My brother posted the above shot of my mom a couple of weeks ago on Facebook. The word that immediately comes to mind when looking at the photo is golden. It’s not just her blond hair or the yellowy morning light surrounding her. It’s more than that. My mom is glowing. She has her cup of coffee, she’s being photographed by the man she loves, and one or more of her children is probably not too far out of the frame. To me, it looks like a snapshot of a lovely, golden life.
I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think my mom was too much older than me in this photo. I was likely a young child then. I’m almost certain that the back-then her and the current me are in similar life stages. Somewhere about the 15th or 16th time looking looking at the photo, I realized that we share more than just a life stage.
It’s that golden thing. I feel it, too.
I’ve had a rough year. I’ve been pretty open about that. And in some ways, I’m only now just beginning to feel deeply sad about the loss of my mom. I think for so long, I pushed my feelings back because my brain couldn’t handle taking care of a newborn and processing that loss at the same time. It’s finally catching up with me, and I’m ok with that.
But I’m also sort of insanely happy. This last year has certainly helped me appreciate my blessings: I get to share each day with the best man I know. I’m a mom to a beautiful baby girl. When I really think about it, I’m hit with a sense of awe that, holy shit, I have everything I’ve ever wanted. When the younger me used to dream about what my future life would look like, I dreamt of exactly this. A love, a family. I have somehow arrived exactly where I wanted to be, and now all that’s left to do is cherish, give thanks and enjoy.
Sure, there is still sickness and death and anxiety out there. There’s no avoiding those things, and I will take them as they come.
Ok, a little late, but here’s the tale of how my little lady came into the world.
Rewind two months to July 21, two weeks before Colette’s due date.
11 am: I meet my friends for brunch. My friend Ashley gives me a box of raspberry leaf tea, which is supposed to induce labor.
2 pm: I drink one cup of raspberry leaf tea. One!
7 pm: I send my friend Elizabeth, who’s really into astrology, the following text: “Pretty sure this baby is going to be a Leo after all. She has one more day left to declare herself a Cancer.”
9 pm: I’m lying in bed reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I’m annoyed at everything. The book is dumb. I’m uncomfortable. I say to Tim, “Ughhhhhh! I’m going to be pregnant forever.” I randomly decide to get on all fours on the bed. I stay there for a couple of minutes.
I get up.
I feel a huge gush.
I say to Tim, “Holy shit! Holy shit!”
And he says, “What? What?”
And I say, “I think my water just broke! Or maybe I peed myself.”
9:05 pm: It becomes obvious that I did not pee myself, as crazy amounts of liquid are still flowing.
Apparently this baby really wants to be a Cancer.
9:15 pm: I call the midwives. The on-call phones me back and tells me to come into the hospital to make sure it really was my water.
9:45 pm: We arrive at the hospital and the water is still gushing. Still! My dress is soaked, my flip flops are soaked. A nurse in the elevator with us is cracking up at me. Once I get to the PETU, they hook me up to the baby monitors and the midwife comes in. She tells me that, yep, it’s definitely my water. And that she has never seen so much amniotic fluid come out of one person.
Blue ribbon for me!
The midwife says I have two options. One, to be induced right then and there. Or two, to go home and see if active labor starts. If that doesn’t happen, I have to come back in 12 hours. Once the water breaks, there’s a greater chance of infection, so I have to be induced in 12 hours no matter what. She acts like going into labor on my own is a slim possibility.
In my head I’m like, yeah right. I know shit is going to go down.
We decide to go home. The midwife instructs me to take a sleeping pill and get some shut eye.
11:30 pm: We get home. We call our parents and tell them the news. I take a Unisom. Right after I take it, contractions start. They’re manageable for, like, 25 minutes.
And then it starts to get really real all at once.
I go from no labor to HOLY CRAP FULL-ON LABOR! The contractions are now one minute long, every two minutes apart. That’s right. One minute of rest every two minutes. As a bonus, I’m groggy from the sleeping pill.
Midnight: We call our doula and tell her to get on over.
12:30 am: Oh My G, the pain!
12:45 am: I call the midwife again and she tells me it sounds like active labor is just beginning. In my head I’m like, yeah right. I’m in it, lady. She tells me to give it a few more hours.
1 am: The doula arrives. She tries massaging, acupressure, etc. At this point, I’m in so much pain I have no idea what anyone is saying or doing around me. I’m on the yoga mat in my bedroom, on all fours.
1:30 am: I say to the air, “I need to go to the hospital and get an epidural. Now.”
1:45 am: We walk from the house to the car, which is across the street, about ten feet away from my front door. On the way, I have a contraction and get down on all fours on the sidewalk. In the middle of South Philly, people!
2 am: We get to the hospital. I don’t remember the ride at all. I stop in the lobby of the hospital and get down on all fours again, this time on a bench. No shame at this point, no shame.
2:05 am: We arrive back at the PETU. The nurse tells me that I need to be on the fetal monitor for one half hour and that if I move and the monitor loses the baby’s heartbeat, I need to start all over again for another half an hour. Basically, she’s telling me I have to keep still for an entire half hour.
2:06-2:36 am: Holy shit.
3 am: The midwife comes in and checks my cervix. I’m 6 centimeters dilated. The room cheers. All except for me, who barely registers what the hell is going on.
3:15 am: They transfer me to labor and delivery.
4 am: Still no epidural. After every few contractions I wimper, “Why isn’t she here yet?” By she, I mean the anesthesiologist. She was administering another epidural somewhere else on the floor. Then that patient’s blood pressure went haywire, so the anesthesiologist had to chill with her for a while. Every few minutes the midwife checks Baby’s heartbeat. The rest of the time the midwife just chills in the room with me while I labor. I was surprised because I did not think doctors or midwives stuck around like that.
4:45 am: The anesthesiologist arrives. Praise be! She gives me the epidural. I’ve heard horror stories about epidural administration, but compared to the pain I’m in, getting the epidural is awesome.
5 am: The edipural kicks in. I breathe. Now, I had in mind to “try” to have a natural childbirth. But I changed my mind pretty quickly once the bad-ass contractions set in. You au-natural ladies, I admire you. But next time? Epidural all the way for me.
5-7 am: I rest. No sleep, but I’m blissfully zoned out.
7 am: The midwife checks me and I’m over 9 centimeters dilated. Sha-bam!
8:00 am: One more check before shift change. I’m declared almost ready to push.
8:15 am: A new midwife arrives and I start pushing. Contrary to childbirth lore, I can still feel when it’s time to push, despite having an epidural.
8:30 am: I start running a fever. Because my water broke before labor they’re worried the fever is a sign of infection. This means that Colette will have to go to the NICU after she’s born and we’ll both have to get antibiotics.
8:45 am: The midwife wants to do an episiotomy. She says Colette’s head is just sort of stuck. My doula tells me to hold out. I listen to the doula.
8:58 am: The midwife says, “Listen, I’m just going to do the episiotomy anyway.”
9:01 am: It works! Colette shoots out faster than a speeding bullet. It’s crazy how fast she comes out after the episiotomy.
Almost exactly 12 hours after my water broke, the world has a new little girl in it.
I say, “Oh my God, my baby, it’s my baby,” and “I love you so much,” over and over again.
Tim doesn’t say a word, but tears roll down his face.
Because she is here. After all of our longing and waiting and wishing, she is finally, finally here.
You might have read in my previous post that my mom was back in the hospital again, this time with meningitis. The meningitis is under control, thank God, but my mom hated being in the hospital. She was miserable to the max. So a couple of days ago, she transferred to a hospice facility. I haven’t seen the place, but my mom, dad and brother say that it is wonderful. You can even bring your pets there if you like!
Hospice is a scary word. Once I heard she had transferred there, I did some research, and what I found made me feel better. Hospice is not about giving up hope, but rather it’s about regaining a better quality of life. It’s about being with your family. It’s about comfort and peace and love. My mom indeed seems much happier and much more comfortable there. And that, my friends, is all I could ever wish for my beloved mother: peace, comfort and buckets of love.
I’m going to put myself out there now and share a letter that I wrote to her because it also explores some of the thoughts and feelings I’ve been having about motherhood.
Since I’ve had my daughter, I’ve been thinking about you all the time. I don’t remember a lot from when I was very young, but the one thing that I do remember—strong and clear—is a feeling of overwhelming love for you. I think that’s my first real memory—not a place or a time, but a feeling of love for you. I was a true mama’s girl, as I’m sure you recall. I remember wanting to touch you and hug you and just generally wanting to be around you as much as possible. It occurred to me the other day that, before Tim, you were the original love of my life. Most people only associate that phrase with romantic love, but I think that’s silly. I am lucky enough to have three loves of my life: first there was you, then Tim and now there’s Colette. But you were first and I wanted you to know that.
This letter, of course, became the family joke, with my dad and siblings crying that they “didn’t even make the list.” And to that I say, whatever, peeps. I gots plenty o’ love to go around.
I would be extremely grateful if you all could keep my mother in your thoughts and prayers. If you could send as much goodness as you can spare her way.
I love you like crazy, mom. I love you to the sky and back, and even further still. I love you all the way to the stars and the moon and into the furthest reaches of the ever-expanding universe. There is nowhere you can go where my love cannot reach you.
As I’m sure you gathered from the title, this post is about breastfeeding. If that’s not your bag, by all means, skip it!
Before Colette was born, I knew I wanted to try breastfeeding. But I swore that if it didn’t work for me, I wouldn’t get crazy about it and I would stop. I didn’t understand why mothers agonized over it.
Until I became one of those mothers. I am breastfeeding and it is not going well. And it’s making me kind of insane. But the thought of stopping is also making me kind of insane. Actually, the thought of stopping is kind of heartbreaking. I worry that I won’t have a connection with my daughter anymore. I’ve heard that weaning can be “traumatic” for a baby. Baby trauma? Oh, sign me right up. Just what every mother wants to hear, right? One site described weaning as “the long goodbye.” Um, that makes me really sad. I don’t feel ready to stop, but I’m not sure how much more my psyche can take.
Here’s the deal. Breastfeeding in the hospital seemed to go fine. The lactation consultant there told me my latch looked great. But once Colette got home, she fell asleep after five seconds. But still, I thought everything was ok…until I went to the pediatrician and she had lost over 10% of her body weight. And then the next time we went back she had lost even more. The doctor evaluated her and said her sucking reflex wasn’t developed and basically she wasn’t able to get much milk out. The effort was too much for her and that’s why she was falling asleep.
We saw a lactation consultant. She said the same thing. The doctor and the consultant agreed that her frenulum (membrane under her tongue) might be too tight. So we had that snipped. They said it could take up to four weeks to see any signs of improvement from the procedure.
We have to do daily exercises to keep the frenulum from growing back. We also do “suck training” exercises several times a day.
On top of that, I’ve been pumping every three hours after every feeding to maintain my milk supply. While I’m pumping, Tim gives her a bottle of expressed milk and, if I don’t pump enough milk, some formula.
I can handle these things, especially since Colette seemed to be improving a lot over the last week. But then I started getting plugged ducts every 48 hours, which my lactation consultant said is definitely not normal. And then I got mastitis (breast infection). So that means antibiotics and a several-times-a-day dose of acidophilus to try and avoid getting thrush. And hot compresses every time I nurse to try and loosen the clogs. And lecithin supplements twice a day to try and prevent the clogs from returning. And now my skin is irritated from all the pumping, so I’m pretty much in pain all the time.
I saw a lactation consultant for the second time yesterday. She said Colette was still gaining weight too slowly, so we have to increase her supplement. All well and good. My baby needs to be healthy and gain weight. But now that we’ve increased her supplement, she’s not as hungry, so any improvement we’ve gained in the nursing department has tanked. She’s just not that into nursing because she’s not that hungry before each feeding. I feel like we lost all of the ground I fought so hard to gain.
I know this is not sustainable, especially not after Tim goes back to work in two and a half weeks. But even with all of the craziness, the thought of not breastfeeding anymore kills me. I know no one would judge me if I stopped. But, as always, I am my own worst judge. But there needs to be a balance. Breast milk is undoubtedly best for baby. But a strung-out, half-insane mom is not best for baby.
So, peanut gallery, I would love it if you would share your personal stories. Did you have any breastfeeding struggles that you overcame? Or did you make the switch to formula and, if so, how did you make peace with that decision? I could use some perspective either way.
Note: I’ve been trying to write this post for four days. Kudos to all of those bloggers out there who post regularly with a newborn. Don’t know how you do it.
The little fish has made her way into the world. My sweet Colette was born on July 22nd (38 weeks and 1 day) at 9:01 a.m., weighing 7.1 oz. I am so happy to finally be able to introduce her to you all. My heart is pretty much breaking with love.
I want to tell you her birth story, but for now I’m just trying to get through each day. It’s true what everyone says: the first few days are effing HARD. So that post will be along as soon as I am able. Until then, here’s some pictures of the little lady!
My mom’s not feeling so hot these days. She’s getting radiation and IV chemo at the same time. This would be rough for any average Joe, but on top of that my mom’s on a liquid diet, so her body is pretty much beat down. In an attempt to lift her spirits, Tim and I decided to take a last-minute trip to San Diego to see her last weekend.
I can’t describe to you how glad I am that we made the visit. My sister, who I haven’t seen in six years, was also visiting that weekend. My San Diego-native aunt and cousin were also around quite a bit. It was great for my mom to be surrounded by so many people who care about her.
But it was also difficult to see someone I love beyond words struggle so much. There is one particular moment that I just can’t get out of my head. I was watching my mom as she was dozing on the couch. Initially, she had a smile on her face. You could tell she was listening to all of her family talking and it made her happy. But as she fell into a real, deep sleep she started frowning intensely. And the look on her face then was anything but happy. Maybe that’s just how she normally looks sleeping, who knows, but to me it seemed like all the pain and nausea and other crappy stuff she was holding back while awake was rearing its ugly head in her sleep. That frown pretty much broke my heart.
In spite of all that was going on, I felt the same way I feel every time I visit my parents: safe and loved. I’ve never lived in my parents’ San Diego home. As a matter of fact, this is the first time I’ve visited them there. But still, I felt like it was my home, too. I felt comfortable there. I felt like I belonged. And it dawned on me that, even at 34 years old with a house and family of my own, home is still wherever my parents are.
I also thought a lot last weekend about the fact that my parents are the only people in the world who love me unconditionally. I know Tim loves me like crazy, but there are things I could do to drive him away. Like, I don’t know, have seventeen affairs. Obv, I would never do that, but the fact remains that I could do something to damage our relationship beyond repair.
But my parents? They’re in it for the long haul. Even if I did something unspeakably awful, I know they would still love me.
I’m only sorry it took me so long to realize what a gift that is.
You’ve heard all about my fertility struggles (more on that soon) and I’ve told you a ton about my mom’s battle with cancer, but today I want to talk about another special lady who has been fighting a fight of her own this past year: my sister Dawn.
Three years ago my sister went to the doctor and discovered that she suffered from severe hypertension and type II diabetes. She was tired all the time, she snored so loud she could wake the dead, and walking short distances made her breathless. To put it mildly, her situation was grim. All of these health issues were caused by obesity. My sister had always struggled with her weight, but it had reached a point where it was a matter of life or death.
And my sister chose life. Since that fateful doctors visit she’s lost 149 pounds. 149 pounds! And most of that loss has been in the last year. She joined Weight Watchers and became a vegetarian. She began cooking healthy, whole-food meals for her family. She started exercising like a fiend. In short, she completely changed her life.
Did it happen over night? Oh hell no. She says the key to her success is setting small, specific goals for herself. And she says, most importantly, that it’s imperative to start each day fresh and to forgive the mistakes of yesterday.
So without further ado, here is a set of before and after pictures of my lovely sister. You rock, Dawn! I am so proud of you.
My mom had a billion tests last week to measure how her treatments were working. And the results are in.
1. It was determined that she did not actually have a stroke. All of her symptoms were caused by a bone spur in her shoulder. I’m not sure what a bone spur is, but it’s definitely better than a stroke.
2. All of her tumor markers went down. Again, even after asking my mom, I’m still not sure what a tumor marker is, but I can assure you this is a very good thing.
3. The tumors in her chest and abdomen have not progressed. Halt, bitches!
4. The tumor in her left hip has shrunk. The tumor in her right hip has disappeared. That’s right, I said disappeared.
The only thing that’s not under control yet is the skin cancer, but the doctor’s are not as concerned about that because it’s not life threatening. The next course of action is to do two rounds of chemo pills (to hopefully get that skin cancer busted up) and then go back to the hormone treatments.
How am I feeling right now? Grateful. Grateful to all you for your thoughts and prayers. Grateful to my mom for being such a fighter. And grateful that we got this wonderful news just before Christmas. I couldn’t have dreamed-up a better Christmas present.
My mom had a stroke on Monday night. She is fine, but has limited use of her left arm. The doctors say it should be as good as new with time. They ran a bunch of tests and found no cause. Apparently this is common in Stroke Land. They suspect it’s not caused by her cancer, but from the stress of having cancer. Fun, right? They’re discharging her from the hospital today and they cleared her to travel to Philadelphia tomorrow. She insists on still coming to Thanksgiving, even though we assured her we would go up there instead. I think she’s crazy, but I will honor her wishes. All I care about at this point is that she is ok. I’ll do whatever she wants and needs. Plus, when Rightwood says she’s doing something, it’s best not to mess with her.
I guess all I want to say to you guys is this: hug your loved ones extra tight tomorrow. Because every moment you have with them is a gift.
Happy Thanksgiving. I know I’m extremely thankful this year.
Thank you all for the outpouring of thoughts and prayers. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to ask you to keep them going a little while longer.
It turns out my mom’s cancer is stage IV. Let’s just say that’s pretty much the opposite of what we were hoping for. Surgery is not an option. Our best bet is to keep the cancer from spreading, which means my mom will need chemo treatments for the rest of her life. Not ideal, but my mom insists it’s not going to cramp her style.
I will say I definitely picked an interesting time to quit drinking. I may or may not have had multiple red velvet cupcakes last night, but I did not have a drink. And as much as I want one, I’m not going to do it. I not only owe it to myself and Baby-Best-Yet-To-Be to stay as healthy as possible, but I now I owe it to my mother as well.
As my mom said last night, “We need to widen Hope Street into a freeway.” So that is what we’ll do. Because there is nowhere to go but onward.