Monthly Archives: September 2009

Lucky. Grateful.

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Tuesday morning. 9:42.

Sitting in front of the computer with my list of things to do:

*format incredible photo essay about going inside Brazilian prisons, which will be published later today on MatadorChange.
*interview Susan, who won free tuition to Matador U, Matador’s travel writing program.
*finish an editing project about healing function of poetry in society.

In the background, the BBC. The announcer is talking about a new study that shows the children of working moms somehow turn out worse off than the kids of stay-at-home moms.

God knows if this is true– I’m always skeptical of research; there are so many variables and interpretations that often fail to be considered–but as I type, I feel lucky. Grateful. Because Mariel is lying on the bed next to me, sleeping. Francisco is in the living room, editing a video. And I have work that allows me to be as present as any working mom can be during this most beautiful, precious time.

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Layla’s First Trip to the Movies

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If you read Spanish, I hope you already know about Laura Bernhein’s wonderful blog, Familia Natural. Laura is David Miller’s wife (David, if you don’t know, is a writer and the senior editor at Matador), and she’s created an incredible community, online and off, of moms who are raising their children consciously. Her writing, besides being beautiful, has been profoundly helpful to me, even when I fail to check my Google Reader for weeks on end.

David and Laura’s daughter, Layla, just celebrated her second birthday. If you’ve never read David’s account of Layla’s home birth, which is in English, please do. And if you have, read it again- I want to see this published somewhere some day. I’m grateful to David and to Laura for providing an example of engaged, attentive parenthood to us.

I was so excited to catch up with Lau’s blog this morning and read about Layla’s first trip to the movies. It’s quite possibly the most precious story ever, so if you read Spanish, click on over– it’s short but absolutely lovely. (Lau- maybe you’ll translate it to English….?)

Saturday: Pediatrician. First brush with fear. Mom goes home. I wonder why I was ever ambivalent about parenthood.

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Breast feeding: it wasn’t going well. And I’m more than happy to give it time, but I was also worried and didn’t want to wait for Monday’s pediatric appointment so I Googled “Saturday” “pediatricians” “New York City.”

And let me tell you: if you’re a doc and you want to make some quick, easy cash, just set yourself up with a weekend practice in NYC… because you won’t have much competition.

Anyhow I got an appointment and it was off to the Upper East Side, where we learned Mariel had lost a full pound since being born. The pediatrician said I’m probably not producing enough colostrum and it was important to get her weight back up as quickly as possible; he recommended introducing formula alongside breast feeding, at least until her first official appointment on Monday. It was disappointing news–Similac and Infamil weren’t really in our vocabulary or our plan–but this first brush with fear about just how fragile a tiny human being is and how much that fear is amplified when you’re responsible for that tiny human being mitigated the disappointment. At this point, who knows what the outcome will be in the formula vs. breast feeding debacle, but there’s one thing I’m sure about: we have to do everything possible to make the decisions that are best for Mariel’s health, even when they’re not the ones we’d prefer.

From the doctor’s to Midtown, where Mariel and I said goodbye to Mom at Penn Station…and cried most of the way home. That always happens when we see each other and then we part, but the emotion was from a much deeper, previously unknown place. I have quickly learned that it’s only when you become a parent that you begin to conceive of what true attachment and loss and total heartbreak are. I’ve heard people say that before and felt like they were negating other types of love; they’re not. A receptionist at the doctor’s office said something like “This time [newborn-hood] should last a lot longer. You give yourself over completely to this person, investing everything you have in her. It’s so sweet, so precious. And then your kids grow up and leave you.” And in a brand new way I felt that sadness and guilt of leaving because I could look out 17 years from now and imagine being left.

I went home and cried some more, with Mariel on the bed next to me. Francisco came in and I explained how this lesson or awareness or whatever you want to call it, had totally swept me away because I wasn’t prepared for it. I wondered aloud why I’d ever felt ambivalent about parenthood–it’s just profound beyond words–and we both laid next to Mariel for a good long while before doing or saying anything else.

Labor & What’s Next: A Few Notes

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I woke up Wednesday morning thinking, “This is the day.” I had what I thought were contractions, which were spaced evenly at every seven minutes. I sat down at the computer, did some work, went back to bed for an hour or so, and then watched a movie with Mom. By 3 in the afternoon-when Francisco was out doing errands-the contractions were every 3-4 minutes, of at least 1 minute each, the magic combination for going to the hospital.

And just about then, the doorbell rang.

It was the super, along with the new owner of the building, who wanted to talk about some details about the rental agreement. “I know it’s not the best time since you’re going to be having the baby soon,” the super said… “Um, yeah, real soon. Like later today,” I said. I could see the owner doing a mental calculation: Talk money now because I really want the money or talk money later because I’d be really freaked out to see this goy drop her kid right here, right now.”

Thankfully, he decided on later and I shut the door in their face.

So… Francisco was out doing important things, like buying chocolate mousse at the bakery. As I paced between the bedroom and the bathroom, Mom talked by phone with the midwife and wondered how much longer Francisco would be… which is right when he burst through the door, dropped the cake on the table, and we took off for the birth center… in the super’s Pathfinder… in UN General Assembly traffic in Midtown.

Mom reported later that we were en route when he said, “I don’t remember anything I learned in the birthing classes” as he ran red lights… and then left the Pathfinder in front of the hospital with the lights on.

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We arrived at 4:30 and were admitted to the birthing center. Earlier in the day, I’d started becoming aware of what it means to truly lose all inhibitions, but labor–the active part–takes you to a place where you have no inhibitions. You’ve got to get to work, and to do that work–and to do it right–you really can’t be worried at all about anyone else or what they think. You’re aware that other people are around you, but you go to this very solitary (not lonely) place and see everything outside dimly. Later, people tell you things that happened– like you kicked the delivery instruments off the bed–but you don’t remember them.
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When I said “I can’t,” I didn’t mean I couldn’t. I meant “I know my body and I need a few seconds to regroup.
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Labor was fast, all things considered, especially for being a first time mom. By 8:16 PM, Mariel had entered the world.
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I don’t know how anyone does this alone.
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A placenta is a gigantic, frightening, and ultimately miraculous thing.
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Breast feeding: There are few experiences in life more humbling… and few that will cause you to generate as many theories about what you’re not doing right.
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You never know exactly how many people care about you until you have a baby.
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It’s true: you can look at your baby for hours and not get bored.
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You will receive even more unsolicited, competing, utterly contradictory, and sometimes totally useless advice once you have your baby than during pregnancy. These pieces of advice are surely from the same women who stuff their 4 year olds full of soda and Cheetohs, so nod, smile, and walk away as quickly as possible.
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Everything else becomes a little bit less important. Piles of unfolded clothes? Who cares?! Half finished blog post on your pregnancy-turned-parenthood blog…? Well….IMG_0663

Short End of the Stick

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It’s not often that I feel sympathy for men as a group–as in a group that’s oppressed–so listen closely because I probably won’t say something like this again:

When it comes to birth, men are seriously getting the short end of the stick.

And it makes me sad.

Yes, women carry babies for nine months. We’re the ones going through the incomparable experience of labor. But still… the ways in which men are typically marginalized throughout pregnancy and in the early post-partum period is pathetic. He helped make this baby and hopefully he’ll stick around to help raise it, so why can’t we help the pregnancy and birthing experiences be more inclusive?

While watching labor and birthing videos in our birthing class a couple weeks ago, I repeatedly noticed that the pregnant women and their female providers–all of whom seemed to consider themselves progressive–shared the tendency to push men (figuratively and often literally) to the side. The instructor, who was trying hard to be inclusive, even talked extensively about what women could expect during the post-partum period, but ignored completely how men often feel afterward.

I’m not sure what can be done other than be more conscious about my own birth experience and ensure that Francisco isn’t marginalized, but I just wanted to say out loud: Men, I see you. And you deserve to be just as much a part of this experience as your partner. Don’t settle for the short end of the stick.

Shift

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A couple weeks back, I was chatting on Gmail with David.

He asked me how I was feeling and mentioned something to the effect of “One of these mornings, you’ll wake up and just feel different”–I think he used “glow” or “flow”–“and that’ll be the day.”

I woke up this morning feeling a surreal kind of good.

And later in the day, while on the subway, I noticed a shift: a persistent movement, almost like the baby was knocking on my stomach to say, “Hey, ready to meet me? See you soon!”

Beyond that, I don’t really know how to describe the changes in my body I felt today, but as I sat around reading this afternoon, I mentioned to Francisco that something had shifted.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

“Are you ready?” I asked.

And we both said “Yes.”

Other?

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I don’t want to make it sound like race is a dominant theme in our marriage or our life, but as an interracial couple (even one who lives in one of the most ethnically diverse and tolerant cities on the planet), race *is* an important part of our reality.

For the past couple weeks I was harboring a burning question deep inside of myself: What will Mariel’s skin tone be? What does each of us want it to be? And how will her race be classified on her birth certificate?

A few years ago, a Cuban-born woman was visiting us at home in San Juan. She was an acquaintance, not a close friend, and I was horrified when she asked whether Francisco considers himself Black or Cuban. I was so taken aback I couldn’t answer her and waited for him to re-enter the room. “I’m both,” he said, simple as that. Because it really is that simple.

But Mariel will be black, white, and Hispanic. And, as Francisco asserts regularly with pride, she’ll be American. And a New Yorker. Being American and New Yorker–though not unimportant–don’t seem to have quite the determining influence over so many aspects of our lives, though, as race. If we choose a single race for our daughter, how are we shaping her identity? How are we either creating or blocking future opportunities? How are we denying other aspects of her background?

There’s the temptation to choose “Other,” but something about that feels unsatisfying, too. We’d rather she decide for herself, but babies–blissfully unaware of race–can’t do that.

We haven’t arrived at any answers.