From the category archives:

Parenthood

The Birth Story

by Esther on Sun, May 30th, 2010

in Documentation,Labor,Parenthood

As we’ve already reported, our son Axelrod was born on May 15th, 2010, at 7:43 in the evening.

He was born in our bedroom, where we first unknowingly conceived him, knowingly dreamed of him, and with hope laid a great many plans for him.  He was born into the hands of our very capable and trusted midwife, Lynn, and from there went straight to his mother’s arms.

From start to finish, the hours that followed my water breaking are both foggy and precious.  There are moments that are burned into my memory forever, and moments that my husband reminds me of when we retell the story to each other while trying to get a grasp on just how our universe changed that day.  There are moments when I’m sure that the both of us seemed incredibly lucid… that we already have forgotten.  Memory, when it comes to an event that is the most painful, most endearing, most pivotal event of your entire life, is funny, stretchy and malleable times all the stars in the sky, added to the value of each fish in the sea, to the exponential frequency of infinity.

That in mind, I doubt I’ll do our birth story justice.  I’ll never be able to quite capture something that becomes more fully realized to me with every second of our son’s life.  I could write this story in 10 or 20 years and it would have a different, equally precious, description of every moment I recall.  I could write for hours today and feel the story is still incomplete.  Life that brings babies is like that, I guess.

When I last reported to our pregnancy blog, my water had broken in a gush of glory at the local cabaret club.  I had slept soundly for the night after a shower.  I woke up that morning with no symptoms of labor and spoke with our midwife, who encouraged me to start drinking delicious castor oil cocktails at noon.

I had really hoped that my son’s birth story wouldn’t be kicked off with castor oil.  I decided that we should walk to one of our favorite breakfast spots, about a mile away, to try and encourage my inevitable labor.  I put on the dress that my best friend Myrtle had bought me to labor in the day before: a kelly-green jersey sun dress that was stretchy, cheap, and comfortable.  I layered on a hat and a sweater and headed out with my husband and my best friend at about 9:30 in the morning, which is an hour I’ve hardly seen the outdoors of during these last few years of working a noon to nine schedule.  The morning air felt pretty ripe with expectation; it was a beautiful day.

While carb loading on buckwheat pancakes with delicious fruit toppings at the cafe, we played it normal.  Honestly, I can’t remember in the least what we talked about.  Every part of the conversation was overshadowed by the knowledge that I was going into labor that very day.  I started to really zone out into my own birthing bubble.  I felt completely connected to my husband.  My best friend was with us, and she’s our partner in all things criminal and lovely, but my husband!  My husband was my whole world starting at breakfast and continuing on for the rest of the day.  As far as I was concerned, there was a bubble around us that the universe had hermitically sealed and it was impermeable.  We were going to have our baby, finally.  The news washed over me again and again.

On our walk home, we stopped at Whole Foods to stock up on foods for the folks who would be in the house for our delivery.  I barely knew what to order!  I thank goodness every day that Myrtle was with us, acting in a way like my sensible, outside the bubble, extension.  She choose some foods for us to order while I stood mutely in front of the prepared foods counter, overwhelmed by the whole outside-the-bubble world.  We picked up those foods and some extra supplies and headed home.

We were home by 11:30, I suppose.  Myrtle and I put the foods into glass bowels that were wrapped for later before she headed off to have a lovely day, knowing that she would come back later to me going through the motions of what was supposed to be a long and exhausting labor.   I called Lynn to get a pep talk about castor oil.  What would it do?  How long would it take?  Would it be terrible?  How did it work?  I hated the thought of having to induce anything, but was also so done with being pregnant.  I was 3 centimeters dilated, 41 weeks along, well rested, and mentally prepared.  I just wished it could have all been triggered on its own without having to drink something that had less than desirable side-effects.  Lynn explained to me how the castor oil worked, and also reminded me that, while we had 72 hours to deliver before having to transfer to a hospital (for risk of infection), the midwives at Rainy City Midwifery liked to have their ladies in labor within 24 hours of water breaking.  I braced myself and pulled out my (former) favorite flavor of coconut milk ice cream from the freezer.

Using a hand blender, I combined my (former) favorite ice cream, 2 ounces of castor oil, and Perrier for a delicious milk shake.  At exactly noon, I downed it.

Castor oil milkshakes are actually not delicious

Shortly after finishing this, Milton and I went up to the loft to get one last nap in before labor started.  I had been instructed to drink another milk shake at 2pm if labor hadn’t started, but was absolutely certain that I would wake up to my first contraction before then.  I was wrong.

At 2:30, I woke with a jolt and checked my cell phone.  It was late.  I was supposed to have drunk another milk shake by now!  I shook Milton awake and worried to him that I had messed everything up when I didn’t wake up on time.  He assured me of my craziness, and we went downstairs to make a second milk shake with my second (former) favorite flavor of ice cream.  I drank that and I waited.  I tried to pass the time doing whatever I could.  I watched the banana bread defrost on the table.  I went to the bathroom.  Mostly I just wondered why the hell I wasn’t in labor yet.  I worried.

3:10 rolled around with still no signs of even a Braxton Hicks contraction.  I googled “immunity to castor oil” and came up with a good dozen stories that convinced me that castor oil had done absolutely nothing for my system.  For a famously fast metabolism, I was sure getting nowhere fast.  I yelled down to Milton, “I’M IMMUNE TO CASTOR OIL.”  We wondered what would happen next.

At 3:13, I had my first contraction and pulled out my iPhone to use the Contraction Master application.  I was fairly convinced that showtime was still so far in my future that using the app was just a funny game, but I was also certain that the game was ON, which was exciting enough.  For an hour, Milton and I made out, slow danced, and laughed with each other.  We were totally going to have a baby!  And we are totally in love!  Win!

All through this hour, I was having contractions every 1.5-2.5 minutes for about 45 seconds.  They were definitely progressing, but were completely manageable.  We texted our midwife and doula to let them know that the contractions were regular, but that we were totally in control and not in a 4-1-1 situation yet.  Our doula was off supervising a birth for another couple in our birthing class.  That woman was had been at 10 centimeters and pushing since lunch, so we told the doula, “No problem!  We’ve got plenty of time!” and carried on with our labor.  Our midwife decided to come over and check me out to see how things were progressing.  She figured that she would pop in and then leave us to laboring alone for a few more hours.  I bounced on a ball and read my favorite columns in the latest issue of The Stranger for a little while.

Bouncing

After this photo was taken, I hit another level of intensity.  We were still at 2.5ish minutes for 45 seconds and chugging along at a very manageable pace, and right after a contraction, Milton followed me up the stairs to supervise a trip to the bathroom.  I stopped on the landing of our stairs to support myself through another surge, and again at the top of the stairs.  Milton joyously declared it a 2 contraction trip to the upstairs.  I asked for the bag of rice that we had warmed in the oven for my castor oil pains and found that that bag was just what I needed to get me through the next several contractions.  I hung out upstairs in the rocking chair, not realizing that I wouldn’t come downstairs again … for a whole week.

At this point, I still didn’t think my contractions were a big deal.  I was doing a lot of deep Ujjayi breathing through them, and found that I could maintain my breath throughout.  This had been my plan for labor all along.  I had hoped that I could maintain my Ujjayi practice through all of labor and delivery.  I had read a bit of hypnobirthing literature, and though I’m not fond of visualization (frankly, the rainbow visualization technique outlined in the hypnobreathing book made me feel as if I were gagging on a tie-dye moo-moo), I felt as if the 2 breath practices that hypnobirthing waxed poetic about were the same practices I used in my asana practice or to lower my blood pressure during times of stress.  I practice that breath control all the time, on the mat and otherwise, and figured I had everything covered.

At 4:56, Lynn arrived for my check up!  She watched me move through some contractions before checking me out on the bed.  I have to stress here that we all still thought we were in this game for the long haul.  Lynn was going to check me out and leave us to our laboring for a while.  I had my rice bag and my husband in my bubble and we were going to rock this birth out slowly and with grace.  Our doula was going to finish with a birth down the street and arrive with a birthing tub so we could deliver our son into the water. Myrtle was going to enjoy her afternoon while I was in early labor and arrive in a few hours when things got intense.  We had all the time in the world at that point.  We were bound and prepared for a glorious all nighter!

Or so we thought. Lynn checked me out and declared me “a good 4 centimeters” along.  She looked at my husband and said, “I’m not going anywhere.”  She told me that she was surprised I was as far along as I was from the look of my contractions and I pat myself on the back a little.  I figured there was no way I would lose my Ujjayi breath if I could get to “a good 4 centimeters” without a hitch.

We contacted our doula and let her know that I was in active labor.  The woman she was with was STILL pushing (uh oh!) and she sent for her back up to join us.  Right around the time this call happened, I started to feel a little more intense and decided to get into our bath tub.  It was 5:15.  The water felt amazing!  I couldn’t wait for my birth tub to be ready!  Milton stayed with me and held my hand.  With every surge, he commanded my eye contact and helped me breathe through.  At this point I realized for the millionth time what an amazing birth coach he was going to be.  He was absolutely right there with me for the ride.  Up to this point, he had project managed the whole labor, making sure that he executed contact with our midwife, doula, family, and friends.  He refused to let anything distract me or stress me out.  Now, in active labor, he committed himself to being totally with me and letting everything he had set up so perfectly ride itself out.  Our connection, which has been solid since we first met, honestly sparkled.

While I was in the tub, Marion arrived.  She’s Lynn’s assistant, a student midwife whom we’ve met before during a clinic appointment.  She’s swept my cervix before.  I know this woman!  I was, however, lost in little our bubble at the moment, and I decided that she’s a new face.  I introduced myself to her and she laughed.   Around this point, we stopped timing the contractions.  It no longer mattered how far apart they were.  I was in active labor and time had stopped.  Time had stopped for my husband.  It became just a blur of rushes and coping.  It was all meditation and strength from where ever I could find it.  Marion checked the baby’s heart rate before, during, and after contractions to make sure he was maintaining.  He was doing great, like we all hoped he would.  My blood pressure, on the other hand, was not the best.  I’d been trying my best to keep it down for some weeks, and now that the contractions were coming so fast and hard, it was being a bit pesky.  The midwives give me some sort of homeopathic powder to put under my tongue that seemed to do the trick.  I remember feeling a superhero relief when Lynn gave me the blood pressure nod of approval.

Lynn watched me go through a contraction and declared that it seemed different than the ones before.  She was right.  She also noticed at some point that it seemed like I was having one weak contraction and then one strong one.  This is reflected in my Contraction Master records as something that had been occurring since labor began.  Of course, I didn’t exactly notice until Lynn did.  I just thought it fun to note.

Not very many rushes later, I had to ask myself if I was being dramatic.  It hadn’t been so very long and, rather suddenly, I felt pushy.  How was that even possible?  It was a half hour or so since my 4 centimeter check up.  I felt so not ready to feel pushy.  I thought that, obviously, I must be pushing along this process psychologically in much the same fashion I pushed along the pre-labor process and thought I was about to go into labor every day for about 3 weeks running.  I had another contraction and looked into my husband’s eyes.  When it was over I said, “I think I feel pushy?”  For some reason, I remember that I didn’t want him to tell Lynn that I was feeling this way.  I guess that’s because I figured there was really no way I could be so far along.   Everything I do is dramatic!  It’s natural for me to exaggerate everything, isn’t it?  He told Lynn anyway and I remember feeling foolish.  If I felt pushy already, what would it be like when I was even further along?  I expected that I was really just at 5 centimeters.  Lynn reached into the tub to check things out.  I was at 7 centimeters.  I was in transition!  It was 6:20 and it had been only 3 hours from my first real contraction.

At this point, our doula’s back up lady, Mali, arrived and introduced herself.  Actually, I don’t remember her introducing herself at all, but am sure that’s what happened.  I do remember hearing Lynn call down to her that there isn’t time to set up the tub.  I stared at my feet in the bathroom and cursed inwardly.  I was momentarily pissed that we were not going to have our dreamy water birth and I say as much to Milton in between contractions.  Between 2 big rushes, I thought this was all going a little too fast and for my tastes.  With the next one, I forgot to think anymore about control over the birth I wanted.  At 7 centimeters, I became completely immersed in the birth that we were having.  I let it roll over me and let myself get lost inside it.

Lynn asked me if I wanted to have the baby in the bathtub.  No, I did not.  It’s small, cramped by the toilet, and we had a pretty big team assembled at this point.  Eventually, I specifically got out of the tub to use the toilet.  Experiencing some pretty frank castor oil side effects, I was too modest to ever be on a toilet with anyone around, so I endured a few contractions in the bathroom alone.  Contractions were difficult enough with the support of a husband!  Alone, they were horrible.  Alone, I hated them.  Alone, they were an unproductive enemy.  I was just totally lost in them without a coach.  They hurt a thousand times more, and I felt so alone.  Still, when Marion peeked her head into the bathroom to check on me, I yelled at her to get out.  Modesty triumphed over loneliness and pain for a good 5 minutes.

It was 6:30 when I moved to the bed to labor on my side for a bit.  I don’t remember much about this at all.  I don’t remember the contractions.  I don’t remember the people.  I don’t remember what people are saying to me.  I don’t know if I said anything to anyone.  Some time around then, Myrtle arrived.  I felt like an animal and I didn’t want her up stairs to see me like this.  Of course, she was downstairs in the kitchen, taking in my every primal scream.  For some reason, downstairs felt like a different world from upstairs.  To me, the visual was different from the audio.

At 6:48, Lynn checked me again and jolted into reality when she tells me I am 10 centimeters dilated, 100% effaced, and ready to push.  I asked her to repeat herself.  For a moment, I was really, truly, completely in shock that I was complete.  We pushed through a few rushes on the bed while Marion holds my top leg up and Milton coached me.  They felt painful, unlike anything I ever expected.  My known and trusted Ujjayi breathing was long gone.  I breathed however my husband told me to breathe.  Pushing felt unproductive and Lynn told me that I had to get the baby over the bone.  I remember all of this from our birth class.  A stuffed skeletal pelvis and a doll head flash through my mind.  Lynn shows me where in my perineum to concentrate my pushing and I dedicate all my energy and all the months of highly competitive (with myself) Kegel exercises I’ve been practicing to this area.  Lynn asks if I would like to move to the birth stool.  I am totally game.  Lying on my side feels fine, but not productive, and I want to have this baby.

Immediately, on the stool, pushing felt so different.  The baby was moving.  He was coming, and I might have said as much.  In between contractions, I felt almost as if I was entranced or sleeping on my husband’s shoulder.  Every song that the stereo played was one that I absolutely loved, which was convenient since I made the mix myself for this very occasion.  My husband was on my left hand side and Mali was on my right.  I had just met this Mali, but I already needed her desperately.  I reached for her hand with my right hand every time a contraction began.  She became indispensable to my getting through this experience.  Between contractions, I am at the same time entranced and lucid.  During contractions, I remember overhearing Mali say that I was “a monster” (in a good way).  Pushing was the worst torture I’ve ever felt.  I hated it.  I hated it so fucking much that I  said as much, which I am later ashamed for.  I remember saying, “It fucking hurts!”  Later, I can’t believe I complained at all.  Of course it hurts.  It’s labor!  I honestly wish I had been able to channel the pain a little better and not complain.  I told my husband at some point during the final pushing that we are never doing this again.  Everyone else in the room laughed, apparently it’s a common sentiment.  Seeing my baby’s face now, I would relive the whole experience for the same outcome.  I would endure it ten fold!  In retrospect, it didn’t hurt even a little bit.  Thank god for our malleable memory and our personal bubbles.

I can’t tell you enough how amazing the rhythm of these contractions were.  Here I was, in the most horrible pain I could’ve ever imagined, and then – I am fine.  Between, I was able to rest.  At the height of a contraction, I was uncertain of my ability to sustain and survive.  In between,  I was gazing into my husband’s eyes and thinking about how much I love him, thinking about how the two of us are having a baby who will shape and define the rest of our lives together.  I almost forgot that I am in labor in the space between these rushes.  I was almost able to forget that another contraction was coming.  When the next rush came, it would start slowly and I would think it won’t be as bad as the last.  I would grab for Mali’s hand and tell everyone, “Here it comes!”  Every time it came, it was worse than the one before.  I now knew what they meant when they talked about the ring of fire.  I now knew what it meant to have the baby come down and then slip back up after you’ve pushed so hard to get him down there.  When all of this happened, I also knew that it was almost over.  I could feel the contour his little face low inside of me.  I knew that, soon enough, I would have him in my arms.  Lynn had me reach down between my legs  to feel his head.  It was soft and wrinkled, like the skin of a newborn kitten.  Feeling him was really surprising to me and, according to Milton, I gasped in surprise, as if I didn’t expect him to be there.

In between all the rushes I called down to Myrtle to check on her.  I felt badly that I’d left her down there all alone to den-mother my kitchen!  I wanted to make sure she was comfortable.  Between one of the contractions, Milton knocked over my water.  Marion goes downstairs to get me some more because I can’t let go of Mali’s hand.  I told Marion that I like my water with lemon, but not with rind.  I hate rind!  Lynn apparently remarked to Milton that I was remarkably lucid.  When downstairs, Marion tells Myrtle that his head is an inch out.  I began another contraction, pushed, and felt madly productive.  I heard Lynn yell, “Marion, get up here, I need you!”

Next thing I knew, his head was out.  His body was easy after that.  It slipped out as if it had no bone.  I was in a daze when Lynn’s voice called through our bubble and said, “Reach down!  Reach down!”  Suddenly, there was this gurgling blue and white creature in my arms!  I was elated!  In complete awe!  He was gurgling and like a little old man, I’ll never forget the sound.  When he found his breath and cleared his lungs, he screamed and screamed like a little devil.  Both Milton and I found this hilarious!   He was pissed, and telling us all about what just happened to him!   Milton cut the cord at some point, and I’m told that the cord was really very healthy and difficult to cut.  This makes me very proud!

We did it.

I called down to Myrtle and told her that she’s gotta get up in the loft to check out our guy.

Greeting the 4th partner in crime

I find it hard to believe, looking at these photos, that it’s still light outside.  For some reason, I picture his birth as having taken place after the sun was set.  But, actually, as Lynn remarked at the time, he was a sunset baby.  This is fitting, because a variation of his name (his real name) means sunlight in Japanese.

At some point, I delivered the placenta.  Apparently I complained that this also hurt, but I remember that it was absolutely easy in comparison to my son’s impressive head.

After a while, I handed our son over to his father so that I could move off the stool and on to the bed, which has been protected with a drop cloth between sets of sheets for quick changing after the event.  I told Milton to take his shirt off so that Axelrod could have skin to skin contact.

Skin on skin with his father

This is another blurry point of our story.  It’s almost a point of the story that I don’t want to share, because I don’t want to pull back from the awesome that is the birth of my son to get into medical issues and aftermath.  But, it’s part of the tale.  And, on reflection, labor and delivery involve every kind of emotion and event.  Labor and delivery includes everything wonderful, awesome, dramatic, and sometimes grotesque.  So. I stood up off of the birth stool and move my butt up to the bed… and proceeded to hemorrhage down the side of the bed and on to the floor.  It splashed impressively on to feet and ankles with a sound.  I looked down and thought, “They’ll fix that right up.”  Milton looked down and thought the same thing.  Myrtle confessed later that she was worried.  My doula confessed later that she started to rush from the birth she was attending in another part of the city (that woman, after pushing all day, delivered 4 minutes after I did) because they were talking about having me transferred to a hospital.  Lynn gave me a shot of something and put something else under my tongue.  The bleeding stopped, thank goodness, and I recall being very diligently monitored by Lynn and Marion for some time after while I shook and trembled my way through the shock that my body was experiencing towards the light of recovery.

I was really curious to see my placenta and asked for it.  Marion offered to bring it to us to give us a little Placenta 101.  This was really exciting to me.  I think I might have asked Myrtle if it was ok with her that Marion bring it around.  Of course Myrtle is game for anything at this point, I mean… she had just watched me hemorrhage all over my bedroom floor without so much as flinching.

Marion gave us a pretty stunning class on the different parts of the placenta, showing us the amniotic sac, the tree of life, and the cord.  I have to say that I am really very impressed with my body.  I just can’t believe I grew that thing!  Or that it sustained my son for 41 weeks!  Around then, our doula, Cheryl, showed up and made a placenta impression on a piece of paper.

Placenta print!

(I’m sorry if our placenta is too much information for anyone out there, but I personally find it all very fascinating!)

Next, I had to use the bathroom to prove that I could use my bladder — which was a Very Important Event — and I was then also allowed to take a shower.  I was absolutely relieved to be allowed to shower all of the day’s waste off of me.  I figured if I was allowed a 10 minute shower all by myself, I would be transformed into a picture of bright and shining health.  A quick glance to the mirror told me otherwise, though.  My ruddy skin was 3 shades of the wrong color and I knew that it was right to confine me to bed for a week after the birth.

When Cheryl, got there, I was so stoked that I got to have my two doula’s with me at once.  Two doulas, two midwives, a husband, and a best friend (who was totally promoted to sister after seeing the whole after birth business), AND a brand new awesome son.  How lucky can one lady get?

My two doulas!

Soon, our son was weighed, measured, and checked for the proper reflexes.  Everyone in the room took bets on how much he weighed.  I thought silently to myself that he might weigh 9 pounds and 2 ounces.  I only figured this because it’s what my brother weighed when he was born.  I didn’t say anything out loud, though, but I swear to you, readers, I had it right in my head.  He was 22.25 inches long, which delights me.  I have a thing for long legs and am glad that they run in our little family.

9lbs, 2ozs

Eventually, after giving us lots of important instructions, our doulas and midwives left.  Myrtle stayed for a while, shot some amazing photos of Axelrod, and cleaned my house like a champ.  She was leaving the very next morning for a flight home.  She took this photo before we all cried and she left for her hotel room:

Post-fetal position

We spent our first night together marveling.  The first long nap that Axelrod was supposed to take never really happened.  Alexrod just wanted to nurse all night, which I was really fine with.  We worked through the hours together, figuring out how he worked on the outside of my body.  Figuring out that we were family, and that we were both in it for the long haul.  Milton and I will never be the same sort of family we were before this little guy’s birth.  We are now part of a better, bigger family.  We are now parents, and sport a very worthy and excellent son.  We wouldn’t have it any other way, either!  I can honestly say without a hint of irony that this is the best thing we have ever done with each other, for each other, and for our family.  Parenthood is pretty awesome stuff, already.  It is every emotion.  It is every worry.  It is every sort of elation.  It is every sort of love.  We welcome it, completely.

The End.

Or, more accurately:  The Beginning.

One week old

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What If? A Portrait of Infertility

by Esther on Thu, May 6th, 2010

in Challenges,Parenthood

This video touched me to tears this morning. I found it on the Offbeat Mama blog, along with Offbeat Mama Ariel’s story.

We got only a small taste of infertility when trying to make our little crane. Making this baby led me down the road to a heart-breaking miscarriage and 9 months of treating my body and our sex life like my own personal science experiment. Ultimately, we were very lucky. We did get our little crane to plant himself naturally. But the what ifs that I got a taste of during that year of trying were quite a life lesson.

Let’s hear it for all of those women out there re-defining motherhood, shall we? Let’s hear it for modern science, infertility research, and a healthy dose of awareness. Let’s hear it for all of you folk out there who are NOT pressuring lady friends by constantly asking if they are pregnant. You never know if that woman is letting the What If’s plague her. You never know how many different mothers rest in the hearts of different women. We don’t all have to give birth to realize that goddess within.

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Imminence

by Esther on Sun, Feb 28th, 2010

in Parenthood,Pregnancy by week,Psychological,Week 30

The other day, one of my wonderful clients was booking her next appointment for her haircut and color at the salon. I asked what the date of her appointment was, and it turned out to be a good 11 days before my last day at work. I was surprised that I had so much work time left and searched for a word to explain my surprise.

“Everything just feels so… so….” I stumbled to find the words.

“Imminent!!” she exclaimed.

And that has become my word for this week. Maybe it’s my word for the next few years. Every moment Milton and I have alone makes me grasp to hold it tightly – these moments are bound for imminent change. Every kick I feel is one less kick I will feel with this baby inside of me. Everything precious is only precious for right this moment, and about to give way to other new and precious things, which will in turn slip away for even more things new and precious.

I looked up at him today and said, “Can you believe we’re having a baby?”

He replied, “And that baby will turn into a kid, and that kid will turn into an adult…”

“And he will be a member of our family,” I said, “And it will always be the three of us, after all this time of it being the two of us.”

It’s a pretty magical and confounding thing to realize that life as you know it is about to become completely and beautifully upheaved.  It will become life as we never knew it.  It will be a completely new journey that we can’t possibly be completely prepared for.  No amount of book reading or closet cleaning is going to make us more aware of what life will really be like once pregnancy ends.  And pregnancy ends in the not too distant future….

Milton and Sopor cuddle at dusk.

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My father has been appearing in my dreams a lot lately.  Probably because I feel myself overlapping with my father at this particular part of my life.  When he was my age, I was 8 years old.  Which, in hindsight, is halfway through my life with him, as he passed away when I was 17.  But in many ways I see my parents as wise beyond their years in their parenting of me, and I only hope I can meet the bar that they’ve set.  I’m gonna try real hard.

In the meantime, I am discovering that I’m also highly sensitive to the thought of “changing” when I become a father.  I don’t like changing in predictable ways, and the more people say things like “oh, you’re going to think completely differently about things once you’re a parent” the more I resist those changes.  I want my changes to come from inside me, and not to be guided by expectations or stereotypes or the occasional cynical remark.

That said, I’ve already become much more of a home-body, just as the stereotypes dictate.  Ahead of time, even.  Half because I don’t want to leave my lovely pregnant wife at home by herself and half because I feel like I’m in some kind of cocoon state that is requiring all of my subconscious resources to build new subconscious structures to help transition me into the new responsibilities and opportunities of fatherhood.  That, and I’ve also become somewhat of a workaholic, at least in terms of hours.  I feel like this is my last couple months to really devote myself 100% to the foundation of my self-employment, and even though I’ll be as loyal to work and career after I become a father, it will no longer be the primary recreational activity that occupies my brain.  Also, I’m loving work right now and that’s pretty awesome to have.  Of course, even though people don’t actually say this to me, I feel like the male stereotype of PROVIDING that complements the female stereotype of NESTING is one I should resist.  Yeah, it’s all a little neurotic but that’s just the way my brain’s wired.  I will do everything I can to help the family, but I will never claim to having sole responsibility for the providing, nor exclusion from the nesting.  Enough about that.

Today Esther and I purchased some art supplies that we’ll be putting to use in the next week as our first joint art project.  In a way, other than our genes and bodies and minds, this will be the first physical gift that we give to our future son.  It’s quite fun to be able to celebrate and meditate on him through creative art projects.

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My father

by Milton on Mon, Nov 2nd, 2009

in Parenthood,Week 14

My father passed away from complications from lung cancer 16 years and 2 days ago. Here he is…

My dad

One year, five months, and one day from now will be the point in my life where I have been without him as long as I was with him.  In my literary mind, it makes sense to me that I’ll be at the very beginning of my own fatherhood at that point.

He was a great father. I miss him.

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Maurice Sendak on scary things

by Milton on Sun, Oct 25th, 2009

in Parenthood,Week 13

Something to chew on: “‘Wild Things’ is scary, but so is life

81-year-old Sendak is my king is because of what he said during a recent Newsweek interview that was intended to promote the film but no doubt wound up offending parents all over the country. It went like this:

Reporter: “What do you say to parents who think the Wild Things film may be too scary?”

Sendak: “I would tell them to go to hell. That’s a question I will not tolerate.”

Reporter: “Because kids can handle it?”

Sendak: “If they can’t handle it, go home. Or wet your pants. Do whatever you like. But it’s not a question that can be answered.”

Sendak: “This concentration on kids being scared, as though we as adults can’t be scared. Of course we’re scared. I’m scared of watching a TV show about vampires. I can’t fall asleep. It never stops. We’re grown-ups; we know better, but we’re afraid.”

Reporter: “Why is that important in art?”

Sendak: “Because it’s truth. You don’t want to do something that’s all terrifying. I saw the most horrendous movies that were unfit for child’s eyes. So what? I managed to survive.”

Remember, this guy is 81 years old. I miss the way people used to be. A couple of generations ago, parents didn’t worry about whether kids were happy all the time or comfortable 24/7 or wrapped in protective coating. Of course, they didn’t want their children hurt. But it’s hard to imagine they would have spent much time and effort trying to keep kids from being scared.

Quite the contrary, they used to tell them scary stories at bedtime or on camping trips — usually the kind intended to frighten little ones into behaving correctly. “And then one day, all the kids who didn’t listen to their mommies and daddies just disappeared. …”

I get it. We really, really, really like our children. In fact, we love our children and we think they’re the most precious little darlings ever created, and so naturally we want to protect them. And we should protect them from some things — predators, disease, abuse, etc. But we shouldn’t protect them from all things. And we certainly can’t protect them from life. And part of life is getting scared now and then. In time, we learn to separate reality from fantasy.

And yet, while one infamous set of parents could face criminal charges for pretending their son was in a balloon, other parents think nothing of keeping their kids in a bubble.

Esther sent me the link to this article yesterday and I think we’re in agreement that Sendak is on to something here.

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Becoming more real

by Milton on Thu, Oct 15th, 2009

in Parenthood,Week 11

It’s weird trying to balance all the practical aspects of preparing for a new baby with the totally 180 degree opposite reaction of the emotional aspect of becoming a father. I probably tend to over-prepare on the practical side rather than investigate the emotional side.

Reading this lovely blog, Dear Baby, from beginning to end has reminded me that I need to also spend some time really thinking about this new life that will be joining us soon. A real live person, built from my wife and my own genetic histories, going all the way back to the first walking amoeba.

I want to write this baby songs, give it a comfortable and beautiful place to grow up, happy examples of how to live, protection from the elements at first, and then help taking them on him/herself eventually. I want to feel the feeling of its own weight push against Esther’s belly. I want to know all about this baby that’s in there doubling in size every week.

I guess since yesterday’s ultrasound I feel like this is all becoming more and more real.  Real is good.  Being a parent is gonna be so great.

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First thoughts about motherhood.

by Esther on Wed, Sep 16th, 2009

in Parenthood,Week 07

My mother was young and vibrant.  She had me at 22, during the long sunset of her first marriage- which started at 18.  I remember us being best friends during my early years.  Looking back, I see now that we grew up together during those early years.  We were very poor during her time as a single parent.  My mother worked 3 jobs to send me to a good school- where she was snubbed for being a divorcee.  I spent much of my time at my grandparents’ house, where I became their 8th child and had raucous good times with aunts and uncles who were only a few years older than me.

When my mother was 28, she married my step-father.  This upset me bitterly for some time.  In my child’s mind, I felt as if the camaraderie I had with my mother was intruded upon by her new relationship.  I am sure that I was affected in large part by the breakup of my mother’s first marriage, as well.  My biological father was, to a great extent, absent from my everyday life.  This anger and resentment was unconsciously projected on to my step-father until I became much more self-aware in my adult years.  Now, my mother, stepfather, and I have a sound and loving relationship.

Children are so sensitive, and begin with such a small world view.  I wonder what sort of issues I will unwittingly imprint on my child’s ego.  I hope I will be able to make sure that my child is strong enough to ultimately see past himself in order to become a terrific success.  I feel as if my husband and I have a step over the situation I was born into. We are older, well established in a marriage trust that I can’t see either of us ever questioning, much less betraying, and obviously in a much more sound financial condition than our young parents were.

When I have my first child, I will be 34.5 years old.  I will have lived through my party years with a youthful mixture of bubbles and melancholy, I will have already established my career.   I feel totally ready at this age to face my parenting years.  I feel as if I’m still vibrant enough enough to be idealistic, which is, in my opinion, an important positive emotion to convey to my child, even as that child is in utero.  I hope to be the kind of parent who is engaged, active, responsible, and actually fun.  I hope to be able to protect my child from making some of the mistakes I made, or forgive my child if they walk headfirst into the mire without first taking into account my own personal story.

I know for certain that my husband echos my sentiment.  I also know for certain that we are excellent partners.  I am looking forward to this whole lifelong family-building business.

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First thoughts about fatherhood

by Milton on Sun, Sep 13th, 2009

in Parenthood,Week 07

My father was awesome.  He passed away from lung cancer when I was just 16, but we had a great relationship all throughout my life.  He and my mom had me when they were both 25, 8 years younger than I am now, almost 9 by the time our baby is born, and I find myself thinking about him a lot now that I am possibly going to be a father myself.

He had a difficult life, a difficult family, and I remember him saying many times that he wanted our lives to be better than his, for us to be happier, more successful, etc than he was.  He also was an entrepreneur, working in software for many years and eventually starting his own company with his best friend a couple years before he passed away.  At the time, I wanted to be a painter or a genetic biologist (yeah, I know, very similar… both got to draw animals is how I saw them being related), and was applying for colleges.  And now here I am as an entrepreneur in the software development / Internet industry.

My parents were pretty poor when I was born, but eventually as his jobs got better we moved to the suburbs and eventually to a fairly wealthy planned community in Southern California.  I remember him saying to me in my early teens that he feared my life had been too easy, that great people are never born out of easy lives, and he wanted me to have an easy life.

As things would go, his departure sort of started in motion a long series of events that would be anything but easy.  While our lives aren’t yet chronicled in the history books, it’s safe to say that life is great, and that the challenges and lower lows have helped me find a place of earned happiness that I might not have otherwise achieved.

And now, I have the chance to think about raising a son or daughter of my own.  I want to be the best father just as my father was the best to me.

My mother also shaped a lot of how I see the world, and I want to make her proud to have a son that can pass on some of the things I’ve learned from her.

It’s weird making the transition from random married dude to an actual father.  It makes me rethink my posture, my habits, etc.  And yet, there are plenty of fatherhood stereotypes that I want to avoid.

I don’t want to be absent.  I don’t want to be aloof.  I don’t want to be too serious.  I don’t want to be the the one that’s only around for big events or for times of punishment.

I do want to be active and engaged in every step of the process.  I want to be a teacher, a leader, a role model, etc.  I want to carry a full half of the responsibilities of parenthood.  I want to encourage growth rather than simply be a protector. I want to give this new person every chance to be great, and to have the will power to let them also be their own person when the time comes, making their own mistakes and taking credit for their own successes.

Existing parents may scoff at my idealism, but we have to start with idealism and not compromise anything but the most necessary ideals when absolutely necessary.  That’s how my brain works at least.

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