this time it was sky high - something like 190/110. Obviously our conversation with Dr. L didn’t help matters, but even after he left my bp wasn’t going down and they were afraid I was going to go into seizures, so they had to put me on Magnesium Sulphate then.

Finally, a little while later Dr. Z showed up. I felt such a huge relief. But suddenly he seemed to have changed from caring, supportive OB to "I'm in charge here, I know what's best," and scolded, "Lisa, we talked about this . . ." I panicked a little - what, was he suddenly on Dr. L’s side? I told him yes we had talked about it and I reminded him that he had said he was willing to work with me and help me have the birth I wanted. He finally agreed to attempt a vag birth and hope that Baby B could be turned.

Around 2:00 I suddenly felt like I needed to push even though I was completely numb. The nurse checked me and said "We’re ready to have a baby here!" So they wheeled me on the L & D bed down the hall, around a few corners, and into the operating room. What a trip that was, to be in this cold, sterile, brightly lit operating room to have my babies. At the last second, right before we were about the enter the OR, they said my doula could not go in. That came out of left field and completely caught me off guard. I was so angry - it seemed like they had intentionally waited until the last possible second to spring that one on us so we wouldn’t have time to argue about it. What the f***??? Dr. Z and everyone else knew all along that I had a doula and no one ever said anything about her not being allowed in the OR where I would give birth - and where I would especially need her!

They sent Michael to another room to put scrubs on and I was wheeled into the OR. As it turned out, an OR birth requires 2 doctors to be in attendance so guess who else was there besides Dr. Z. Yep, Dr. L, my arch enemy. They weren’t going to let me actually deliver on the regular birth bed, I had to be moved onto the operating table. It was really narrow and hard and I was flat on my back. I kept saying "I can’t push like this, I need to sit up," but the nurses were too busy hooking things up and getting things ready to pay me much attention, plus after my skirmish with the highly respected Dr. Linzey, the nurses really became pretty bitchy and cold to me. Finally they did kind of elevate my upper body with pillows to make it easier to push. For some reason that I’m still not sure of, I started crying as soon as they got me into the OR, and I think I cried the entire time we were in there. It was so overwhelming.

Michael in scrubs and gown

I asked if they could bring a mirror in so I could see my babies being born. As soon as they put the mirror at the foot of the table I could see Baby A’s head with lots of dark hair. Dr. Z told me I could start pushing. I pushed so hard I literally saw stars, but I couldn’t really feel myself pushing because I was so numb. Even so, it was only 2 contractions before Baby A was out. Annabelle Jeanette was born at 2:21 p.m., weighing 5 lbs. 12 oz. and was 18 inches long. They laid her on my chest and Michael cut her cord. I held her for a minute before a nurse took her away to clean her up and weigh and measure her, and then she was brought back to me and I got to hold her for a few more minutes before the next baby was ready to be born.

Now Dr. Linzey started manually trying to turn Baby B from the outside. From what I could see, it looked really painful, although I was numb, and at that point I was glad I had an epidural. How ironic it was that he was the one turning her since he was so set on doing a c-section. It only took a few minutes for him to get her head down and then Dr. Z broke her water and pretty soon I could see her head - another head with dark hair! He told me to go ahead and push, and again I pushed her out in just a few minutes. Daisy Estrella was born 18 minutes after her sister, at 2:39 p.m. She weighed 6 lbs. 1 oz. and was 19 inches long. So there was a 5 ounce difference between the two of them - not even close to a pound. No episiotomy, and no tearing. I didn’t get to see or hold Daisy right away. For some reason, they took her away right away and I didn’t get to see her until I was ready to be moved into the recovery room. After Daisy was born, they brought Annabelle back to me and I tried to nurse her for the first time. During all this, Michael was pulled in 3 different directions, between me and 2 babies. It kind of sucked. A lot of the time I was just left there on the table with no one holding my hand or paying me any attention or anything. I was (and am) still so angry that they wouldn’t let my doula be there with me.

When I was still in labor, we had been told that I would have to go to the recovery room for an hour or 2 after the birth and that the babies would have to go to the nursery for observation. I made a total stink about that until they gave in and said they could make an exception and let the babies stay with me in the recovery room. I held and nursed both babies in the recovery room. We were there for an hour or so and then I was taken to a private postpartum room. Michael stayed for a few hours and then went home to be with the boys.

My blood pressure was still pretty high so they wanted to keep me on the mag-sulph for 24 hours. During that time, someone came every hour to draw blood from me, and every hour the nurse made me get up and pee into a measuring bowl in the toilet. My blood pressure was also taken every hour, and my reflexes checked. Mag-sulph is some wicked stuff, and I spent the next 24 hours in a zombie state, just feeling incredibly weak and sick and out of it.

On that second day, Annabelle and Daisy started nursing really well, and for the rest of my stay in the hospital it seemed like if I wasn’t nursing one, I was nursing the other. On the second night I somehow managed to get them both in bed with me propped up on pillows so could nurse them at the same time. The three of us fell asleep that way and it was nice. Of course I got a talking-to from the nurse about how dangerous it is to sleep with a baby in bed with me. The nurses kept trying to convince me to let the babies go to the nursery so I could get some rest, and it just upset me. I had worked so hard to grow these 2 babies and to give birth to them - why did they think I wanted to be separated from them? I was also cautioned by more than one of the nurses that I would have to supplement with formula, that it would be too hard to breastfeed twins. Well, they didn’t know a thing about me or how determined I am. I never supplemented my first two babies, and I wasn’t about to go down that road with my twins. I ended up nursing them for 18 months - until I was about 3 months into my next pregnancy - and never did a drop of formula pass their lips.

Annabelle and Daisy

All the nurses were just amazed that I had the twins vaginally. One of them told me that there had been 5 or 6 twin deliveries that week and they had all been c-sections except me. How sad is that?

After 2 days in the hospital we were finally able to go home. What a relief that was! The whole experience made me never want to step foot in another hospital.


And how did you guys survive the first few months after they were born?

Honestly, it's all a blur now, 4 1/2 years later. The twins were born in September, so Kevin was going to school every day and I sent Joey to a babysitter a couple days a week, and that helped. I know that we were just very tired for a long time!

Childhood and other misadventures

At first, when I was informed that when I write about my childhood that it comes across as "drama-queenish" and "Jerry Springer-ish" (exact words), my first impulse was to take a break from writing for a while, because the comments hurt me and suddenly made me feel very self-conscious about the things I write about. I felt a little raw and over-exposed and a little stomped on. So, I thought, "Well, fine, I just won't write anymore. Not for a while anyway. And if and when I do write again, I'll make sure to keep it all light and cheerful."

But I've been doing a lot of reflecting and soul-searching since those comments were made to me, and now I just feel the need to explain myself. Which pisses me off, because why should I have to explain/justify/defend myself on my own freaking blog?


I question the characterizations of "drama-queenish" and "Jerry Springer-ish" when I write about my childhood. What does this mean? Does it mean that it makes my childhood (and, I assume, other events in my life) appear to have been cheap and unseemly? White-trash-ish? Because if that's the case, well, then I've managed to convey the true sense of what growing up was like for me. Does this make some people uncomfortable when I talk about these things? I suppose it does. I suppose there are people who, even if they believe my stories, feel that these things should not be put out there for public consumption. Why, though? Because it makes YOU uncomfortable?

I can't help but think that those who feel uncomfortable with some of the things I write about have their own issues that perhaps they need to explore.

The truth is, not all of us spent our childhoods playing in organized sports and going to sleep-away camp. Not all of us were supported or assisted by our parents into adulthood. Not all of us had families that acted as our own personal cheering sections in life. Some of us got royally screwed. Some of us were laying awake at night listening to our alcoholic fathers beat the shit out of our mothers. Some of us were little kids who were trying to shore up our emotionally fragile parents and then suffering the brunt of their wrath at the injustice of their own lives. Does that make you uncomfortable?

See, the things is, I lived it, so now I get to talk about it.

Maybe the comments really meant that when I talk about this unpleasant stuff, it reflects badly on me. It makes me look trashy. I would hope that instead, it's a testament to my resiliency. That it speaks volumes about my ability to overcome a lot of adversity. I've been through a lot of shit, but here I am, living a good life, making good choices for myself, claiming my own happiness and taking responsibility for my life. I would hope that some people see that.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

I woke up this morning and stretched, glancing at the clock on my bedside table. Wow, everyone had let me sleep until 9:00 a.m.! I can't remember the last time I slept in that late, and it had been a restful night too, as miraculously, I didn't remember Finn waking up at all during the night. Next to the clock on my bedside table was a vase of fresh flowers and my grande mocha from Starbucks, waiting for me. How did he manage to sneak that stuff in without waking me?

I got up from bed and wandered out to the kitchen where I found a happy, freshly diapered Finn in his high chair being fed breakfast while Michael simultaneously was making breakfast for the rest of us. The other kids were busy tidying their rooms, making their beds, etc.

Breakfast was delicious - Michael made breakfast burritos stuffed with eggs, sausage and cheese and fried potatoes on the side. He did all the cleanup too. Afterwards, they all sat me down in the living room and plied me with cards and gifts. The twins had made me these beautiful silk scarves that they hand painted at preschool. Joey had a fused glass pin he made for me at school. Michael gave me a little music box that plays John Lennon's Imagine (he said to me, "Imagine our future."). I felt like a queen!

Nobody would let me lift a finger all day. Everyone told me, "Just rest and relax today - it's your day!" Wow. I did some reading, and even managed to get some "me" time when I went out to get an hour-long massage this aftenoon. All I had to do was nurse the baby a few times, Michael took care of the rest. I didn't change a single diaper or wipe a single bottom today. And the kids just seemed to know that what would make me happiest was their being on their best behavior all day - no bickering, no whining, no tantrums. It was unreal. Michael barbecued some chicken breasts for dinner and the kids even ate their vegetables with no complaints!

Michael and the kids cleaned up the dinner dishes while I took a nice hot bubble bath. After we tucked all the kids into bed, I sat down at my laptop to record the events of this special, special day.


Then I woke up. Daisy and Annabelle were jumping up and down on our bed singing "You have to stay in bed Mama!"

Shit, it was all a freaking dream. I look at the clock - 6:30 a.m. Sigh.

Michael got up and went to go get coffee and I tried to remember how many times I had gotten up with Finn last night. Two? Three? I think three, and on the third time, I brought him into our bed because I just couldn't get up one more time. There he was snuggled up beside me now, very sweet . . . only the back of his jammies felt suspiciously damp. Sure enough, he had pooped through his diaper and up his back and all over our sheets, necessitating the immediate stripping down of him and our bed.

Breakfast was delicious - Michael made breakfast burritos stuffed with eggs, sausage and cheese, and fried potatoes on the side. Daisy went into tantrum mode because she didn't like what was served to her for breakfast, so she got sent to her room in hysterics. Michael did all the cleanup. After breakfast, they all sat me down in the living room and plied me with cards and gifts. The twins had made these beautiful silk scarves that they hand painted at preschool - only they didn't actually want to give them to me. Joey made a fused glass pin for me at school. Michael gave me a little music box that plays John Lennon's Imagine (he said to me, "Imagine our future.").

Afterwards Michael took Kevin to get a haircut. I did laundry and made beds while the kids played outside. Lilah came hobbling in at one point, with that telltale "I pooped in my pants" gait. Ugh. I got her cleaned up and when Michael and Kevin got home, I made my escape - I went grocery shopping. While at the store in the baby food aisle, I accidentally dropped a jar of baby food and it exploded like a little orange gooey bomb, splattering my feet and shins with baby food and broken glass, leaving a nice bleeding cut on my toe (I was wearing my usual flip flops). I figured this must be penance for not making my own baby food like I swore I was going to do with this baby.

When I got home, almost the second I walked in the door, loaded down with groceries, Kevin started complaining to me that he was bored. Bored?! With all the toys and books and games and brothers and sisters he has, and he's freaking bored? How is this possible?

After I put the groceries away, I ran out once more to get my truck washed because it was driving me crazy how filthy it was. When I got home, we all hung out together for a little while . . . and as I was tickling Annabelle, I noticed that the back of her dress was wet. Wha . . . ??? She had peed in her panties, which were soaked, and she was just sitting in them that way! For crying out loud. So I got her undressed and threw her in the shower (okay, I didn't literally throw her). Then I bathed the other two girls and then ran a bath for Joey.

Michael barbecued chicken breasts for dinner. I didn't even bother putting vegetables on any of the kids' plates because they never eat them and I'd rather save my energy for other battles. Daisy refused to eat any dinner, and Annabelle said to her, "Daze, maybe you need to go to your room like you did at breakfast." Lilah also refused to eat anything placed before her and kept asking for a sandwich instead but I got out of the short-order cook business a while back, so no sandwich, no dinner.

I cleaned up the dinner dishes and put Finn to bed while Michael got the girls ready for bed. Then we got the boys to bed, I took a quick shower, and here I am. Michael is downstairs working.

I'm not complaining - I'm really not. It was a perfectly lovely Mother's Day. It's not like I expected to be queen for a day or anything. I'm just saying, the reality never quite lives up to those Hallmark commercials, does it?

Anyway, I'm very blessed, I love my family and they love me, blahdy blahdy blah. Happy Mother's Day :)