Bonding with the babies, in spite of myself

Four in the afternoon is what I like to call white-knuckling time. Right around four is when both children get really tired (that’ll happen when you wake up at 5:00 AM and refuse to take a nap — go figure) and one of two things happen. One, they either get inexplicably hyper and run/crawl back and forth from the kitchen to the living room, demanding graham crackers, or they get crying-angry. Crangry. Everything upsets them — they want peanut butter toast instead of the delicious organic dinner and probiotic-laced chocolate milk I prepared for them. Henry wants to take the knives out of the dishwasher and crawl around with them. June wants to watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood but NOT THAT EPISODE YOU DUMB BITCH, and cue the screeching, art-supply-throwing meltdown in the middle of the living room floor. From about 4:00 onward Lou and I start white-knuckling it and counting down the minutes until we can throw them in bed and enjoy some motherfucking SILENCE, REAL TALK.

I have this horrible habit of staying up long after I should have gone to bed (like ten thirty, you guys) because I love the feeling of not being hounded by two demanding little tyrants. I’m really tired every morning but oh, the freedom of eating peanut butter toast and watching Netflix for hours and hours is the only thing that keeps me going some days. So immediately after we put them down for bed, I head straight to loft with my laptop and a bag full of those honey-mustard pretzels and nobody is allowed to talk to me or ask me to do anything for the rest of the night. My husband joins me in the loft eventually and sits in his reclining chair and draws awesome comics while he watches old episodes of 30 Rock. And that is romance, y’all. That is why we’re happily married and have been best friends for seven years now. Deep conversations? Candle-lit dinners? Take that noise somewhere else. After a full day of toddler tantrums, I just want to be left alone to eat pretzels and scroll mindlessly through a bunch of hilarious gifs.

Inevitably, every single night, I end up on facebook scrolling mindlessly through pictures of my own children, because I am addicted to them like crack. I cannot get away from them. The first hour or two after they fall asleep I’m like, yes, I am going to stay right here with my netflix and pretzels and I’m not getting out of bed unless there’s a fire, and even then probably not. After a couple hours, though, I pull the earbuds out of my ears and start telling Lou about the hilarious things June said during the day. “Oh! I forgot to tell you what Henry did!” is how most of my sentences start after 8:00. By 8:30 I’m wandering in their room “just to check” on them, hovering over them like a crazy ex-girlfriend, because they are just so breathtakingly beautiful with such pillowy cheeks. You can’t not kiss them. And then maybe you kiss the baby and he wakes up and starts whimpering because he wants to nurse but that’s okay because you missed him anyway.

Ewwww! Creeper, no creeping! But yeah I’ve totally done this to my children.

Maybe it’s because I have a panic disorder but I have this weird anxiety that I’m not “bonded enough” with either of them. I don’t know how much more love it’s possible to feel for these people, but I always have this nagging fear that if I’m not constantly enjoying them, it means I haven’t bonded with them enough and they’re going to develop Reactive Attachment Disorder and turn out to be stabbers.

God knows I didn’t get to hold either one of them right after they were born. Not that I’m bitter — it was a decision borne out of choice and necessity, and with both of them I remember feeling very zen about it at the time, and even now. I have years and years of getting-to-know them ahead of me, I thought, as the nurses wrapped up June and brought her over to my husband. But then a few weeks later, in the hormonal, sweaty hell that was post-partum anxiety, I cried as I wiped off my back-sweat with a towel: What if I hadn’t bonded with her enough?! What if I didn’t really love her?!

June’s birth was relatively easy, as births go. Not even a day of labor, just a few hours of really hard labor (mitigated by the epidural, thank you Jesus), less than an hour of pushing, and she was here. Afterward, however, was when it all fell apart — already anemic, I retained my placenta and hemorrhaged everywhere. Two hours later I woke up — weak from blood loss, loopy from the drugs, exhausted from the delivery. I was still half-awake when my husband handed me the baby — swaddled and sleeping, not the screaming newborn I had pictured squirming naked on my chest post-birth. I didn’t feel a rush of love — relief, maybe, that we had survived. Contentedness, knowing that the hard part was over and I was free to enjoy my baby. But mostly I just felt like going back to sleep. I had been awake for 36 hours at that point and was on the verge of needing a blood transfusion; sue me.

Three days later, we were home and I still felt like I had been run over by a truck — shaky, aching, and overwhelmed with that new-mom exhaustion you can feel all the way down to the marrow of your bones. At one point, my mom scooped the baby out of my arms and shooed me into my room to take a nap. Wide-awake but nauseous with exhaustion, I burrowed under the covers, closed my eyes — and nothing. I waited — ten minutes, fifteen, twenty — on the verge of sleep but unable to fall all the way under. My heart started to race. Dear God, I thought, if I don’t sleep now, June will wake up and need to eat, and I won’t have another chance to nap for who knows how long. Until night-time, at least. Oh wait, she doesn’t sleep then, either. Go to sleep, dummy! Sleep NOW! Amazingly, this didn’t help me sleep. I pulled a sleep mask over my eyes. Put headphones in my ears. Waited, waited. Nothing. My heart started beating faster. I started whimpering, then full-out sobbing. I was never going to sleep again. I started dreading the baby, fearing the baby. I never wanted to see the baby again. I just wanted to sleep and sleep and sleep. Oh God, I begged, please don’t let her walk in here with the baby.

Right on cue, Mom walked in with the baby. I was crying so hard I could barely see them through my tears. And then I did see them — my baby — and my heart soared. “Hiiiiii!” I screeched, probably too loud, suddenly feeling the weirdest mixture of miserable and elated. My baby! She was here! I was still tired, terrified, and every muscle in my body ached, but now, as a consolation prize, I got to hold my precious, pink little baby girl and smell her fuzzy head as she nursed. I was the poster child for post-partum anxiety — sweating, unable to sleep, overwhelmed — and sick with love for my little baby. Yay! I thought, holding out my arms and making gimme-gimme-gimme hands at her feverishly. The baby’s here, the baby’s here!

At some point in the first few days, completely unbeknownst to me, June had gone from a mewling stranger that I tolerated nervously to a snuggly, precious little creature whom I loved — genuinely loved, conventional “bonding” be damned. We didn’t do skin-to-skin with either of them right after birth — the hemorrhage got in the way of that for June, obviously, and Henry had to be whisked off for his myelomeningocele surgery — so that fabled rush of post-birth oxytocin is something we all missed out on. But we bonded. I started loving her. I don’t know when it happened, but it did. It felt like crazy, hungry, desperate fear for her safety until I got my antidepressants straightened out, but it was love, it was attachment, whatever you want to call it, and it was there.

I still feel it at four in the morning, when Henry wakes and shrieks like a falcon until I stumble over to his crib and thrust a sippy-cup under his nose. God I’m so tired please go back to sleep oh hiiiiii sweet baby boy, look at those precious little lips! When I crawl back in bed there’s a lump taking up most of the space on my pillow, and I remember that June crawled into bed with me last night at midnight. I yuv you my snuggly girl she tells me, so I let her climb up into my bed, but just this once (yeah right.) And I think, They’re here, they’re here, my babies, they’re here.

Childbirth sucks balls but it cured my PTSD

My precious baby girl turned three years old on Monday. We celebrated over the weekend (with a small family party, some chocolate cake, and a late-night bonfire), so her actual day of birth was pretty low-key. We woke up, watched Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, cleaned downstairs, folded some clothes, drove up to Park Ridge to cast Henry’s feet, and took a nap (June did, not me. Alas).

Three years ago I was sitting upright on my hospital bed, eyes closed, paralyzed with absolute terror. I was in the middle of labor. Strangely enough, I wasn’t even feeling my contractions. My water had broken (partially — apparently your water can “leak” and not fully break. Who knew?) so I was admitted and contracting and leaking (gross) — but not dilating. I was stuck at 4 centimeters. And I was so, so terrified. The contractions were nothing — mild cramps and stomach tightening — but my heart was racing so fast that the nurses kept coming in to check on me and asking if I had a heart defect of some type. My heart was defect-free — but I did have a major case of PTSD to contend with.

If you’ve followed my blog at all in the past year, you know that I studied abroad in India, and it was an absolute disaster. Not only did I develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, my PTSD was triggered by about a zillion different things, including having to pee, any kind of loud or sudden noise, doctors, hospitals, any mention of India, and being in a moving vehicle. Any of the aforementioned things would cause an immediate and irreversible anxiety attack, eventually culminating in a full-blown nervous breakdown. It was … not the best couple years of my life.

So you can guess, perhaps, that being in a hospital, surrounded by doctors, with a c-section looming (I thought), was not the most calming place for me to be. I had envisioned my labor to be done mostly out of bed, walking around to ease the contractions, bouncing on my yoga ball — but as soon as I stepped into the hospital, that desire completely vanished. All I wanted to do was hide like an animal in a cave and hiss at whoever approached. I turned off all the lights. I lay curled up on my hospital bed, unable to sleep. My heart rate skyrocketed whenever a nurse came in the room. One of the triage nurses brushed up against my leg and I burst out crying. (“Umm … I haven’t even checked your cervix yet,” she said, totally perplexed. I know, dear. I know. I’m crazy. Just ignore me.)

It wasn’t even the thought of a section that scared me. It was simply being in a hospital, where my previous trauma had taken place. It was simply being around doctors. It was simply laying on my back, in pain. That’s all it took. It was like my body remembered what had happened in India and it was screaming Danger! Danger, Will Robinson! Run away! With every passing second, I had to will myself not to run screaming from the room in terror. Not an exaggeration.

I’ll be totally fine as long as nobody comes near me or talks to me or touches me in any way, and I don’t have any contractions or feel any pain.

So for twelve hours I was wide awake, with my eyes closed, listening to my Hypnobabies CD on repeat. Contracting, leaking, and not dilating. At one point I thought to myself, hey, this Hypnobabies stuff really works! I’m not feeling any pain at all! I’m doing it! I’M HYPNOBIRTHING! 

And then the nurse came in. “Um, you haven’t had any contractions for twenty minutes now.” Well, shit.

Finally, the OB came in and asked to break my water completely to move things along. I agreed readily (meaning, I nodded vigorously, in silence). I was terrified of having this baby, but I wanted to push this sucker out and just be done already. So she broke my water. And I felt nothing for a minute. And then:

“Fuuuuuuuuck this!”

It was the kidney stone pain all over again, except that the intensity fell and peaked instead of just relentlessly stabbing me in the back like the stone had done. It was bone-crunching, soul-twisting agony, and the fact that it was very very similar to kidney stone pain racheted up my anxiety ten-fold. Oh my dear sweet baby Jesus, I thought, this cannot be happening. No, no, no. I need the epidural. NOW.

“Epidural!” I screamed. My eyes were still squeezed shut. This was the first word I spoken to my OB since being admitted.

“Are you sure?” She said. “I wouldn’t want to impose –”

“SWEET JESUS,” I gasped. “Need! Drugs! Go! Run!”

My OB scurried out of the room, bless her. And thus began the longest hour of my life — the hour between requesting an epidural and actually getting it. This part is hazy. I remember twisting from side to side, wrenching my earbuds out of my ears (those hypnobabies flutes weren’t doing shit at that point), and screaming at my husband to apply counter-pressure to my back. “HARDER!” I kept screaming. “AH, JESUS! GOD, IT HURTS! PUSH HARDER! FUCK!”

And then the anesthesiologist came. He was pushing sixty, probably three hundred pounds, and looked exactly like the dude in those diabeetus commercials. But he was the most gorgeous vision I had ever beheld.

“OH THANK GOD,” I yelled. “YOU’RE HERE. YOU BEAUTIFUL MAN. PUT YOUR MAGIC JUICE INSIDE OF ME!!!!”

He obliged.

This right here is why I sing endless praises to the heavens about the miracle that is the epidural. I know the epidural gets a lot of flack sometimes, but it was an absolute Godsend for me during my PTSD-related anxiety freakout. Knowing that there was an end in sight to the excruciating pain kept my anxiety from spinning wildly out of control. It showed me that I wasn’t at the mercy of whatever my body was doing — unlike the kidney stone pain, the labor pain could be corralled and controlled. That wimp-juice saved my life. Or at least my sanity.

After the epidural I dozed blissfully for three hours. I was still completely terrified, and I refused to open my eyes or talk with any of the nurses or staff, but my anxiety had gone from an 11 to about a 6 — a considerable improvement. I took deep breaths and dozed, my heart still pounding.

After a couple hours of this, a horde of nurses flocked into the room. I was fully dilated. Tons of nurses and doctors (and a male student EMT, fun times!) all up in my biznatch was pretty much the last thing I wanted, but I was terrified that if I said anything, or moved even the slightest bit, my heart rate would skyrocket and I would spiral into a panic attack. I kept my mouth shut, except for when I heard the ceiling open and a huge mirror descended.

“Oh, God,” I moaned. “I don’t have to watch this, do I?”

“Uh…” the nurses said, and exchanged looks. “No, of course not.” The mirror went back up.

I pushed for one hour. Every time I flopped back down after a contraction, I thought, I’m going to barf, immediately followed by, you can barf when you’re dead! June was born at 1:55 pm. Sit up and look what you did! My OB exclaimed. I used every last bit of energy to hoist myself up on my elbows. I caught a flash of her pink, squalling face (huge cheeks! I thought to myself. Just like my husband! Just like I wanted!) and then collapsed, my eyes squeezed shut, sobbing. It was over. She was out. We were safe.

Well, June was safe, anyway. As soon as I collapsed back into the bed I started hemorrhaging. The OB removed my placenta manually, reaching inside until she was elbow deep in my uterus. It was … not pleasant. The drugs they gave to numb me knocked me out for two hours, but strangely I was conscious, though I had my eyes closed and was unable to move. I heard every word my mother and mother-in-law said when they came to visit the baby. But I couldn’t open my eyes or respond. That was … also unpleasant.

For some people, this would be the epitome of birth trauma. For me, it was healing. Perspective, I guess. I had done it. I had survived. I had actually pushed a seven-pound baby out of my vajayjay and I lived to tell about it. I did it without succumbing to panic. I did it without hyperventilating and sobbing hysterically (for the most part). WE DID IT. It was done, over, accomplished. We were safe.

Hours later, in the recovery room, my husband and I watched Goldfinger (the only thing on TV besides the don’t-shake-your-baby video that we both refused to watch) and laughed way, way too hard at all the jokes. For what seemed like forever, we yelled “I LOVE GOOLLLLLD” at the TV screen and laughed until tears came out of our eyes. We held the baby and enjoyed her, soaked her in.

It was finished; we were safe.

I haven’t had a panic attack since.

 

Bifin’ Ain’t Easy: The Surgery Edition

Yesterday, my husband took Henry up to Park Ridge for his tendon release and casting surgery to correct his bilateral clubbed feet. Henry is fine and recovering well (aka sleeping a ton) but the surgery did not go as we expected.

Ignore the blurriness. Have you ever seen a little boy more adoring of his daddy?

Ignore the blurriness. Have you ever seen a little boy more adoring of his daddy?

Apparently, Henry’s little bones are all jacked up, and his clubbed feet are irregular, even for a kid with spina bifida. His talus bone, I guess, is bent at a weird angle, which complicates the surgery and the casting a little bit. Here is what I understand in laymen’s terms:

Normal club foot repair surgery: Doctor goes in, releases the tendon (shudder), turns the bones, restructures the foot with a splint, and casts the foot to keep it in place.

 What they did with Henry: Doctor goes in, releases the tendon, goes to turn the bone and sees that it’s weirdly shaped and turning it would make his foot even more crooked. Doc scratches his head. Doc sews up the leg, casts it, and hopes that the casts will do the work of flattening his feet and restructuring the foot on its own. If that doesn’t work, Doc will eventually have to remove the bone altogether.

What this means for Henry is that we have to cast his feet ONE AT A TIME, to see if the procedure is successful on one foot before we start the procedure in the other foot. The reason they can’t just release the tendons from both feet and cast them at the same time is that if the surgery doesn’t work and we need to remove the bone, scarring from the first surgery can complicate the second procedure. So instead of casting both his feet for a few months and being done with it, we have to go through the casting process for one foot, see if it flattens and straightens, and then go the tendon release surgery and the casting process ALL OVER AGAIN six months later.

So eventually, the clubbed foot is going to be corrected. But we’re going to have to take a much longer route to get there.

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but this … kind of sucks.

My sweetest little boy in his foot/leg cast. I've never seen his leg look so straight!

My sweetest little boy in recovery. I’ve never seen his leg look so straight!

Don’t get me wrong — I am so thankful that we have the resources to fix his clubbed feet in the first place. I know that for the majority of children in the world, this surgery isn’t even an option. Some people live with clubbed feet their entire lives. I’m so glad we get to have this procedure done, even if it’s going to take us a little longer to cast his feet than we expected.

The difficult part about this, though, is that our hospital is 90 minutes away. And will have to drive up there every week for several months to re-cast his feet and legs. That’s a LOT of gas. And a LOT of time. Days that we drive up to Park Ridge I consider “survival days” — we’re just doing the minimum to survive. June watches a LOT of TV (we have a TV in our Honda Pilot; it’s pretty freaking sweet for long drives), both kids eat a lot of snacks, both kids play with the iPad for far too long to keep them occupied while I talk to the doctors. It’s not ideal, but it doesn’t happen very often. This casting process means we’re going to have many, many “survival days,” and that kind of just breaks my heart. I like spending our days quietly at home, not throwing bags of Goldfish crackers in the backseat and cranking up the volume on the television so I can concentrate on finding the right highway exit.

This is one of those days where I really hate the ‘bif. It can be such a freaking drain — on your family, on your finances, on your time, on your health. On EVERYONE. And I don’t say this because I’m complaining — I’m saying this because this is what spina bifida looks like. This is reality. It’s not doom and gloom, but it’s not always rainbows and sunshine either.

So this kinda sucks. But you know what? We’re grateful for this experience. All of it. No mom really wants to see her child suffer, but I’m hoping that Henry will struggle just enough to become a young man of character. I’m hoping that not only will he eventually have functional feet, but also that he can use this experience to encourage other people as well. What if one day some kid in his elementary school class has to have surgery for a broken leg, and he’s terrified? What if Henry can draw on this experience and help assure the kid that if he can have casts for months on end, so can anyone? And maybe he’ll give the kid a smile and a hug and a promise to draw a picture on his cast as well. Wouldn’t that just be the best?

We’re gonna use this shitty situation for the glory of God. We’re gonna turn this tragedy into a triumph — one leg at a time.

If healthy pregnancies were treated like special needs pregnancies

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, good afternoon. I’m Doctor Dumas, a visiting obstetrician in Doctor Kwak’s practice. It’s nice to meet you.

Look, there’s no easy way to say this, so at the risk of sounding blunt, I have some bad news.

The technician and I reviewed your scans and we found that you’re about ten weeks along with a human fetus. I’m not seeing any abnormalities as far as growth or bone and organ structure, but you’re very clearly pregnant with a human baby. In all likelihood, you’ll carry the baby for another thirty weeks until your amniotic sac ruptures and the baby exits your body vaginally. In some cases, your baby will be extracted via cesarean section. Either mode carries its own set of risks and is extremely painful. We’re so very sorry.

Your baby will be born, unless you suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth. After his birth, he will live, and then he will die. He will live until he dies. I’m sorry to say that life is terminal. The fatality rate for human beings is 100 percent. If he survives past birth, you’d just be living on borrowed time.

How long does he have? We’re not sure. Humans typically live until their mid-seventies, depending on where they’re born and a variety of other factors. But many die at age 5, or 15, or 30. We can’t predict with any certainty how long he has, but we know that death is an inevitability. You probably have a history of death in your family.

We’re also sad to say that your child has cancer. Well, not right now, but statistically it’s possible. You’re carrying a human child, and fourteen thousand of them every single year get some kind of cancer. In fact, the second leading cause of death between kids ages 5-14 is cancer. This is second only to unintentional accidents like a gun misfiring or some sort of collision. So if your baby doesn’t die in a car wreck first, I’m afraid there’s a chance he’ll get cancer. I’m so sorry.

If by some chance we prolong his life until age 15, the odds don’t look good then either. It’s not totally hopeless — I mean, never say never, right? — but teen mortality rates are climbing. There’s always a risk of car accidents, overdose, and particularly suicide. The suicide rate is particularly troublesome. I’m a numbers man, so I’ll give it to you straight: Thirty three thousand teenagers committed suicide in 2006. And being born is the leading cause of eventually committing suicide.

I know you have a lot to think about. Just try to breathe. There are a lot of options. It’s important to take care of yourself first, and your marriage. Children are a big contributor to divorce. Almost forty percent of divorced people have children at one point. Suicide, cancer, divorce … if the baby survives birth, you’d be bringing him into a pretty questionable environment. You’ve got problems coming at him from all angles. Multiple problems. Quality of life is important to consider.

This is the part of my job I hate. I can only imagine how shocking and upsetting this is for you. Unfortunately, we have even more difficult news. Your Chorionic Villus Sampling test came back with some red flags. Our tests indicate that you’re very likely having  a boy. This occurs typically in half of all pregnancies, and nobody really knows why. We know the Y chromosome plays a part, and we know the father is the carrier.

These things just happen.

Risks? Well, males typically have higher testosterone, which could lead to anger issues. They’re more likely to abuse alcohol and much more likely to rape. Something like 90 percent of all homicide offenders are men, and the vast majority of inmates in the penal system are men as well.

You have a 1 in 2 chance of having another boy, should you choose to get pregnant again. You could also try for a girl, but there are risks involved with a girl as well. Girls are much more likely to be raped and make up the vast majority of sex-related homicides. 100 percent of people who die in childbirth are women. Women are less likely to commit suicide and rape other people, but they’re infinitely more likely to die of ovarian and breast cancer. There are significant risks, whatever you do. I’m afraid it’s inescapable.

Well, you have a lot of options. You can take your chances, or you can terminate. I can’t make that decision for you, but I will say that terminating now will let you start the healing process that much sooner. It’s early in the pregnancy, and it would probably be easier to do it now rather than wait twenty five years to see if he turns out to be a rapist.

On the bright side, he could be worse. Your baby is caucasian. Black children are three times more likely to grow up in poverty, and black men are twenty times more likely to be sent to prison than white men. The outcome is just very poor for people of color. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. Just be grateful he isn’t a girl. Or black. Or a black girl, God forbid.

So. Talk it over. You two have a lot to discuss.

 

Hold On

One of the most trying things about toddler-wrangling is their neediness. Their urgency.

You think you leave it behind when you finally crawl out of the newborn stage, but you don’t. Not really. It just changes shape. They still have immediate, urgent needs, and so much more of them, it seems. As an infant, they would wail for food. Wail for comfort. Wail for a diaper change. That was mostly it. And then they’d sleep the rest of the day. With toddlers, there are so many more things to wail about. So many more. And they never sleep.

I just! I need! I have! A red marker! And I need! A green marker! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! MOMMY HELP

Apparently, when you’re two, everything is an emergency, and everything needs to be treated with the immediacy of a level-red terrorist alert. As a result, the most commonly-used phrase in our house is hold on. I must say it to June twenty-five times before noon:

Yes, I know you need help pulling up your undies; please hold on, I have cookie batter on my hands.

Yes, I know you can’t get the cap off your marker, I heard you the first four times; please hold on while I catheterize your brother.

Please stop climbing on me, I know there’s a spider on the wall, I’ll kill it in like, two seconds, just hold on. HOLD ON.

I KNOW the Netflix stopped working, but I’m giving Henry a bath; just hold on for five minutes. HOLD ON. STOP SHRIEKING. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

I will pour you some cereal WHEN I’M DONE BREASTFEEDING COULD YOU NOT.

Unlike June, Henry doesn’t have five million requests for stupid shit, but he makes up for it with his god-awful whine. On a good day, he sounds like Beaker. But if I don’t get him what he wants quickly enough, it escalates into just straight-up screaming.

Not even crying. Literally just one shrill note.

Obviously, my anxiety goes through the roof when they’re like this. One of my old PTSD triggers, for whatever reason, is a shrill, unrelenting, loud, or repetitive noise. Thanks to modern medicine and therapy, I’m no longer thrown into an endless panic spiral. But it still grates on my nerves probably more than it should, and after thirty seconds of high-pitched screaming and whining and begging, my heart starts to pound pretty quickly. It’s one of nature’s greatest ironies — children, with their whining and their incessant needs, can trigger your “fight or flight” mechanism unlike any other. Yet raising children is one situation you can’t just flee from on a whim. Not without legal repercussions, anyway.

Oh you need dinner? BRB never coming back

And there’s an existential anxiety there, too, when they need something and they screech super loudly and I have to tell them to just hold on, hold on! When you’ve got two baby birds screeching for food, you start to feel inadequate when you can’t feed them fast enough. Because, you know, feeding them is your job. It’s like, a basic requirement of living. They’re HUNGRY, for God’s sake — listen to them! They’re starving! What kind of a mother lets her children STARVE??

Oh God, they’re gonna starve! I’m the worst!

And let’s not kid ourselves — there’s an anxiety there that no matter how many spiders I kill and markers I un-cap, I can’t give them everything they need, at all times, all at once. It’s anxiety that I’m not enough. That I just can’t do it. That I just can’t meet their needs.

Anxiety that maybe I’m just not very good at this motherhood thang.

What other job can you say you’ve waited your whole life for, and have now done for years, and still you have no idea what you’re doing? Are there any other jobs where you can mess up every single day, irrevocably, and not be fired?

I know they won’t always be like this — I know. And I’m not doing a horrible job, I get it. It’s just an anxiety I have to learn to deal with. Story of my life.

And I know that I’ll miss this some day. I know. I will miss this urgency, this constant screaming excitement. It’s overwhelming, but it’s the same thing that makes her scream with delight when she sees soap bubbles. It’s the same thing urgency that makes her run into my arms and scream mommy mommy mommy! when I get back from the grocery store. It’s not all terrible.

It’s one more two-year-old thing I’ll have to say goodbye to. Yesterday I told June to “JUST HOLD ON” maybe sixty times. Not an exaggeration. Yesterday I was more than ready to say goodbye to this particular stage of being two.

And then we went to preschool. And now I’m not so sure.

When we got there, she dashed up to the front door and judo-kicked the handicap button on the door. The door swung open and she ran inside, pell-mell, past the secretary, jabbering about her pigtails, and ran through another set of doors, down the hall, to her preschool classroom. She needed to get to class. There were crafts to be done. And songs to sing. It was an emergency, as always. Henry and I huffed and puffed behind her, trying to catch up.

Gotta get to pre-school, mom! Let’s go, mom! 

I love watching her pigtails swing back and forth as she’s running away from me down the hall. I love watching her back-pack (“pack-pack”) bounce all over her tiny body. Sometimes I love her toddler excitement. Okay? I do. Sue me.

But I’m still gonna tell her to slow down. Come back. Don’t you want to hold my hand?

Just hold on. 

Goodbye to Two

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June got mad at preschool today — really mad. For her, anyway.

June, Henry and I go to a mommy-and-me preschool type thing right down the road from our house, and all of us love it. It gives us structure, it gives Henry exposure to other kids, and it gives June some much-needed socialization. She’s usually introverted and shy to the point of catatonia. But not today.

Today we were sitting in our semi-circle with all the other kids and their mothers for story time. Instead of a story, the teacher pulled out a wooden Melissa and Doug birthday cake and we sang Happy Birthday to the three kids who had turned four over the weekend. Apparently, June was not having it. She left the reading circle, sat with her back toward everyone else, and crossed her elbows, clearly pissed.

“I NOT singing that song, Mommy,” she said. “I just NOT singing it. It’s MY birfday TOO.”

“No, sweetie, it’s not your birthday until next month. We’ll sing happy birthday for you next month. Right now it’s their turn.”

“NO.” She said, sticking her feet straight out in front of her, in defiance. “It’s my birthday NOW. I three NOW.”

And it hit me: Whoa. She’ll be three soon. One more month, and I’ll no longer have a two year old.

And, ouch, my heart. On the way home, trying to hold it together, I made a mental list of things we’ll be saying goodbye to, when two is officially over: This is the last year she’s going to reach for me to hold her when we walk down the steps. This will be the last year she’ll plop down on my lap and kiss me on the lips and say “I yuv you!” without provocation. This is the last year she’ll pronounce frustrating as fushing! God willing, this is the last year she’ll eat ONLY CEREAL for every single meal.

“Mommy, can I have some — ” NO

I’m not ready.

I want more.

I know everyone tells you not to “wish the days away,” but the newborn days suck, and I definitely wished them away. All of them. I would happily hold them in my belly until the twenty-fifth trimester so I could avoid the nursing-for-a-half-hour-every-forty-minutes stage. (Otherwise known as the is-that-blood-jesus-christ-my-nipples-are-bleeding-again-somebody-please-anesthetize-me stage.) It’s not my favorite stage. I cherish my sweet newborns, I do. I hold them and kiss their milk-lips and nibble on their cheeks when they’re sleeping. And then I toss them in their baby swing and run like hell so I can take a shower and ice my nips.

And I’ll probably get crucified for saying so, but anything before eight weeks is so boring. They’re cute and everything, but it’s just a lot of work for not a whole lot of payoff: How’s the baby? Uh, he weighs, like, ten pounds now, I think? He nurses a lot still. He really likes playing with this kleenex box full of scarves. He doesn’t *quite* hold his head up yet — but maybe soon! Wow. Riveting. All that excitement totally makes up for the ninety cumulative minutes of sleep I got last night.

Oh, yes, it will. But we parents of newborns call it “the scare ball”

When I think of being pregnant again, I inwardly groan, because pregnancy. And newborn stage. And bleeding nips. But when I think of having another one- or two-year-old, I could have a million of those and never get sick of it. Two is when some of this parenting stuff actually feels like it’s starting to pay off. Two is when you can opine on their personality instead of run through a laundry list of boring milestones.

I am not a weepy, emotional mother by any means (unless I skip my zoloft for five or six days and then let’s just say I’ve been known to binge-watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians all afternoon and cry when Kim loses her earrings in the ocean). I am not nostalgic and I never cried when my babies reached their milestones. I never told them to slow down, you’re growing up too fast! I told them to hurry up and sleep through the night, so I don’t feel like killing myself!

I am guilty of wishing the days away. I am lazy. I don’t like work. Motherhood is hard. Sacrifice is really really hard. Having bleeding nipples and no sleep and wonky anxiety hormones sucks so badly. I’m not nostalgic for these moments. Probably because I’m in the thick of them.

Truth. And I’ll scrapbook WHEN I’M DEAD.

But two is the exception. It’s kind of throwing me for a loop. It’s so very challenging and so very, very joyful. Even when I’m scolding her for throwing her underwear at me yet again, or when I’m leading her by the hand, screaming, into Time Out because she threw a toy at her brother (“FINE, I SHARE!”), and I just want five minutes where she doesn’t ask me for another bowl of goddamn cereal, I feel so much joy and love in my heart that I catch myself smiling when I shouldn’t be. I sneak upstairs where my husband’s working and relay everything naughty she’s done and hold back laughter until my abdomen aches.

I’m not ready to say goodbye.

I want more.

As long as it’s healthy. But what if it’s not?

Six months into our pregnancy with Henry, after our spina bifida diagnosis, my husband and I would make regular treks up to Park Ridge to see the Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist, who kept us abreast on how the baby was doing in-utero. Since I’m extroverted and I adore small talk, I started chatting up the receptionist as we were filling out some paperwork, post-appointment. At this point, we had already been told by two separate doctors that Henry would be totally paralyzed from the waist down.

We started talking about her kids — three girls! — and I asked her if she preferred girls, or if she might try for a boy. We both quickly agreed that the baby’s sex wasn’t really that important — boy or girl, they were blessings.

“Oh, I like girls, but it doesn’t matter to me!” she exclaimed. “You know, as long as they’re healthy and running around!”

I felt it and Lou felt it, simultaneously — that hot knife of grief in the belly. I think he actually winced. I laughed, bewildered, and said something like, “LOL I KNOW RIGHT? HAHAHA OTHERWISE IT WOULD BE AWFUL, WOULDN’T IT, IF THEY COULDN’T WALK???” and then slumped back to the waiting room with my paperwork.


Later, on the ride home, Lou bristled. “She works for a maternal-fetal specialist,” he grumbled. “What was she thinking? Healthy and running around? What the hell?”

That phrase has haunted me, ever since we found out that our child would be born with a birth defectAs long as it’s healthy! People chirp at you, when you talk about finding out the gender. Boy? Doesn’t matter! Girl? Who gives a shit! Nothing else matters but perfect health! And once you discover that your kid isn’t healthy, it almost feels like a threat.

Because what if it’s not healthy?

What then?

That phrase terrifies me. Because we’re talking about our children — an arrangement that’s supposed to be unconditional — and as long as they’re healthy! is alarmingly conditional. Everyone’s happy for a new baby and congratulations are in order — but only under certain criteria. Right? And if baby doesn’t meet that criteria, well, all bets are off. All the congratulations vanish. Your support system bottoms out from under you. People start whispering. Doctors start talking about going in another direction. Changing the course of the pregnancyDisrupting the pregnancy. Termination. Because, clearly, if your child isn’t picture-perfect, a SWIFT DEATH is preferable.

It’s not wrong to want a healthy baby, make no mistake. Nobody prefers a medically fragile baby. Nobody wants to see her child suffer. So we wish for health. We make ominous, defensive, vague statements. Everything will be okay — unless it’s not! 

Let’s retire that phrase. Shall we?

It’s time to stop putting health on a pedestal.

Is health important? Uh, yeah, duh. Is it the summit of our human experience? Is it the sole quality off of which we should determine the worth of our children? No.

We need to move past this fatalistic attitude we have that says a life with a disability is tragic and hopeless. We need to get over the idea that a handicapped baby is better off dead. We’ve had handicapped presidents, for God’s sake. We’ve had handicapped olympic medalists. One of the most sought-after motivational speakers on the planet has neither arms nor legs, and I’ll bet you a hundred bucks he’s smarter and more physically active than I amFor the love of God, one of the most poetic and well-written books in existence was written by a man who could only blink his left eye.

And when we say as long as it’s healthy!, we’re negating all the unlimited potential we have as human beings. We don’t need to be “healthy” to be heroic. And we shouldn’t need to be able-bodied to be considered human beings.

And when we say as long as it’s healthy!, we’re telling parents that our support as a society is conditional. Have a healthy baby, and you’re golden. Come back from your ultrasound with a special needs diagnosis, and we’ll need to start discussing your options.

Come on, society. We’re better than that.