Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: gratitude

Cure for the Election 2016 Blues

Like other Americans, I’m working hard to detach this election year from my emotional well-being.

I’m reminded of this clip from The Tudors (one of my favorite series of all time), in which two of Henry VIII’s advisors discuss a translated poem about what it means to have a happy life.

On the left, Henry Cavill plays Charles Brandon, one of Henry VIII’s lifelong advisors. On the right, David O’Hara plays Henry Howard, another member of the court.

What strikes me about this scene is the emptiness of a life lived in the pursuit of power. Both of these characters spend years and years scheming and blackmailing that result in some gruesome plays of power that end the lives of others. Including thousands of innocents.

All in the name of rising above others.

But in the end, the things they long for are things that they could have without any power at all.

They long to live the lives that many of us are living right this moment. 

While this election season drones on and we watch politicians seeking to bury each other in quest of power, let’s not lose sight of what truly makes a happy life.

The happy life be these, I find

The riches left, not got with pain

The fruitful ground, the quiet mind

The equal friend, no grudge nor strife

No charge of rule, nor governance

Without disease, the healthful life

Wisdom joined with simplicity

The night discharged of all care

For much of human history, no place like this has existed in the world. I think our greatest challenge is to exist in the tension between seeking to improve this nation while still being grateful for it.

Let’s keep it in perspective.

Let’s remember that we owe many of these elements of a happy life to the simple fact that we live in this time period, in this country.

We have come a long way from the days of burning people at the stake for being the wrong kind of Christians or having our heads cut off because of our political dissension.

Let’s remember to love what we have.

stamps

 

Week 23: Practicing Generosity

candle_light_quote

Last week, I wrote about practicing gratitude.

And if you’re truly practicing gratitude, generosity is sure to follow.

In the whole first year of my book’s publication, I sold about 150 copies.

Last week, I gave away 309 copies.

***

Let me explain.

Last year, I learned the Number # 1 Lesson of baby fairs and expos.

Everyone is coming for FREE stuff.

To try to convince someone to buy something at these events is almost impossible.

People were so confused when they would walk up to my table, their eyes searching for what they were going to walk away with. Hmmm… papers with words on them… Some books on book stands… Their fingers would slowly trace the tablecloth, their brains registering the fact that…

I really had nothing.

What I had were fliers, cards, and pamphlets with information on something that I wanted them to buy.

Ha.

All the other vendors had enormous bowls of candy (regardless of the season) or little goodie bags filled with free magnets, pens, and pamphlets. The smart ones also had a clipboard to collect email addresses for “a chance to win this diaper bag” or basket of baby books, or whatever.

Smart.

So this year, my approach at this past weekend’s baby fair was quite different.

I gave away my book. For free.

Kindle Direct Publishing allows me to run a free book promotion every three months. The dates of the most recent period coincided perfectly with a local hospital’s community baby fair. So I scheduled my promotion to run for three days, from Saturday, September 24th to Monday, September 26th.

I decided that I would give out half-sheets of paper with directions about how to get their free Kindle copy of my book. At the bottom of that half-sheet of paper, I politely asked for their Amazon review if they enjoyed the book. I also invited them to follow my blog by email.

Then, I told them to enjoy the book.

Their eyes lit up, their eyebrows arched.

“Wow. Thanks!”

“Awesome!”

“I’ll get it tonight!”

***

I didn’t advertise the free book promotion at all until Sunday, September 25th. I thought there might be a few people who would come across my book and download it on September 24th, but my main reason for beginning on this day was to have a buffer period for things to go wrong (i.e., Hey, why isn’t my promotion showing up on Amazon???) before the actual date when I need the promotion to be working.

So imagine my surprise when I checked on Sunday morning to see how many free Kindle books had already been downloaded.

97.

97 Kindle books.

I wasn’t sure I was reading the graph right. I read it and reread it. I put my finger on my laptop screen and touched the line.

kdp

Holy shit.

Who were these people? Was there some special link that Kindle readers follow to immediately download new free Kindle books?

Whatever the reason, I felt incredibly grateful.

No, I’m not making any money. In fact, I’m still about $1500 in the hole for my accrued publishing and marketing costs.

But, hey.

By the end of this promotion, I had reached 309 new potential readers. Some of them will actually read the book. Some of them will recommend it to others. And some of them might even buy a copy for a friend.

Generosity makes the world go round.

Maybe giving away all of these books will lead to this book’s next big break.

Maybe it won’t.

But I feel certain that some new mom out there will end up with this book in her hands and feel comforted by its message.

And that makes the whole endeavor worth it.

Week 22: Practicing Gratitude

When I was going through our miscarriage last Christmas, I remember thinking things like, “I hope all those women who are pregnant right now realize how much they have to be thankful for.”

Or

“I hope they know how easily things could have gone wrong for them.”

These thoughts came from a place of deep sadness and emptiness. I was mired in what had just happened. Unable to recognize anything good about my present. Unable to see the future or even a way forward.

But, let’s be honest, they also came from a place of envy. As Brene Brown writes in her wise book, Daring Greatly, envy is rooted in a fear of scarcity. It drove me to think,

Maybe I’ll never get pregnant again.

Maybe I’m destined now for a life of miscarriages.

Or just the ugly sentiment that,

I can’t stand the thought that happiness exists anywhere right now.

Because I have none of it.

I envied women whose pregnancies seemed to march on without any complications. Their lives seemed so full of good news and overflowing blessings.

I envied them even though I had once been one of them.

***

I had forgotten that I had been one of those women because I lost sight of all the things that I had in my life for which I should have been grateful.

But with time and space and a partner who helped me gain perspective, I was able to find my gratitude again.

My healthy daughter.

My marriage.

A job with a salary and benefits.

Enough money for our bills and even a bit beyond that.

My mother, still living 10 years after her last cancer diagnosis.

But now that this pregnancy is here, full of its own discomforts and changes in my daily life, I’ve felt that gratitude sinking into the background again.

It’s easy to forget the incredible truth of my present–that I am carrying another human being. That this life grows every day without my guidance or intervention.

Instead, I get frustrated with my weight gain, although it is completely within the normal range for pregnancy.

I get tired of waking up with sore hips and a popping spine, now that I’m sleeping on my side at night.

I get tired of answering the same questions about my pregnancy. Multiple times a day. (Because now that I have a bump, clearly, that must be the only thing that I want to talk about–fodder for another blog post, I’m sure.)

Stupid stuff. All so stupid.

***

Last Friday, I was scrolling through my WordPress Reader, following the pregnancy tag, which is one of my favorite ways of reaching out to potential new readers.

I came across a blog post that ripped my heart out.

It was written by a woman who has been struggling with infertility for quite some time. With much help, she conceived and gave birth to a healthy girl, who is now a toddler. She and her husband wanted to try again for another, using IVF again. She had been posting for several weeks about being excited that blood tests had revealed that her second child would be a girl. She wrote about North Dakota law’s strange decision that for legal matters, embryos were also fetuses, which made it difficult for her to donate her embryos to others.

She had been using a fetal doppler at home to check her baby’s heartbeat and give herself reassurance that everything was going well.

Then, at her 20-week ultrasound, came the diagnosis.

Her daughter had the worst neural tube defect. A terminal diagnosis.

Anencephaly.

Her baby had no brain.

No head above her chin.

No eyes. No nose.

Yes, this mother could hear a strong heartbeat because her daughter had a brain stem. Her daughter even had a strong, developing body.

But her daughter was “incompatible with life.”

anencephaly

Baby with anencephaly who has eyes and nose: http://www.cdc.gov

Three paths now lay before this mother:

1) travel to another state to stop her baby’s heartbeat and have a D&E (because North Dakota has decided that she cannot end her pregnancy in North Dakota. Thanks, state government.)

2) wait for her baby to die in utero, a 7% chance, or

3) give birth to her baby and watch her baby die within days of being born, a 100% chance.

She has decided to travel to another state to end the pregnancy, leaving her toddler at home with family for several days. She freely acknowledged that some parents would find healing and closure in choosing to go ahead with the birth.

But she also bravely admitted that giving birth was not the best decision for her and her family.

***

As I consider what this mother faces in the next few weeks, my gratitude comes forward.

Not a gratitude rooted in pity. As if I’m thinking, There, but for the grace of God, go I. But a gratitude that her story pushes me to remember just how easily things can go terribly wrong in a pregnancy.

One week, you’re carrying life. The next week, you’re carrying death.

One week, you’re comforted by your baby’s beating heart. The next week, you find out your baby is terminally deformed.

One week, your baby is alive, kicking in your womb. The next week, the placenta mysteriously detaches and your baby suffocates inside you.

One hour, you are in labor, ready to deliver your child. The next hour, your child is lifeless, asphyxiated by a compressed umbilical cord.

These are the risks and the dangers and the horrors that mothers experience around the world.

They are the potential costs of being the bearers of life.

This stuff happens.

It happens.

It can be easy to forget all of this. It’s easy to assume that all will go as planned. That the OB has it under control. That your body is wise and will know what to do. That as long as you follow all of the recommended guidelines, your child will be born alive and healthy.

But let’s be honest: That doesn’t always happen.

And this truth is important to know and acknowledge. I argue that it is even necessary for us to acknowledge. Because it helps those who face devastating news to feel less abnormal and persecuted. It helps those who are suffering see that they do not suffer alone. Many, many other parents have walked that lonely, grieving road before them.

A healthy, whole, live baby, resting in your arms is not a given. It is a kind of miracle.

So I’m grateful that until this moment, I have been spared devastating news. But that also doesn’t mean devastating news won’t come.

And this is where the hard work of gratitude comes into play.

I could choose to be paralyzed by all that could go wrong in this pregnancy. I could choose to let horrible after horrible scenario play out in my daydreams.

But I choose to be grateful in this moment. 

That right now, as I sit here typing, this baby is moving and kicking.

That I can still run 2 miles in the morning and feel better for it.

That I have access to enough nutrition, safety, and medical care to sustain this pregnancy.

That today, I am still pregnant, still sustaining this life.

Today, this moment, is what this child and I have together. And I’m grateful for it.

gratitude

 

First Trimester

I knew it was true before the test.

I knew the feeling of that tiny, dense star settling in.

Laying its roots.

Sensing its first lines of communication.

Even though the tests had been coming back negative.

10 days past ovulation.

11 days.

12 days.

13 days–I’ve missed my period.

14 days.

Then, at 15 days, the faintest of lines.

Tiny. Wondrous.

Terrifying.

So terrifying.

You’re four weeks pregnant, the app announces. A tiny cluster of cells, burrowing, hopefully in a good location. I feel twinges and fullness, a familiar Oh, right. That’s what it was like. I begin teaching my fifth (and final) seven-week term of teaching for the academic year. I make plans to accomplish everything that I can do ahead of time before the hard weeks set in.

You’re five weeks pregnant, it tells me. A tiny tadpole, the neural tube forming. I wonder how many days I have left before the cloud of nausea overwhelms me. I look back at my previous pregnancies and chart out my symptoms to help me make an estimate. I worry about not feeling much yet. Then I tell myself to be grateful.

You’re six weeks pregnant, it tells me. The heart starts beating. The symptoms begin. I leave work early to sleep and sleep. I read about a gorilla dragging a three-year-old boy at the Cincinnati Zoo. I watch parents mirror the same aggression, ripping the mother to shreds with their judgment plastered across social media.

You’re seven weeks pregnant, it tells me. The organs move into place. The symptoms build. I stop exercising at 5:00 a.m. I spend mornings trying to establish equilibrium with my nausea while teaching 8:00 a.m. classes four days a week. I tell myself that I’m grateful that I’ve made it this far. I read about the Brock Turner rape case. It makes me more nauseous.

You’re eight weeks pregnant, it tells me. The organs develop. The symptoms peak. Mundane teaching tasks take all my concentration. I battle hunger and nausea hour after hour after hour. Trial and error. Carb or protein? Water? No water? Constantly queasy, wave after wave after wave. I wake up at 2:00 a.m., hungry, nauseous. I eat crackers in the night.

I read about another mass shooting, this time in Orlando. I watch the familiar script, that we’ve all been trained to follow, play out in detail after agonizing detail on social media. I’ve just about had enough of the argument that more weapons = more safety.

Then, a diversion: more parent-shaming as a toddler is attacked by an alligator at a Disney resort.

 

And then, the ultrasound.

 

The beauty of a tiny flicker in the center of its chest.

The unmistakable wahn-wahn-wahn-wahn.

166 beats per minute. Good rate. Chances of miscarrying now are much, much lower.

I relax.

You’re nine weeks pregnant, it tells me. The tail disappears and the hands forms. The symptoms continue, with just the slightest hint of weakening. I put away my size 6s. And my size 8s. It’s size 10 for right now. I think about how much longer I can hide this.

I watch Democrats start a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives. I read about Brexit, shocked and dismayed.

You’re ten weeks pregnant, it tells me. The baby inside me looks like a baby. It is tiny and translucent, but complete. I look in the mirror and I know I need to start telling people soon. I’ve put away my fitted dress shirts. I’ve taken out my stash of maternity clothes, now three years in hibernation, but every summer shirt was bought for my third trimester. They are huge. So I buy some larger clothes to get by.

I think about telling my co-workers, but then I decide against it. What if I lose this one, too, just like the last one? Am I ready to have those conversations with everyone?

I’m not. I’m really not.

So as the last day of my teaching contract passes for this academic year, I turn in my final exams and final grades, pack up my snacks at my desk, and unceremoniously bow out of my teaching responsibilities until mid-August. Without sharing the news.

You’re eleven weeks pregnant, the app announces. My baby begins to open and close its fists. Its bones begin to harden. I’m officially living in someone else’s body. On some days, my lunch sits in my stomach until 7:00 p.m., my digestion moving at an absolute crawl. Everything causes heartburn. Everything. I’ve given up on coffee. It’s just too painful. I want to eat protein and more protein. I want nectarines, grapes, peaches, watermelon, tomatoes, anything high in vitamin C.

Screw it, I think. I put away the size 10s and embrace maternity jeans.

I stop reading the news. It’s too depressing.

I hear my baby’s heartbeat again at my next appointment.

I relax more.

We visit some friends who have just had their second baby. They are hosting a Fourth of July cookout. A gaggle of kids take turns diving into the inflatable kiddie pool, despite the overcast skies and cool temperatures. My friend’s tiny newborn sleeps curled up on her chest, tucked into a baby carrier. It makes me smile.

I wish this whole pregnancy were already over and I were in her same position. I’m already exhausted with this whole process and I’m not even out of the first trimester. I want to be able to eat a normal meal without wondering how long it will sit in my stomach. I want to run like I used to, early in the morning, three miles. I want to sleep through the night without getting up to pee at least three times. I want to take medicine when I get a cold. I want to have a cold Guinness from the tap on a summer night.

I want a spicy tuna roll. Badly.

Of course, I know that the postpartum period is even rockier for me than pregnancy is, but in this moment, I just want to be beyond where I am.

I feel like I’m getting too old for this.

But dwelling on all of this doesn’t make it go faster. It just robs me of my gratitude.

So instead, I fix my attention on what I will do during these next six weeks, while my daughter is in daycare, while I continue to grow a human being, and while my body finishes the exhausting job of creating a placenta. (And, God… it is.)

I will read. I will write. I will exercise on my own schedule. I will take care of myself and hopefully dive into some creative project that heals my soul enough to swallow another year of new rules and policies and mandates that don’t lead to better education.

You’re twelve weeks pregnant, the app tells me. The baby now has reflexes and will squirm away if something prods it. I think I’ve learned the new rules about how to eat and feel okay in this new body of mine. It’s humbling to bow to the truth that someone else is steering this ship again.

I’ve forgotten how hard all of this is.

I turn on NPR again to catch up on news.

More shootings. More death.

I rest my hand where life is growing.

I think about what I might write about all of this.

 

If you liked this post, check out my book Becoming Mother, a great gift for first-time moms.

The Thanksgiving Ride Home

On this day fifteen years ago, I was waiting for my father to pick me up and take me home for Thanksgiving break.

I was halfway through my first semester at college. I was taking 18-credit hours because I didn’t know what I was doing when I registered for classes. I remember people saying that 15-credit hours was a normal course load, but I’m sure I thought something like, I’ll work hard now so I can relax a little later.

I didn’t know that it would be one of the last times that I would spend a few hours in the car with my dad. In the years that followed, I would drive myself to and from home. But for my freshmen year of college, my father was my ride.

4723_1111843329766_2579958_n

Dad and me, 2009

When my dad arrived, I was reading some archaic French play that was the basis for the third essay of the term. That 300-level class had been killing my self-esteem because the reading assignments were so beyond my current reading ability. The task of reading French theater had never been something that I had done before–and here I was trying to read French theater as written by Moliere in 1664.

I knew what kind of ride this was going to be when I opened the door of my dad’s sedan and heard the melodious voice of Rush Limbaugh piping on and on about how Al Gore should just shut up and concede the election already.

“Sounds like a bunch of sour grapes to me!” my dad squealed with delight.

I shrugged, not really having an opinion about the election. I voted as my parents had voted (Republican, a.k.a. George Bush) because I thought this was what good Christians did.

“How was work, Dad?”

“Have I ever told you about the Iron Maiden?”

“You mean the Iron Curtain?”

“Ha! No, the Iron Maiden.” He took his hands from the wheel and wrung them together, a worried look on his face. “She’s bringing the hammer down on all of us.”

“Yeah, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He shook his head and launched into a long drawn-out tale about some domineering man-hating female boss that was cracking down on all “the big dogs.” I can’t be more specific than that because I didn’t typically listen to most of these long rants. I would just nod and let him talk and talk and talk, waiting for a chance to say something. When there was a pause long enough to interject, I’d say something like:

“So have I told you about how classes are going?”

“And old many others, Sharon. And old many others…” he crooned on, as if wrapping up his story in his head.

“Dad? Classes?”

“Oh yeah, classes? How are your classes going? Tell me how these fine Miami classes are going. Are they edu-ma-kating you?”

I chuckled. He could always make me laugh.

But I wanted to impress him. I wanted him to be proud of me. So I launched into my own lengthy soliloquy about all that I was learning in my 18-hour course load: tracking in the American education system, Moliere, polyandry in Nepal, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and how bacteria and viruses each attack the human body.

As I talked on and on, my dad would say, “Oh yeah?” “Hmm…” “Okay.” and “Really?”

At one point, I realized what was happening–we were both talking and talking and neither one of us was listening to each other. 

I was bragging about my own self-importance to him.

He was bragging about his own self-importance to me.

And where was it getting us?  Further and further away from each other.

I slowly let my thoughts taper off and a silence arose in the car. I thought about how inconvenient it would be to grab that damn Moliere play out of my backpack in the backseat. Maybe I could catch up on some reading in the car.

Maybe I could use this time effectively.

Dad fumbled with the dial on the radio to see if he could find a station that he liked. He passed the Rolling Stones, Blondie, Third Eye Blind, TLC, and Stevie Wonder until he found Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Looking Out My Back Door.”

He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and whistled along with the melody.

I smiled.

This was Dad. Listening to a short, simple song about nothing in particular. Just a song about enjoying life, thinking about nothing, living in the moment.

A simple song for a simple life.

And here I was trying to get out of it. Looking for a way to use my time effectively.

I was blind. So blind.

Too blind to understand that there is more to life than using time effectively.

There is more to life than using time.

There is love.

There are moments.

There are fleeting spaces when we have the chance to more deeply connect with our family and friends. But we can’t get to those spaces when we’re too busy bragging and bullshitting.

We only get to these spaces when we’re willing to just exist together without wondering if there’s something better we could be doing. Only when we’re willing to believe that,

No, there is nothing better that we could be doing.

Do I remember anything about that awful play by Moliere?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

But I remember this Thanksgiving ride. I remember that once we got past declaring our own self-importance, we were able to reminisce about memory after memory of growing up with seven people in a tiny house.

The horrible neighbors that poured ketchup on our picnic table and how Dad dumped a bucket of water over the kid that did it.

The time that Dad was floating in Pebble Lake, when a fish came over and bit his nipple, sending him to shore in a full blush.

That one vacation when Dad forgot to put the luggage in the car and Mom said she was sure that she told Dad to do so.

We laughed and laughed and laughed.

That year, Thanksgiving dinner wasn’t the highlight of the break.

It was the Thanksgiving ride home.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: