Saturday, May 22, 2010

We’re Havin’ A Party!: Our Planned Home Birth

I received this hilarious homebirth comic the other day,

I’ve read it three times already and laughed aloud each time. I am so excited about the birth. It’s ridiculous how I am looking forward to this experience. I have really come to think of it as a kind of surprise party. There will be food and games and music. And then we will all get to meet the guest of honor just as s/he steps out into her life—a brand new person, joining us on this plane, in this incarnation, for the very first time!

Knowing that I am going to this party pretty much assured that it will end with the beginning of a new love affair gives it some of that giddy excitement that one might feel heading out to a high school dance. I daydream about who this person will be, how they will look, how I will care for them, the way I once did about my unmet husband.

And then there is my birth team. We have asked two fabulous women to support J and I as we bring this child into the world. Both women are of incredible spirit who positively shine with optimism and acceptance. They are sunny and humorous, possess spines of steel, and are wonderful cooks! I haven’t any doubt that they will be invaluable sources of loving support and mood lightening hilarity if and when J or I begin to flag.

I like and trust our midwives. Sometime during the many hours we have spent together during the last twenty weeks I have come to think of them more as extraordinarily knowledgeable friends than health care professionals providing a service. They are interesting and competent people, and I’m genuinely glad they will be at our party!

With any luck my mother will join the party before the main event. She has always been such a source of inspiration to me; I so admire her and aspire to be like her in many ways. It will be a dream come true to have her present for the birth.

Then there is J. I am so happy to be sharing this experience with him. He has been such a considerate and supportive spouse these last months. I can see my own excitement mirrored in his eyes. And his unwavering faith in me strengthens my own. I am lucky to have him and can’t imagine sharing this journey with anyone else.

In preparation I have watched numerous birth videos. Some documentary types like “The Business of Being Born,” “My Body, My Baby, My Birth,” and “Orgasmic Birth,” but also lots of home videos. Some favorites included the unassisted birth of twins in Alaska, a water birth following a day spent picnicking with family in Mexico, and a home birth assisted by one of my midwives right here in Philly featuring a lengthy post-partum interview with a very animated new grandfather. (J and I plan to record this birth too and have already started compiling material. ☺)

I had originally thought that I would have this baby at a birth center, but when Bryn Mawr was booked it was on to plan B. Now, I am so glad that we will be birthing at home. I have turned the fourth floor into quite the cozy little birthing suite, complete with supplies for post-partum recovery. Our birth materials are all neatly laid out in tidy piles on the nursery dresser. The master bath has been disinfected with tea tree and rosemary oils, outfitted with candles, and stocked with fresh towels. We moved the mini fridge from the garage (where it held extra beer) to my nursing station where it now sits adjacent to the rocker and the window sporting it’s supply of coconut water, ensure, prune juice, cheese, and peanut butter. I have filled a snack drawer with nuts, dried fruits, canned fish, V-8, crackers, and chocolate.

I was delighted with how well you all received our call tree. The calling is J’s responsibility, like the woman in the comic I have some cooking planned to occupy me during early labor. Unlike the woman in comic I will not be preparing anything too time intensive or involved (I’ll leave that stuff to our birth team) but I have set aside recipes for edamame hummus, marbled tea eggs, and naan to snack on and serve to the midwives and birth team as they arrive.

So, everything is ready. Now, all I have to do is wait for the party to begin…
(All dressed up for our due date date last night...)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Putting My Peeps on Notice!

It's crazy hard to believe but-- tomorrow is my due date! Right now it doesn't look like this little one will be checking out of the Womb Inn on schedule. She is still really active, even more than usual these last couple of days. But I'm not in any kind of hurry to evict her (or him) either. I still like being pregnant. I feel kind of sad that this pregnancy is coming to a close.
I'm still pretty comfortable sharing this body with my baby although I am experiencing some mild aches and pains these days. Like, my feet hurt sometimes. Usually if I try standing on them for any length of time. And my upper right back aches now and again. It seems to be the worst when I sleep. And my pelvic floor is starting to feel a little sore. I feel that one when I've been walking.
But none of these little pains really bother me much. J rubs my feet pretty often and I kind of like having an excuse to stay off of them. There are positions that I can lie in that do not make my back ache, the trick is in finding them. And I know that the soreness in my pelvic floor is just my baby's head ripening my cervix and that's cool with me.
Speaking of my cervix, one of the differences between midwifery care and mainstream obstetric care is the use of internal exams. Most midwives don't routinely perform pelvic exams. I was encouraged early on to become familiar with the feel of my cervix and my internal landscape in general if I were interested in tracking my effacement and dilation. Alas, I did not.
I mean, I know what my cervix feels like, and where it can generally be found. Under normal circumstances. Yet, the other day curiosity prompted me to do a little checking on its current status and I found that everything has changed. It is like a whole 'nother world down there now. The landscape has become utterly foreign and far from being able to gauge my readiness for labor, I now cannot even find the damn thing!
Ah well, all those tests are of dubious value anyway. Instead I have decided to view this as a golden opportunity to practice acceptance. Taking things as they are. Allowing events to unfold in their own time. No anxiety, no judgment. And, to be honest, it feels really good.
I have been feeling wonderfully calm and content. I feel ready for the adventure of labor and birth, when it comes. And I am truly starting to feel excited about meeting our baby. Holding her in my arms. Dressing her in the adorable baby clothes and cute cute diapers that have been gently washed and folded neatly in the nursery.
I still have a short list of things I'd like to get done before she makes her grand entrance, but nothing seems urgent. I do a little bit every day, but break up my work on these various projects with long naps and baths, slow walks with Lena, pampering myself with creams and oils, preparing interesting new recipes, meditation and gentle yoga. Life is grand these days.

Today I made up our call list for labor and birth notifications. Hopefully this will put at ease some friends and relatives who seem somewhat worried that we might have the baby and forget to tell them... So, to all those dear friends and family on this list, rest assured, we will let you know when the baby comes! Please note that we are requesting that most of our direct notifications take on the task of making some secondary notifications for us. Please let me know if this doesn't work for any of you for any reason...

Beverly --> Curtis




John & Susan -->Homer & Enid

Erin & Adam -->Jon & Robin

-->Malik & Tanya

Ericka & Alfie -->Ted & Rita

-->Kareem & Shameca

Kate & Dan -->Dave

Becky & H -->Greg & Allison

Shontay & Vinnie

Rob & Shannon

Mike & Rose

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fear Factor

*Note: This was written during our vacation in Guadeloupe last month, but I thought I'd wait and see if my feelings would change as my due date grew nearer. They haven't.

“A man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears.”

-Michel de Montaigne

Today J and I spent the afternoon at the beach. It was a beautiful, really hot day. The water was just right—cool but comfortable. We spent a lot of time just floating in the waves, but I also found time to get through another chapter of this wonderful book I borrowed from our birth instructor & post-partum doula, Brittany.

(I have been doing quite a bit of reading as part of my pregnancy education and in preparation for the upcoming birth. See an upcoming post, “The Reading List,” for more about the books I have read or to suggest additions.)

The chapter I was reading today was titled “The Birth Journey,” and at one point the authors note, “It is completely natural when thinking about labor to have feelings of both fear and excitement.” They go on to suggest exercises to explore and confront concerns that one may have about labor and birth. This is a common theme in the books I have read thus far. And many of them suggest exercises or meditations to constructively deal with these fears. Here’s my problem—I am not afraid.

Every time I read a chapter like this, I probe my mind, my heart, my body, for areas of tension, fear, apprehension; and I just can’t find any. I feel excited, that’s for certain. I have been waiting many years for the opportunity to birth my babies, and care for my children. I have never felt so right, so calm, so at peace with my path and myself as I do now. I love being pregnant; it feels utterly natural to me. I am in awe of my body, and I can hardly wait to experience it in all its mystery and majesty as it literally opens up to bring forth another person. The very idea is so truly and absolutely AWE-some!

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that I think labor will be a walk in the park. Just the opposite—I think it will be one of the most physically challenging experiences of my life. It is just not a challenge that I shrink from. I like challenges. I am a physical individual. I like feeling my own physicality, and stretching myself beyond what I thought were my limits. This is what I love about running (when I can find the motivation to actually leave the house in a sports bra and pair of sneakers)—the euphoria of surprising myself with my own vigor and stamina. This is what I really love about yoga—challenging myself to find a place of peace in a position of physical discomfort, learning that what I thought were physical limitations were really just new challenges to be surmounted with patience and tenacity.

At the same time, I consider myself a rather spiritual sort in that I have always been rather intrigued by spiritual teachings (of almost every ilk) and the power of the spirit once one has moved beyond the mind/ego. In addition to the physicality of the experience, I also think birth will be one of the most spiritually challenging episodes of my life. Not only will my baby be born into this world as a new unique individual and J’s and my child; I will be born as a mother. There will be a major shifting in the primary ways in which I define myself. I will come to know a facet of love, a face of the Divine, which has hitherto been inaccessible to me.

I can see why one might be fearful when facing these challenges. Even small changes are often frightening. Witnessing such profound changes in one’s own body and spirit—I can think of few things so worthy of fear and apprehension. But still, I just don’t feel it.

Thus, what has become my main concern about labor and birth is that I haven’t any major concerns.

So I worry a little that perhaps I am over-confident. I worry a little that I am setting myself up for a fall. I worry a little that I am in some kind of deep denial. Still, I can’t even make myself worry about these things too much.

I think that part of my “problem” is that I prior to all this positive reading I have been doing, I really didn’t have a lot of exposure to negative or disempowering birth stories. I wanted to have a baby so badly for so long that I avoided talking about pregnancy or labor or birth or babies with anyone. It was too painful a topic. It was incredibly difficult for me to control my feelings of envy and self-pity; I felt false when offering congratulations because I knew my heart was not in the right place. Of course when it came to close friends and family my love for them allowed me to put aside my own passions and pains for long enough that I could still politely endure some baby talk. Still, I never pursued it as a topic of conversation. I am ashamed to say that I don’t even know the birth stories of my three nephews and niece, all of whom I adore and cherish.

The only birth stories I had really ever heard before this pregnancy are those of my mother. My mother is very matter-of-fact about labor, “they call it labor for a reason—it is hard work!” However, I have never heard her describe any of the three births she experienced as really painful. Her birth stories are of joyful surprises—“and then the doctor said, ‘wait a minute, there is another baby in there!’ The twins heartbeats had been lined up so perfectly they couldn’t tell there were two of them!” Or of loving support and the ability to carry on with everyday life during early labor—“we were playing cards right up until a couple hours before you were born, and Kelly kept making me laugh, and it hurt so much to laugh during a contraction but I couldn’t stop!” Or of unexpected adventure and self-suffiency—“so your Dad and I went to the hospital and the nurse said they hadn’t had a birth there in over twenty years. She went to get the doctor but by the time they came back your brother had already been born!”

With only stories like these to build my image of birth upon, I can’t help viewing it as a pretty wonderful experience. So, is it really unnatural for me not to be afraid? Is it okay for me to approach birth with an attitude of fearlessness, willingness, and indeed, eagerness? Is it wrong for me to feel so firmly in my heart that this experience will be challenging and arduous yes, but also the most fabulous high I have ever experienced? I know the unexpected may occur, that the future is nothing if not unknowable; but is it still all right for me to believe that everything is going to turn out fine? Or even better than fine—fantastic!

Thursday, March 25, 2010


I promised my sister I would renew my blogging efforts over vacation, and even though I was mistaken about the availability of a wireless connection, true to my word I am writing this from Guadeloupe! This vacation was my dream, my “I-want-a-fantasy-vacation-before-this-baby-comes” wish, which John gracefully granted. And, for the most part it is everything I hoped it would be. Even more beautiful than I dreamed. Fascinating and exciting to be in a tropical paradise where making small talk, ordering food, and even checking in to the suites is an adventure in language. It is Thursday, early evening, about 75° F with a slight breeze, and I am sitting at the table in our outdoor kitchenette. All should be well. Yet it is definitely not.

The kitchenette is adorable. The kitchenette, and the availability of barbeque grills, is what made me choose this particular place. The kitchenette, with its nearly empty fridge and cabinets, is also a manifestation of my distress, and the cause of increasingly frequent tantrums and episodes of sulking. Where is the food?!

Beginning about three weeks ago I have been subject to a nearly constant state of gnawing hunger. Yes, I have been waking up hungry in the middle of the night since very early in this pregnancy. But now—I am an insatiable beast! I would like nothing better than to have a little snack in front of me all day long. And one beside my bed at night as well. At home, no sooner will I finish eating one meal, than I must begin preparing the next.

Sometimes I feel a strong desire for one food in particular—and the disappointment should it be unavailable is nearly intolerable! More often, I have a sort of generalized hunger. I just want to eat something. Anything. And I can barely focus on anything else until I am masticating once more.

Luckily, I have always been a rather healthy eater as an individual. (By that I mean I usually made healthy choices, even if regularity was not a strong suit.) Now that I eat for two, I am even more conscientious. Only the best for my baby! Besides a hefty 2.5lb jump in one week at the beginning of this trimester (which my midwife says is entirely normal and common,) my constant nibbling has not led to rapid weight gains. I remain only slightly behind the curve on track to gain about 20 to 25 lbs. My gains have been slow and steady since the first weeks of the second trimester.

But that is in my own kitchen. Being away on vacation is something else entirely. Which is why I insisted on the kitchenette.

It took us 13 hours from the time we arrived at Philadelphia International until we arrived in Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe. Yes, an entire day of crappy airport food. Yet, throughout I consoled myself with the thought that this was just one day. Tomorrow, I thought, I will feast on tropical fruits. I will make bean salad to snack on during the days. We will grill fresh fish and plantains in the evenings. Ah, it will be glorious!

We had planned on renting a car at the airport. (And I had carefully rehearsed what to say in French to make this happen.) But, our flight from San Juan to Pointe-a-Pitre was delayed. And delayed again. And since it was a late flight to begin with, we arrived at an airport that was all but completely closed for the night. We had been warned that taxis would be an expensive way to travel; indeed, our trip to our residences cost more than 80 euros. We could have rented a car for two days for less than that!

Yesterday morning we spoke with a very nice man in the reception office about renting a car. He told us that it would be possible through a connection the hotel has with a rental agency, but nothing was available until tomorrow. “Could we possibly walk to the market today?” we asked. Alas, the market was to far to walk and the hotel restaurant was closed on Wednesdays, but there was gas station/general store just 30 or 40 meters down the road where we could buy some small things.

So, J and I walked to the gas station. They did have some useful items: juice, eggs, cheese, potatoes, onions, and garlic. We also bought a loaf of bread, a tub of butter, ketchup and hotdogs. There were some rather sad looking kiwi and not-quite-ripe Clementines; I bought two kiwis and the only orange Clementine I could find.

Upon our return we feasted on home fries with onion and garlic, hotdogs, and buttered bread. It was a good lunch. Partly because I knew I needed only get through this day, and tomorrow’s breakfast. Then it would be off to the market and all the delights attendant!

For dinner, (and woman was I hungry again by the time that rolled around!) we walked about a mile to a tiny little home-cooking Creole joint. We were offered poisson où crevettes. We recognized fish of course, but what was “crevettes”? The man brought out a small toy lobster, or so I thought. J and I both took the second option. Crevettes, as it turns out, are prawns. I was only slightly disappointed, because they were cooked in some kind of fabulous jerk-like sauce which I sucked off every shell, in part because it was so delicious, and in part because it had been so long since my last meal; and because I knew there would no snacking, only long hungry hours, until breakfast.

It was a large plate. The prawns were served with white rice and tiny bits of unidentifiable vegetables baked in a thick cheese sauce. I ate every morsel. Well, almost. J (who claimed not to be hungry before we left for the restaurant) suddenly rediscovered his own appetite and gobbled his portion down in record time. He stole a bite of cheesy vegetables (or rather baked cheese with vegetable bits) from my plate. I scolded him, then felt bad and very reluctantly gave him a few more bites of mine.

I was very full after dinner. However, that feeling did not last long. By the time we got back to the suite I was wishing we had something to snack on. Most especially something green, red, orange, or yellow. It was beginning to feel like I hadn’t had any vegetables in days. Mostly because I hadn’t. And it was really starting to turn into a serious craving.

I woke in the night from a bad dream with slight hunger pains. I am prone to night worries, and last night I worried about the effect my new beige and brown diet with its (what felt like) interminable fasts was having on my baby. I worried for about an hour and then decided to read the next chapter in my book “Magical Beginnings, Enchanted Lives: A Holistic Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth.” Naturally, it was about nutrition. As Chopra extolled the virtues of a balanced diet, eating from all six tastes and all seven colors of the rainbow, I grew ever more hungry, agitated, and ashamed. I put down the book and tried to listen to an episode of “This American Life” I had on my laptop. I fell asleep about an hour later, just as the sun was coming up.

When I woke again a couple hours later I felt miserable. I was hungry. Very hungry. And stiff from sleeping poorly. And irritable. I meditated until the hunger dissipated and I felt calm. Then I practiced yoga until I heard J begin to stir. By now I had been up about an hour, and had been thinking about food again for the last 20 or 30 minutes.

I began to cut up the last of our potato and onion but started to get faint and feel that nausea that comes from waiting too long between meals. J cooked the potatoes and scrambled our eggs with cheese. I was grateful that he took over, but my mood had already begun to spin out of control. He made the eggs in two batches so that they would better fit the pan. Big mistake. He served up mine first, but when I saw the heap that went on his plate I lost it. “You got way more eggs than I! Why do you think your nutritional needs are greater than mine? Can’t you see I’m starving?”

J has been very good about dealing with my irrationalities and sensitivities these last few months. He quickly offered me some of his eggs, but it was too late. No, I didn’t want his eggs. Clearly he was not sensitive to my needs. And what about last night when he ate some of my dinner? He doesn’t understand what I am going through, and he doesn’t understand it because he is not trying hard enough to understand.

I pouted all the way through breakfast and clean up.

Once the food hit my brain I was repentant. Somewhat. We made up, dressed, and went down to the reception office, French grocery list in hand, to inquire about our car. Bad news, the car hadn’t been returned yet. No worries, it was due back today, so check back in a few hours.

Unworried, we went to the beach.

Four hours later, hot, tired, and need I say it, hungry, we returned to the reception office. “Sorry, we couldn’t get you the cheapest model, but the next one up. Do you still want it today?” Umm, yeah, we still want it today. The hotel owner said he would call and inquire about drop off and then come to our rooms to notify us as to whether it would be brought over now or tomorrow.

Now, I was worried. We had eaten all our food except some cheese, the now slightly stale bread, and the hotdogs. I was weak and dizzy and slightly nauseated again. I drank my last juice but still felt so ill J had to prepare my cheese and bread plate, and I had to eat it mostly reclined in bed. After about an hour I dragged myself back to the reception office for the bad news: “So sorry, the car can not be brought over until tomorrow.”

I dragged myself back to our rooms trying my best to be strong and not cry so as not to upset the baby. When I related what happened to J I couldn’t hold my tears back any longer. He kindly offered me more buttered bread and cheese. That only made me cry harder out of sheer self-pity. I have never really cared much for bread, or really been a big eater of cheese for that matter. And I felt like I had eaten nothing but bread for days. And the cheese was not even cheddar!

We will be going out to dinner again tonight. The restaurant here at the residences is open and I recognized a carrot and coconut soup on the menu. I have never been so eager for a carrot in all my days! But my anxiety continues. Even with a good meal tonight, there is only so much that I can comfortably eat at one sitting (without awakening that old demon heartburn). And I know I may be hungry again before I get to sleep, and most certainly will be hungry when I wake in the night. And then there is tomorrow morning…

Please, oh benevolent Goddess of Pregnancy, send me a car!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

(More Tired Old) Holiday News- Part Three New Year, New Me

J & I had a fabulous New Year. On the eve we had a couple over to celebrate our engagement with us. They brought champagne and a gorgeous handmade ceramic vase as engagement gifts.We took pictures and laughed and hugged, and everything felt just perfect.

After a while we all went to another friend’s house for a house warming/ New Year’s Eve party. I wore a skintight dress my sister had given me ten years or more ago to show off my new shape.
I think I have only ever worn this dress once before; (although I adore it and try it on a few times a year.) But it is a funny thing—ever since I became pregnant I have felt so free! I wear pretty much anything I feel like wearing these days. And I feel fabulously beautiful in it all!
I wore a feather boa out to a birthday dinner for a friend at a Japanese steakhouse a couple weeks ago. Other people wore nice things—it was a celebration after all— but I was by far the most flamboyantly dressed. One woman remarked that she loved boas but never thought about wearing them except as dress-up, like on Halloween. I said, “I just didn’t feel like wearing a sweater tonight, and when I put this on it just felt right, so I went with it.”
I’ve been “just going with” other things too. Scarves around my head, around my waist, around my neck. More vibrant colors like oranges, yellows, and reds. I experiment with new ways of wearing make-up. I let my hair be more wild. I feel so natural, relaxed, and confident. I love it!
So I got dressed for this party in a dress that I have felt too fat in when I still had a waist, silver shoes I haven’t worn since I was twenty-three, and in a homemade necklace of sequins that I made on the spur of the moment. Why not? I didn’t agonize over how my body looked, or whether my necklace was silly. I felt voluptuous. And glittery. And ready to put in my best effort to stay up past midnight!
And stay up I did. I ate sausage hoagies and cookies for hours without the slightest worry that my belly might bulge. (What freedom!) I danced with abandon. I drank cranberry juice with tonic and didn’t miss boozing my friends even the slightest bit. Friends and strangers alike remarked how good I looked. And some of them didn’t even know I was pregnant!
Why did I deny myself this freedom for so long? Why did it take pregnancy to liberate me from self-consciousness, shyness, and self-doubt? Does it even matter now? Will this new attitude last? Will I be fearless and self-confident as a mother too? Or will the courage I have newly discovered slip out of me with the birth of my child?
I say a little prayer that it does not.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Long Overdue Holiday News- Part Deux Family Feuds

{A note to my readers: I began writing this entry shortly after posting Holiday News Part One, but found the issues it brought up so difficult to deal with that I simply could not finish. Now that I have a little more space from the turmoil that these thoughts brought up I have managed to finish it. Your comments on this subject would be GREATLY appreciated as I already feel anxiety over the Christmas after next when we will again be with J’s parents, but will have a 19-month-old child with us.}

I love being pregnant! I really do. What an adventure this has been already! And how much more of adventure is it sure to become! But to get down to business here is a quick recap of the holiday happenings that were not covered in my last entry and the thorny issues that have arisen…

J & I spent Christmas with the Curtises in his childhood home in New Jersey this year. This is not the first Christmas I’ve spent with them, but it was by far and away the most comfortable. Usually, holidays with them involve an assortment of extended family: aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, etc. While I am not one to pooh-pooh a large family gathering, these sorts of get-togethers do very little to bring me closer to J’s immediate family. His mother is often so harried that she never manages to join the rest of us at the table for the meal. His father’s quiet personality is overshadowed by the more outgoing affects of his brothers. I find myself spending the majority of my time moving along the outskirts of this crowd, occasionally exchanging pleasantries with some aunt whose name I am embarrassed to reveal that I can’t recall, or quite pleasantly passing my time snuggled into the couch cushions in the presence of his grandmother and his great aunt Betty. Yup, just us three old ladies chillin’ on the sofa.

This year was just the four of us—J’s parents, J, and myself—plus my dear friend O, (who found herself without other plans and became a most welcome last minute addition) on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day J’s sister, her husband, and their two young children joined us. How different this was! J’s father was open and funny. His mother seemed unruffled and relaxed. We shared our engagement, and I believe I could see their faces visibly lighten with relief. And there was ample time to discuss our childbirth plans. These were met with mild interest and calm acceptance by J’s father, and something bordering on horror and disbelief by J’s sister and mother. I remained unperturbed; these reactions were not beyond what I had anticipated.

We returned to Philly late on Christmas Day, and all in all I can report that I had a very pleasant time with my new family. But here is where I must broach a topic of some delicacy. As I mentioned before, J’s sister and her two young children had joined us on Christmas Day. I adore J’s sister. She is beautiful and has a charming grace. She is funny and welcoming. Altogether, she has a delightful way of putting people at ease that I admire and of which, as a newcomer to this clan, am deeply appreciative. Her husband is equally likeable and easy, and their two children have sweet temperaments and charming features. I have no problems with any of the personalities present, and indeed feel blessed to be marrying into such a nice family.

However, childcare as practiced in my new family is worlds away from childcare as practiced in my family of origin, and Christmas Day as experienced in my new family is of an entirely different nature than Christmas Day as experienced in my family of origin. It was these comparisons that kept me from completely relaxing and simply enjoying the event. Now that the arrival of children in our own family, the one that J and I are creating, is imminent, I cannot help but wonder how these differences will be resolved. How will I navigate such treacherous waters without insulting or alienating or seeming altogether like a Grinch? Because that is how I fear I will be viewed when I try to introduce the customs I grew up with, and hold quite dear, to my new in-laws.

Already I believe J’s mother sees me as a rather severe sort. Honestly, I think it is not too inaccurate. Although my sense of humor can be described as silly, and I adore laughing and do so much heartier and more frequently than the Curtises, I absolutely believe in a more rigid sort of set of structures under which children should be raised (and indeed we should live our lives as adults) than they do as well. I don’t even know if I am explaining this correctly.

My family is boisterous at times, very affectionate—both verbally and physically—and we tend to be plain spoken and open with one another, regarding everything from our hopes and dreams to our feelings about anything under the sun to our less than polite bodily functions. J’s family is by contrast much more reserved. There is less of an open show of emotion, less touching, less passionate debate, and certainly no talk of how things might be coming along in the bathroom. I don’t have any problem with this; I sometimes really enjoy the sort of reserved civility that characterizes interactions within this family unit. (Although, I must say holidays are especially difficult to spend away from my family of origin because I miss the playfulness and affection of my siblings the most at those times.)

However, on the other hand all the openness and playfulness of my family developed within a rather structured and somewhat restrictive environment. We were all very well behaved children. We were expected to be. We could run and yell and play however we liked outside, but inside we used “inside voices” and kept the roughhousing to a minimum. When it was suppertime we sat at the table until we were excused. Supper was a time of quiet conversation. The TV was not part of our suppertime; in fact television was not a big part of our lives in any respect. The shows we did watch were treats approved by our mother. We did not eat fast food or drink soda. Cooperation, camaraderie, and respect for each other were emphasized, and our Christmas rituals (of opening stockings and gifts one at a time while the rest of the family shared in our joy) reinforced these values.

I fully intend to raise my own children in much the same way I was raised. I hold these traditions, rituals, and values as sacred, growth enhancing, and vital. J is on board. He respects and appreciates the way I was raised, and he sees the value in raising our own children similarly. So, what if my children’s grandparents see no value in restricting children’s exposure to television? What if they see drinking sodas and eating chips as harmless habits to form? What if they see asking children to patiently wait their turn to open their own Christmas present until after a sibling, or parent, or cousin, has fully experienced their own gift as senseless and perhaps even cruel?

I would never, ever dream of restricting my children’s access to their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, or any other loving family member. Certainly not over any offense as minor as these that concern me now. If anything could be said to be lacking from my own childhood, it was the presence of a loving extended family. It is a constant source of joy to think that my own children will have so much family to love and to be loved by.

What I fear is how I will even broach these issues with them. How will I, how can I, make my own rules (I mean J’s and my rules) THE rules by which I expect my children to be raised? Can I even do that and still share my beloveds with others? Am I being too much of a control freak? Am I worrying too much before it is time? When does one start to discuss these sorts of things? Should I hope it will just unfold naturally over the coming years? Should J take the lead in expressing to his parents how we will raise our family? What if neither of those things happen (natural unfolding or J’s lead), does that mean I have to just give up and give in? Or will I continue to struggle with this indefinitely? So many questions are raised in the meshing of two families—how does one navigate treacherous waters without sinking the ship?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Holiday News—Long Overdue! Part One

Wow, so much has happened I don’t know where to begin!

I guess I could start with an apology. So, my apologies to all the wonderful family and friends who have followed this blog through the first few entries and offered me words of solace and advice when they were so desperately needed. I feel guilty about neglecting my writing; it had been so cathartic. And I have missed sharing my thoughts about the ups and downs of this pregnancy. Most of all, I have missed the feedback from all of you! But, that said, I am beyond berating myself for all that I do not get done these days. For starters, the list of what does not get done only seems to grow. And secondly, I simply cannot stay too down on myself—I just feel too good!

The last few weeks have been simply wonderful! So good it could all be a dream. I suppose the best way to relate all my good news is chronologically, so I’ll start with the holiday party J & I hosted on the 19th. Although I never did finish all that I had hoped to before the big event, and the snowstorm prevented all our Jersey friends (the majority of our invitees) from attending, I would still categorize it as a resounding success.

We had about twenty-five attendees and an abundance of food and drink. J made his homemade eggnog and mulled wine, both of which were a hit with the crowd of neighbors who came. And I really enjoyed the evening J and I spent making cookies, pumpkin mousse, and chocolate pots de crème together. Surprisingly, we had the pleasure of introducing many of our neighbors to one another (who knew we were so social?) And had the usual crowd of old friends made it we never would have spent so much time facilitating these connections and deepening our own relationships with the good people of Queen Village. The twenty-odd inches of snow blanketing the street only made it all that much more cozy.

J had planned a trip to the Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey for us for the twenty-first, but on that morning we discovered that they were closed on Mondays. Instead, we stayed home watching Christmas movies and wrapping gifts, but the day was hardly uneventful. That day has always held special significance for me; besides being the winter solstice (a turning point that is near and dear to the heart of anyone who has endured the cold and dark of a Maine winter) it is also the birthday of the late Frances Mason, my grandmother and beloved kindred spirit. Now, it has been imbued with yet another special meaning—it is the day I first felt the stirrings of my child in my womb!

So many other mothers have suggested that I when I feel alone I might take comfort in the companionship of my unborn child. Try as I might, I found the memory of a heartbeat I had heard only once and a fuzzy picture of a shapeless 8-week old fetus poor company in times of duress. My slightly thicker waistline and fuller breasts also failed to relieve my loneliness or strongly suggest the presence of an ally. However, the joy and awe that overtook me in that moment when I felt a movement within that was quite clearly the movement of another—how can I describe it other than to say that quite suddenly I understood what those mothers had been saying! The life within me abruptly became so real—so vibrantly, vitally real! In the past two weeks I have felt my baby moving with increasing frequency and it never ceases to bring that sense of joy and awe, and strangely enough, also one of intense comfort.

I thought I couldn’t get any happier: such excitement in so few days! I was almost too tired for our trip to the Grounds for Sculpture on the twenty-second, but J had planned it weeks before. He so rarely plans dates for us, and we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful time to visit with the snow still fresh and deep.

I had heard from more than one friend about the Grounds, but I was still caught unprepared for the fantasy and splendor of the place! I absolutely loved it! It felt as if we had the park all to ourselves. Although we wandered for hours, I think we encountered only five other people on that day. And so I was already in a state of bliss—wrapped in love for my child, my partner, myself, art, and the natural world—when J and I climbed the stairs to the top of that gazebo and he knelt before me. Under such a spell how could my reply to his request that I be his wife be anything but yes?

If I had been cocooned in ecstatic love before, now I was nearly swooning with happiness. I truly felt as though my heart would burst. J is coolly articulate at times like these; I so admire that about him because I am just the opposite. In times of extreme emotional import I simply cannot speak. Words elude me, or else just seem too small and inadequate. And expressing my love, and my gratitude at being loved and having the opportunity to love in return, is the most difficult of all.

I fear all I could say was how happy I was, and how blessed we are to have found each other, and how sure I am of our future happiness. And I felt silly for saying it all again and again, because those sad little phrases couldn’t begin to express what I was really feeling; what I still feel when I think of our life together in the years to come and how truly fortunate we are in this life to have a love, so stable and enduring, like ours. We have certainly had our share of misery; the first two years of our cohabitation were emotionally brutal on both of us. But the strongest of substances are forged under great pressure, and this is the stuff of which our relationship is made. It brings me great pleasure to know that our child will be born of and brought into a union of such a love.

And these are just the blessings I was to experience before Christmas!