Thursday, April 21, 2011

the limbo rock

My weekly Kaiser Permanente prenatal newsletter reported in it's week 39 issue that most women give birth between 37 and 42 weeks of pregnancy.  There's a brilliant example of the precision of medical science for you.  It lists the dangers to the baby of going past 42 weeks, low amniotic fluid, the risk of meconium (baby's first poop) getting into the fluid and affect the baby's lungs, etc., etc.  Why is this important to me?  Right now I'm at 39 weeks and a few days.  My due date's officially on Monday.  Which is funny, because I don't actually hit 40 weeks until Wednesday; they moved my date up a few days based on how I was measuring at about 8 weeks.  Everyone's been assuring me I'll go into labor early or at the very least, on time.  But I have a sinking feeling that won't happen, even though this is my second pregnancy.  Julia was born almost a week late, and this was after a number of "natural" interventions meant to encourage labor: "sweeping the membranes," which sounds so gentle and is really quite horrible, as it involves the doctor putting her finger into my cervix and separating the uterine wall from the amniotic sac.  It was very painful for me, and the last time, they tried this twice.  Then there's castor oil.  I'm not sure what the medical uses ever were for this nasty stuff, as what it does for the expecting woman is give her violent diarrhea, which again, is supposed to stimulate labor.  In my case, it started light contractions that stopped after about eight hours in.  I thought my labor had stalled at that point, but my midwife told me I wasn't actually in labor at all.  My acupuncturist came to the apartment at that point to hit all the labor points.  Not sure if any of this did any good at all, except to make me (more) uncomfortable and frustrated. Ultimately, my water broke at 11:30 the following evening, which sent me rocketing through a four hour labor that was as close to hell as I hope I ever get.   All this, so I wouldn't have to go into the hospital for an induction, which my OB threatened would have to happen if I hit 41 weeks.  I think her exact words were, "We're not going to let you hit 41 weeks."  This echoes another passage from my newsletter.  Regardless of how the baby's faring (they make you go in for these tests beginning at 40 weeks to check on him), doctors will recommend an induction between weeks 41 and 42.  Regardless.  

Induction means pitocin.  Pitocin, a synthetic form of oxytocin is pumped into you.  The contractions are much worse on pitocin (not sure how that could be possible) making my goal of having a drug-free birth even more difficult to achieve.  But an epidural, its other risks notwithstanding, can also have the effect of slowing down labor.  And they'll only let you labor for so long.  You see where my mind goes. 

My friends who've had C-sections didn't choose to; they consented, of course, but the doctor made the call.  But I think it goes without saying that I don't always trust doctors to act in my best interest.  Even when they think they are, they're trained to think in terms of pathology, what's wrong with someone.  Often it seems that rather than let a natural process unfold, they'd rather go the shortest route to the end result to avoid possible complications.  So what does that mean for me, at 39 weeks and 2 days?  That if I don't go into labor on my own in the next four days, I start down a path that I don't want to go down.  I'll go in for my last prenatal appointment and they'll sweep my membranes.  I'll make subsequent appointments for non-stress tests and the like.  If I go a few more days, I'll have to make a choice about the other natural interventions.  I'll get more uncomfortable; I'll get more stressed.  At 41 weeks they'll schedule my induction.  So I'll get ready to fight, either my doctor for more time or my own body as it's taken over by pitocin-induced contractions.  Again, you see where my mind goes.

It's not my intention, however soap-boxy this may all sound, to judge anyone else's childbirth experience.  Healthy babies are born to happy mothers in many ways, and while I have a sense of what's right for me, I don't assume that it's right for everyone.  There are plenty of people, and in the Bay Area of all places, that think that my having a home birth with Julia was crazy.  I've met a good handful of people that think having a child without an epidural is crazy, especially when you've already had a natural childbirth that was as traumatic pain-wise as mine was.  But there's no other experience in life that's more personal than this, I think, no other experience where I've felt more compelled to listen to my inner voices rather than outside opinions, no other time when I've felt more confident that I know what's right for me, more than other women, more than even (gasp) a doctor.  

I'm steeling myself against the possibilities which are all quite daunting from where I sit.  And I'm steeling myself against them while trying to enjoy these last few uninterrupted days with my first born, trying to get another mouthful of breakfast in her before we go to the park, reading books to her about new baby brothers and sisters.  As always, I think worrying and overthinking is going to give me something I don't have under these circumstances.  Control.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

the other me

I had a dream a few months ago.  At first, it was your typical anxiety dream, but then it took an interesting and unprecedented turn:

I'm standing in front of a large group of teenagers in an auditorium.  I have the sense that I'm the new kid in school, that people don't know or don't like me.  I'm making some kind of an announcement, and while at first I can't hear myself speak for all the jeers and boos, at some point, I win the crowd over, and they begin to applaud and cheer.  Next scene, I'm being approached after school by a pretty girl I've already picked out in the crowd; she's inviting me to some kind of an event, like an art opening.  The scene changes and we're there.  The room has a reddish glow and people are lounging in velvet armchairs and couches.  Smoke fills the air and at first, everything's blurry in the haze.  I have a growing awareness of myself and the people around me.  I have a sense I belong there even though it's an unfamiliar place.  It dawns on me slowly as we're walking through the space that I'm not in my everyday body.  I'm young, maybe late teens, and I'm thin and spare, taller, stronger.  My clothes are form-fitting, but not tight, the cut androgynous.  I run my hand up my neck and notice my hair, which is straight and cut very short, with a fall of hair over one eye.  Cut to the next scene, and I'm in the cab of an old pick up, my pick up, apparently, the same girl next to me.  We're parked, slouched in our seats, smoking cigarettes.  As I exhale and see the smoke rise and disperse before my eyes, I feel something that in life I never feel, a sense of relaxation, ease, that I'm in complete and utter control.  I am perfectly confident that whatever I want to happen next, will happen.  That by virtue of who I am, what I am, everything will come easy for me.  It was the most beautiful feeling I've had for a long time, and lasted long after the details of the dream began to fade away.

When I first became a parent, other parts of me were sidelined, subverted.  I think it happens to everyone.  Just like, when you settle down with a partner, the single individual is swallowed to a certain extent by the "relationship" individual, the parent self overtakes to a certain extent the childless self.  And in mostly good ways, I think.  Parenthood taught me to be more selfless, taught me to put things in perspective, taught me to find happiness in meeting someone else's needs, taught me the depth and force of love.  I was forced to drop bad habits, lose a lot of vanity, rearrange my priorities.  But an essential part of myself was also starved for a time, and it's been a struggle trying to balance that part with the part that's been forever changed, that's gearing up to change again.  

It's worth noting that I had this dream at a moment when, between the demands of my pregnancy and toddler, I felt riddled with anxiety, compromised both physically and mentally. Gratifying, really, that I could give myself a subconscious vacation from all of it, be young, fierce, stylish, fit, rebellious, open.

I rarely have lucid dreams, those dreams in which you can be who you want and control the action.  So that, in and of itself, is noteworthy, too.  But the dream was revelatory to me for reasons beyond this.  The person I was in this dream, I know her very well, but I've never been her, in dreams or real life.  I've been attracted to her, looked for and recognized parts of her in other people, in characters in books and movies, and I've written about her in countless stories throughout my life.  She's a reoccurring theme, you might say.  What this dream brought to light for me was that she's not what I always thought she was: something outside of me, some fantasy, some ideal, but rather, she's a part of me, some potential I can reach.  And if that's the case, then at this moment, she's the most repressed she's ever been.    Right now, she's my opposite in almost every way.  Finding some way to reach her, integrate her with my mom self, my partner self, may just be the key to everything.

But how?  The physical changes are obviously beyond me now, if they weren't always, and kind of beside the point: I'm never going to be 19 again.  I'm probably not going to ever cut my hair that short or start smoking again.  My piercings will stay closed.  When I get my body back, if I ever do, I'll never have that body type, and I'll probably revert back to the nondescript jeans and a v-neck t-shirt look I've sported for a good ten plus years now.  But her look and her attitude symbolize a kind of freedom for me that I don't have now, that maybe I've fallen short of ever really having, despite my attempts every ten years or so.  The kind of freedom I mean is freedom from self-doubt, freedom from pressures to conform, to please.  Freedom from fear of loss, of failure.  But that kind of freedom requires power.  The power to be your authentic self, and be that self even in the face of disapproval, discrimination, rejection. 

In my efforts to find connection to other moms in a new town, I've found myself trying to send the message, Hey, accept me, I'm just like you.  Which just isn't true.  I mean, I'm not the counter-culture queen, not by a long shot, but there are aspects of me that set me apart from a lot of folks I've met here.  And I've pretended, and in a few cases, even tried to care about things I have no interest in (particular TV shows, cooking projects, warehouse shopping, to name a few).  So what to do?  With a few new friends I've tried the "coming out" routine, not the obvious coming out, as that happens as soon as I mention Karissa, but coming out as a lover of obscure things, outsider art, underground music, challenging reads, foreign films, complex questions.  But, as I observed in an earlier post, the extent to which I can really convey things about myself is sorely limited when my attention is divided as is the extent to which many of my acquaintances care, when what they'd prefer to do is dissect the latest episode of The Real Housewives of Orange County.

I've already begun reassembling myself by reconnecting more intentionally with my pre-parenthood friends.  With them I share a common language, taste and experience, enough that I don't have to fight to be seen.  In just the few weeks that I've sought out kindred spirits and cut ties with ill-fitting "frienemies," I've been so much happier.  And as I've noted before, being back on a college campus this fall will give me ample opportunity to connect with more like-minded individuals, so it's something I continue to look forward to.  But it's far from enough, and in fact, may not be the answer at all.  Surrounding myself with trusted friends is not unlike building a barricade between myself and a world I find strange and unwelcoming at times.  I have to take some kind of action, set things in motion.  To put it in the simplest terms, I have to be myself, my whole self, which means I have to feed and nurture all the parts of me.  At this point, I don't know how to do this.  But at least, I realize something has to be done.

We all carry around "otherness."  Our children see it eventually and watch us very closely to see what we do with it.  Do we hide it, and simply show others what we think they want to see?  I want my daughter and my son to learn early on that you can't please everyone, and moreover, you shouldn't want to.  I want them to be whole people, integrated, expressed.  I can't stop their pendulums from swinging wildly at different points in their lives, but I can hope they return to the center.

Since I dreamed this dream, I can see her very clearly, the other me, I can see everything she represents, see her staring at me, from the shadows, James Dean pose, cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth, and I get the message finally.  She's daring me to be her, in some small way, everyday.  She's daring me to be fully free.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

the balance

For one reason or another, many of the playgroups that we've been a part of in the past year are dissolving, and I've been scrambling to cobble together a new program for Julia for the summer. Some of the reasons for the transition are connected to her age and the ages of her playmates. Some of it's the ebb and flow of my own friendships.  Mostly, she's growing out of certain groups and activities, so much faster than I thought possible.  And now she's "ready," or at least, almost old enough for new kinds of experiences: ballet classes, tot soccer, swim lessons, gymnastics. My head is spinning.  There are so many options, and it's difficult to know where to begin.

No longer is it enough to just give her a room filled with bright plastic toys, some books and some playdough.  At the same time, there's a tendency in this community to overprogram your kids, to obsess about how to best manufacture their experiences so that they'll be as well-rounded as they can be, before they've even entered kindergarten.  I don't want her to burn out by age five, but I also want her to have all of the advantages I can give her.

So, how to find the balance?

When I was three, I was in a home-based day care all day long, the same day care I'd been in since I was nine months old.  I don't remember much about being three, but I do remember my caregiver's house, a few of my friends, and some of the things we did there.  She had a huge yard and plenty of toys, and at least six other kids for me to play with.  While I didn't ever go to preschool or do any kind of enrichment activities until I was in grade school, I had a good imagination, a few consistent playmates, and the freedom to roam, which more than prepared me for school, academically, at any rate.

That said, I didn't learn a lot of basic "kid" skills until I was well into childhood and approaching adolescence, that is to say, too late.  I didn't learn how to swim, skate, or ride a bike until I was eight or nine.  I could never do a proper cartwheel.  I never learned to dive properly, and embarrassed myself by having to jump feet first into the water at competitive swim meets at eleven years of age.  I amassed quite a collection of brown and orange fifth and sixth place ribbons that summer.  I still can't stand up and pedal on a bike; I can hardly move one hand off the handlebars to shift gears on a ten speed.  I continue to be allergic to most organized sports and games.  While I taught myself to stay upright on ice skates, I could never go backward or spin in a circle.  Though I had an ear for music from very early on, I never learned to play an instrument, and picked up the guitar for the first time well into my twenties.  I never went to summer camp or did camping of any kind with my family, so nature and I were estranged for most of my life.

This is not to say I had a lousy childhood; I was loved, I was fed and clothed, educated, entertained and kept safe.  One thing I had was plenty of downtime after school and on weekends; time to wander around my neighborhood, play in my backyard, read, write, watch TV.    Without camp, lazy summer days lasted forever, and my free time was my own to fill.  I can safely say stress was foreign to me until I hit puberty.  Trouble is, I think I missed something crucial having so little structure to my childhood.  I had no instruments to practice, no badges to earn, no big games, no rehearsals.  If I'd asked to do any of these things, I'm sure my parents would have let me, but how can you decide whether or not you'll be good at something if no one shows you the extent of your options?  I became increasingly afraid to try new things, convinced myself I wasn't good at so much.  By middle school, I'd gotten into performing arts and academics and away from athletics.  I found friends who shared my interests, but my direction had as much to do with my natural talents as my childhood gaps.

It's always a danger to base parenting decisions on what you perceive as the gaps in your own childhood, because it's easy to create new gaps based on your own biases.  It's also dangerous to pay too much attention to what other people are doing, because what's doable for one family/child isn't always doable for another.  I have to wonder, too, how much of the attention I'm giving to this has to do with the fact that in a few weeks, I won't be able to give her as much of myself.  I want to carve out as much time for her in advance as I possibly can.  And I've always found it helpful to put too much worry and planning into something than risk not doing enough.

I think, at the end of the day, I have to fall back on my progressive ed training and ask myself, what is she interested in?  She won't stop doing somersaults all over the house, so I've signed her up for a gymnastics class.  She's a natural water kid and always has been; so swim lessons are a no-brainer.  Beyond that, I have to trust that fresh air and sunshine and a new baby brother will keep her happy and stimulated.  In a few months, she'll start preschool, and more doors will open for her.

The bottom line is, I don't want Julia to have to shy away from experiences as she gets older because she lacked exposure to certain things at a young age.  I want her to have the chance to master some basic skills so that she's confident and brave enough to tackle related challenges as she grows.  I don't want to go crazy and overwhelm her or take away her ability to fill her own time.   I don't want windows to close on her.  I know she won't be good at everything, but I just want to give her the chance.