Knowing Our Limits: What Not to Say to Each Other

IMG_0811There’s this thing women seem to have started saying to each other when we come up against something we’ve decided we won’t put up with, whether because we shouldn’t or because we can’t. When we say we’ve learned we have more needs than we wanted to admit, or that we’ve learned the boundaries of how much we can give unrequited, or that we’ve found the outer reaches of our self-esteem and self-respect, we tell each other: “At least you know that about yourself now.”

I’m not sure if this is really a Thing That People Say since I’m not living in a western country and am not as embedded in American culture anymore, but it’s been said to me on multiple occasions by very different women. And it’s been said in the exact same way, so I can only imagine that it didn’t just pop up out of nowhere.

It sounds like such a lovely, enlightened sentiment too. “At least you know that about yourself.” Because increased self-awareness is a good thing, a thing we strive for right? So learning more about yourself can only be a positive contribution to heightened consciousness. Right?

Except in each circumstance, it felt the opposite. It felt like such a patronizing thing to say. As in, “Oh you’re not as giving as you once thought you were? How sad. But hey, at least you know that about YOU.” Like, “Oh, you failed that exam, but hey, at least you tried, and that’s cool. I still got an A.”

There’s a thing that activists do where they try to out-activist other activists. When you’re committed to a cause, there is intense pressure to prove how committed you are: to do more in support of it, to identify with it more, and the peer pressure pushes people to be more extreme and uncompromising. Sometimes this manifests itself in beliefs and political stances. Sometimes it manifests itself in what initially would be a positive trait: giving, kindness, forgiveness…until you push so hard you get burnout.

Moms do this to each other too. However committed you are to a certain belief or behavior is exactly as committed as one should be. Anyone doing less or differently is less of a mother, anyone doing more is just crazy. Right?

Of course not. But we do this to each other.

Until you realize you are actually tired, stressed out, angrier than you should be, and maybe you do need to take better care of yourself in the ways that matter to YOU and fit in with YOUR lifestyle.

So if a friend of mine tells me she needs weekly spa treatments to feel human again after working full-time, mothering X number of kids, pursuing/finishing a degree, running a business, or frankly, with some of my friends, doing all of the above, or if she tells me she realizes she needs to demand a little more from others in order to keep herself afloat, I hope I never say, “At least you know that about yourself now.”

I hope I have the presence of mind to tell her something more like, “It’s not a bad thing to discover we all have boundaries.” Having boundaries is not something to feel guilty about, and it’s not something only certain people have. Everyone has them. Knowing where they are just means you can more efficiently find out in what areas you need to protect yourself and in what areas you can more freely give. Just because there is an outer limit to how generous you can be in certain circumstances does not mean you are not a generous person. Having a limit to kindness does not mean you are not kind. Having a limit to your selflessness does not make you selfish. Asking for the things you need is not being unreasonable. It’s just the smart way to ensure you can perform your best, whether as a wife, a mom, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a boss, an employee, or a warrior.

It took me many years to understand this, but I finally now get this saying, “You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else.” Fill yourself up first. When we are full, we can give so much more to everyone else.

Life Around the Bend

IMG_0615Around the time I decided to change up my approach to blogging, I made some other adjustments that really brought me so much relief and renewed focus. I’ve been working at finding creative ways to contribute more to SOLD now that my life has changed with the onset of motherhood. I’m working from home, and with a baby, I just can’t travel back and forth the way I used to. Last year, that meant cutting way back on things I could do for SOLD. But now that Cy is getting older and (dare I say it?) marginally easier, I find myself confronting a gnawing desire to contribute more and feel more productive.

IMG_0785One change I made is I’ve devised tasks for myself that I can do from my phone when Cy is napping. I do a lot more scholarly research now and save notes to myself that I can then type up into memos to share with the staff to help everyone keep up on the latest news and knowledge.

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Another change I’ve made is I’ve gotten a lot more unapologetic about using whatever resources are at my disposal to make my job easier and more efficient. Instead of fighting with crappy tools, I looked around and found iPhone apps that streamline what I do. Instead of spending days and weeks of my time carefully (and often incorrectly) trying to translate my work into Thai, I’ve decided to put up the cash to hire a translator. There are seasons for trying to do everything yourself. This, for me, is just not one of them.

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And I’ve consciously decided to feel less guilty about having hired help around the house. Can I clean the house myself? Yes. Do I want to? No. Is my life more efficient, focused, and productive when I can outsource that task? Yes. Do I like having someone up in my business all the time? Not really. Do I like having a clean house and not being the one to do it? Heck yes.

I used to wait for opportune moments. I did a lot of waiting. My new mantra in life: Do what it takes to Get It Done.

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Of course, just as I got into a lovely pattern and flow, feeling focused, centered, and productive, creating several memos for SOLD that the staff seemed very happy to have, cooking more fresh and healthy foods at home, keeping our house nice and clean, and still managing to be with Cy to meet his needs….I had to let our maebaan (housekeeper/nanny) go.

It’s a long story, one in which I basically was really having trouble trusting her. The death knell in our relationship, however, came when I found her playing at dangling Cy and swinging him playfully out over the edge of our 2nd story balcony. I’m sure she thinks it was just a dumb mistake.  For me, ugh, I don’t even want to talk or think about it anymore. She’s gone. We need to find someone else. That’s about the sum of it.

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I’m taking on a lot more nowadays, and I’m tired at the end of it, but it’s a good feeling. It’s good to feel that I’m contributing to SOLD again, and it’s good to feel like I’m not torn in too many different directions. Before I felt like I was spinning my wheels more often than not. Now I feel like I’ve got things more in line.

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In the meantime, Cy has been great. He just gets to be more and more fun as he gets older. We had a blast visiting the islands, he was a stellar traveller as we schlepped him all over the country, and it’s just so fun to watch his personality develop. I feel our relationships with him are only blossoming deeper, and I feel like all the hard work of the first year is really paying off.

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This week he hit a bit of a rough patch, however, and has suddenly started banging his head against the floor when upset. Things that upset him today include:

- me telling him he shouldn’t eat vegetables that are still frozen
- me telling him he shouldn’t bang his head on the floor
- banging his head on the floor
- me not letting him startle Dot by stomping on her while she’s sleeping, and
- me being unable to carry him AND the water tank I needed to put on top of our water cooler

I think he’s teething. And he’s probably grumpy because he has a stuffy, runny nose from the poor air quality thanks to smoky season. And also he’s a toddler.

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On the plus side, his spoken vocabulary seems to be exploding. In about a week, the number of words he can say has more than doubled. He can’t pronounce the ending consonants so he calls tuk tuks “thoo thoo” and eggs are “E!” But he can say things like mama and papa, Dottles, bubble, hot, door, choo choo (train), google (logo), and a few different animal sounds.

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I used to think balance was an elusive concept when you throw family into the mix. I’m starting to think maybe we don’t always get it in any given moment, but that maybe it just comes more broadly over time.

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Momma Chat: Just a Little Rosy

photo-5Things got a little crazy last week. I was laying in bed with Cy when I noticed he seemed to be running a fever. I texted Toby about it and he responded with something like, “He always sleeps hot.” But I was quite sure it was a fever. It happened to be just a couple of hours after I had started a course of meds for myself that weren’t really supposed to be taken while breastfeeding but my doctor had recommended because I’m allergic to penicillin. I was worried that Cy might be allergic to this new medicine, and Google told me I should get Cy to the doctor at signs of fever. So the next day we went to see his pediatrician, who wasn’t available until the afternoon, and I stopped taking my meds in the meantime just in case. The doctor said it was not the meds, but it might be dengue.

– Let me just interject here because this is the part where my stomach bottoms out and my face turns white because dengue is known as “break bone fever” because it makes you feel like your bones are breaking. And it can be comparatively mild in children, but if you get it again later, any subsequent infections can lead to a hemorrhagic fever. It’s passed by mosquitos. There are lots and lots of mosquitos in Thailand. –

The doctor gave us meds to treat the fever and said it was a little too early to tell. Come back in two days and we’ll test for dengue.

Those were among the more anxiety-ridden two days I have experienced in recent memory. Was it dengue? Was it wrong and still related to something I was doing (my meds, which I had resumed taking)? And what would I do if it were dengue? (Moving to another country had indeed crossed my mind.) Cy needs to run outside and play, live his life in fresh air. How can I protect Cy from every mosquito to cross his path?

We went back to do blood tests. We had to swaddle the poor boy and he watched and cried–not thrashing, or angry-complaining…just totally submitting himself to this new torture–as they inserted the needle, drew blood, switched it out for an IV, and then bandaged it on. The whole thing probably took 5 minutes, but all I could do was sit there and talk to him, stroke his hair, and wish to God there was any other way. I hate needles. I once,as a full adult in college, had a nurse give me a Daffy Duck bandaid after getting blood drawn because I hate needles so much. I hate them even more when they’re any where near my boy.

After two hours of waiting, the results for dengue came back negative. Talk about relief! But we still didn’t know what the problem was. The doctor still insisted it wasn’t my meds, and predicted we would soon see a rash.

The rash came, and thus we learned it was roseola. A common childhood disease, relatively mild, and the rash only lasted a couple of days and then it was all done.

photo-4And I still called pest control to come rid our yard of mosquitos. Because dengue.

All in all, it was probably a relatively minor episode and it’s just my mama-bear brain that blew fears out of proportion, but part of what made this experience so hard was feeling so trapped. I have already been feeling tired and run-down, and a little homesick (mostly just because I’m tired of it being so hot here all the time and tired of worrying about mosquitos when Cy wants to play outside all the time). I wanted to move home. I wanted to go back to Santa Barbara where the weather is always perfect, there’s tons of fabulous play groups Cy could join, there’s mountains he could roam, and gorgeous parks and beaches to explore.

I told Toby that if we lived in Santa Barbara, I’d take Cy to the beach all the time.

“No you wouldn’t,” he said. “You’d be at work and Cy would be in daycare and we’d spend the weekends scrambling around trying to get stuff done.”

He’s right. In Thailand, we can afford for me to take a career hiatus and focus on raising Cy with both of us at home. In the U.S., I would have to work. And while I’m battling heat and mosquitos, I can also get fantastic healthcare for Cy at $15 a visit (without insurance), have a maid come once a week, and be there for all the important and unimportant things in Cy’s life. I feel trapped. And it’s easy to view a different situation with rose-colored glasses, but the truth is, there’s lots of ways to feel trapped.

photo-8And I realize now too, that while I love being able to be home for Cy, it’s a challenge because I’ve never been a routine kind of person and children live in routine. I’ve never lived in any place longer than 4 years since I was 13 (And we’re bumping up on the 4-year mark now–we HAD said we’d come for a year, maybe two, and then we’d see. Well we’re still here.) Except for when I worked at a magazine publishing company, I’d never lived the same daily routine longer than a 10-week quarter since I graduated high school. I live by whims and caprice. I’m disciplined about getting stuff done, but on my own clock, not the one ticking on the wall.

So. This is my opportunity to grow. To realize this about myself and see how I can approach it mindfully. I can’t escape the trappings of this life, but I take advantage of its advantages and I think maybe a change of scenery will help. So we’re going to Bangkok for a week. There will be a big aquarium, and parks, a children’s playground, good food, shopping, and maybe even a boat ride or two on the Chao Praya.

Who can complain? Not I, said the spider to the fly.

Thing I Love About Cy: He loves tipping himself over backwards. When he’s on the bed, or on grass, he’ll slowly lean back with this look of great anticipation on his face, until gravity wins and he falls over and giggles like a fiend.

Little by Little



Momma Chat

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Chatting up Mr. Turtle

Before I had Cy, I used to make a promise to myself that I wouldn’t lose myself in motherhood. I have been a part of the mommy blogger community long enough to know how easy it is for mothers to get so consumed by being a mother that they let all the other parts of their identity fall by the wayside. Then, as their kids slowly grew into independence, these mothers would be left without their sense of purpose–who they were before kids no longer fit, and as their primary function as mother no longer brought so many demands, they faced a crisis of identity.

Now that I’ve been a mother for two months, I can see more clearly how easy it is to let motherhood become one’s entire identity. I find myself giving over entirely to him. My previous interests fall into the background as I spend more time obsessing over his needs. Whatever time is left is dedicated to the basic requirements of survival and maintaining a functioning home. And I don’t really miss what came before.

Sometimes I do get impatient with the demands of raising an infant. Sometimes I long for him to grow more quickly so that I can catch a break. But when I try to formulate in my head what that “break” really means, what it is I’m longing for, the only things I find I really want is a decent cup of cappuccino, and for him to be able to play a little more independently for at least a few minutes at a stretch so I don’t have to be ON all. the. time.

I wonder if this state is a natural biological imperative, arising simply because his needs right now are so big and so much, and if as he grows in independence, I’ll start to want to reclaim mine. I wonder if I’ll be so attuned to him that, as he grows, I simply can’t let go, even if I might theoretically want to.

_1050680This week our mostly quiet, cheerful infant has suddenly become supremely fussy. I suspect it’s partly some minor gastrointestinal discomforts, which may or may not be related to a possible growth spurt. He’s suddenly growing a lot longer these days, so maybe there’s some growing pains thrown in the mix. Whatever it is, he’s been crying more often and longer, once or twice apparently inconsolably. I mean, he’s not colicky or anything. It’s just more crying than we’re used to, when before, I could probably count on one hand the number of full minutes he’d cry collectively in one day.

At first, I fought against this change in our son. Mentally and emotionally, I chafed against it, and the more upset he was, the less calm or patient I could be. Previously any crying was directly tied to a discoverable reason. Now sometimes there is no discernible reason. I fought it hard. But in the last few days, I’ve found myself surrendering to it. I just do my best and ride it out. Most times we figure it out. Sometimes we don’t. But either way it’s easier on me when I just go with it and stop expecting life to be different than what it is.

Yesterday had been a long, fussy day. In the early evening, however, he fell asleep while nursing on the first side, so I sat with him, not moving until he awoke, wanting to give him a chance to finally get a decent nap. He woke a half hour later, and I brought him to bed and lay down with him, nursing him down to sleep on the other side, allowing him to use me as a pacifier. I normally don’t do that, but he seemed to need it, and I needed the rest too. My friends, he slept for FIVE hours. It was amazing. And when he woke, all fussiness was gone. He giggled and cooed at us, making us smile and laugh for about an hour before signaling that he was ready to go back to sleep. We swaddled him up, and he slept again for another four hours.

In that time he was awake, I played with him, I wooed him with my songs. I snuggled right up to his face and he snuggled back. And that moment right there…it made up for the entire day.

And, come on, just look at that smile

And, come on, just look at that smile

(And today, he started to seem more like his usual self–gastrointestinally and behaviorally. Fingers crossed, we’re through the growth spurt–if that’s what’s to blame.)

Aside from growing longer, several other developmental changes have shown up this week. He found his fingers and has started sucking on his fist. He’ll catch your eye and hold a gaze for a long time. He’s starting to enjoy hanging out in his little activity gym; he likes the mirror best (little narcissist) and listening to the tinkle of little bells inside one of the toys that dangles from the bars. He’s not interested in the toys yet, but there’s a large orange circular piece that connects the bars, and he’ll stare at that, enrapt, for many long minutes. And his little vocalizations are getting louder and longer. I love his little voice. I can’t get enough of it. He’s hardly talking and already I can’t wait to hear what he has to say.

And I tell him, “Hey, little man, you and me. We’re a good team, aren’t we? You and me.”

Thing I Love About Cy Today: That even when he has a rough day, like on Monday, when he had to get two immunization shots, he still has the wherewithal to smile at us and coo.

Momma Chat

Wine, muchly needed

Wine, muchly needed

So…last week was HARD. The kind of hard you’re not sure you’ll survive until well after you’ve already come out of the haze that the hard was. It started with Cy having some issues with gassiness, then escalated into Mama’s got a case of mastitis….add in hot & cold compresses, vigorous boob massages, painful inflammation, feeding every 2 hours, and no sleep longer than 30 minutes at a time for 5 days straight…You get lots of tears. Lots and lots of tears. Most of them mine. The real irony was, just before that week hit, I had hit a sweet spot with Cy where I felt we’d found a groove, I could read his cues most of the time, and that I was finally healed from the c-section.

Lesson #1: As soon as you think you’ve got this, prepare for it all to prove you wrong.

Turns out what I really needed was a course of antibiotics, sleep, and friends. I can’t begin to describe how deep into Crazy Town I was last week, but between my family and friends, I managed not to get totally lost. It was in a (tear-filled) Skype session with an amazing friend and mama that I found some clarity. She shared a bit of wisdom that her cousin had once shared with her:

I never have a perfect day.

That may not sound very comforting on the face of it, but to the straight-A student who doesn’t grade on a curve, it was blessed relief. Lesson #2: Adjust your expectations. Because, yeah, maybe my boob is a little bit broken right now, but you know what? It’s still producing plenty of milk for my baby, who is happy and healthy, and full of smiles for his mama. And that IS what matters. I can’t say the day has gone totally smoothly, but I can say we learned a new game to play together. I can say I might have figured out how to get him to sleep in his bouncy chair so I don’t have to carry him to sleep. I can say that we had that really sweet moment when I booped him on the nose and he gave me the biggest grin.

I can say I got a really good nap. And I can say that when I got up to leave the room, he followed me with his eyes.

(I used to freak out when he would spit up a bunch all over while my boobs were leaking down my clothes and onto the floor. Now I keep a towel on the floor that I can push around with my foot, and call that a job done well enough.)

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And here’s Lesson #3: Mamas need other mamas. There was no advice on the internet, no book, no single anecdote or time-worn wisdom that saved me. It was other mamas. My own, my friends…others who’ve walked the path before me, who could tell me that the only way to get through this is to go through it, but that I WOULD indeed emerge out the other side.

Cy is 6 weeks old today and I tell myself we’re in the homestretch of the hardest of the hard. And honestly, as hard as last week was, there is SO MUCH love. And, thanks to Cy’s dad, a lot of laughs too. On this motherhood trip, I may make occasional visits to Crazy Town, but I am so lucky to have people in my life who make sure I don’t stay there.

Including this little one:

_1050652Thing I Love About Cy Today: I love that a really satisfying poop totally makes him smile.

 

Momma Chat

_1050587The first 6-8 weeks postpartum are a kind of black box into which it’s difficult to see from the outside. If you haven’t been inside it, you can’t quite imagine what it’s like. People will try to explain it, telling you something along the lines of: it’s the most challenging and amazing time. You’re aware there’s bound to be little sleep. But beyond that, there’s no real description to cover it. And then, finally, when you’re in it, people ask you how it’s going, and you find your own frazzled brain can’t put together anything more precise than “amazing” and “hard.”

I’ve been constructing this post in my head in various forms for the past several days, trying to pinpoint exactly what this experience is like.

It’s an emotional roller coaster, flinging you between absolute awe at this miracle of new life and crying jags where you claw at your eyeballs and would sell your car for the chance to have a quiet cup of coffee and a decent nap. And then there are the moments when you can’t even claw your eyeballs because both hands are busy handling this babe who is projecting half-digested boob juice over your shoulder while both breasts are weeping down to the floor and you have to change the diaper and clean the mess but all the burp cloths are already soiled, and oh look there’s more spit up and you only have two hands. {DEEP BREATH.} Then there’s pure wonder in the simple moments when he opens his eyes and contemplates the morning light coming in through the bedroom window. There’s complete helplessness when he is crying from a discomfort that you can only stand by and witness as he tries to work his way through it. There are the best laughs you’ve had in ages as you reminisce over his awkward antics and myriad facial expressions. And there’s the sweet smell of his soft skin as you nuzzle his neck and bring you both comfort.

People tell you to sleep when your baby sleeps, but that doesn’t always work when the only way you can get him to sleep is to carry him and stay in perpetual motion while singing. People say they were overcome with indescribable love, which makes it all sound like sunshine and rainbows, like the first blush of a new romance. But for me the love is a more complex feeling than that. It’s like how hope and fear are two sides of the same coin. It’s like all the universe’s elements shoved in a box, and I feel like I’ve only just peeked inside.

I've finally recovered enough to start babywearing

I’ve finally recovered enough to start babywearing

And while you’re working out the whys and hows of every situation you encounter, the internet becomes both your worst friend and best enemy: full of information, little of it actually useful, and too much of it downright terrifying, like when everything you read tells you that the very things that bring your child comfort increase the risk of SIDS, and you kind of just want to shoot the person who wrote that, vis a vis SIDS, you never know when your baby’s breath will be their last—even if it was the venerable Dr. Sears who said it. Where is the manual that tells you you’re doing okay? Where is the instruction book that tells you how to trust your instincts and believe that you’re not exposing your child to untold harms just by doing the best you can? That’s the book I want to read.

Meanwhile, you discover you’re capable of sitting in total silence for long stretches of time, while your baby nurses. Like meditation, but better than any yoga class taught you.

And then there are moments like this: when you’ve battled through a long night, and at 6 a.m., you’ve carried your baby and walked in circles around your dining room table for almost an hour, humming the same three lines of a lullaby until he fell asleep, and then you sidle your way into bed, anxious not to move him too much for fear of waking him and having to start all over again, and there he is, asleep on top of you, tummy to tummy, your breaths colliding in rhythm with each other, and it’s the best feeling in the world. And you don’t even care that it’s 6 a.m., you’ll wake up your groggy husband just because you want him to catch that sweetness too.

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It’s like everyone said: it’s amazing and hard. The best things in life always are.

Thing I Love About Cy Today: the way he arches his back and purses his lips when he’s full.

Meeting Cy

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Photo by Toby Keller

They tell you the chances of your water breaking in public are really very low. Mine broke in the grocery store last Monday, while I was shopping by myself. It wasn’t so dramatic like in the movies. In fact, I wasn’t even sure that’s what had happened, or if I was just experiencing some other fun perk of pregnancy. So what did I do? I had a cart full of groceries…should I just leave it there and run to the bathroom? Continue shopping? I did the best thing I could think of: pretend like nothing was happening, get the last few items on my list, and bolt home ASAP. (Toby still thinks it’s funny that my water breaks and my response is to finish shopping.)

I went home and we called the doctor to see whether he thought it was my water breaking and find out what we should do. They told us to come in right away. So we grabbed our things, me fairly half-heartedly because I wasn’t convinced my water had broken and thinking the hospital would just send us back home. We arrived, and in a flurry of half-coherent Thai I tried to explain again what happened. Things got kicked into high gear and I was admitted into a delivery room before I’d even seen the doctor. After a while, it dawned on me that somehow the nurses had gotten the impression that I had fallen, so I had to try to make it clear I hadn’t.

Then I did meet with the doctor and he confirmed my water had broken and said he wanted to induce labor because there was a very short window before there would be risk of infection. Thus began a very long night.

We induced at 5:30ish in the evening, and I was at 2 cm dilation. Fifteen hours later, after contractions that were about 2 minutes apart and increasingly intense, I was still at 2 cm dilation. I was experiencing all the symptoms of advancing labor, but the baby was not moving down at all. At this point, the doctor said I had two choices: I could go to a c-section right away, or I could try for a maximum of 5 more hours and if nothing happened, go to a c-section. I did not think I would suddenly go from 2 cm to 10 in 5 hours if I couldn’t budge a centimeter in 15. I opted for the cesarean right away.

It all happened very quickly from there. It was a bit terrifying when they gave me the epidural and suddenly everything from the waist down went totally numb. But the whole procedure went very fast, and suddenly there was the sound of Cy’s first cries. They cleaned him up in mere minutes, and brought him to me, where I covered his face in his first kisses. Then they took him away and knocked me out to finish the surgery.

After a couple of hours in recovery, they brought me to my room, where my little man was waiting for me.

Toby meeting Cy for the first time

Toby meeting Cy for the first time

Cy was born on Tuesday and we stayed in the hospital until Friday. Those days are already a bit of a blur for me (probably thanks to the pain meds), but from start to finish, I received round-the-clock amazing care, with my every wish or need met within minutes and regular checkups on me and Cy by a team of nurses, my doctor, Cy’s pediatrician, lactation specialists, and nursery attendants. When my doctor checked on me, he told us that it was really very good that we did the cesarean because it turns out the umbilical cord was tangled up in a big knot (from all Cy’s busy activity in the womb). If we had proceeded with a vaginal delivery, it would have cut off the flow of oxygen to the baby, so we’re really very relieved at how things went.

Burpsies!

Burpsies! (Photo by Toby Keller)

Since coming home, I’ve been in a trance of utter amazement and suffusion of love for this little critter, mixed with a sense of being overwhelmed at the task of being responsible for his care, and terror that something bad might happen to him. I tell myself I just need to get past the first couple of weeks, the first month, etc. but then I think maybe this is motherhood after all: love, amazement, hugeness, and terror, and it doesn’t go away so much as one just gets more used to it.

The weekend was rough with trying to care for him while I’m still recovering from the surgery. While I could walk the day after, changing positions in any way was quite painful. But I have an amazing husband who has been cheerfully and stalwartly juggling taking care of me and taking care of Cy, and amazing parents who have been helping with food and laundry and taking care of paperwork, so that mostly I could just focus on nursing Cy and helping myself heal. Truthfully, the hardest part was not the pain so much as being unable to help Toby, relying on him so much for even things like turning over in bed. Or when the pain gets in the way of me being able to lie on my side to nurse Cy (which is both of our favorite nursing positions).

But, all that is relatively short-lived. I’m feeling much better now, and I do heal a bit more every day.

So now my focus is on the little things: like how Cy’s eyes are this dark blue-grey color and I wonder if they’ll change and how, or the tints of ash-blonde and copper in his brown hair, or the way his little mouth moves and his forehead scrunches up when he nurses. Things like how sweet and soft he smells, or how enthralled he gets when you play a little music (we’re starting him on The Beatles and Dave Matthews Band), and how after trying to poo, he takes a big yawn like wow that was hard work. Things like his whimpers and his sighs.

The little things. They’re the things that matter.

Playing the Waiting Game–in Life, Marriage, and Motherhood

Strung out on a line

Strung out on a line

When I was in college, the largely unspoken, but prevailing belief seemed to be that smart, strong women could have plenty of fun dating around, but would want to get their degree and all their career ducks in a row before settling down. For some, random hookups were the mode de jour; for others, dating was one long stream of bad men. Only a few had really long relationships. And motherhood? That was for way later, if at all. Pregnancy would practically mean the end of your life. Taking birth control was the only smart choice.

The trouble is none of us had any idea how difficult it could be to find a good partner after college. When you join the work force, you enter a pool of widely varied, but highly limited options. There’s usually a huge age range—which makes finding unmarried age-mates more difficult, and when you spend the vast majority of your life in one office, meeting people outside that milieu gets incredibly hard. If there aren’t any suitable mates among your coworkers (and let’s not even get into in all the potential trials of an office relationship), you can be hard-pressed to find the time or place to even meet anyone else new.

I remember when I was a teenager, I used to dream that I’d go to college, get a fancy career started, find an awesome apartment in a big city, and then find my future husband, whom I’d marry, preferably around the age of 28. After a couple years of marriage, we’d have our first child, probably when I was around the age of 30. Thirty sounded like a good child-bearing age. That still would give me a couple of years to have my second child at 32 or so, and be done well before that fertility drop-off at 35.

I assumed getting pregnant was easy because all you hear, when you’re young, is about the girls who got pregnant even though they only had unprotected sex “that one time.”

I don’t know if it’s by luck or by choice, but I never had a string of bad men or bad relationships. Sure, I dated a jerk or two and a few guys who, though nice, weren’t going to captivate me long-term. But those were always obvious from the start and I never was one to stick around with a losing bet (I distinctly remember one relationship that had a shelf-life of “Four Tuesdays”—my best friend from college will get this reference; there were lots of fun, crazy memories from that episode in our lives). My relationships either lasted a few weeks or a few years—the long ones, even the ones that didn’t work out, were great while they lasted, and important learning experiences in preparation for marriage.

It turns out, I met my husband in college—though neither of us was anywhere near ready for marriage at the time. But we fell in love, probably to both our surprises, and we stuck around each other, even though “not ready” was a big light flashing above both our heads. Toby took a year to travel the world after he graduated college, and in the interim, we had both grown a lot. By the time he came back, I knew I was ready to think about marriage, even if we weren’t anywhere near ready to marry each other. We loved each other; we knew that much. I probably broke a slew of dating rules by doing this, but I told him, in no uncertain terms, that if we were going to be together, it would be with an eye towards marriage. Though we both knew there were no guarantees in this trial run, I wasn’t going to waste time with someone who was only in it “just for now.”

Luckily for me, he was on the same page, more or less, and the years following were a steady learning experience in which we tried out what marriage might look like, what commitment meant, and what it would mean to devote ourselves to another. By the time he proposed to me, I was 26 and we were ready. We had grown into marriage together. We had become ready together. When we did exchange vows, I had just turned 28.

But marriage isn’t the only odyssey one embarks on—there’s also parenthood. Having just gotten married, I wasn’t in any rush to have a child. There was my doctorate to finish and a career to start. Toby was only just getting his career off the ground, and a job in the tech industry at that time seemed volatile and uncertain. We lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment and had other dreams too, namely involving travel. Maybe living abroad for a while. There was still adventure to be had and a baby seemed more like a huge complication and intense responsibility than the next inevitable step in our life progression. The biological clock had started ticking, but I ignored the bell toll.

Though I had heard that fertility decreases with age, I still assumed it would be easy enough to get pregnant. I did have one friend who was trying to get pregnant and had started fertility treatments. She warned me getting pregnant could take time. I heard, but didn’t hear.

When I turned 30, I finished my doctorate and we made plans to move to Thailand. Work with The SOLD Project was already lined up; all I had to do was get to northern Thailand. We were leaving everything we knew behind. That wasn’t the time to start thinking about babies.

After we got settled in Thailand, and Toby’s work situation seemed solid, I was getting integrated at SOLD and halfway through writing a manuscript, I began to listen more carefully to that biological clock. I went off the pill slightly before entirely ready, thinking it would take a few months for the pill’s effects to clear my system, so that, fingers crossed, I might be 100% ready when it did.

Then, I didn’t get pregnant. Our jobs got even better, visitors came and went, we had grown into life in Thailand…I still didn’t get pregnant. My best friend from college was also enduring her own trial of fertility problems, and my best friend from grad school had suffered miscarriages, and another friend was going through a divorce…so by this time, I was really hearing it: Yes, it can be freaking hard to get pregnant. We traveled to Hong Kong and saw more of Asia. I still didn’t get pregnant. We spent a month in Europe, I didn’t get pregnant. We went back to the U.S. for a month…if I didn’t get pregnant soon, we’d have to think about fertility treatments. I didn’t even want to know what that cost would look like. My mother and sister had both had miscarriages before being able to carry a child to term. My cousin is 40 and still unable to get a baby to take, despite almost a decade of treatments. I knew that even if I did get pregnant, it might not work on the first try, and I had to steel myself for that possibility.

It turn out that it was only when we no longer had a stream of life and travel plans that, after more than a year and a half off the pill, I got pregnant. I’m turning 33 next week, and my dreams of having two kids are now looking more like I’ll be blessed to have one. I’m okay with that, and even saying this, I want it to be clear that I’m not complaining. I doubt I’d make different choices even if I had the chance. I love the years Toby and I have had together, and I think the stability we’ve built and the life experiences we’ve had, having had that time, will only serve our child better.

But I feel incredibly lucky. I feel like it’s only partly our choices, and mostly by chance that things have worked out for us (so far—I don’t want to jinx this!). I look at women I know who’ve been trying for years and years to get pregnant, or friends who’ve suffered miscarriages, or others who still can’t find a life partner, and I know how easily it could have gone a different way.

It’s a myth we tell ourselves when we’re young that we can somehow control life and when and how it happens to us. We make plans for what sounds like a good age to marry, and to have children…and these days, that “perfect age” is getting later and later. Instead of right after college, many push it off to their late 20s. Some women, realistic about demands certain careers make, push it off into their 30s, or even later. We don’t factor in the potential for complications. When we make our timelines, we don’t consider the possibility of divorce. We don’t consider the possibility of infertility.

Though I did get married at 28, the truth is I met the man I would marry when I was 20. It took us 8 years to get where we needed to be. If I hadn’t taken my feelings for him seriously way back then, when I still felt I had other life goals to meet first, or vice versa with him for me, who knows where either of us might be? Maybe we would have found other people to love. Maybe there is such a thing as soul mates, and we really are the only ones for each other. Who can really say? Meanwhile, people perpetuate this fear that marriage really hampers one’s freedom and independence. We’ve found this to be entirely untrue for us. Marriage has given us each a strong foundation from which we can both fly—both separately, and together. It’s made us stronger than we would have been alone.

We tell ourselves, when we’re young, that to be real strong, smart women, we have to put education and career before absolutely everything else. The truth is, life goals can exist side by side. You don’t have to put your ducks in a row…sometimes, you just kind of herd them along together. The trend now is to stave off marriage and family until you’ve lived your life first. What makes for “the right time” is an incredibly personal decision and it varies widely from person to person, but I do think we women do ourselves a disservice when we don’t make clear to each other that there are potential tradeoffs when we put off childbearing; that while you’re busy living your life, it can become increasingly harder (and harder than we think it will be) to be able to bear life. We underestimate how fragile life can be, and how uncertain fertility is. We all popped our birth control pills every day for years, each of us never knowing if we’d be the one who’d get pregnant on the first try, the one who would need years of fertility treatments, or the one who couldn’t get pregnant at all.

We can’t control when life happens to us, but we can be honest and informed about the consequences of our choices, and we can listen carefully to our inner guides about who is right for us and when we’re ready. From an employer’s perspective, there’s never a good time for a woman to get pregnant. But your life is your own. External deadlines matter little compared to the timeline we feel ticking along inside.

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This post was inspired by this one, “26 and Already Pregnant,” by Kate from Eat The Damn Cake. If you’re interested in more fun facts about delayed marriage and child-rearing, check out this post, “The Sweet Spot for Tying the Knot,” by Susan Walsh at Hooking Up Smart.

New Territory

Via Joie De Vivre (I think - not actually sure about the original source because tumblr's horrible for tracking that.)

Via Joie De Vivre (I think. Not actually sure about the original source because tumblr’s horrible for tracking that. I’m not even convinced this is a precise quote from HH Dalai Lama.)

I came across this image pinned on Pinterest and felt instantly both happy and guilty. I felt happy because, ever since I was about 20 years old or so, I’ve made it my life’s goal to travel someplace new every year. For me, travel is an essential part of a life lived with intention: it exposes me to new sights, sounds, people, cultures…ways of thinking, ways of interacting, and ways of being, so I can be more intentional about my habits of thought and action, choosing which ones are worth keeping and which are worth sloughing away. I’m the kind of person who gravitates towards friends I admire because I love to learn from them. It’s my friends who help me be more generous, more kind, more complimentary, more willing to stand up for myself, more funny, more open, more creative, and more courageous than I would have been, if left to my own devices.

Travel does that for me too. While others might worship power, money, status, or prestige, I bow to the altars of Freedom and Experience. I choose an unfettered life in which I can continually explore and learn and grow. I chose a lifestyle that affords me opportunities to do so, even if it means being far from people we love and that I roam outside the box, fall off the corporate ladder, and don’t fit in anyone’s pigeonhole.

I couldn’t always afford travel, of course. The greatest irony, I discovered when I graduated from college and started working at a publishing company, is that the college life afforded plenty of time to travel, but no money. I started working and had plenty of money, but no time. Nevertheless, I made my resolution stick. By hook or by crook, I would see some place new every year. It didn’t have to be exotic and it didn’t have to be fancy, or even comfortable. Sure, flying off to Greece would be lovely, but there were plenty of things to explore in my vicinity.

So, sometimes that new place involved a flight overseas (my 25th birthday present to myself was a trip, all by myself, to Germany). Some years it was as exotic as South Carolina. Or it was a festival in the desert, like Burning Man. Or just a new city in my home state. And I’ve bunked on couches, camped in tents, shared rooms in hostels, and even spent nights sleeping in a car to make it possible.

When I came across that pin, I felt so happy because this one life goal has brought me so many experiences and a life that I already feel has been so enriched.

But I felt guilty too. Because this whole living life with intention thing is an ongoing process. I’ve flown halfway around the world and landed in the tropics on the other side, but that grand gesture doesn’t let me off the hook. Just because I did it once, doesn’t mean I get to be complacent. If I want to still learn and see and experience and grow, I can’t forget my life goal.

And this year, I almost had–might have entirely, if I hadn’t seen that quote. Since getting pregnant, I’ve lain low. We had talked about going to Bangkok for a shopping & eating expedition at our favorite shops and restaurants, but I mentally shoved it aside, feeling uncomfortable with too much exertion when I felt I should focus on the baby. This year we’re celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary not by jetting off like we did last year, but by staying at an uber-fancy resort right here in town. (Turns out, when you don’t have to pay for transcontinental flights, you can put that money towards some swank accommodations!) And maybe that’s okay. The Parent ‘Hood is definitely new territory for us–a whole new wealth of experience and learning that I can only begin to imagine.

Now that I’m thinking about it again, we’ll probably work in a day or weekend getaway to one of the little towns near us that we haven’t yet seen. I hear Chiang Dao is beautiful, and it’s only a few hours’ drive away. I do wonder though, whether a new place in life constitutes a new place for being and seeing. Maybe, as Proust has said, it’s about seeing things with new eyes more than it’s about just seeing new things period.

Either way, every now and again, it helps to get that reminder to stay open.

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10 Things I Do When I Can’t Do Anything Else

_TMK2921I tell people I have more energy these days than I did in the first trimester, and that’s true, but I’m still often dragging butt around the house. I’ll get energy in spurts, wherein I’ll get all the grocery shopping done, reorganize the fridge, bake a batch of cookies, and wash all the dishes. I’ll write three separate pieces in one sitting. I’ll research something I’ve always wanted to know about.

And then there are days when even a shower seems too much to ask. Deep thoughts take too much energy. I can barely make the trek from the couch to the kitchen and back. I used to read. I used to do yoga. Now those activities, which used to be my relaxation, are reserved for the days or moments when I have energy.

So what else is there? I’ve rediscovered what bored feels like–a feeling I must admit I’m not used to. So how do I fill the time? Here’s 10 things I do when everything else is asking too much:

1) Social media: I spend way more time on Facebook and Pinterest. Not commenting so much (that takes work). Just browsing.

2) Playing games. I never play computer/iPhone games. I mean, really, I don’t. There was a time in my freshman year of college where I played some old Nintendo games (Super Mario Bros and Legend of Zelda), but then I spilled soup on my laptop and fried my motherboard and lost my games, and thus stopped playing at all. Now I play really stupid Facebook games and a word game on my iPhone. I say stupid games because hard ones take too much energy. Simple, I need simple.

3) Re-watching old favorite movies. Say AnythingSpy Game, Princess Bride, About a Boy, and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves are just some of the ones that have recently experienced revival in my house.

4) Trying to call up old favorite music to see if I can find a special song to sing to my unborn child. I want something nice, but not too sappy or cliche.

5) Downloading and compiling nursery rhymes to read to my little bean. Grimm’s fairy tales really were freaking grim, weren’t they?

6) Online window shopping for my little bean. I’m nesting, but there’s not much I can do about it since all our stuff is coming from the U.S., so I’m just gonna’ have to wait. But looking around at cute stuff at least allows me to dream about getting the house ready for the babe.

7) Yoga stretches in bed. My back has been incredibly sore and I do have issues sleeping at night. I don’t have the energy for a full yoga session these days, but doing some stretches when I wake up in the morning has helped so much in loosening up my back and hip muscles.

(Side note: I started asking around for prenatal yoga classes and I got one response: private lessons only for 1,500B for 90 mins. 1,500B!! That’s $53 with the exchange rate as crappy as it is right now. A price like that might make sense in the U.S., but not in Thailand. Certainly not when I was hoping to go at least once or twice a week.)

8) Take a nap. Sometimes, there’s just nothing else for it. A girl’s gotta’ sleep.

9) Take care of my skin and nails. I’m not talking anything serious. Just a little upkeep. A little cream here, a little trim there. Pregnancy feels better when I take care of myself, so that when people feel the need to tell me I look big for 4 months pregnant, I can at least take comfort in the fact that my skin is really soft right now.

10) Make lists of all the things I’m going to do when the energy comes back again. It’s not actual productivity, but it makes me feel organized and productive anyway.

It amazes me that just last year, I was wrapping up a week-long Computer Camp for the kids at SOLD and finishing up edits on my novel to ship off to my editor quickly before we headed to Berlin. That just last year, we were bouncing around in Kreuzberg, Krakow, Prague, and Dresden. That I traced my fingertips over the etchings of children trapped in Auschwitz. That I drove across three European countries. That I was out clubbing until dawn, and then up again for shopping in Prinzlauerberg and capped it off with Blue Man Group. And that was just May. Last year was a whirlwind of adventure, and here I am now, feeling so unproductive — until Toby reminds me I’m being totally and importantly productive: I’m creating new life.

Every year seems to bring something different. Life. It throws you for a loop.

What do you do, when you can’t fathom doing anything else?

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