Whenever we whined of teen drama that we just HAD to set right my best friend’s mama would always say to us “well baby, you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip or water from a rock.”
It has taken growing into the full measure of my womanhood–with all the joy and pain that entails–to fully understand what she meant.
There are simply some things that are beyond our control.
What a humbling and comforting realization.
Infertility and a high risk pregnancy have really reminded me of the value of this lesson recently. When your biggest problems are medical, all other issues dwarf in comparison.
You see, when you don’t know from day to day whether you’ll have enough energy to eat, drink, or move, picayune things like minor office or personal dramas are fleeting annoyances. You learn to do your best, maintain your boundaries, and keep it moving.
When you worry that your toddler isn’t getting enough of your time or your unborn child enough nourishment, you ain’t got time to feed into grown folks’ childish actions.
You learn to gauge yourself by really the only standard that matters: “did I do my best?”
If you can answer yes then all is right in your world.
This is the kind of mother wit I believe we’re all born knowing. But we lose our bearings along the way as a child’s innate confidence is replaced by external gauges of what it is we should do or be.
And sometimes it takes feeling as vulnerable as a child to return to that core truth.
The ceiling of the hospital infusion center is festooned with cheery scenes of blue sky and cherry blossoms in bloom. It is a faux pastoral collage designed to take our minds off the pain.
I sit dutifully after the nurse had to try eight times to find a vein that isn’t shot to shingles so she can run my IV.
Attempt number nine is successful and I wait while the “banana bag” of saline and vitamins drips…precious fluids that will hopefully keep me and my unborn child healthy.
This is how pregnancy has been for me.
A daily and weekly balance of vital medical treatments, caring for our toddler, and trying to balance a fast paced job covering federal policy and politics.
Some days are easier than others.
Some days I feel well enough to turn several stories and then give my daughter several turns on the swings or slide after work.
Other days I am left doubled over in pain in bed, dry heaving, and dehydrated.
On those days I thank God for my stalwart husband’s efforts to care for me and our daughter while working a full time job.
I am thankful for the kind friends who see me struggling and offer to sit for our daughter.
I am thankful that we are back in our home after Hurricane Sandy and the ceilings I stare up at during bedrest are our own and freshly painted.
Today is one of the rough days and I’m feeling sick, weak, tired, and bummed. But I know I’m lucky when I look over and see the chemo patient getting his transfusion.
He too is in pain, but we manage to flash each other encouraging, genuinely cheery smiles during our treatments.
I beepity beeped halfway through DC today.
Oh, I thought I was just too poised when I sat down on the train. I mean, I got a reprieve last night and was allowed to remove my IV. And I’ve figured out how to hide the pump under my clothes so that it’s barely noticeable.
I stepped out of the house feeling almost normal.
Cute maternity dress?
iPhone communiques with the boss? Check!
Plan to nab a nausea friendly breakfast and lunch at Union Station?
Then the beeping started.
At first, I thought the sound was typical train background noise.
But it just kept going.
And Rhode Island.
People were starting to look around, check their phones and iPads.
I had a sinking feeling I knew what it was.
The friggin zofran pump gone awry.
You see, the pump is a fickle and super pricey machine that doesn’t like to be jostled, get damp, or tampered with in any non programmed way.
My cute dress with its stylish buckle wasn’t in the program. And now something had dislodged and I beeped through subway stops.
Through the crowd at Union Station.
In line at the deli.
Down the sidewalk past the homeless guy who stopped rambling long enough to stare at me as if I was crazy.
In the lobby of my job.
In the elevator with two guys who shifted uncomfortably.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
I finally made it to the restroom and checked the pump and got a digital
“check the syringe” message.
I pulled it out and reloaded.
Finally the darn thing was satisfied.
I smacked the med pump pack back on my back and finally headed to my desk.
But now I was on edge. Would it malfunction again and embarrass the crap out of me?
I jumped at the microwave beep.
Random camera equipment noise.
Somebody’s dying cellphone.
I think I have stomach pump PTSD.
And darn if that pump isn’t beeping again.
At least this beep is my brief reprieve. The syringe is empty and I usually give myself a few hours before I reload it.
Think I’ll tune out of tech tonight.
A nice quiet book sounds like just what the doctor ordered.
For the past few weeks I’ve been living with a secret…
I’m very sick.
For me, the two have always and will always go hand in hand.
Our IVF involved an arsenal of additional high tech help including huge doses of meds on an estrogen heavy protocol for poor responders, ICSI (inserting sperm into an egg), assisted hatching (cracking the eggs open a bit to help fertilization).
We got 13 eggs.
Five were mature.
Three became embryos.
Two were put back in my womb, the other arrested.
I am about to enter my third month of pregnancy.
I’ve had enough miscarriages to know that the superstition about not saying anything until a certain point is just that, superstition. I’ve lost a baby when the pregnancy was still in that hush hush phase. And I lost one during that it’s safe to tell cause you’re over the hump phase.
I also know that the joy and sorrow in our own personal parenthood narrative has been made all the more meaningful by serving as witness to others.
So, in bearing witness I’m offering a glimpse at the other side of our rainbow.
We always knew that if we got pregnant I would suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum .
And, intellectually, we were ready. We had the OB get the paperwork for a home health aide on standby so that I could get my daily IVs, the zofran pump which administers the same anti nausea meds chemo patients use, ketone checks, nutritionist.
But I was unprepared for how guilty I’d feel emotionally when my toddler asks for mommy to play and I just can’t.
Or when I had to skip her little friend’s birthday party and send her with daddy instead.
Or when I couldn’t hug her because there were too many medical cords and too much machinery in the way.
We’ve explained that mommy is ok but a little sick and needs medicine. She’s started calling my Zofran pump mommy’s “time for your check up bag”.
What we don’t let her see are the needles and daily shots.
The IV needle.
The Zofran pump needle
And the progesterone shot needle.
That last puppy requires a shot in the patoot. We slap a frozen bag of chopped spinach on my buns nightly, warm up the shot in a heating pad, and make that intramuscular jab as quick as possible.
Our kiddo is too little to understand it all. She thinks the ultrasound pictures show an owl. We’re content to leave it at that till I start to show more.
As for baby owl, it’s nesting just fine.
Pardon the absence dear readers. We’ve been knee deep in preschool applications and infertility treatments.
And believe me, the former has made us question at times why we’re doing the latter.
You read right.
Friggin preschool applications.
And not just applications but tours, open houses, classroom visits, conversations with school directors that are more like interviews.
And so many terms: play based, Reggio, Montessori, Waldorf, child centered, differentiated learning…
And then there’s the money…oh good Lord, the money.
My daughter’s preschool applications cost more than my graduate school applications.
All of this for students who still need naps, are barely out of diapers, and laugh at words like poop and booty.
This past month we were baptized into the strange ways of the overachiever, highly competitive culture that is Washington DC. Apparently this phenomenon happens in urban enclaves across the country according to the documentary Nursery University.
I remember watching this film in open mouthed horror years ago and I vowed we would never be those parents.
Flash forward five years later and my husband and I found ourselves in a crowd of other hopeful parents listening to admissions directors give advice on the best ways to present ourselves when answering application questions.
One suggested we all include family photos because it helped the admissions team “envision us as part of the school community.”
Another claimed they were open to parents but refused to let us visit to see a class in action.
Yet another had a complicated acceptance rubric that made my head spin.
And we’re not even talking the fancy schmancy, $25k a year elite preschools.
We’re talking crunchier, cheaper, cooperative nursery schools with parent volunteers and hippy teachers.
We moved to the suburbs in order to avoid an even tougher system: DC’s school lottery. The thought of our daughter’s education depending in part on getting onto an island of academic stability in a sea of struggling schools didn’t sit well with us.
We’re not Waiting for Superman.
And we’re very happy with our daughter’s future elementary, middle, and high schools.
But, since our county doesn’t have free preschool for non Head Start families, we were still treated to a bit of the nursery school hustle.
And I’ll admit a surge of pride when one of those schools offered my daughter a slot for the fall.
It made all of those evenings crammed into teeny desks listening with rapt attention to teachers rhapsodize about the wonders of playing in puddles seem worth it.
My daughter loves boobies.
When she was a little younger and had just been weened for a few months, she thought nothing of tugging at the tetons in public. She once even got a little friend in on the act and together they unleashed the mountains in public.
At home she likes to proudly pat my shirt and declare “Mommy’s boobies.” This is usually followed by stuffing toys in my shirt: playdough, crayons, a tea cup, a Kermit the frog Pez dispenser. Things like that.
She stuffs away and then gives the ensuing bulge a satisfactory pat and a kiss as if to say “No place like home guys.”
She even has a song about my breasts which is sung to the tune of Jingle Bells and goes: “Boobies, boobies, boobies, boobies, mommy, mommy boobies.”
Yesterday she reached down, parted my two boobs like the Red Sea and shouted “Hello! Hello!” into the cavern between.
I bore this new experiment with something of a mixture of patience and bemusement.
You see, I’ve always been well endowed.
As a 12 year old my chest went from desert plains to mountain range seemingly overnight.
Pretty soon I was wearing two bras just for support.
As a preteen and then a teen my very large breasts drew no small amount of unwanted attention. I once had a man stare so intensely at my breasts that he walked smack into a table at a mall food court and tripped.
Friends would often tell me jealously what they would wear if they had my breasts.
My college dance coach suggested I nix ballet (which I’d loved and taken for years) because “you have one of those more juicy, sexy jazz dancer types of bodies.”
Meanwhile, my then very thin frame struggled under the weight of breasts so large they required a specialty bra. And even then the straps still left huge bruises on my shoulders.
A doctor recommended a reduction and, amazingly, insurance took one look at the photos and approved it in less than a week. Five pounds of breast tissue was removed.
Mind you, this surgery took my gigantic breasts and made them merely D cup large. But at least I could better function on a day to day basis. I no longer needed several Advil a day to help with back and shoulder pain. The strap bruises were gone and I could actually buy tops and bras at regular stores.
But it also hampered my ability to fully breastfeed. As a new mom, I struggled to get milk to my child. I tried a lactation specialist, special herbs, and a hospital grade pump. Even with all those aids, I was only able to produce a few ounces at feedings and I had to supplement with a bottle.
Still, it was so worth it when I put my daughter to my breasts and she looked up at me with such love.
So perhaps it is for all of those complicated reasons that I am very patient with my daughter on the boobie issue. I never want her to feel ashamed of her body. I want her to celebrate this very uniquely female aspect of her frame.
I love that she loves my boobies. Doing so has taught me to love them too.
The other night, she grabbed her bath toy cow (which despite its otherwise cartoonish proportions has surprisingly realistic udders). She asked me “Poo poo wet?” meaning is that poop?
I said no honey, that’s the cow’s boobies. That’s how the mommy feeds the baby cows.”
A look of understanding crossed her face. Then she lovingly patted the cow’s “boobies” and placed the toy on the edge of the bathtub where it watched over the other toys for the rest of her bath.
We’re in rebuilding mode.
This week, after months of red tape and displacement, we’re finally ready to put hammer to nail and repair our Hurricane Sandy ravaged home.
This week, after months of prep and weeks of injections, it looks as if we’re headed to the OR and the egg retrieval stage of our IVF.
Why all at once you might ask?
Cause in my house we don’t do small tasks, we do huge projects. Not by design, mind you, but by default.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In a lot of ways I identify with that house. It’s got a sturdy frame, lots of character, and has been battered a bit of late.
But she still has plenty of glory days ahead.