And Wonders of His Love

The morning light is filtering through the windows, the orange glow fading to a cool blue. Bean is sleeping soundly on my chest as we rock quietly to the Christmas carols sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. In the corner of my eye, the tree sparkles. Christmas feels magical this year, much like it did when I was a child. R let me sleep for six hours, and now it’s my turn to watch over our fitful sleeper. When I lifted Bean from her arms, I felt the weight of her tired little body. She’s here. No longer imagined. No longer out of reach. What a gift.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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You have to believe

Bean is a month old, and I’ve clearly been slacking on the blogging front. I hope you’ll forgive me. I continue to marvel at the fact that a 19-inch 7 lb human can command the full attention of two adults. It’s remarkable, really.

Bean is a spirited child. She reminds me of this line in Shakepeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream 

Though she be but little, she is fierce.

Her ferocity has served her well in her short life. She gave us another scare two weeks ago, when I found her flailing in her pack and play. She was red-faced and not breathing. She had foam coming from her mouth, and I thought she was either seizing or choking. I ran upstairs with her and asked R to call EMS. I turned the baby over and gave her a few back blows and she let out a little cry. All told, the episode probably lasted only a minute, but that minute felt like an eternity.

The immense responsibilities of parenthood lend a false sense of control that comes crashing down in ambulances and emergency rooms, where parents who were trying to do everything “right” wonder what went wrong. While we sat in the ER waiting on the pediatrician, R looked up at me and tearfully said, ‘I just really want to keep her.’ It was a simple synopsis of my swirling emotions that ranged from desperation, fear, guardedness, anxiety, love, shock, protectiveness.

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It’s terrible to watch your child suffer through medical procedures and to worry incessantly that she’ll stop breathing when you aren’t looking. But it also forces you to come to a truth that is perhaps better realized early in the parenting journey – you really aren’t in control. The truth is that things go wrong sometimes, and in ways that are unavoidable. To be a parent is to forever risk the most devastating heart break, while firmly believing that joy and wonder will win the day.  

When I was struggling under the weight of Bean’s sickness and my fears about it, a dear friend sent me the best advice I have received so far in my short parenting career. She said,

Remember when you were a little kid and something bad happened or you were sick, and how your parents told you it was going to be okay? That made things better because you believed that they believed it and you had faith in that. You are the parent now, and you have to believe baby Bean is going to be okay because she needs you to believe that.

I’ve clung to these words for weeks as we’ve slogged through NICU and pediatric ward stays, apneic episodes and choking spells. In her own good time, Bean has learned to coordinate her breathing and manage her reflux more easily on her own. We just stand at the ready, calmly telling her “You’ve got this, babycakes.”

And she does.

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Anticipation

We spent another two hours at the doctor’s office yesterday, and our favorite Dr. M was on duty again. He’s clearly decided he wants to deliver Bean, and I’m glad about that. Once again Bean earned high marks on her tests – 8 out of 8. She’s still only measuring at the 12th percentile, but she’s gained a little bit of weight or is at least stable. Dr. M was encouraged by the biophysical profile report, and checked R’s cervix to decide whether we should plan on an induction this morning. After some finagling he finally admitted “Well, I really can’t get past the cervical opening, though you probably feel like I’m up in your tonsils about now.” We all laughed nervously, but heartily, and agreed to recheck Bean in a week. With no appreciable cervical dilation an induction would considerably increase the risk of C-section delivery, so we’ll give it another week. We go back midday on Tuesday, and if there’s the slightest hint of dilation we’ll be headed for an induction Wednesday morning, which happens to be favorite Dr. M’s on call day. I really appreciated his careful consideration of all the risks and benefits to taking action or not. He even offered to have us come in on Friday for a non-stress test if it would ease our worry over the weekend. While my inner voice said, Yes, please! My outer voice said “We don’t want any unnecessary exams.” This is me, practicing calm. Practicing rational. Practicing trust.

So we drove home and brought our hospital bags back in the house, once more. The last couple of weeks have been almost magical. It’s a special window of time between our life as a couple and our life as parents, and I’ve really enjoyed it. Despite the painful struggle through three years of trying to conceive, I’m so thankful for our many years as a duo because I think they provide a healthy foundation for our family.

 

Good Catch

I survived the patient-doctor trust fall. (Hmm, just realized  I’m not the patient! No matter!)

We had a really great appointment today. Bean scored so high on her biophysical profile that we didn’t need to do the non-stress test. Her heart rate and blood flow were perfect and she was moving, breathing, and had normal fluid levels. She scored an 8 out of 8 possible points. A high achiever already! Dr. M (the other Dr. M’s husband!) was personable and informed. He was really reassuring without being flippant. I felt much better and the rest of the day felt like a gift.

We had our last prenatal class tonight. I’m so glad we attended the classes, and I’m honestly not sure how people manage birth, newborn care, and breastfeeding without taking a class. I guess they read books, or talk with other parents. But for me it was much easier to have dedicated time for learning from trained experts who didn’t mind a barrage of “dumb” questions. It’s hard to know what you don’t know. Turns out I don’t know much at all about newborns!  We learned so much tonight and I am grateful we had the opportunity to prepare for the first few weeks of parenthood.

 

Trust Fall

Tomorrow R will be 37 weeks, full term. I don’t know where the time has gone.  In the last 9 months we’ve engaged in some pretty major life changes. We endured IVF, and it worked.  We prepared for the joys and challenges of twins. We celebrated. My mom bought matching red and grey owl onesies. At the beginning of the second trimester,  Peanut got terribly sick, and we lost her. In midst of our grief, we moved forward with our plan to get legally married on our seventh wedding anniversary.  Not long after that, we sold our house, I defended my dissertation, R quit her job, and we moved to Indiana.

The move required starting over in so many ways. Leaving behind our beloved friends and R’s sister and her husband. Saying goodbye to the mountains and waterways that brought us so much joy.  Stepping out of the political safe zone of the “Left Coast” and into a blue city in a red state. But the thing I’m really hung up on is the change in providers. As I mentioned, we started off at Indy’s urban hospital but decided to switch at 34 weeks. It wasn’t a big deal because we’d only seen the urban hospital doc twice. But the new office has four providers and requires expectant parents to see all four of them prior to delivery, which means that we see a new doc each week because we joined the practice so close to R’s due date.

On Thursday, we met Dr. M for the first time. Our primary OB in the practice, Dr. K, ordered an ultrasound for the visit but no one else seemed to know why. The sonographer thought she was doing the 20 week anatomy scan. We told her R was almost 37 weeks, and we’d already had two anatomy scans. She left the room to inquire about the purpose of the scan, and came back and said it was just for a check of the baby’s growth. When she measured Bean’s head circumference and femur length I noticed the estimated gestational age was 32 weeks. I was perplexed but figured she was still getting the right angle or something. But when we met with Dr. M, she said, “Okay, so have we been monitoring the baby because of her small size?” R said, “You tell me. I don’t know why Dr. K ordered this ultrasound.” We told Dr. M that Bean has always measured large for her gestational age. At the last ultrasound she was nearly a week ahead. Dr. M told us she was measuring two weeks behind, and was in the 15th percentile for her gestational age. At the 10th percentile, she’d meet criteria for Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR), which warrants early induction of labor.

Cue the terror. Cue the PTSD. Cue the loss of any sense of control. Even though I could hear Dr. M reassuring us that the baby does not meet criteria for IUGR, and would simply need extra monitoring, I felt the panic rising in me. Dr. M said we’d need to return on Monday or Tuesday for additional testing. R asked why we couldn’t do it right then. Dr. M looked as though this had not occurred to her, and went to check with the sonographer. We sat quietly in the room, and were relieved to be sent back to ultrasound for another look at Bean. The sonographer checked the blood flow through her cord, and determined it was adequate. The amniotic fluid levels were normal, and Bean’s heart rate was strong and regular. Dr. M told me not to worry all weekend, and dismissed us until Monday.

Her tone was confident and cautious, and she even told us that her own daughter was delivered a little bit early (just shy of 37 weeks) for low amniotic fluid levels and IUGR. She’s been there, so she errs on the side of caution. She even referred to herself as “anal.” R and I agreed that we prefer anal doctors. I made a mental note that it sounded a bit funny to say that aloud. While Dr. M was competent, I didn’t find her particularly compassionate. What she failed to understand, and I failed to articulate, is that the appointment was not routine for us. It was not the news we expected, and for me it had echoes of earlier trauma with Peanut. We have been planning and hoping for this child for three and half years and we’re entrusting her to a perfect stranger. It reminds me of the trust fall, a team-building exercise during which one person stands backwards on an elevated platform with her arms crossed, and falls backwards into the arms of strangers. I never really enjoyed the fall.

Marching Forward

I just finished watching The March, a PBS special commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. As I watched,  inspired, I wondered whether I would have been one of the white faces in that crowd. Or, more importantly, would I have been one of the white allies organizing the march? Would I have worked 18 hour days for a cause that put me harm’s way? I’d like to think so. But it’s hard to be sure.  I can only evaluate what I’m doing now. What kind of risks I’m taking, or not taking.

This internal monologue reminded me of another I had just this morning. I was thinking about my career, which demands long hours, international travel, and some risk to my health and safety. The risks are relatively minor, but weigh on my mind nonetheless. Lately I’ve been wondering how I will balance my career against the important work of motherhood and what sacrifices I will need to make. I’ve defaulted to the assumption that my work will be sacrificed for the sake of my daughter. But The March gave me new perspective.  When I saw the faces of mothers and fathers, drenched in sweat, marching forward against oppression at considerable personal cost I understood that my default assumption may be wrong. Perhaps the work of motherhood is to continue working for what I believe is just and right, even when it is tiring and somewhat risky.

I don’t delude myself that my work wouldn’t go on without me. Nor do I believe it’s equivalent to the work of Dr. King and others who sacrificed their lives for the cause of justice. But I do believe I live a life of unearned privilege that I must harness for the greater good, even when the road is long and tiring and difficult and a little bit perilous. And it’s okay if my daughter sees me stumble along the way, or struggle to balance my roles as mother and researcher and humanitarian, because she’ll be better prepared for her own journey. And she’ll know what it takes to keep marching.

 

It’s a Girl! (And what that means)

Hi! Thanks for bearing with me during my long silence while I labored and birthed the “baby” I’ve been cooking for the last five years. Now that my dissertation is in the digital hands of the Reading Committee, I have a few spare moments. I’m chock full of things to say, but one post has been brewing longer than most, so I’ll start there.

Peanut’s health crisis and death led to a lot of medical intervention that revealed the sex of our babies many weeks ago. I’ll be the first to admit I was elated to learn both our babies were girls. My mind’s eye saw the backs of two toddlers running on the beach in linen dresses with criss crossed straps across their backs and little bloomers cinched atop chubby thighs. I swooned at the mere thought of them. Sisters! Daughters! Swoon!

R’s Nana would be thrilled to hear we were not expecting boys. We she first heard we intended to have children, she clucked her teeth and told us she hoped we wouldn’t have boys because “Boys need a father.” I reminded her that we wouldn’t have much choice in the matter, but she was undeterred. Opinion delivered, we moved on to a new topic. But I suppose I never really moved on. My internalization of that admonishment contributed to my relief upon hearing the news that both babies were female. At least our inevitable parenting fumbles wouldn’t be chalked up to incongruence between sex chromosomes. But I was also just plain excited to have girls.

My relief and excitement were soon replaced by a defensive anxiety. Shortly after learning the babies’ sex, we began entertaining questions about it. Everyone and his mother wanted to know if we were going to find out the sex. I thought they’d all want to know how we did it! But no, all curiosity honed in on our baby’s genitals. It was truly unexpected. I was so busy preparing to rebuff unwanted inquiries into the nuts and bolts of the conception that I failed to prepare for the number one question — Boy or girl?  We made the rookie mistake of saying we knew the sex, but wanted to keep it a secret until the birth.  NB to all expectant families: if you are going to find out the sex but don’t want to reveal it, pretend you will be surprised at the birth. Otherwise, you will be needled to death by people who claim that they cannot possibly buy something/select a shower cake/knit a sweater without knowing the sex of your baby. And I mean people are out for blood.

We caved pretty quickly. It just wasn’t worth the trouble, and at the time we were still reeling from Peanut’s death, which made us a bit more pliable. Less resistant to pressure from the outside. I made a little sign that said “It’s a girl! But she has a serious allergy to pink.” My own small protest against the wider world’s effort to define my child by her chromosomes and (likely) corresponding genitalia.

It was just the beginning. Later I would argue with my mother in the Goodwill over a $2 article of clothing that I deemed too pink.  I would crumble whilst trying to register for baby items at Target, where I spotted “his and hers” toilet seats (photographic evidence below). I would catch myself wondering if a particular stroller was too boyish for a girl child. I was baited, reeled in, and tossed into the bucket with all the other new parents, floundering with less and less vigor as we resigned ourselves to our collective fate. My cousins told me it was inevitable. Fighting pink and princess was a losing battle.

Magical Moments My Ass.

Magical Moments My Ass.

And then I stumbled across this post by a friend and I realized the princess game is limited only by the lack of imagination I bring to it. My daughter’s princess can be strong, fast, and cunning. She can also be kind and thoughtful. She need not wear pink, but she needn’t be afraid to wear it either.