How my friend makes magic and underwear

Magic is a big topic of conversation in our house these days. I stumbled upon it as a great way to explain to Jo some of the finer mysteries of life. A tree’s magic is that it can grow up so strong and tall and not fall down, the power-drill’s magic is that it can make screws turn around so fast. Lo and behold, Jo has magic of his own. I like dwelling on his more utilitarian magic–turning anger that wants to kick me into punching a pillow. He prefers more, well…magical magic. Like spinning a necklace into a ninja fire ball thrower.

I bring up magic, because I want to tell you a story about my friend Lauren.

Lauren has lots of magic.

I’ve known her since early days—when glasses with patterned pastel frames were commonplace. She wound up being the one person from my hometown who went to the small college I chose. And during those confused, elated, depressed years, she was my touchstone. I would call her sometimes just to say, “I need you to remind me who I am.” And she would.

MeandLor

Here we are. I remember how excited we were that we made the very privileged, all-color pages of our high school yearbook.

She also saved me once. My senior year of college, I careened into this stark reality: if one doesn’t work over Christmas break and has very little savings, then one will not have money to pay February’s rent. In a panic, I dropped my part in the student-written play (a modern take on math and iambic pentameter!) so that I could take on as many extra hours at the coffee shop as they could give me. Even so, I knew I’d still come up short.

Lauren was one of the people I confided in about this, because I knew she knew. Unlike many at our fancy liberal-arts college, she knew the pit of worry called “I’m almost out of money.” That’s why it was particularly unexpected when she stepped into my frenzy and said, “God wants to give you $200.” I laughed. Great. Where do I sign up?

She repeated herself, and held out a check to me, signed by her hand.

She explained that every month she saves a little bit of “God Money” and waits for inspiration on what to do with it. She knew I needed it, and it was mine, no strings attached. It was exactly how much I needed to make rent. Her mercy left me in tears.

This is Lauren’s magic.

It inspired me to start my own God Money account. Now I too get to wave a wand over the person of my choosing and sprinkle God Money on them when they most need and least expect it.

Lauren lost her job 3 months ago. It was this really awesome job sewing prototypes of bags for people who need a prototype of a bag sewn up for them on some big industrial sewing machine. Turns out that there isn’t enough work sewing bag prototypes, and so she was laid off.

To say the least, it has been a sucky time for her, but she’s still doing her thing. She stares reality right in the face, feels every jab it has to offer and saves back enough lightness for her magic.

As she recently wrote in a blog post of her own,

i could tell you all the things i’ve done to meet people and make connections and find work, but this isn’t really about that. i just want to tell you how it feels.

job hunting is like doing a job i hate and am terrible at and then not getting paid for it. it’s grueling, merciless, impersonal. i want connection and satisfaction and rest. i never imagined a full-time job would feel like rest.

In the doldrums of The Grueling and The Merciless and The Impersonal, she makes underwear. Awesome, up-cycled underwear that has its own personality and name. Meet “Let’s Get Physical.”

letsgetphysical

(YES! We made it to the underwear part of the story.)

I keep expecting, week after week, to get a text from Lor with lots of exclamation marks, declaring that she finally got one of the jobs she’s applied for, but no dice.

What I do hear from her is that she’s having to move out of her apartment and into a friend’s basement to save money. And then I pop open my Instagram and see that she just made these:

greenmilkglass

Name for these beauties? Green Milk Glass.

I think even Jo would agree with me–that there is some magic.

Lauren is the brand of Creative Person who has remarkable patience and attention to detail. She reads all the instructions before she tries something new. And then she goes slowly. With intention. She’s inclined towards things that require a calm, precise, steady hand like sewing. (I am nothing like this. And that is one of the reasons I adore her. I’m the bull in the china shop. She’s the … er … china maker?!)

I remember her telling me about this pair of underwear she had made for herself months ago and how insanely comfortable it was. I chuckled. Homemade underwear and comfort were not two ideas I had considered in the same sentence before.

She kept at the underwear thing in exactly the same way I’ve watched her quietly stick with things I’d give up on after 5 minutes. She kept slowly and deftly improving, until she was so reliably churning out delightful, comfy undies that she decided to hang up her shingle.

Lately, she gets some satisfaction in creating these beauties. Thank God, in the dark times of unemployment and job application rejections, that she has her underwear.

You may be picking up on my original and very sneaky reason for telling this story. I wanted to throw a virtual underwear party–to inspire you to buy some of Lauren’s Superpowerstudio Underwear for yourselves and for your homemade-underwear-loving friends, because I adore Lauren and want her magic to circle back to her so that she can, say, afford an ice cream cone now and then during these heavy, unemployed times. I do hope you’re inspired, and that your bottom and your friends’ bottoms get to share in the joy.

I mean, wouldn’t you shriek with delight if someone gave you these?!

oregami

I mean, she even folds the stuff like origami.

But after telling her story here, I see that the magic I can offer her is much bigger than that.

Lauren, I started out wanting to motivate underwear buyers (and I hope they come in droves!) but even more than that, I want to give you the gift of being seen. I have watched you these past months. You’ve shown gratitude and honesty in the bleak face of uncertainty. I know the days have been heavy and long and lonely. And in the midst of it all, you keep showing me what grace looks like. (As if teaching me mercy was wasn’t enough!!) Grace looks like creating dinosaur underwear in the midst packing up the apartment you love but can no longer afford.

DinoPow indeed, old friend.

You flounder and flail just like the rest of us. And you spin unemployment into underwear.

I could watch your magic show all day.

My thank you note to Zoloft, and some constructive criticism

Dear Zoloft,

I wasn’t sad to see you go, but saying goodbye last week stirred up some feelings for me.

I know it won’t come as any surprise that I have a love-hate relationship with you. Remember how much I didn’t want you either time? And yet both times, I wound up profoundly grateful. You stepped up when I needed you to. You yanked me up from the flat heaviness. So thanks. You’re really good at that.

I’m sure you knew it was coming, so here it is—I have a few bones to pick. I’m not sure if you’re open to feedback, but since we’ve had such close relationship on and off for the last 5 years, I feel pretty qualified to give it.

Do you think it’s really necessary, when lifting someone from the pit of despair, to simultaneously smash their already-ailing libido down into the mud with the heel of your boot? I’m betting you’d have a way better reception with, say, every depressed and anxious person on earth if you could figure out how to focus on the job you were invited in to do rather than mucking around with one of the most basic and sublime pleasures of life.

And another thing: I think you should consider listing anxiety as a common side-effect on your label. That way, I would have felt less like a strung-out psychopath trying to explain my symptoms to the pharmacist.

“Hmmm,” she said, eyes scanning down the computer screen. “Nope. I don’t see anxiety listed here as a common or uncommon side effect.” She read the whole list for me, none of which I identified with until the last. “Mask-like face?” she asked. “That’s what it feels like?” Well, sort of.

So here’s the deal, Zoloft. After I started taking you the second time, my body started to feel like it was constantly in a war zone. Twitchy. On-guard. The muscles in my arms, hands, face and neck were taught and achy, my mind sharp and over-alert. So sure, mask-like-face covers a bit of that, but how about just including anxiety in the list, or maybe body-like-a-war-zone? You may be surprised to know that I’m not the only one who had this experience with you. After I left about 300 phone messages and finally found a psychiatrist who specialized in post-partum mental health and was covered by my insurance, (BLESS HER) she told me that anxiety is a relatively common side effect of Zoloft.

Believe me, I know there’s a lot more to you than potential for anxiety, but you might as well be up front about it so that people like me aren’t so blindsided, you know?

I really appreciate you reading this far – if you have – and let me please re-iterate that I really also appreciate you. Small, green, ovoid you. Once we sorted out all the anxiety stuff this last time, you really did the trick. And while I’m glad I don’t need you anymore, I have to remind myself that we may meet again.

I also want to acknowledge that I know it must be hard for you. I mean, you’re this awesome little pill that saves people from deep dark pits of hell and yet tons of people dread you and talk smack about you because we tell ourselves that you are a sure sign of our failure. That must really suck, since Tylenol and antihistamines and others in your cohort don’t really get that reaction. I’m sure you wish we could just see you more like that—a tool for coping with a symptom. Just so you know, I know that’s what you are. And I’ll have to remind myself of that if I need you again. But I hope I don’t. Because—no offense—I will feel like a failure of a person when I’m filling my prescription for you. Anyway, just know that I realize that’s my stuff, not yours. You really are good at your job. I know that. Lot’s of people know that.

Thanks for reading. I do hope you’ll consider some of my suggestions. And thank you, really, for all your help.

Take care,
Steph

Slow-cooker bone broth for dummies

I love food. And I have a love/hate relationship with all things related to food preparation. To be honest, since Cal was born I skew strongly to the hate side of that relationship. This is why I instantly replied YES PLEASE! to an email I got from a personal chef named Brooke, asking if I would like to try her organic soups. I’ve never gotten an email like this before, but Brooke sought me out because I’m a doula and she and her business partner are trying to cater to new moms in the Bay Area.

When someone else is cooking, I’m pretty easy to please. Even so, I guzzled down Brooke’s chicken vegetable soup (made with bone broth!) like my life depended on it. It wasn’t just good. It was a complex-flavor-y, nutrient-dense delight. Cal kept wanting MOWAAHH, and as I spooned it into his open-baby-bird mouth, I did what many mothers are amazing at doing: I transformed a really nice moment into a guilt-laden one.

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Here is a metaphorical cup full of guilt…er…bone broth.

Photo by superphoebe

I know how great bone broth is, and given enough time and supplies, I’d bathe my kids in it. But the last time I made one was eons ago. And that’s because every time I try, it takes hours and winds up tasting like greasy animal water. So how the hell did Brooke get the bone broth base of her chicken soup to taste so terrific? And would I ever have the energy or desire to do such a thing?

Titillated? Well continue on, dear reader. Brooke is about to illuminate the finer points of bone broth for those of us with teeny-tiny attention spans and even less desire to cook.

What is bone broth?

Bone broth is the result of simmering bones (usually either cow, chicken, or pig) in water over very low heat for anywhere from 6-48 hours.  Over this time, all of the nutrition in the bones is leached into the water leaving a rich, nutrient dense broth.  You can drink the broth on its own, use it as a base for soups, or use it in place of water to cook grains and legumes like brown rice, quinoa and lentils.

Why Bone Broth?

Bone broth is known as a healing tonic.  The gelatin in bone broth heals the digestive tract, the glucosamine can help to repair damaged joints and reduce inflammation, and minerals like calcium and magnesium support bone health.  We especially recommend bone broths to help new moms heal after the birth of a new baby.  To get these benefits and not spend a fortune, here is a very simple recipe for a chicken bone broth below.  I

Helpful bone broth tips:

  • You can store chicken bones in the freezer until you have enough to make a broth.
  • If you don’t have vegetables on hand or you are missing one, do not let that stop you.  The important thing here are the bones.  Everything else can be left out if needed.
  • If at any time the broth is boiling turn down the heat. It should be at a quiet simmer.

Slow-cooker Chicken Bone Broth recipe

Equipment Needed:

  • Slow cooker (I have an 8-quart Hamilton Beach, so this recipe is for that amount.  If you have a smaller slow cooker, simply cut the recipe in half.)
  • Quart sized wide mouth mason jars
  • Fine Mesh Strainer
  • Canning funnel
  • Ladle
  • Masking tape and marker

Ingredients:

  • Bones from 2 whole chickens that you’ve previously cooked and eaten (no need to clean the bones- just throw in whatever leftovers you have, but don’t include any skin)
  • 1 onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • Water to cover

Procedure:

  1. Place all ingredients in slow cooker and cover with water.  Turn slow cooker to low, leave slow cooker lid off, and let simmer for 8-12 hours or overnight.
  2. Turn off slow cooker and allow broth cool in the slow cooker for an hour or until it’s no longer too hot to handle.
  3. Place the canning funnel on the jar to help avoid spillage. Set the fine mesh strainer on top of the canning funnel. Ladle the broth through the strainer into the jars leaving 2-3 inches of space at the top of the jars (in case you want to freeze it).  Any fat in got into your stock will rise to the surface as the broth cools and can be skimmed off later.
  4. Toss the bones and the veggies in the compost.  All of their nutrients will have been leached into the broth so they will have very little nutritional value left.
  5. Place your broth-filled jars in the fridge to cool.  Label them with the tape and marker and include the date.
  6. Broth will be good in the fridge for 7 days or freeze to use later!
  7. *Freezer tip: Freeze with the top off to allow room for expansion- it will help keep the glass from breaking.  Once frozen put the top back on.

Yield: 4 quarts of nutrient dense, delicious, healing broth

Thank you, Brooke, of Bee & Biscuit, for making bone broth seem like an attainable goal!! And thank you, even more, for bringing a jar of delicious soup to my house that day.

Your Mommy Asana self-portraits

In short, you all kick ass.

This week I’ve been mulling over empty Ergos, watery brinks, and CPR. The photo challenge was to mull over your week and pick a fitting symbol to work into your self-portrait.

Here’s what you were symbolically and literally experiencing last week:

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An invisible baby seems fitting for my symbol this week…

* * *

lowsupply

All the trappings of low supply: beer, dom peridone, herbs, barley water, lactation cookies, figs and a supplemental nursing system filled with donor breastmilk! Not featured: supportive wife.

* * *

This next one was shared with the simple caption, “One more to ponder.”

theWateryEdge

Indeed. Talk about a metaphorical playground. I keep thinking of these 3. Poised together at the watery edge.

* * *

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I’m a violin maker.
Oh, wait. Nope, I’m a mom.

* * *

Waiting

It’s all about time and timing for me–the watch, the clock, and two calendars are all symbols of how much I’m waiting for things out of my control right now.

* * *

BabyGotTongue

Baby got your tongue?

* * *

mommyasanaunreadbook

Life with infant, days before returning to work. Both restful and stressful, precious and tedious. And then there’s that book I’m not reading, representative of the many little things I don’t do for myself as often now with babylove in our lives.

* * *

IMAG1757IMAG1760

Lester the photographer and mommy only slightly staged. I’ve been trying to teach my kids CPR…..chest compressions, look listen and feel. You know. Not because I actually think they’ll get it. But because I performed chest compressions at work last week on a dead patient who came back to life (from meds. Chest compressions only keep the brain oxygenated while we do other things to kick start the heart.) And it’s a fascinating, wondrous, horrible, and pride producing thing to do.

* * *

There’s more where this came from on my Facebook page. Back burners, keeping heads above water, getting lost in the laundry…

 

The Mommy Asana Photo Challenge

It’s been quite a while since we’ve had a good old-fashioned photo challenge around here.

Our inspiration this time is coming from a photo series I love, Mommy Asanas.

This is the one that really wholloped me right off the bat:

Garden Gala

I love this woman. So strange and unapologetic with those damn shears.

And then there’s this one that tugs at my fraught relationship with the dishes.

Kitchen Bride

And this. The mother of all baby wearers.

Slung

Since I’m such a fan of these, I invited Barbara, the photographic mastermind behind these photos, to help me craft a photo challenge based on this series. And here it is, in her words.

self-portraits – they can show their face or not, but I would try to go deeper here. journal for 1 week & find 1 symbol that serves as a metaphor for their feelings that week. include that symbol in the image somehow.

I love this idea. Take some time, journal or not, to find your symbol. I say that because I was initially overwhelmed by the journaling idea. I’m averse to any more to-dos. So I just sat here, and it came to me.

momma asana

I’ve been wading eyeball deep through Jo/Cal aggression recently.

This morning, I knew I needed some listening time from a friends about last night, when I was all aglow over celebrating Jo’s 5th birthday. I went swiftly dead inside after watching Jo kick Cal for no apparent reason and then receiving 2 intentional blows on my face from Cal’s soft fist. I sulked off to the kitchen where I cleaned up and cried. This is not what I signed up for. I hate senseless kid aggression. I hate testosterone. I hate that this is part of my life. I worry that Jo is teaching Cal to hit and kick. And that my otherwise sweet little sweety is being morphed into another bad hitting boy. I want to surgically remove these routine kicks and smacks from my kids, leaving everything else intact. This is the part I know I don’t want. And yet it’s always here. Again and again and again.

So that’s my photo. And my diatribe.

Care to hop on the old Mommy Asana photo challenge bandwagon?

I hope so.

Not a mommy or a woman or someone who is good at taking pictures? Who cares?! Please share a photo if this challenge gets you going.

You can post your photos on my Facebook page or message the photo to me through Facebook if you’d like to share anonymously. And if you’re not all Facebook-y, just leave me a comment here, and I’ll be in touch over email so you can send ‘em that way.

Sooner rather than later, I’ll post a photo gallery of our work here. And we can all sip wine and wear fancy clothes and discuss.

I’ll leave you with this parting shot for inspiration:

Classically Trained

3 minute sugar-free, dairy-free homemade ice cream

Ready for the easiest, breeziest ice cream ever?

I stumbled upon this on one of our last days of summer when Jo was on repeat, “I want a frozen treat. I want a frozen treat. I want a frozen treat.” We were popsicle-less, and I had a feeling that waiting 3 hours for the homemade ones to freeze was not in the cards for him or me. I wanted a frozen treat too, damn it. It was hot. So I improvised with the few things we had and Voila!

1) Dump the following into a blender:
Ice
Half and half or coconut milk for the dairy free option
Lemon juice
Stevia

2) Blend.

Behold your frozen treat!

photo-13

How the NICU saved and tormented our brand new family

My most recent doula client, Maude, had an incredible birth. She hoped to have her baby at home and labored there with grace and vigor for a day.

MaudeLabor

When she was deep into active labor, this woman thudded up and down her stairs stairs with the consistent purpose of a metronome. (And that expert on-the-stairs-back-rubber, is Anna Mahony, dream-doula, who I sometimes work with.)

Three hours into pushing, she made the decision to transfer to the hospital. Within an hour after getting there, she pushed her baby out to discover, much to her surprise, that it was a girl. We all sighed with relief that we wound up at the hospital, since her daughter needed some help with her breathing at the NICU. She later developed some other complications that resulted in her transfer to a NICU at a nearby children’s hospital. When I met with Maude 2 weeks after the birth, her baby girl was healthy and happy and at home. As we watched Baby Girl nap peacefully in her swing, Maude launched into a passionate recounting of her experience at the NICU. It was so moving and real that I invited her to write a guest post here. I know that her experience is not an isolated one. I also know that her story and candor will be eye-opening at the very least and validating and inspiring to those of you who have spent time in NICU-land.

***

I feel obligated to start by saying this: I am grateful beyond words that my daughter is alive and well. She may not have been, had the skills of the NICU staffs of two hospitals not been so competent. And I shudder to think of what might have happened to our family had we given birth in a country or part of the United States where medical care is not so advanced or covered by health insurance (kind of) or accessible to nearly anyone. I am grateful that she will likely not experience any long-term disability or complications from what happened at her birth. I am GRATEFUL for her stay in the NICU.

AND

I am flabbergasted, horrified, and raging mad.

I say “her stay” in the NICU on purpose… For it was made clear to me early on that this was HER stay in the NICU, not ours. The person who was INSIDE OF ME 24 hours ago was now considered a separate being, whom I was supposed to turn over to strangers to care for while I tried to mentally comprehend her medical issues, communicate these to our loved ones, and take care of my throbbing body that had just experienced the most exhilarating, intense experience of my life.

Upon admittance to the NICU, my husband and I were told our daughter was allowed two visitors at a time, and we counted as visitors.

I wanted to shout, “I am her MOTHER (even though this concept was only a few hours old to me). Her MOTHER!!! She lived inside me a few days ago. No me. No her. Get it? I am NOT A VISITOR. I am an integral part of her care and well-being. I am like the ventilator to which she is attached. I am like the bed on which she is lying. I am (literally) like the feeding tube that is trailing down her throat. I am an indispensable part of her medical care!”

The system in which we found ourselves did not see it this way.

The system saw me as a visitor, at best. At worst, I was an intruder, a distraction, an obstacle to my daughter’s healing. The NICU was a large, open, fluorescently lit room lined with cribs and bassinets on all four walls. There was  no privacy for our family to talk, to cry, to sleep, to figure out what the hell just happened to us. There wasn’t even a place for us to sit down at her bedside.

We tried to retreat to the “waiting room” where we often encountered unfortunate families who spoke loudly, using profanity, about who they were preparing to “fight” upon return to their home communities.

We tried to retreat to the cafeteria, but it was loud and cluttered, and sometimes it was difficult to find a clean table. Plus, it was on a completely different floor from my daughter. I didn’t like being so far away.

We even tried to retreat to the chapel, but the chaplain (!!) told us that sleeping in there was inappropriate. Sleep was all we needed. I can pray anywhere.

Most of the nine days we were there, I had to fight to remain by her bedside and not feel like a distraction to the medical professionals attending her. On the first night of her stay, five doctors came in for “rounds” where they discuss the patient. One of the doctors asked me if I had questions for the main doctor. I asked her about seven or eight questions. The other doctors started fidgeting, annoyed at having to stand and wait through my questions. Finally the nurse jumped in, “You’ll have a chance to talk to the doctors again in the morning.” I guess I asked too many questions.

One reason I was treated as such an anomaly in this particular hospital occurred to me slowly, over the nine days of her stay. This particular hospital tends to serve many “Medicaid” (read: poor) patients. Why they are funneled to this hospital is a mystery to me. Why their children need intensive care is not. In the NICU there are mainly premature babies, many of whom likely did not receive adequate prenatal care or nourishment. This NICU is used to poor parents. Poor parents tend not to ask questions. They may be intimidated by medical professionals. Poor parents rarely have the luxury to stay at their child’s bedside all day. They have to go to work. So the NICU has developed policies, facilities, and protocols accordingly. And naturally, the staff there were ill-prepared for my borage of questions and constant attempts to stay at the center of what was happening to my daughter.

This makes me RAGING MAD. Poor parents and their children deserve the same kind of care as any other family. They deserve everything I want and am about to ask for.

1) Deliberate coaching on pumping breast milk.

It was 2:00 am on the first morning of her stay in the NICU. (I elected to spend the night, even though there was not an adequate place for me to sleep in any restorative way. Leaving my daughter in the hands of strangers while she was 36 hours old while I went home to my bed empty-handed just didn’t seem doable to me.) I said to the nurse that I wanted to learn how to pump breast milk. This fabulous nurse called her friend from another unit to come over and help me in the “mother’s room” (a hideous, windowless closet with one, overhead fluorescent light and a breast pump with no instructions). The friend came and showed me how to operate the machine and set up the plastic flanges on my breasts. She gave instructions to pump every two hours. As a result, the nurses were eventually able to administer my milk to her via a feeding tube instead of formula, and I had an established milk supply several days later when my daughter was allowed and able to nurse.

Every new mother should be offered pumping instruction in her first visit to the NICU. She shouldn’t have to remember to ask.

2) A clean, private place to use the bathroom.

After a woman has given birth, going to the bathroom is a new experience. New moms often have stitches, either in their abdomens or in their vaginas. A filthy, windowless hospital bathroom is not a place to care for open wounds. New moms have supplies they need while in the bathroom. Placing my bag of said supplies on the filthy floor of the bathroom stall (upon which I KNOW someone vomited less than 24 hours ago) is not hygienic. So I balanced the heavy bag on my shoulder while tending to myself.

New moms need sanitary napkins, ice packs, garbage cans within reach of the toilet, spray bottles, glasses of water with which to take their prescriptions, and toilets that are higher than normal so we don’t have to squat so low. In short, we need private bathrooms.

3) A clean, private place to eat.

I was told upon arrival to the hospital that it is critical that I eat a lot and eat well to establish and maintain milk supply. In the next breath, I was told I was only allowed to eat in two places: the waiting room (aforementioned disaster) and the cafeteria (on another floor from my kid). I was also told that I was afforded one meal per day from the hospital. They would deliver this meal to the NICU, but I had to transport it to an “eating area” to consume it.

4) Have a doctor say to me, “You are an integral part of your daughter’s wellness and healing.” (And have said-doctor believe these words.)

I fear the neonatologists and other doctors were not trained (or forgot) that the presence of a neonate’s mother is CRUCIAL to her surviving and thriving, especially when in critical condition. Doctors certainly did not express this verbally, and the facility in which they work does not express this non-verbally. I was given small squares of fabric that I was to wear close to my body and then place in her bassinet so she could “smell me.” Guess what? If I STAY IN THE ROOM with her, she can smell me too. I found these fabric squares to be insulting. If I were provided a CHAIR to sit in, I might feel more welcome to stay.

5) NICU spaces should be designed to encourage family participation.

Having nowhere for a mother to sleep, breastfeed, eat, or even sit sent me the message, “Go home. We’ll call you when we’ve healed your child.” Having this exclusion constantly rained down upon me made me want to strangle the medical professionals who designed this standard of care. I absolutely could not go home, at least not for the first 48 hours. After that, I felt so defeated that I started to force myself to go home each night. There was literally nowhere for me to be at my daughter’s side.

A nurse said, “You should go home to rest and be ready when your baby does come home.”

I smiled and nodded at the time, but that comment has gnawed away at me. Some of my friends would mention that at least there was the silver lining of me having some extra time to rest. I adore these friends. And I know they were just trying to say something kind. And I feel compelled now to share why the concept of resting at this particular time is a complete crock.

If you think you don’t sleep well when your first-born daughter is cooing or crying in the bassinet by your bed, try sleeping with her 15 miles away in the care of a stranger.  That, my friend, is the definition of NOT sleeping well.

Coming home was not restful. My husband and I followed the same, breathless routine upon arrival home each night. After crying and shaking and heaving in the car the whole way home, I would peel myself out of the passenger’s seat, walk in the house, strip off all of my clothes (which were filthy, thanks to the condition of the hospital) and proceed upstairs to start pumping. My husband would throw all of our clothes into the washing machine, and provided the hot compresses, cold compresses and all supplies necessary to kick-start a milk supply with a breast pump in the absence of an infant. I would call the hospital to check in with the night nurse about how my daughter was doing, remind them that we didn’t want her to be given a bottle or pacifier or formula, and thank her for taking care of my girl. After pumping for 45 minutes, my husband would take the expressed milk and my plastic pumping supplies down to the freezer. I would set the timer on my phone for two hours, and my husband and I would wake up to repeat the process. Somewhere in there he would bring up the newly cleaned clothes for us to wear again.

I want to see a standard of care that acknowledges the neonate and mother as one unit. When a father or partner is in the picture, this person should also be included in the unit. These two adults are not visitors. They are pieces of the child’s care plan that are indispensable.

I want to see individual rooms for neonates and their parents. Period. With bathrooms, eating trays, and windows, just like other patients in the hospital. If neonates could talk, I’m sure they would request the same.

I must finish where I started.  I am grateful. I realize that my girl’s stay in the NICU was very short by most standards. She was born at full-term and therefore was able, eventually, to breastfeed well. All things considered, she recovered quickly. I’d like to think at least part of this is due to my fierce wrangling to be there, to advocate, to do everything I could to keep her healthy in the ways that felt right to me. And I feel deep gratitude to the to the skillful nurses, doctors, and researchers who contributed to her wellness, the manufacturers of products and drugs she used, and the millions of babies who went before her to pave the way with knowledge and skills to help heal her particular illnesses.

And

I want better. I want better for families of means and families without. I want better for moms who don’t know how or what they should ask, and I want better for moms who are pains in the neck and ask “too much.” I want better for all babies.

What I want is out there.

My friend’s essay about us on Elle.com today

My dear friend Susie is a crisp, courageous writer. Today, Elle.com published her essay about the heart-wrenching way our little Cal has factored into her family’s life in the past year.

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I cried in a bathroom stall at work as I read the first draft of this piece when Susie shared it with me. Feeling the weight of her friendship and longing made my heart hurt.

Her boldness and vulnerability are well worth reading.

(Love you, Susie.)

Summer vacation, when doing the dishes is fun

This last week we’ve been hanging out at a sweet spot just a couple hours away. I chose it because of the stream running by—big enough to splash in but small enough that it didn’t set off any alarms in that “I could drown your children” way. I had visions of sitting on the deck with a glass of wine watching the boys splash and explore.

It hasn’t been *exactly* like that. The deck wraps around so that it takes long enough to get to the creek from my wine-drinking perch that it didn’t feel safe to have Cal down there. What we’ve done every day that I didn’t envision is rock hopping downstream, looking for crawdads and picking the juiciest blackberries along the way.

I had an afternoon while Cal and AJ napped to do just this. Me and Jo splashing around, the gentle joy of discovering what’s around the next bend and the next, feet sloshing through cool creek water. A hot topic of discussion during our meander was conceived of by Jo: “No, Mom, it’s not beautiful. It’s awesome.” He was talking about some moss or a tree or some ripples in the water. And so a new game was born: Beautiful or awesome?

Discarded crawdad claws we found on a river rock after someone’s midnight snack?

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Decidedly awesome.

This dreamy riffle?

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J0: awesome and beautiful. Me: I love this kid.

These are the moments when I totally get my kid. When we’re outside, exploring, both alert to discovery. Our chatter ebbs and flows. Our attention doesn’t. Just two companions, with nothing but interest, space and time.

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Should life require a modest vacation budget and a creek-side cabin to enjoy the people we love in this spacious, easy way?

I’d like to say no, but then I wouldn’t completely agree with myself.

There’s something about being away from the place you know (or think you know) that allows these other parts of yourself to light up. The explorer part, the bored part, the lazy-in-a-good-way part, the “sure, let’s try it” part.

Life at home can bog me down. The relentless weekly schedule, my constant tracking of things that need to be done, the unending stream of things that need to be done. It’s no wonder I angle for boy bedtime so I can lay on the couch and hypnotize it all away with a little sugar and internet tv.

Here, I have actually enjoyed doing the dishes. In a day with no demands, only options (and fewer of them) I’ve become interested by daily chores. Why should sweeping feel any more or less monotonous than reading a magazine? The truth is, both can be relaxing or drudgery, depending on the context. Yesterday’s highlights were spent on my knees cleaning my yoga mat with soap and water and scrubbing the brownish crust from around the burners of the stove. I leaped into both activities with the same interest and satisfaction that I see in Cal while he spins the clear glass knob on our bedside table for 20 minutes while I doze.

I’m hoping that these reminders – that time can feel big and open and interesting, that dish-doing can be a sensory reprieve – will carry over into my regular life. But I know that within a few weeks I will have forgotten. Maybe that’s why vacation exists.

Car camping is my new best friend

As a long-time backpacker in my youth, I would scoff at car campers. Why would you go to so much trouble to sit in a dusty parking lot and sleep in a tent?

Well, you narcissistic 20 year old know-it-all, because you have small children. That’s why.

And it doesn’t have to be a dusty parking lot, either.

We packed ourselves all up with stuff we had—sleeping bags, folding chairs, camp stove, pack-and-play, an old nonstick aluminum pan that AJ bought at a thrift store in New Zealand while I snuck off with a lid from another cooking set since we only had $6. And then we added a slew of borrowed stuff to the mix: 6 person tent, twin air mattress, full sized air mattress, battery operated thing to blow up air mattresses.

Then we were off. Propelling ourselves through the heavy, hot air of California’s central valley to a place called King’s Canyon.

Back when we did childless things like going to trivia night every Monday, I remember one of the co-hosts mentioning how beautiful King’s Canyon was. So we decided to go to there.

Let me tell you, I’ve been dragging my feet on this camping thing. We tried once when Jo was 7 or 8 months and it was not the best. We actually backpacked in a couple miles–AW with Jo strapped to his front and a backpack on his back, only to find out that there was a spot we could have driven to less than 1/4 mile away. In the end, he barely napped and instead rolled around the tent like a ping pong ball. The night was pretty similar and I woke up bleary-eyed and desperate for our usual world of cribs and doors that close.

When it comes to camping, I wish we were co-sleepers–sleep together at home or sleep together in a tent. One less hurdle to get over. But for our separate-sleeper family and particularly me, with my sleep PTSD, the idea of bedding down together in a tent gave me the heebee-jeebees. To his credit, AJ was persistent, and I said OK through gritted teeth.

Then I stumbled across this post about traveling with kids and–cue soundtrack for light breaking through the clouds–a little golden ray started shining through. I commented on the post, admitting my terror of family tent sleeping and Free to Be replied,

…if you’re used to doing things a certain way at home, it often is a case of looking at things from a totally different angle as a camper – just as the cooking gets done in a different way, so does bedtime and babycare.

Eureka!

So damn true.

I packed that little nugget along with us and kept it as my mantra. I still doubted as we wound our way through the canyon to a campsite at the road’s end, all while enduring Cal’s cry which had turned raspy from overuse. We pulled into our site around 6 and I stumbled out of the driver’s seat, grabbed blotchy, sobbing Cal, yanked his clothes and diaper off and deposited him on the riverbank.

There was a cool breeze. Jo scrambled from rock to rock. Banged sticks on things. Threw stones at things. Cal felt the wind in his face. Splashed. Was calm.

I didn’t look at a clock for the next 4 days. We ate when hungry, slept when tired and not only survived, but enjoyed ourselves. That huge tent and the air mattresses helped too. Yes. There were nights when Cal would wake up Jo who would then wake up Cal. But AJ and I would take turns sleeping in and napping by the river. And being up with Cal at 5:30 washing dishes by the river had its own charm.

There was a sublime joy in seeing Jo in such a fitting environment. I had a blessed break from the word “no.” Wanna break that branch? Sure. Light that on fire? Please. Hurdle that huge boulder down into the water? Just wait till that girl floats by. Ok, you betcha.

And we got deep into Roald Dahl’s The Witches. Jo saw the cover illustration of the spooky, beautiful witch at the library and was hooked. I required him to sit through my lengthy prologue about the term “witch” and it being a catch-all category for many powerful, magical, wonderful women. Once we got into it, I was struck by Jo’s fear and fascination with deadly, dark characters. Since I’m still afraid of the dark and the Wicked Witch of the West, I worry that stories like these only introduce him to oppressive, new fears, but I had the sense over and over as we read it that it was filling a deep need of his. To have a place to rest some of his knowledge that there are scary things and people out there. To be trusted with a story with some sharp edges.

When we weren’t reading in our camping chairs to the delicious white noise of the South Fork of the Kings River, we were roasting marshmallows over a campfire while Cal slept in his tented pack-n-play. In just four nights, I learned the geography and natural rhythms of Sentinel campsite #13 more intimately than those of the sweet little house we’ve lived in for the last year and a half.

The way the cedars go from 3 dimensional swaying green giants to lacy black frames for a hundred million stars. The evening glow on the east bank of the river, just before sunset. My back pressed into the smooth curve of river rock, eyes closed in the sun, squinting the light in every so often to watch Jo jump and splash through his new river world.

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