29 June 2007


I’ve been stewing a post in my head about nose picking and educating our children. But I’ll need to come back to it, because all I keep doing is checking WhyMommy’s posts on breast cancer. I am nursing as I type, enjoying it before Otto gets too distracted by the click of the keys. And there is a mother in DC weaning her son. She has a serious cancer (I guess that means we’re making progress if “serious cancer” isn’t actually redundant anymore) and cancer treatments aren’t good for breast milk. Her baby is three days older than mine. And she is strong now. Asking Demanding that her readers’ comments be positive. Typing her truth. Not changing her name, her tune to WhyMe.

Another mother in DC just beat colon cancer. She shared her journey through mass emails. The same emails that a two years ago were updates on her daughter’s running and music achievements. Quick notes about a new job, a move, other people’s health. I was with this woman nine years ago, steadying her as she signed the papers for the Chinese adoption, as she pulled the first picture of her daughter from the cardboard envelope. We were coworkers, and I was a new midwife. She was too moved, to already in love, to drive to the post office alone. She calls me her midwife. For years after she moved East, I didn’t read all of her emails in detail. Other than the updates, we lost touch. But then one day she found out she had cancer, and all I could think about was that lunchtime trip. Her dreams coming true.

We imagine our lives. We see the splendor of it rolled out ahead. Parties. Graduation. Celebration. We piece together “normal” in relation to others. How much sleep do you get? How often do you fight with your husband? We read the paper and swallow hard at kidnappings, kids caught in gunfire, fathers killed in a convenience store. But life as a parent is mostly just day to day. What’s for dinner? Is the dishwasher empty? No, you can’t stand on that chair. I can’t figure out how one becomes the person in the news with the sad, sad story. No. I know how these things happen. What I can’t wrap my head around is how you live with them. How you live.

The year my mother had breast cancer and my uncle had brain cancer is the year we lost our first son. It’s not so clear to me now how we lived. I remember crying on the couch an awful lot. I remember my milk darkening circles on my shirt. I remember believing I had the worst luck on the planet. But then the days moved one by one along the squares in the kitchen calendar. My mom came and went from the community chemo room. She mailed pictures of her bald head. We threw ashes into the Pacific. Hours became weeks became years. And now we are parents of two. My mother and uncle survived. And I sit here now thinking how lucky we are to have more than just a “normal” life: health, and wealth, and love. How lucky I am to feed my son and dream of his first day of school… that quintessential vision of the backpack, the glance backover his shoulder. How easily it all can change.

What does WhyMommy think of now in those moments when she's not strong? What is normal in her house? I swallow hard now and hold a future for her in my swelling heart.

23 June 2007

P.S. I like letters

It's getting better. I can see a speck of light- really a warm glow- at the end of the sleepless tunnel. We've had two nights of two feedings each (with one extra rising to sing to Stella- WHY? I don't know).

So I'm actually up after 10pm, happily noodling away on the computer, joining Facebook like a co-ed. I was shocked to find 6 people from my address book already had Facebook pages. (Three of them are my 20-something cousins, but anyway...). I haven't figured it out yet- just what exactly it is that I can get out of Facebook, but I am gathering friends and have already"poked' two people. I don't know what happened to them when I did it, but i hope it felt as fun as it sounds (although poking my own cousin doesn't sound legal).

I also found this article in a cool new mag I found after joining Work It, Mom!. The author writes a letter to a seat mate traveling alone with two small children. I can't tell you more because I don't want to ruin your read. Just the other day I received a letter from Southwest Airlines letting me know that they forwarded my thank you note to the flight attendant who helped me on my return flight with the kids. I also wrote a note to the passenger who helped me on the outbound journey. After reading the piece by Vibrating Liz, it's interesting to imagine what their experience was. It's also a reminder to slow down.

21 June 2007

And why am I still awake?

Sleep is one of those essentials like food and water. Sleep deprivation is a common form of torture that is deplored by human rights groups. This is Otto’s sleep schedule from last night:

8 pm go to sleep in crib

12:30 nurse in chair, go back to crib

2:30 cry for 12 minutes, fall back asleep while mom buries her head under the pillows

3:30 come into bed, nurse

5:30 nurse in bed

7 am wake up

I went to bed at 10pm, so I was up 4 times with a maximum 2.5 hour stretch. Did I feel tortured? A bit. Otto is 5 months old and weighs over 13 pounds. He should be able to sleep longer stretches than 2 to 4 hours. Add to this rumination playground chats about babies who actually do sleep, mamas who have a glow in their cheeks, and in-laws who think letting a baby cry is cause for calling Amnesty International, and we have one crazy, exhausted, working mama in Oakland.

He got 2 decent naps today, 10- 11am & 2-5 pm so we’ll see how tonight goes… Supposedly sleep begets sleep. I better start mine.

18 June 2007

Working Mother

Today was my first day back at work. Not only did I survive it, I loved it! When I left Stella when she was 3 1/2 months old, I cried all the way there and called no less than 3 times before I returned home. Today I felt a lump in my throat as I kissed Otto, but it was brief. I only called to say I'd be a little late. When I got home, Stella ran to hug me and Otto took me back without question. I felt like a whole person. It didn't hurt that my in-laws were caring for the kids.

I loved seeing patients, catching up with my coworkers, and finding my drawers organized and ready to go. The work made me dig into my mental reserves. I forgot some paperwork details, how Sickle Cell Genetics work, took too long to chart my visits, and found myself chatting away with patients while I had others waiting. Midwifery is like riding a bike; it will come back very soon.

Talking was the best part. I thrive on grownup conversation. Uninterrupted experience. That's what I get at work that I don't get at home. And it's behind a closed door- no one to bother us! It's a marvelous thing. Pumping wasn't too bad. I got 3oz out of 2 sessions. That's half of what some women get from one boob in 5 minutes, but for me, it was ok. The pump didn't romance me the first time, so I wasn't expecting much. Otto will start eating cereal in a few weeks, and I have about 30 oz of frozen milk, so I'm not stressed.

It was a challenge to write, however. My handwriting has always been a mess, but after six months of writing only shopping lists, checks, and brief thank you notes, it is officially illegible. Once my father received a note from me and asked politely, "Did you write it so that I couldn't read it... on purpose?" I'll work on the writing. Every year it's my resolution- that and flossing. I never achieve my goals.

16 June 2007

Pile of Milestones

We are a house of milestones. Every time we arrive at putting on a shirt, zipping a boot, descending stairs, we get smarter, more confident in our parenting. Then we have a new set of skills to master, a new type of tantrum to face. And we question ourselves.

Stella is completely diaper free. She’s been 5 nights in “unterVear.” Last night she gave away the rest of her diapers to a friend. She’s really excited about pooping in the toilet. So much so that she waits to flush (another favorite activity) and runs to her father or grandmother and says, “Look, I pooped. Come see!” She then leads them to the bathroom. Once when Augusto was at work, I convinced her that saving her stinky poop in the toilet all day was not a good option, she drew a picture of it. A really good picture. Her first representational picture. I’m a proud mother, what can I say?

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Otto is laughing at Boo and Raspberries, flipping over onto his belly at every chance, doing push-ups and breakdancing (the wave?). He’s working on some teeth. He’s also sleeping longer stretches of 5 or 6 hours. They’re happening mostly before I go to bed, but I know it’s a start. After three plus weeks of travel, sleeping in a small bed with him, and sharing a room for all four of us, he became a boob monster and baby who needed too much parenting to sleep. So instead of following the progress to a likely place of jiggling or nursing for 45 minutes before bed every night, we started crying it out. He’s 3 month’s younger than Stella was when we did it to her. He’s never really cried more than 30 minutes in his whole life, but I don’t want to get to that awful angry place we went with Stella before we finally caved and let her cry to sleep learn to sleep on her own. Ideally, we would have completed the job before the Vovos (grandparents) arrived, but we didn’t. For naps and nighttime he usually fusses and/or cries for 5 or 6 minutes- but it ranges from 1 to 14 minutes. It is hard to listen to, but I do believe it is ultimately good. Or else my kids will need years of therapy to undo all of our parenting mistakes.

It’s so hard to know what is “right.” It’s also hard to let go or stop worrying about what is “right.” Every parent chooses her own way to teach, discipline, feed, clothe, diaper, talk to, or even play with their child. Of course we want “the best” for our kids. But that judgment varies widely. I have spent countless privileged hours researching schools, sleep tactics, diaper choices, baby carriers, recipes, and even toddler chair and table heights. I have stayed up hours later than is good for me, twisted my neck and shoulder out of whack, and lost actual face to face time with my husband or kids or even other people. Sometimes I think it pays off. We end up with a product or routine that works for us. But how can I really know if I wouldn’t have been as happy (or happier?) with something entirely different?

I need to remember that every time we let go of our expectations or fears, something good happens. Like with diapers. I wanted Stella to be out of diapers before Otto was born. Then soon after. Then I gave up. That’s when she mounted the toilet at my Mom’s house. It is the same thing with preschool. I stressed so much in the beginning, found a fantastic school, stressed more about it, missed the deadline for mailing in our deposit, kicked myself, then got waitlisted at our “inferior” neighborhood school because we’re not a “working class” family that wants 5 days/ week. So I just gave up. Then a new school opened that I think we’ll love when we see it next weekend. Will it be perfect? Will it be right? Will it be better for Stella than Montessori or any of the half-day (which doesn’t work for a working couple like us), wait-forever pay-a-fortune schools in our area? I don’t know. And I think I don’t care- as long as she loves it.

12 June 2007

The Brazilians have arrived!!

After 30 hours of travel, my in-laws are here. Most of my friends think I’m crazy or lying when I say I have been eagerly awaiting their arrival. They will live with us for the next three months. Three whole months. In this time I will return to work, Stella will learn more Portuguese, Augusto and I will have weekly date nights and a night away, and we will coexist in the kitchen, living room, and daily stuff of our lives.

I get along with my in-laws. Well. I always have. The initial language barrier probably smoothed the way. It’s hard to argue when the English conversation is limited to food and sights. We have since switched to Portuguese, which actually makes us have accidental debates which spin off of a minor misunderstanding. Augusto and Auri are gracious people. They don’t occupy much space. They clean up after themselves (and us). They LOVE their grandchildren. They can play with them for hours, listen to any pitch or volume of screaming, and hold them for an hour forgoing a potty break. There are the expected debates over sweets and bedtimes and the daily “No, I’ll do it.” But it is overwhelmingly good.

I do speak from experience. When Stella was 2 months, they lived with us for 8 weeks. When we hugged goodbye at the airport, I sobbed huge, attention grabbing tears second only to the crying many years ago when I had to leave my sick grandmother in Baltimore and I couldn’t convince anyone at the airport to give me a change of ticket for less than $1000. So this time I suggested they stay longer.

The fridge is a little more packed than I like it and I’ve already said no to half a dozen grandmother-suggested sweets in less than 48 hours, but I am NOT complaining. We are so grateful they are here.

02 June 2007

Midwives Misunderstod.... Again

Every time Augusto puts some midwife news from the SF Chronicle in my To Read pile by the toilet, I feel dread. Truthfully, the dread follows naïve excitement- ooh! Somebody is paying attention! Quickly I come to my senses. I remember that only a select group understands midwives. The mainstream media is not part of this group.

Glaring from the pile is the headline “Fewer options for those who seek natural births: Midwives becoming less popular as cesarean sections gain ground.” The empathetic (?) journalist covered the upcoming closure of Homestyle Midwifery. Homestyle is a popular, personalized in-hospital midwifery service. Contrary to the headline, I actually met two people in Hawaii who delivered with that service. After we passed on our homebirth practice, my former partner, Cynthia Banks, worked for Homestyle for a couple of years. She is an excellent midwife, and she loved that practice. Then California Pacific Medical Center came in, took over St. Luke’s Hospital, and the well-loved, extremely safe midwives are done.

It’s all very sad, but what is worse is that the media can’t get it right, so the general public doesn’t understand, and with the pressure of OBs who are threatened midwives will steal their normal birth- big business, i.e. medical systems like CPMC, follows suit. Let me state two facts:1.Midwives are autonomous providers. 2. Birth with midwives is safe. The article gets it wrong on both accounts. It’s a common misconception, as follows:

1. “For doctors, the decision to allow a midwife to handle the birth or to intervene medically is often a matter of weighing the potential risks against a woman's wishes during labor. The vast majority of births are trouble-free, but few doctors want to risk complications just because a woman would prefer to avoid a medical procedure, physicians say.” Doctors don’t decide to ALLOW a midwife to do anything. We have our own patients. If they meet set criteria for having a low-risk pregnancy, they choose us. When there is a concern of complication with a woman’s health, we consult with a doctor. That means we ask for their opinion, consultation, guidance, or to take over care of the patient- whatever is appropriate.

2. "Some women may say, 'I'm willing to risk a little in terms of safety to have the birth I want.'” Dr. Elaine Gates, vice chair of the obstetrics and gynecology department at UCSF made that statement. Birth with midwives has been shown over and over again to be as safe as or safer than birth with OB-GYNs when you match women of similar risk in similar settings.

It’s really a shame that midwifery is so misunderstood- since the research also shows that patients of midwives are overall more satisfied with their experiences than patents of doctors.