“Fig Newton” Cookie Recipe

Our family is doing well. My physical recovery time with this baby was amazingly short (it’s crazy how much better it is to NOT be recovering from major abdominal surgery…). Other than being deeply, deeply disorganized that is. I hesitated to take people up on their offers of food since I felt so good compared to last time, but then I realized that I am experiencing a normal amount of tiredness and that it’s okay to need help even if I’m not a complete puddle on the floor. I’m not totally overwhelmed, but I am somewhat whelmed and that’s to be expected.

Anyhow, this relates to fig newtons because it’s a symptom of exactly how with it I am not. I spent  three hours the other day researching recipes, grinding flour, and making these cookies. Then I finished them at around 6 p.m. and realized we didn’t have anything for dinner. Luckily, I had some soup that my friend JJ. had given me, so my family did not have cookies for dinner.

If you wanted to skip the stove-top portion, you could get fig jam or any other kind of jam, for that matter. Honestly I still want to tweak this filling recipe a bit (it wasn’t bad…just not quite fig newton-ey enough for my taste), so please let me know in the comments if you make these and come up with something delicious.

So without further ado, here’s the recipe:

 

Dough

  • 3-4 cups whole grain spelt flour
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/8 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ cup pure (not extra virgin) olive oil, or other vegetable oil.
  • 4 eggs, divided
Filling
  • 2 cups figs, chopped (can use dried)
  • 2 cup apple juice
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 4 tbsp. sugar (optional–depends on your sweet tooth)
  • 1 tsp. orange peel, or zest of 1 orange

The method:

Make the dough:

  • Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add in oil and mix until the dough is sandy loooking.
  • Whisk 3 eggs together with 1/2 cup apple juice and add to the dough. Mix to combine. If the dough is too wet, add more flour. If too dry, add more apple juice. The dough should be only slightly softer than you want to use. Form the dough into a ball, place in an airtight container and refrigerate for 2 hours or so.
Make the filling:

  • Combine all the filling ingredients in a saucepan or skillet and cook over medium heat until all the liquid is absorbed by the figs and the mixture is thick.
  • Let the filling cool slightly, then puree it in a food processor until fairly smooth. Refrigerate until time to bake.
At baking time:
  • Heat the oven to 375F. Make an egg wash by whisking the remaining egg with a little water (a couple of teaspoons or less). I have quite a sweet tooth, so I added some sugar to the egg wash and it made for a nice sweetness on top.
  • Divide the dough into workable portions. On a lightly floured surface roll out each portion of dough into a rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. Work with 1 portion of dough at a time. Cut the dough lengthwise into strips, about 2 1/2- 3 inches wide.
  • Paint around the edges of each strip with egg wash. Spoon the fig filling down the center of the strip and then fold the dough over to enclose the filling.
  • Place the tubes, seam side down, on the greased (or parchment-lined) cookie sheet. Press down lightly to flatten. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
  • Brush the tops with the egg wash and bake until light golden brown, about 15 minutes.
  • Let them cool, then cut with a sharp knife into cookie-sized pieces.

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My Son’s Birth (The New Birth Story Part 2)

A quick disclaimer before I continue- I will be quoting people as best I can but I may slightly misremember their exact words or meanings at times. I was…erm….distracted…

I woke up at 4 a.m., feeling uncomfortable and unable to go back to sleep (not unusual…this had been happening for over a month). I laid in bed until 5, then rolled over and asked J. if he wanted to get up and take a shower and go to work early, or if I should take a bath. “mmm…bthkm………uh-huh”

Okay, bath it is. I read Lord of the Rings for a while (can you tell this has been a theme with this pregnancy? It’s full of stories about people having to overcome fears and accomplish very hard tasks). At some point during this hour contractions must have started, because when J.’s alarm went off he came into the bathroom and found me holding the book in front of my face with my eyes shut waving my head from side to side.

“Um, WHAT are you doing?”

“Huh? Oh…it hurts….”

“Okay, when’s the last time it hurt?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t been timing them.”

He got out his fancy new smart phone and used an app to time my contractions…four to five minutes apart and a minute long…same as a week ago when this happened…still, better safe than sorry. We made some calls around 7 and asked people to come to the house as soon as they could.

Then from the bath tub I threw up. Not like a week ago. Whoops! Time to go. J. dashed around trying to get a couple of last minute things in place and make sure we had kiddo things to take with us on the fly. The contractions started to be really, really crazy at this point. I started yelling through them as a way of releasing the energy without pushing the baby out on the bathroom rug. God, can I do this? 

My amazing three year old daughter came up and put her arm around my neck and said, “It’s okay, Mommy. You’re doing a great job.” Okay, kid, if you say so. Time to get up! Get dressed.

I moved into the bedroom and pulled on some clothes and sat on the edge of the bed as another contraction hit, full force. Maybe I can’t do this! Where’s my husband? Oh. He’s right there. Good. “I can’t do this! What if I can’t do this?!”  “Yes, you can. It’s going to be great, Katie.  You can do this.” Another contraction. I yelled even louder. E. came over to me, put her hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes and started singing the ABC’s, then Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (or “Fwinkle, Fwinkle, Lilla Staiww” as she calls it). I laughed and forgot about a  contraction.

J. got us all moving and into the car in record time. He drove to the hospital, um…quickly. I kept listening to “You Are the New Day” by The King’s Singers. It’s about two minutes long, so halfway through each time I knew I’d have a contraction.

We got to the hospital and walked up to the maternity floor (the idea of sitting in a wheelchair did NOT appeal to me at that point, even though it was offered by kind strangers a couple of times as we made our way over). As I walked up to the door, one of the nurses at the station saw me and said, “Um, do you need a wheelchair?” haha…..

C. (our midwife) walked by the door at that moment and saw me squatting and holding onto the wall. She kind of laughed a little and made a hand-waving motion. “Uhm, room four. Get up. Let’s go.”

We made it to the room and I felt myself relax. Okay, I can have my baby here. God, I trust you. Please take care of me. I stopped yelling through contractions and just let them do the work they were supposed to do. About fifteen minutes later (half an hour before the birth) M. showed up and took E. for a walk; just in time for her to miss the messy part.

C. asked me where I wanted to go, and if I’d be okay with sitting on the bed and getting checked. I’d had some residual fear around being stuck in the bed and wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it. At that point I didn’t care. She checked me and said, “Well, you can bear down with this next contraction if you want to.”

What the what….?!?! “Um, I need a minute.”

“Okay, take your time.” A couple of contractions.

“Okay, Katie, what do you want to do now? You could push your baby out if you want to.”

Aghh!! My face must have said, because C. said, “Okay, then go sit on the toilet. Empty your bladder and see what happens.” I made it to the bathroom and sat on the toilet. Then I screamed. C. came and looked at me, then said, “Well, we have a head. That toilet works every time! Sooo, we could deliver your baby here, although that’s not really the kind of waterbirth I like to do. Katie, what are we doing here? Do you want to go to the bed?”

“I….I can’t.” Can’t walk. “How….?”

“It’s okay. We got ya. C’mon, dad, let’s go. One foot in front of the other.” Each of them looped an arm through one of my arms and they mostly carried me to the bed. I crawled up and got on my hands and knees and…panicked. “Can you check his heartbeat? Is he okay?” Everyone paused.

“You want to be monitored? Really?” The monitor had been another one of the things that freaked me out going into this labor.

“Yes, I just want to make sure he’s okay. Last time this is when….agghhhhhh!” Contraction.

They checked on him and he was fine. I still felt afraid. Then over the loudspeaker someone started to sing.* “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me/Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be…” Oh, right….Trust. Peace. Okay, I’m ready.

I began pushing (I gave myself a nosebleed and J. wisely said, “Stop pushing with your face, push with your diaphragm down here.” So I did).  They tell me I pushed for fifteen minutes, but it didn’t feel like it took that long. It seemed to take no time at all (and indeed, 15 minutes is almost the closest thing there is to ‘no time at all’ in terms of pushing a baby out). The cord was around his neck but C. quickly looped it over and he came the rest of the way out. Because I was on my hands and knees they passed him up and put him on the bed underneath me. He’s all squishy and gross! This isn’t like tv at all! Yay!!!!

Somehow we all got me over onto my back and S. came up onto my chest. We met each other while he got wiped off and checked. I waited for the placenta, then got stitches for a minor tear. Once the cord stopped pulsing, C. asked me if it was okay to cut it. She handed it to me and said, “Are you ready?” J. got to cut the cord.

And then we were four.

One of the passages that gave me encouragement during the last part of my pregnancy was something Paul wrote back in the day to people in Ephesus:

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power…in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…”

In Greek there are at least two different words for ‘knowledge.’ So that last bit should read, “To know by experience the love that surpasses simple understanding.” I don’t know why I was given this experience. At times I have waited for the other shoe to drop, because it just all seemed too good to be true. And I have struggled with how to write it up without it sounding like a tract or some other annoying cheesy thing. But I do feel at this point like I have a grasp on something that I didn’t before. I don’t mean that if you are nice and God is satisfied you’re a good person who thinks the right things then you get good experiences. It would be naive and cruel to think that way. But going back through my Gandalf on Celebdil visualization (yes, I’m a nerd. Get over it), I realize I got the opportunity to throw down my fear and mistrust and to make room for something better.

*I found out later that since we gave birth at a Catholic hospital (a fact that hadn’t played into our decision at all when we were making it), they do a morning blessing every day at 8:00. On the particular day we were there, Sister K. would usually have done it at 8 but she was late because of a meeting. Someone else was going to do it at 8 but they didn’t, and then another person was supposed to do it at 8:30 but they didn’t either. So when Sister K. got there around 8:40 she ended up singing it, which was exactly when I needed her to.

One small thing:

I’ve been encouraged by my midwife, Colleen Brezine, to share her name and the fact that S. was born at St. John West Shore Hospital in the Holistic Birthing Center. If you decide to have your baby there I can’t guarantee he or she will be born 45 minutes after you arrive, but I did have an outstanding experience there, for what it’s worth. I have not been compensated in any way for sharing this information.

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The New Birth Story (Part 1)

**I wrote this post, as you’ll quickly see, before my son was born. I wanted to capture how I was feeling at that moment, but didn’t want to publish it until the story had an ending. So without further ado…**

I am more of a doer than a planner. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very important to me to know what it is I should be doing, and I often put a great deal of thought and research into the hows and whys of my actions. But when it comes down to it, I get stressed out by planning that isn’t followed up pretty much immediately by doing. Once I figure out what the right course of action is, I really want to just get to it. It’s caused me (and by extension the people around me) stress in various church and other settings over the years.

My friend JJ. pointed out to me once that I work the best with a plan. I need to know what my ‘job’ is and then I am okay emotionally, whether or not it’s really hard.

But childbirth isn’t a ‘plan and do’ kind of event. At least, not unless you’re one of those hollywood moms who schedules a c-section or induction so they can go on vacation. But that’s not really my style.

This labor and this boy have been very good for me so far. I have almost gone to the hospital once, and have called the midwife a couple of times saying ‘I don’t think the baby’s coming right this second, but I’m having contractions fairly regularly and just thought you should know.’ I’ve been having contractions approximately every 10 minutes for over a week now. Does that sound exhausting? It is.

But it also allows me to enter into the experience in a way that feels really important and good. I need to feel like I am doing the best that I can from moment to moment to keep myself from thinking unhelpful thoughts. After we’d made our decision about where to birth (and with whom) and signed the forms stating our wishes about circumcision, IV fluids and a host of other medical interventions, there wasn’t enough to keep my brain busy. So my thoughts wander and end up in a terrible neighborhood, where I keep imagining worst case scenarios (it gets much worse than what happened to me…I know. I’ve watched that horror movie in my head a few times this pregnancy). People have asked me a few times if it is frustrating to have contractions that don’t do anything (another wise friend helpfully pointed out that this isn’t strictly true…while they aren’t labor contractions by hospital textbook standards, even if I’m not dilating centimeters at a time, each one strengthens and tones the uterus and prepares me and the baby for what’s to come).

Either way, through all these contractions I have learned that I do in fact have something to do. It is my job to be calm and present in this moment, and to love this baby. I have decided to trust my body and trust that God is ‘next to me’ (as E. is fond of saying) to take care of me. So each time I have a contraction it feels like a new chance to temper the resolve of my decision. Am I really going to trust? It seems like it’s happening in slow motion, which gives me a great chance to truly think through how I am processing it, and for that I am really grateful.

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Normalizing Different

The “popular kids” and I have never been what you’d call close. In high school and beyond I have usually had a somewhat adverse reaction to doing what was mainstream just because. Even when I tried to blend in I did it so awkwardly that it was doomed to fail even before I bought my over-sized flannel shirt (yes, I grew up in the 90s, before flannel plaid was worn ironically in a tight-fitting style).

But one valuable lesson I have learned from them is this: if you act like what you’re doing is normal, other people probably will too.

Or, on the flip side, if you act like you are a freak, then other people will treat you like one.

The first time this post started rattling around in my head it was in the context of breastfeeding. If women continue to act as though it is something to be done exclusively in a separate wing of the house, in the car, sitting on the toilet, or worse, then it will always be something that is considered ‘other’ in some significant way. I’m not saying we should all insist on the right to walk around shirtless until our children wean at age 4 (like they do without social issue in Africa, I have it from friends who live in Tanzania and Uganda). Yelling loudly “I am not weird!” is another way of admitting that yes, in fact, you do feel disenfranchised in some way and have to cover your feelings by making a scene about it. It doesn’t normalize the behavior.

Another example of this that comes to mind is that I was reading a story a while back in which this woman was talking about the first time she refused a plastic bag at Target, since she was only purchasing one small item. Her telling of the story revolved around how everyone had treated her as though she was stealing the item and she was very uncomfortable the whole time. I have to wonder; what was her facial expression and body language like? Did she act like she was stealing it?

I have developed the habit of just calmly stating that I don’t need a bag, or a straw, or whatever. I don’t furtively glance at the cashier or my fellow customers as I say this, or act embarrassed to be refusing something they are offering (obviously this is trickier in certain situations…if a dear relative offers my daughter a piece of plastic crap toy certain to break and spread tiny beads of plastic all over my house it is much harder to refuse in a way that isn’t taken personally…I’m still working on that one!).

On the food front, I know people I respect who will loudly declare something to be ‘poison’ for everyone to hear in a somewhat misguided effort to educate those around them on the dangers of chemical additives in food. I’m not talking about how we explain things at home…I want to be clear with my daughter about why she can’t eat certain things. I tell her that there is just too much in them that isn’t food, so we aren’t going to eat it. Bless her, for a long time she didn’t even recognize most candy as something edible. As she’s gotten older, though, I just explain to her (quietly, off to the side…not on a soapbox for everyone to hear…) the reason we are not going to eat something. And then I tell her that other people have different mommies, so they might eat things that we don’t and it’s not our job to make them feel bad about it.

This is also glaringly obvious to me (now) when it comes to sharing faith. I grew up in an evangelical tradition wherein it was highly valued to be ‘bold’ in speaking the truth of God’s love to people. In practice it was often more of the same “I am not weird” rhetoric but dressed up in religiosity. Unfortunately, I was not able to communicate in a way that was at all sensitive to the fact that God might say different things to different people at different times. I was not even able to admit He might change the wording a little. If you tell people in an abrasive or confrontational way, “God loves you!” most people will be put off for the same reason that I suspect people reacted oddly to the woman in Target who was made to feel like she was stealing. If you act like what you are saying or doing is false in any way, it can be sensed. It will ring false and people can tell, even without realizing why they are put off by you.

So in conclusion………..if you really think you should do something, then do it and don’t be afraid to not act like a weirdo about it. Also, I’m certain there will be some point today at which I’ll need to take my own advice, as I do lots of stuff that some people might think is weird. Wish me luck with that.

Posted in Food, Intermutuality, Parenting, Spirituality | 1 Comment

Our Girly Dynamics

So, I love my daughter. But I have some bad moments. Dramatic moments. The other day I reinjured my foot because I stamped it in a fit of anger during a silly argument with her. Aforementioned argument ended with both of us ‘taking a few minutes’ to calm ourselves down so we could talk it out. I am sharing that (slightly embarrassing) story lest you think  that our parent/child relationship is better than it is.

But mostly I am really glad we are so similar. It makes many parts of our relationship flow naturally and I hope that having a grown-up who is like her will give E. some much-needed feedback so she can learn how to be sensitive to other people’s needs during her formative years.

The other day we had friends over for dinner. We were setting the table and getting ready to sit down when one of the friends mentioned that she might want to sit on the toilet. “Nope.” she said dismissively and leaving little room in her 3 year old world for discussion.

Her dad pushed back a bit and said, “Honey, I really think you should sit on the toilet before we have dinner. It’s been a couple of hours and you might have an accident.”

“Dad, I’m not going to do that.” He sighed and tried to figure out what to do next, with this little girl who so reminds him of me when we first met…

They both talked with her for a couple more minutes, trying to convince her to sit on the toilet. Eventually I overheard their kind, reasonable requests and her flat-out refusal.

Setting down the plates I was holding, I said, “Kiddo, go sit on the toilet please. We don’t want you to have an accident, and you need to respect your daddy’s words.”

She tossed her head and raised her eyebrows. “I WON’T.” She planted her flag and dug her heels in firmly.

“Excuse me? What in all of our time together has made you think that you can talk to me like that? GO sit on the toilet.” I dug my heels in too. They’re bigger than hers, and have years more practice being dug into places…sometimes I am the mommy and it is my job to be more stubborn.

She spread her fingers wide and said, “Mom, I’m NOT going to pee on the floor. I don’t want to sit on the toilet!”

“And I don’t want to clean pee off the floor and your chair just because you’re trying to prove a point!”

Tiny sigh, but somehow huge…”Okay, Mama. I’ll go.”

Like I said, my girl is like me, and mostly I really enjoy that dynamic. If we do end up with a boy who is laid back like his dad, we will have to try very hard not to let him get squished in between us. That will be a huge challenge, but we are smart girls and I know God will use that  and help us figure out how to be gracious to each other as we go. We just have to remember to leave room for expansion and growth in our communication style.

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The Story of My Daughter’s Birth

I am not sharing this to gain pity, or to complain about what happened to me. Doctors and nurses quite possibly saved my daughter’s life by taking the actions that they did.

But I need to take what steps I can to release emotional baggage and get it out of my brain. A very wise friend told me a while ago that I had about 100 hours of crying left to do about it, and that with hard work I could be done in a few months. This is part of my attempt to clear the way for a new experience and the birth of a different person.

I will warn you, I didn’t leave anything out.

I had been in labor for a day and a half or so. At least, my braxton-hicks had gradually become stronger and more organized until I finally realized, ‘hey, this is going somewhere!’

I’d spent that early labor time baking snickerdoodles to share with people at the hospital, going to Costco, and reading Harry Potter. Once the contractions got to about 15 minutes apart I was most comfortable in the bathtub. I talked on the phone with friends and read the Goblet of Fire and easily managed my labor.

We had taken Bradley Method classes, so I kept waiting for the time when I couldn’t talk through contractions and when it ‘got serious.’ It didn’t seem to come. Finally, when the contractions were about 7 minutes apart I started to feel like something was about to happen. But still I could talk during contractions. I told J. I thought it might be time. He called our doula (it was about 3 in the morning) and told her what was going on. Hearing our details she said, “pfff….call me in 2 hours. Or when your contractions are 5 minutes apart. It’s way too soon.”

Immediately after he hung up the phone, though, I threw up (one of the signposts of transition, which means you’re about ready to push). My contractions came every minute and a half and lasted 45 seconds or so. This was NOT how our Bradley workbook described active labor. We freaked out a little and rushed around trying to make last preparations and get to the hospital in time (I should say, J. did most of the rushing around. I was contracting like crazy that whole time). I convinced him to run the red lights and we made it to the hospital in about 10 minutes.

I walked into the L & D floor contracting and walked up to the counter breathing through it. After it was done, we told them I was there to have my baby. The lady behind the counter looked up in a bored sort of way. “How far apart are they?”

“About a minute and a half.”

“Humm. Uh-huh. Follow me please. Here’s your paperwork.”

“But, we already pre-registered….oh okay fine.” As soon as we walked into a tiny room with a couch and side table for paperwork, I had another contraction. Her eyes widened. “Hey, wait, that was only a minute!!!”

“Yeah, we know….”

Having decided to take my labor seriously, they rushed me back to a room and stuck me in a bed. By the time they checked me I was 6 cm and opening fast. They hooked up the external monitor. 20 minutes later I was at 9 cm when the heartbeat dropped and didn’t go back up.

We’d had low lighting and only one nurse and the midwife who I hadn’t met yet (going to a practice with 9 different midwives, I hadn’t met everybody). She started to sound urgent, but underneath a very calm exterior. “Well, Katie, we have to break your water.”

“No.”

J. piped up. “Katie, they can’t find the baby’s heartbeat!” (going back through the report, this wasn’t exactly true…her heartbeat was just slow, not lost).

“Okay, do it.”

They broke my water and put on the internal monitor. No better. “Okay, now we have to take you back and do a c-section.”

“What?!! No.”

“Well, then you have to push.”

“What?” I’m not complete, and I’m not having a contraction. Certainly no overwhelming urge to push….I began to let the panic in the room seep in. It stole my voice.

“PUSH!!! NOW!”

Ummm, okay…. I pushed, and her head came down to where they could see it. “Oh….well, her hand is up over her head. Just keep trying to push…” she said in a not-too-optimistic way…

Suddenly the lights came up and several people rushed into the room. J. was shoved back. He was given scrubs and told to change into them so he could accompany us to the operating room. 25 interns, or possibly the entire supporting cast of Grey’s Anatomy came and rushed me away, starting an IV and asking me my mother’s maiden name.

I said, “Jason?” as I was taken out of the room but he was gone. I didn’t see him again until much, much later. I think in real time it was only about an hour, but it felt (still feels) a lot longer.

We swept along the hallways and got to the OR. Someone asked me my mother’s maiden name again. Someone said, “Hi, I’m Dr. asdksjdhfajn (not his real name…). I’ll be your anesthesiologist.”

Oh, crap.  “Oh….” I said in a tone that must’ve sounded different than the usual relief that greets the anesthesiologist. I heard snickering. “I’m…I’m sorry, it’s just…I don’t want this…”

“Okay, we’re going to try the vacuum. Dr. nuniwenfk (some intern I think), would you like to try applying the vacuum?” Try? Really? Is there someone who can actually do it and not just try?

They ‘tried’ applying the vacuum 3 times, and each time I was told to push. Everyone in the room counted to 10 while I pushed, and each time her head came down, cocked to the side with her hand over it. After the first or second push I pooped. Someone reached into my rectum and swirled their finger around to clear the area, or something…geez, what the….? Buy a girl a drink first….I’m kinda busy here….

After the third time the vacuum seal failed they said, “Okay, we have to put you out now.” No…………………..

They tied my arms down. Contraction. I started crying. The midwife says, ” Are you having a contraction? I think she’s having a contraction. Wait a minute.”

They finished tying my arms down, and someone started shaving me for the section. You have time to ask me my mother’s maiden name, but no time to say, “hey, by the way, we’re going to shave your privates now…” really?

They put a mask over my face and then…..nothing. Just nothing.

I started to hear voices gradually. Unexpected voices…who is that? Familiar, I think. But why….wait, what?

I opened my eyes, s.l.o.w.l.y. Wait, I was in the middle of something…it was important. My brain feels so fuzzy…What was I doing? “Uhhh…..” The doula’s face came over mine.  Oh. Right. I think I remember now. But you weren’t here. You didn’t get to do anything. I remember you mentioned before about these wierd doulas who sing songs to ladies’ vaginas to get them to open…“Want to sing me a little song?” She chuckled.

I saw my mother in law. I didn’t know she was going to be at my birth…

Then my father in law. How am I supposed to push a baby out in front of him? What’s going on here?

Then I saw J. They brought a baby over to me. What’s this? It looks like one of the ones on tv. I though I was going to have a baby that looked all squishy and gross. I don’t understand. I signed 3 different forms so they wouldn’t put erythromycin in her eyes. I don’t have gonorrhea, so this must not be my baby. Well, they’re handing it to me, and now it’s staring at me.

My father in law, full of relief for me and grandfatherly pride, exultantly said, “I got to hold her when she was only five minutes old!”

I didn’t get to hold her. How old is she now? I started crying.

My mother in law assumed I was crying happy tears and took my picture. She framed that particular one and gave it to me a few weeks later. I wanted to throw it. I got unfairly and irrationally angry every time she took a picture for a year afterwards. This was often, as she loves to take pictures. We have since worked through it and even chipped in together to give E. her own camera for Christmas last year so she can take pictures, ‘like Grandma’.

The doula stayed around a while, then left. I was being moved to the post partum floor. The nurse said, “This is your morphine drip. Push this button every time it hurts.” I pushed the button a lot. I still felt sad and numb. My in-laws stayed. My IV came loose and I convinced the postpartum nurse to let me take percoset instead of having an IV. My parents and my brother arrived a couple of hours later.

This story doesn’t really feel like it has an ending.  I think mostly because when the big climactic moment of most birth stories occurs the mom is, well, awake. I can’t tell that part of the story because I was not there. So getting closure around it has been…tricky, and disjointed. Everyone keeps telling me that this next birth will be very healing for me. I hope so, but goodness it seems like a lot of pressure to put on this baby. I have done a lot of work over the past 2 years to put this behind me (It took me a year to come out of my shell-shocked new parent state enough to be able to even begin to process what happened. It also took a year before I felt like I could tell anyone the entire story, or like anyone even wanted to hear it. We are not always able to be with each other’s sadness and I appreciate my friend M. more than I can say for asking me to share it, and then for sitting and listening that day at Phoenix Coffee).

I still have a ways to go, obviously. But go I will.

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The Emotional Palette Revisited

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have come to think of feelings as different paint colors on a palette. The painting we are working on is our emotional interaction with the world around us. We all start out with a  blank canvas and few primary colors, and we get more as we go. Our parents, our peers, and all of our experiences have the potential to affect the hue or shading of our emotional palette.

We all end up with a certain amount of black from the hardness of life. I think for me dealing with depression was like adding black to the palette. Once black is introduced, if you aren’t very intentional all the colors are in danger of turning into a murky disgusting mess.

Remember when you were a child; wasn’t it frustrating when someone else colored on your picture? I think that a hard thing about the idea of painting with emotion is that our feelings are affected by so many things beyond our control.

I start ‘painting’ myself a good morning. The yogurt I made turned out really well and tastes delicious with blueberries and granola for breakfast. Mmmm….add some purple.

It’s sunny outside! Actually sunny! Add some brilliant orange in a few places.

A thoughtless driver nearly crashes into my car and speeds off without a second (or even first) look. Tiny grey-brown spatters. Not enough to ruin the picture or anything, but it does change the mood slightly in a small area.

Go to a playgroup. Watch other parents and enjoy talking about a variety of subjects ranging from everything from Food, Inc. to Magic Cards, and from potty training to our various religious upbringings. Many different colors represented here, and I add a bit from each of them to my day. I like how that mom redirected her son…that particular hue of green matches really well with this part of my painting!

I get stressed out when another parent at Whole Foods doesn’t redirect her kids at all and fails to even notice her son pulled a chair out from under E. and is now laughing about it while she sits bewildered on the floor. Then after several more incidents and side conversations wherein I try to encourage her quietly I say out loud, “Tell him no! What he’s doing is not okay.” The other mom finally hears from across the room behind a plant, gets mad and says “I’m SORRY!” in a way that really means…well…not an apology, I feel certain as I meet her angry stare. There will be no productive conversation there, so I move on. A muddy black splotch–all over the corner where the sunshine was. Shoot. What now? That’s not how I wanted that to look…

I really don’t want to paint such a dark picture right there. So I need some white to balance out and take away some of the murkiness. Or maybe I just need to cover it with white and start again in that spot. Where do I get white? People find it in many unlikely places. A smile from a stranger, a hug from a friend, a flower. I think God puts it many-wheres in the world for the finding, as He is the source of white and understands much more than we do how and when we will need it. And if we ask, we may even find some help for how to incorporate it into our own work to make it more beautiful.

Posted in depression, Intermutuality, Parenting, Spirituality | 2 Comments

Going from Grey to White is Exhausting.

“Alas!” said Aragorn. “Gandalf the Grey fell into shadow. He remained in Moria and did not escape.”

At these words all the Elves in the hall cried aloud in grief and amazement….

It is hard to watch people you love fall into depression. After my daughter was born I was exhausted and ill-equipped to deal with the emotional turnover caused by becoming a parent, and by the reality of the way she was born. I may share that story here in its entirety at some point (I have told it out loud many times by now but it took me almost a year tell it all the way through from start to finish), but for now it is enough that you know it was an emergency cesarean under general anesthesia and I was left with some post traumatic symptoms- dreams, flashbacks, etc.).

I had a lot of people who loved me and who wanted good things for me (I still do), but many of them were somewhat dismayed by the change in me in the first months of my motherhood. For a long time it seemed like I was past the point where I’d find my ‘self’ again and be the same old Katie. But  s.l.o.w.l.y. I began to find a new me. So I wasn’t good at fearlessly speaking my mind without regard for emotional consequences anymore (mine or other peoples!). But I finally noticed that other people have feelings about and reactions to things that I say (yes, I’m really quick on the uptake about certain things but that one actually took me until almost the end of my twenties to get). And that noticing is a valuable skill, as it turns out. Who knew? (Okay, lots of people…)

One day a couple of months ago I was re-reading LOTR and I came across Gandalf’s description of fighting the Balrog. Something in my heart and mind just…clicked. It lent purpose to what I have gone through as I have struggled with how to react to a near complete upheaval in how I understood my life and identity.

“Long time I fell,” he said at last, slowly, as if thinking back with difficulty. “Long I fell, and he fell with me. His fire was about me. I was burned. Then we plunged into the deep water and all was dark. Cold it was as the tide of death: almost it froze my heart…it has a bottom, beyond light and knowledge,’ said Gandalf.
Thither I came at last, to the uttermost foundations of stone. He was with me still. His fire was quenched, but now he was a thing of slime, stronger than a strangling snake.

“We fought far under the living earth, where time is not counted. Ever he clutched me, and ever I hewed him, till at last he fled into dark tunnels…Now I have walked there but I will bring no report to darken the light of day. In that despair my enemy was my only hope {some of my Christian friends may have an adverse reaction to this…it isn’t that the Balrog is the only hope, it’s just the only thing he could see so he had no other option at that time. To move forward sometimes we have to follow paths we don’t like or choose, and I humbly assert that that’s mainly what is meant here.}, and I pursued him, clutching at his heel. Thus he brought me back at last to the secret ways of Khazad-dum: too well he knew them all. Ever up now we went, until we came to the Endless Stair.”

“There upon Celebdil…Out he sprang, and even as I came behind, he burst into new flame…a great smoke rose about us, vapour and steam. Ice fell like rain. I threw down my enemy, and he fell from the high place and broke the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin. Then darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell.”

“…I was sent back…until my task is done. And I lay upon the mountain-top. The tower behind was crumbled into dust, the window gone; the ruined stair was choked with burned and broken stone. I was alone, forgotten, without escape  upon the hard horn of the world. There I lay, staring upward, while the stars wheeled over, and each day was as long as a life-age of the earth. Faint to my ears came the gathered rumour of all lands: the springing and the dying, the song and the weeping, and the slow everlasting groan of overburdened stone. And so at the last Gwaihir the Windlord found me again, and he took me up and bore me away….” 

“Gandalf,” the old man repeated, as if recalling from old memory a long disused word. “Yes, that was the name. I was Gandalf…”

…the dwarf looked up and laughed suddenly. “Gandalf!” he said. “But you are all in white!”

“Yes, I am white now,” said Gandalf. “Indeed I am Saruman, one might almost say, Saruman as he should have been.”

I am a firm believer that fiction can teach us things that nonfiction can’t. I didn’t actually climb an endless stair or get carried away to Loth Lorien by a giant talking eagle. But I did come through a time that was very hard for me, and I do feel sometimes that I’ve been through a great battle in the past couple of years. But anyone who knows the story of Gandalf knows that what happens in the dark tunnels and on the mountain is what makes him into Gandalf the White, who is more powerful and wise than ever before. He doesn’t come back as the same person. Not really. But it was worth it.

Posted in birth, depression, Spirituality | 7 Comments

The Five Words that Saved My Sanity: “They have a Different Mommy”

We are going through an adjustment in our family.  E. has recently noticed that other children act differently than she does.  So she’s been exploring integrating any random behavior she sees into our lives.  This is lovely when she asks to sit on the toilet or says, “Mom, what I can clean?”

But…

It’s harder to know how to react when she, for example, tries screaming at me to get her way.  Or because she saw some other people at a meeting screaming at babies and running and jumping on chairs at the library, she wants to know if that’s okay so she tries it at home.  She mostly tries these behaviors out only on us and not in front of other people (it’s a safe space).

I have to admit, I have not responded the way I wanted to  these past couple of months.  My patience was very, very thin with her and I think that took its toll on our relationship.  When I realized how much I was frustrated at her, I apologized and tried to repair the damage caused by my ungracious reactions.

As I have felt better in the past couple of weeks,  I have tried to get my head around what to do with this newfound belligerent streak.  Through talking with some trusted advisors from my community of friends, I finally realized that the way I parent is weird.  In American culture, there aren’t really that many people who don’t spank their kids as their go-to form of punishment and yet expect (and better yet, actually consistently receive!) respect from them.  I know some other people who parent this way.  I hope they won’t mind if I say they are weird too.  At least in the eyes of our culture.

I find it a relief, in a way, to just realize it is a bit of an upstream swim to raise children who don’t get whatever they want but aren’t under my thumb.  Acknowledging that I am fighting more than just the strong (ahem….very strong) will of my daughter and my own pregnancy-heightened emotional reactions is really helpful to me.

Talking with dear, wise friends M. and C. from Columbus really helped me to clarify some thoughts.

Other families function however is appropriate for them, and other parents know what their limits are.  Other parents have much different limits than mine.  This is a good and healthy thing, although it is a lot for a 2 year old to process.  My two year old is amazingly smarter than I gave her credit for.  I forgot for a couple of months how verbal she is and how much she can understand.  Once I remembered that, everything got better.

As she tries out new behaviors, we talk about how the ‘desirable’ ones make her life, our life, or someone else’s life easier or better.  When she tries out a behavior that I don’t accept, it seems to play out as follows:

“MOOOMMMMYYY!!!  I SAID I WANT A COOKIE!  GIVE IT TOOOOOO ME!!!”

“Um, excuse me?!” (pause a second to adjust the screaming-interrupt tone of voice back down to regular volume).   “Do you know someone who is allowed to scream at their parents to get what they want?”

“Yeah!”

“Did you see that work for them?  Or did you see their parents get really frustrated and have a game with them about it?” (either of these outcomes seem to be a win for the child in some way)

“Mmm-hmm!”

“Well, are you allowed to scream at me?”

“No.”

“Does that get you what you want?”

“No, I have a different mommy”

“Has it ever gotten you what you want?”

“No!  I sorry Mommy.  Screaming the wrong thing.  I gonna stop it.”

 

So, I have been really impressed with my kid the past few days.  Being able to grasp the idea that something which comes naturally to you is unacceptable and won’t work is really hard.  Learning to adjust your actions on the fly is a very difficult skill.  I’m not sure I can do it as consistently as my kid can at this point.

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Ramblings About My Kiddo: Weaning and Other (Mis)adventures

Well, the last vestiges of baby-hood seem to have fallen away from my girl one by one over the past couple of months.  I think of her just three months ago and it’s like she’s a different kid.  There have been a lot of factors pushing her to change.

We have been nannying for a baby (that mother, thankfully, will be quitting her job in order to stay home with her baby.  I am so excited to welcome J.J. to the ranks of full-time parents in January even though our house will be much different without baby N.).

J. had surgery. It was a minor procedure but he was out of work for a week and a half; then his wound didn’t heal properly and he had to go back in for a repair.  Ick.

We are going to have another child! E. is going to be a big sister.  Incidentally, I started nannying just around the time the morning sickness really kicked in.  I’ve decided it’s much nicer to have crippling nausea and a newborn at separate times since they can be sort of stressful when taken both at once.

With such a sick, exhausted mommy, E. had to learn to do a lot of things for herself.  Some of her new tricks include putting her own pants on, putting on and buttoning her coat, entertaining herself with books, puzzles and other toys for an extended period of time, recognizing almost all of her letters (even though she still won’t sing the ABC song for some reason only she knows…such is the nature of the stubbornness that runs in our family…)

But probably the most significant change is that the girl is no longer nursing.  When I started breastfeeding her 2 1/2 years ago, I had no idea how important it would become to me.  I did not push her out or even get to be awake when she was born (an emergency cesarean under general anesthesia due to fetal distress but that’s another post) and so when I met her I was…a mess.  I didn’t know what to do or how to proceed.  Is that really my baby?  Who are you and why are you here?  I signed a waiver saying I don’t have gonorrhea, so why does she have that goop in her eyes?  Are you sure that’s my baby?

Then I started to nurse her.  And things started to make sense again.  Yes, she really is mine.  She began to feel like mine.  I really think the comfort of breastfeeding is what got both of us through those early months.

But now we are two and a half years in, and our nursing relationship has been steadily winding down.  She was nursing to sleep every night, then every other night, then every third night…she was sick the Monday before Thanksgiving and nursed 5 or 6 times that day and then…nothing.  She hasn’t nursed since then.  She asked me for “mommy milk” once last week but was fairly easily assuaged with some extra cuddle time.

I am so amazed by my girl and not a little daunted at the task of keeping up with her as she grows.  I hope to expand my parenting as she needs more space to be herself.  Lately she’s been a bit squished as she pushes at the boundaries.  The trick seems to be to find a way to let her grow into who God is making her without doing her the disservice of allowing her two-year-old emotional whims to determine how all of us will be with each other (I think getting overly frustrated and reacting to a child from that place shows them they are in charge just as much as caving completely and giving them whatever they want).  And then with that completely figured out, I hope to bring about world peace…my only chance at not going crazy in the next few years is that one of these two goals is slightly more attainable than the other.    😉

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