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Learning and trying to be kind and living my life as fully as I can stand it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My girl

My daughter and I just laid stretched out on the couch together, she tucked into the crease between me and the taupe back cushions. She held her bottle of diluted white grape juice and drank slowly, kicking one foot rhythmically into the air. Once she reached out her right hand like she used to do when she was nursing and felt around in the air, against my round belly. I reached down to hold her hand for a minute, the bottle held between her lips but not supported. Then she took her hand away and kept drinking.

Someday she may be as long as I am. Even now she matches up with a good stretch of my body, so different than when I first met her and she was a tiny, three-and-a-half pound, wiry string bean of a girl. I was so scared the first time I changed her diaper in the NICU, reaching into the isolette and following my husband's instructions since he'd changed one before I did. I'd changed so many diapers before that one and I knew in my mind that she wouldn't break but it was hard to believe, holding her little legs in one hand. I can't remember what day we got to hold her but when we did, and for many weeks more, she fit right into the center of my chest. She rested her hands against my skin on either side of her head and rested her cheek against my heart. My daughter, the first of my children I got to hold. This mesmerizing stranger I met way before we expected.

When we got her out, five weeks after she and her brother were born, we moved into a classic San Francisco studio apartment across the street from the hospital. Crown moldings, bay windows looking out onto Cherry Street--the one street without 2-hour parking signs anywhere nearby. In order to take her "home" she had to be strapped into her car seat for an hour to show that she could keep breathing. She hardly took up any space in the seat at all and went right to sleep, passing with flying colors. We had a borrowed Moses basket as well as a Pack-N-Play, but she mostly slept on my chest before I'd move her to the space next to me in the middle of the bed, surrounded by pillows. I was afraid to fall asleep with her on my chest--afraid she'd fall off, afraid I'd crush her. But I couldn't stop holding her, feeling her breathe against me, settling into actually having a child who stayed with me rather than two I left behind many times a day and night.

For months she'd fall asleep like that, on my chest. We called them Princess Naps. I miss them. She's still a baby of course but she's just so long, so strong. Such a big girl and such a little baby all at the same time. I can't believe I get to lay there with her, feeling her hot pj'd body pressed up against mine. She's sick which is why she's drinking juice and why she's up past her bedtime. My baby. My big girl.

She turned away from me for the first time today. Our babysitter arrived and I handed her over, my daughter going happily into the arms of this new woman in our lives. I left them to settle in as I walked away to do something else. When I passed by they were both looking at me and I leaned in to kiss her and she turned her head into this woman's shoulder. Happily, teasingly, pretend-shyness. Usually she does that to other people, leaning into my shoulder. I admit, my heart felt squeezed.

I got myself together and headed out into the world--laptop bag packed. To sit in a coffee shop and work. To walk down the street alone. To run errands without two babies. I feel like my old self noticing things anew. At the same time I feel forever changed, pulled towards these two little people who aren't with me. I miss them.

It's a strange luxury to bring someone in to watch my children while I. . . figure out other things to do. I mean, I have a lot of things to do. And the point of having a sitter is for my kids to get used to someone other than me and my husband taking care of them--to get them prepared for having two new sisters in the house. I already like this woman. She is calm and confident. She understands babies. I like the way she talks to them and the way she talks to me. I'm glad that my daughter wants to go into her arms and that my son is doing better and better with her when I'm gone. I didn't have kids to be loved the most and I know it's not a competition. It doesn't feel competitive--it just feels like. . .the first of many, many separations as we help these two young people step out into the world.

I folded each of them into my arms when I got home, squeezing them and breathing them in. I heard stories about how much he ate and how he drank from his cup and how long they walked. I sat on the floor in their bedroom with my husband, watching the two of them wind down as we do each night. We laughed watching her try to crawl over my outstretched legs to get to the dog. It was like watching someone try to navigate across a mountain range and she kept stopping to regroup before finally giving up. We watched my son fall asleep with his bottle, his belly full of real food for probably the first time ever but still so happy to gently rub his stomach and drink. I held him asleep against my shoulder and kissed his soft, squooshy cheek over and over. We put them down and went to sit on the couch.

I think I was glad to hear her fussing a bit, glad to have the excuse to go get her and bring her out for a little longer. I know I was glad for the chance to stretch out with her, to cushion my daughter and feel so incredibly grateful that I get to be her mama.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Wednesday thoughts. . .I mean Monday thoughts

My blog and I have been suffering an identity crisis of sorts. I don't know how honest to be. Whether to write for an imagined audience, or to write for myself. I haven't sent the link out to many people because I'm scared, yet the reason I'm writing is for people to read my thoughts and my words. I have a new appreciation for the people whose blogs I read regularly.

The ones I like the most share stories about their children, talk about their marriages and post pictures. I worry about talking too much about my children lest it affect them when they're older. I worry about writing about my husband, about my family, because something I write might hurt someone or cross a line that they don't want crossed.This crisis of my blog's identity is a familiar one--how much myself can I really be? That's something I have struggled with, and still struggle with, in my real life. So the page has sat blankly, waiting for me to set off in one direction or another. Hmmm.

Last Monday I had the idea of sitting down to the computer and writing out the various and disparate thoughts that were flying around my head. And then I fell asleep at nine o'clock. On Tuesday I thought I'd title the entry "Tuesday thoughts" instead. . . and then I didn't. One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, writes often about the most difficult part of writing. It's the sitting down and actually writing something. There are always a million other things you'd rather do, and that is so so true. I've always meant to be a writer and yet. It's been hard to start. Hard to figure out what to say. Scary to speak out loud about how I feel about things, how I see things because. . . well, then I might be really seen. Eek.

All the thoughts I thought about last Monday disappeared except for the one about our recycling being a microcosm of our lives right now. Every week our bin is absolutely overflowing--with cardboard boxes from the two new big car seats we had to buy because our kiddos were getting too long for their bucket seats. With long, skinny plastic boxes that held our new curtain rods. With Peets coffee cups. Formula containers. With various and sundry detritus (is that redundant? I'll have to look it up. . .) in a flow that never seems to slow down. It feels like it MIGHT slow down, that we might actually fit it all in one week. . and so each time the truck comes to pick it up and dump it we actually get excited about getting to put the stuff that didn't fit before into the blue bin. But then three days later it's all full up again and we're stacking up in piles, squashing brown bags of recycling down as far as we can fit them, littering stray cardboard dejectedly around the bases of the bins.

Who cares about this? I talk about my identity crisis and then launch into a story about trash. Interesting. But the stacks of stuff, the leftovers from the life we're building or trying to maintain, feel like weights. And the clearing away each week, leaving us for a moment without piles, feels like redemption, like if we just keeping swimming we'll eventually be able to fit it all and move on to the next thing. But there is always a next thing. Always. I flit from one task to another, trying to decide how to spend my thirty minutes of energy at the end of the day. Cook a meal. Unpack a box. Work on a project that will earn some money. Sit down and write a blog. Sit still and look out the window and feel this life. Actually feel what it feels like to be me--thirty-seven; mom to two funny, challenging, heart-wrenching babies; wife to a man I love and still feel like I'm getting to know; home-owner for the first time; project manager for an organization I've worked for for eleven years; pregnant for the last time to two unmet baby girls; daughter; sister; friend. The only me there ever was or ever will be.

I wrote about recycling but what I really thought a lot last Wednesday when I wrote this, what I carried in my heart, was the idea and reality of leaving my kids with a baby-sitter. We'd done it once before and we've left them a few times with family but for the most part they've been with me, or with us, these past eight months. The first two months they were in the NICU, visited by us but mostly cared for by others. My son is a sensitive kid and he has a hard time with other people. He cries, screams, wails, moans. He reaches towards me when he sees me and stops crying once he's in my arms. That wasn't always the case--there were months of screaming fits when even I couldn't calm him down. I wasn't ready to leave him. . .I still don't feel ready. But as the birth of these two little sisters approaches, as I get bigger and more unwieldy, and for so many other reasons I knew I needed to bring someone in to meet them, get used to them, take care of them. To get to the point where my babies reach for her (or him, but in this case it's a her) and smile, happy to see her. I was that person for many babies before I was a mother. Why has it been, why is it, so hard to leave mine with someone else?

Monday, April 7, 2014

A history--My Messy Beautiful

When I was sixteen my mom took me to an obstetrician because I hadn't gotten my period yet. I'm not sure if I'm remembering correctly but it was either that appointment or one soon after when the young, female doctor told me I would never have children. I felt like someone was squeezing my heart between two fists. I felt, for the first time, a huge crevasse between who I knew myself to be and who the world was telling me I was. Or was not, in this case.

I was a teenager, so it didn't seem to matter too much to this doctor or any of the next practitioners I saw, that I was so upset about the motherhood piece. In fact, I recently found some old medical records in which this doctor noted that there was the possibility of doing a uterine biopsy to find out more but, due to my young age and how far off potential parenthood was, it wasn't necessary to do the test at the time. It pissed me off finding that note but it also really validated how I felt at the time--which was that I was begging someone to care about what mattered to me and they were telling me not to worry about that yet. I sort of want to go back in time and punch that lady.

How do I describe it? I knew at age nine that I would be a mom. I felt it, deep in my insides, in the voice I knew to be me. The voice I listened to when I got teased in middle school--the one that told me that those kids didn't know what they were talking about because I was great. The voice that went along with my nervous stomach twinges that told me I was attempting to do something I wasn't ready for. That voice was ME and it got crushed when I was a sophomore in high school.

I walked through the hallways at school in a daze that year. Feeling unseen. Sad. Furious. Lost. I was in a rage of grief. Then they added synthetic hormones to the mix, I hit puberty in a majorly engineered way and I lost my virginity to my first serious boyfriend less than a year later. When he and I broke up he cautioned me about sex, warning me to keep it special and telling me it was harder not to have it once you'd done it. I scoffed. And then began a decade and a half of promiscuous coupling and a constant angel/devil debate between the voices on my shoulders. Sex was special and should be shared only with someone you loved. Sex felt good and was a way to connect, no need to feel guilty. I flipped and flopped between feeling defiantly proud of my sexuality and how I was using it, and feeling ashamed, cutting off friends who dared question me about any of it. Throughout all of that I thought, often, secretly, hopefully, desperately, that maybe I'd get pregnant. The idea of having a baby with someone I hardly knew didn't phase me--because I was young, because I wasn't a parent and had no idea what I was talking about, and because the yearning to be a mother was so deep, so blinding, that it blotted out all sense.

I got older and pregnancy went from being an idea to being a reality for the women in my life. I sat and listened as friends of mine confided abortions and I ached. Not in judgement but in longing. I stood beside friends as they married and became mothers as I had unprotected sex with my boyfriends and hoped the doctors were wrong.

That's the thing. Way in the beginning, maybe not at sixteen but shortly after, I decided:


The reality hit me in the face and it was hard not listen to what the doctors and my body, which wasn't doing what it was supposed to, were saying. But part of me, deep deep inside like a seed, dug roots into inhospitable soil and stayed put. I hoped. I decided that I would believe in my body because that was the only thing I could do to help it. Holding on to that belief, that faith, was incredibly difficult.

In 2000 when I was twenty-three I went into acute liver failure and almost died. I spent a month in the hospital and was saved by a liver transplant the day before Thanksgiving, given to me by the family of a sixteen-year-old girl who did die. That's a story for another day. I mention it because it was horrible and painful and scary. But the thing that made me sob curled into a ball a month later was when I went to see the endocrinologist I'd seen as a teenager. He told me I was tripping, that I'd never have kids. OK, he didn't actually say it like that but it was concise and brutal:

"No. With labs like this, there is almost no chance you have any viable eggs."

Not new labs mind you, the same lab work he'd seen years before. No one looked deeper. I wrapped myself tighter around the little seed of hope and I wondered if I'd know when faith crossed over into delusion.

A year later I got my period for the first time at age twenty-four. The gynecologists told me the problem had obviously been my liver and it was probably fixed now, I could probably have kids. The liver people told me it was probably the medication I was taking, and I could probably have kids. They all told me:

"Try to get pregnant and see if it works."

Um. Wasn't there a test or something that could answer the question without possibly producing a child?

Not much changed in the ten years that followed. I both tried and didn't not try to get pregnant. I didn't get pregnant. The specter of motherhood hung over everything I did. I thought about quitting my job but then decided the company was so pro-parent that I should stay. I got into, stayed in and ended relationships thinking about parenting with those men, thinking about my age, my complicated medical history and all the strikes against me.

In 2013 when I was thirty-five I got married. We did our first round of IVF two months later. The doctor--the same endocrinologist I'd seen twice before--told me there was a less than 5% chance it would work. He recommended using donor eggs. We pressed forward with my own eggs. I wandered in a heart-aching fog not unlike the one in my sophomore in high school. I realized I'd been holding onto this seed of hope for twenty years, in the face of many, many voices telling me:

"Probably not."

Bringing that hope to the surface was the scariest thing I've ever done. I felt like I was out in the world with a raw, gaping hole in my chest. I like to keep my heart safe. I had never wanted something with all of my heart and actually gone for it. Never, not once. Too scary. Too vulnerable. Too much. It took my breath away to step into this new place. I cracked myself open and fear and pain came pouring in as we went through the steps to try to make babies. I was so, so scared.

My therapist told me to hold my hope in one hand and my fear in the other. That I didn't need to get rid of the fear, but I didn't need to allow it to take over, to smash the hope down. So that's what I tried to do. It was really really hard.

In 2013, the day before Thanksgiving, I peed on a stick with my husband next to me in the bathroom and we watched as it immediately showed a negative result.

The next morning I sat at the computer and wrote without pause for an hour, writing a version of this story and weeping as I said good-bye to this dream I'd held onto for so many years.I felt empty. I knew we wouldn't do IVF again--I'm not sure why I knew that because we'd never discussed it. I just felt it. It was time to move on to the next thing, whatever that was. I leaned back in my chair when I finished and our grey, mostly outside-dwelling cat leaped onto my lap and then onto the keyboard, erasing everything with a quick paw. Oof! Ha! At that point what can you even do but laugh and walk away in disbelief, disgust, bewilderment.

Four days later I went to get a blood test, a mandatory part of finishing the IVF cycle. Pissed that I even had to do it. I got a voicemail a few hours later, congratulating me on the good news.

Um. What??? WHAT?? I mean. What?

I ran to Walgreens to get my own stick to pee on, even though the blood test was way more accurate. I needed to see it with my own eyes. Yep. Pregnant. Holy everything. I was finally going to be a mama.


It's April 2014 now and we have ten-month-old twins at home. I wish I could remember what it felt like to find out I actually was pregnant after hoping for so long. The feelings, or the memories, have been washed away. Being a mom is. . .everything I ever heard or read and nothing like I could have imagined. It is ass-kicking. Full. Tiring. So many things that I don't have good words for yet.

Two surprises--one I actually suspected might come to pass and the other that knocked my socks off entirely.

1) I'm still myself. Becoming a mother did not soothe the searcher in me. It's not the answer to whatever the question is that life keeps asking me:

"Who are you and who will you be?"

It's a relief and a drag to find that out.

2) I'm pregnant. With twins. Again. All naturally.

If all goes well we'll welcome fraternal twin daughters this summer, somewhere between twelve and fourteen months after our son and daughter were born. Oof! Ha! What can you even do but. . . no seriously, I don't know what we're going to do other than to go forward with fear and trembling. Awed.

So that's my story, or one of them. A big one. I don't know what I will write about on this blog. I don't know how honest to be or who will even read it. The invitation to connect my story to Momastery was too tempting to resist, even though I don't feel ready.

My messy beautiful?

My body. My confusing, mysterious, strong, scarred, doubted, cursed, believed-in body. My messy beautiful blessed self.



Tuesday, April 1, 2014


I hesitated a bit before loading my kids into the van at 5 pm in the pouring rain. Usually we're getting ready for baths at this time but they'd both just woken up from late, surprising naps and I couldn't imagine how we'd spend the next couple hours before bedtime. Plus we really needed some foods. I handed them each a bottle of grape-flavored generic Pedialyte and off we went. Lots of teething in our household these days and, with teething apparently comes lots of disgusting poopy diapers. Who knew? Not I.

We drove in a silence which held until we ended up sitting at a red light for approximately one million minutes. I managed to switch lanes at exactly the wrong time, missing the left turn green light and then missing the straight forward green light so we had to wait until all eight directions of traffic proceeded. My daughter was not thrilled. She was crying and even my singing, which is usually very successful with them, was not cutting it.

I pulled into the strip mall (because I live in the suburbs now and strip malls are how we live) and looked hopefully for a spot right in front of Trader Joe's. No dice. I found one relatively close and turned off the van, listening to my crying child and looking out at the absolutely pouring rain, wondering what in the hell I was thinking taking two babies out into this weather just for groceries.

"Your mama is a little crazy," I told them.

Loading twins in or out of anywhere is not quick.

I ran into the rain, coat-less, and grabbed a shopping cart which I wiped off with a tiny cotton bib. Just the seat part, not the rest. I unstrapped my daughter from her car seat and put her into the cart--the first time I've ever had either of them ride there. The crying stopped immediately. I pulled her little white fleece hood covered in pink hearts over her head and buckled her in. She grabbed the cart in front of her and wiggled back and forth. Taking my rain coat out of the front seat I put the big hood on her little head and wrapped the coat around her. She looked up at me, eyes bright, face open. Wild with joy.

I brought the cart to the other side of the van and wedged it against the side, as I hooked the Ergo around my waist and grabbed my son out of his seat. We speed-walked into the store, where we stood on among the flower arrangements as I strapped my boy against my chest. He peered up at me, content. My daughter was looking all around her, absolutely thrilled with her spot in the world. And away we went.

Twenty minutes later, cart full, we headed to the check-out line. My girl twisted around and snagged a plastic-wrapped head of lettuce from the cart and held it on her lap. She hummed to herself. I asked the guy at the counter if it was okay for me to leave her in the cart. He had a very tired, grumpy look on his face.

"Sure," he said. "As long as she doesn't have a price tag."

"The price would vary depending on the day," I said.

"Don't I know it," he said.

I stepped to the front to start bagging my groceries as he rang them up. My daughter with her back to me, holding her lettuce, looked back at the store full of shoppers. A woman passing by commented:

"She doesn't have a care in the world. She's got her lettuce and she's as happy as a clam."

I smiled. My priceless girl.

When we headed out to the car she looked up at me, eyes big.

We had an adventure in the rain, my kiddos and I. It was good.