Real Life or Why Congress Should Just Shut Up Already

I wasn’t planning on ever discussing this on the blog. Last summer, I vague-blogged about a particularly challenging time during my pregnancy.  I didn’t want to write in too much detail about what I was experiencing because it was so very difficult and personal.  Unfortunately, we still live in a country where for women, so much that is so difficult and personal is often political. People keep thinking they should legislate about these things, in part, because women don’t want to talk about these difficult, personal challenges. It is easy to talk in platitudes when the people negatively affected are silent for justifiable reasons of self-preservation. So politicians have a VERY warped view about the real number of women who are affected by their “pro-life” rhetoric.  Recently, the House of Representatives passed a universal 20-week abortion ban, with a couple of insanely hassling opt-out clauses for rape victims. (Because every rape victim I am sure wants a 48 hour waiting period wherein they must be subjected to “counseling.” Also sidenote, can someone explain to me the logic behind the “waiting period” if time is of the essence in having a legal abortion? It is like they want women to have a 20 week waiting period befor being allowed to have an abortion, but then a ban on abortion after the 20th week.)

Although I considered myself a feminist, based partially on my own religious background, I generally have been ambivalent towards abortion issues.  I considered myself nominally pro-choice, but never thought to much about what that meant or how women are affected by these issues.  It probably doesn’t seem logical that someone who has spent several years in a battle with infertility would have, during that time, come to understand the need for choice in a more personal and real way.  I blogged a few years ago about an early suspected ectopic pregnancy (my first pregnancy) that had to be terminated with methotrexate. That experience was the first that made me realize that these real decisions that women face are not as straightforward as people simply espousing pro-life dogma would have others belief and as a result, I wanted to be more empathetic and understanding of women who have to make difficult choices about their lives.

Last summer was truly moment in time when I realized how it possibly would feel to make these agonizing decisions later on in the second trimester of pregnancy. Pro-life politicians would have you believe that at 20 weeks of pregnancy, fetuses are nearly viable and can feel pain. Most medical research dispute the pain claim, but 100% of doctors will tell you no fetus is viable at 20 weeks. Although it is possible at 22 weeks that a handful of babies born may survive, most experts do not consider viability until 24 weeks, and even then many babies will die and most who survive will have lifelong disabilities from being born that early. I know the statistics because last year when I was pregnant, I insanely tracked week by week survival rates and long term effect rates for premature babies because I was carrying twins.

But the reality is, for women who are considering second trimester abortions, it has nothing to do with statistics. The large majority of women who are considering abortion after 20 weeks are doing so because of severe fetal abnormalities. Most of these abnormalities cannot be detected until later in the second trimester.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion about what they would do in this situation. But that is just it; it is YOUR OWN opinion about what YOU would do, not what someone else should do. This became very real to me last summer, when one day shy of hitting 12 weeks of pregnancy at our Nuchal Translucency screening, we were told one of the much wanted fetuses in my belly had a cystic hygroma measuring 5.8 mm. We were told that with that measurement, it was more than 2/3 likely that one of our babies had a severe, chromosomal defect. It also put that fetus at a higher risk for other birth defects and a higher risk for spontaneous miscarriage.  When the doctor delivered the devastating news that day (and the doctor who delivered the news did it in a completely unempathetic, shock-provoking way, meaning when going to the MFM appointments from that point forward, I always made sure she wasn’t the doctor I would have to see), I broke down entirely.  It was unexpected. Immediately, that day they did a follow-up blood test that was over 90% accurate in determining the three most common types of chromosomal abnormalities – trisonomy 13, 18, 21. We would have the results in a week.  I also would schedule a CVS (chronic villus sampling) test.  We received this news the day before I was leaving to go spend a week in Mississippi with my family. It was a lot to process.

The days that followed were awful. I couldn’t get out of bed some mornings. I cried uncontrollably. I was terrified.  I kept thinking that I had this one fetus that was potentially a ticking time bomb, that carried the potential to take the other seemingly healthy fetus down with it.  That was also something I had to consider, as I had two little ones growing inside of me. I digested study after study, all that seemed to indicate carrying one karyotypically normal fetus on own karyotypically abnormal fetus would be the risk of spontaneous abortion much higher, potentially resulting in the loss of both fetuses.  I also imagined what it would be like to carry both babies to term only to have one baby with severe birth defects that would take all of my time and energy and I wouldn’t have enough left in the tank to parent the other one. I also thought to myself, I have no paid maternity leave. How could I make this work? All of the potential scenarios and outcomes ran through my brain leaving me terrified and exhausted emotionally. I didn’t see how I could cope.

Those days were probably some of the worst of my life, if not the worst; worse than coping with the ectopic pregnancy; worse than the other miscarriages. They were so terrible because these fetuses had made it far enough for me to sense their living potential in a way that I had to grieve with the possible loss of that potential as well as what it would practically mean if there were serious birth defects.  I have never been so grateful for my family and the few close friends who saw me through those days of grief, letting me know they would support me and whatever I chose regardless of outcome. This was really important to me because not everyone in my life agreed with me as I worked through possibilities and choices. There was conflict that only made those days more painful for me as I realized that potential decisions would result in irretrievably broken relationships in some instances. In those days, I concluded that I could never, would never tell someone else to do in a situation like this.  It would never be my place to tell someone else what they could or couldn’t handle. It would never be my place to tell someone else that based on their own experiences that they were making the right or wrong decision.

As the days slipped by, I charted out when I would know more information in terms of the time I had left according to North Carolina state law to consider selective reduction as an option. North Carolina, you see is a state where abortion is banned after 20 weeks. I had up until the day the fetuses were 21 weeks according to my due date.  The blood tests results came back one week after that initial dreadful day while I was still in Mississippi.  They were negative for chromosomal defects, but because they were not failproof (and with carrying twins, they have a somewhat higher failure to detect rate), I scheduled the CVS for the first day when I was back in North Carolina when I would be 13 weeks and 2 days pregnant.

On the day of my CVS, I showed up to the MFM clinic and first sat while the ultrasound tech and the doctor reconfirmed the presence of the cystic hygroma. They then continued scanning my belly to look for a way they could get the needle for the CVS to the placenta without having to cross the amniotic fluid for the twin who needed the procedure. They couldn’t find one. An hour later, after talking to the doctor, we were walking out of the clinic because the conclusion was that the CVS couldn’t successfully be performed without increasing my risk of a spontaneous miscarriage. The placenta for the twin was simply not in a good place.  The other twin was on top. There was too much amniotic fluid. In any case, we were once again on the clock waiting, as now we had to wait for another few weeks for when an amniocentesis could safely be performed.  So we had more agonizing weeks of waiting.

In the fifteenth week of pregnancy, it was now safe enough to perform the amniocentesis. The accompanying ultrasound confirmed the continuing presence of the cystic hygroma.  Two days later we received the initial results regarding the three most common chromosomal abnormalities, confirming that there was no trisonomy 13, 18, or 21. Then, we had to wait two agonizing weeks again for the results of the microarray testing, a more complex genetic test that looked forup to 200 other chromosomal and genetic abnormalities (not: none of these tests come cheap, but fortunately, my crappy state health plan insurance did cover these).  It was only after the microarray testing came back without having identified any genetic problems, that I finally began to breathe a sigh of relief. Certainly, with a cystic hygroma still present, we were not out of the woods as there could be other birth defects, like a heart defect or Noonan Syndrome. Those were not issues though, that I felt like would warrant me considering selective reduction. We ruled out Noonan syndrome with another genetic test in the 18th week of pregnancy. It wasn’t until the 20th week that a fetal echocardiogram could be completed where it appeared likely that particular fetus’s heart was performing well. It was also during that 20th week that we were finally able to do a more complete anatomy scan of both fetus’s to rule out other major birth defects. That was the week that our time would have been up. Could you imagine what it would have been like to have discovered something significant during that week, something that could have potentially put the other healthy fetus at risk and then have to make an immediate decision about what to do? I could not. It is too devastating for me to even contemplate, because I know how terrible it is to have to consider such things.

My point for all of this rambling is that all of these stupid Representatives that are so flippant about a 20 week ban have no clue what it is like to be in a position where you are considering a termination of pregnancy in the second trimester. They have no clue what it is like to be a woman trying to imagine what it would be like to have to deliver a child that you know is not going to survive birth or infancy. They have no clue what kind of strain it puts on someone who is also thinking, wow, I have a job, I have NO paid maternity leave, and now I might have an infant who needs round the clock care, and I have to be sad thinking about what kind of quality of life that infant might have and whether I can afford the kind of that infant will need, and whether I can be a parent to that child and also parent another child who also needs me, and whether the fact that one fetus has severe defects puts another healthy fetus at risk of early labor which could in turn subject that child to a lifelong disability or health issue by virtue of being born severely premature, etc. They have no clue. They just get to claim some kind of FALSE statement about fetal pain and then subject real people and real families to a lot of sadness and grief because they think they know more than them and they never have to deal with the real world effects of their flippancy in the name of scoring cheap political points. It is very, very upsetting to me.

In looking back on my experience, I wouldn’t want anyone to live through that. I cannot tell you how every day of this experience after being initially thrust into despair with the first bad news, my heart slowly was lifted back up with each positive test result. The day the ultrasound tech no longer spotted the hygroma on the ultrasound, was so happy. The fact that I have two healthy boys makes me so, so happy. I feel so lucky, because I know that statistics and odds are real. Some people don’t get the good news. With our initial bad news, we were in the minority of those who did get the good news. I can imagine how it feels to ultimately get bad news. I had planned for its possibility in my mind. I wanted my babies so badly, we spent tens of thousands of dollars to get them. These in no way were unwanted. Yet, I can understand why people would chose to terminate pregnancies in the second trimester. I was there. If the results had been different for me, I would have faced difficult choices, but I would have made them with no regard for what some stupid politician thought about me.

So Congress, I know asking your members to be empathetic to anyone other than the plight of billionaires like the Koch brothers might be asking too much, but just for a moment, admit that you stepped to far here. Admit that life is more complicated than your simplistic, one-size fits all 20 week ban could possibly fit. Don’t bring more sadness on people who are already in despair. Let that woman choose what is best for her and her family. I promise you, her choice will be the best for all of us. I am talking about this, because you should realize that these policies affect real people in really significant ways.

And finally, a word of thanks to all of the good doctors we had who kept us apprised of our options and kept us informed along the way. These were the only outsiders that I wanted weighing in during this time in my life. Without their compassionate care, I don’t know how I would have coped either.

Working Mom: The Reprise

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This post could be titled appropriately Mishaps in Breast Pumping.  Last week I had an overnight trip to Washington, DC.  It was the kind of overnight work-related trip that I have managed successfully dozens of times before without incident.  Of course now, the simplest tasks, even traveling without children, suddenly have become laboriously intensive in a way that I never predicted.  Thus, when I arrived at my hotel to unpack my breastpumping gear, imagine my shock when I realized that I had failed to pack essential parts of my breast pumping apparatus.  In DC, there is no convenient Buy Buy Baby or Babies R Us to Union Station, so I found myself in an Uber during rush hour for a trip out to the suburbs to get the needed parts.  It took two and a half hours.  Sitting in DC traffic when one needs to pump and is in a particular kind of pain isn’t something that I would wish on anyone, the least of all my poor hapless Uber driver stuck with me and my far too detailed description of my predicament.  He waited for me when I dashed into the Babies R Us in the pouring rain and took me back into DC when I finally had what I needed. After all of the time we spent together in the car, I was expecting my Uber bill to be over $100. Nope. It was $60.  Worse still, I didn’t have cash to tip for all of that trouble. So on top of all my breastfeeding related pain, I had considerable capitalist guilt-related pain for how ridiculously little this poor guy was getting paid to put up with my breast-pumping related drama.

After arriving back at my hotel, I was supposed to go to the Nats game that evening with friends.  But after that unexpected afternoon detour to the Northern Virginia ‘burbs, I still had a presentation that I needed to work on. So, I had to call and cancel the game with friends. While I was talking to my friend, I tripped and fell in the middle of the sidewalk, resulting in that great busted up knee you see on the above photo.  It was a lovely end to a hectic day.

The next day, I assumed my day would go much better.  I was going to be at the Georgetown Law Library for the day, then I would be returning home on a direct flight from DCA. Easy enough, right? Well, during my “pumping break” in the middle of the day, I forgot to attach a bottle to my pump and didn’t realize it until all of my milk was all over the brand new work suit I had purchased for the occasion. This meant I had to spend all afternoon covered in my own milk and pretending like I didn’t notice it. That wasn’t awkward at all…

I made it to the airport in plenty of time to pump before boarding my flight, so I assumed I could find some nice, out of the way spot to pump.  It turns out all of those discreet locales were populated with businessmen charging up their iPhones. (Note: One day, when I am in charge of airport administration, I am going to come up with a hierarchal structure for who is allowed to use available plugs in the library and breastpumping mothers is going to come directly under life sustaining medical devices. Businessmen charging iPhones is going to be last on the list, even below other kinds of mobile devices.) Nonetheless, I persevered and found a plug; it was just located in the middle of a gate boarding area. I didn’t care at that point. I covered up as best as I could and pumped, probably only flashing a couple of dozen World War II veterans waiting to board their flight back to Kansas City.

It was all much more stressful than I would have predicted, and many times during the course of that quick trip I questioned, why am I doing this? Why does any Mom do this when we still have crap like the extreme gender wage gap in this country and no recognition by our country of how tough it is to be a working Mom because we still don’t have widely accepted support structures like paid maternity leave?

Making it home to my sweetly slumbering boys I felt nothing but relief. These little boys are worth it. I look at them and I am glad I am trying to figure out how to make it work. I would be lying if I didn’t say they are hard to leave but they are a joy to return home to. This was them the morning that I flew out:

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I just have to take that sweetness with me when I go. I would like to believe that their sweetness makes me a nicer person when dealing with the new challenges of being a working Mom.

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When I am away, even at work for the day, I know I have their happy faces to look forward to when I get home. They then are able to show off to me all of their looks for the day.

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Or here is Desmond’s Blue Steel:

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It is a rare occasion that I travel and David stays at home, but when that rare occasion happens, like last week, I know the boys are in good hands (also because we still have my Mom with us for another few weeks).

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Yes, life has changed very quickly, but as embarrassing as it may be to unwittingly flash World War II veterans in wheelchairs, these faces are worth it.

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Working Mom

DSC_0510I am getting ready to take my first trip away from the babies. It is only for one night for a work-related trip to DC, but it is tough, much tougher than I thought it was going to be. I am not just talking about the prospect of having to pump milk in the airport either. I don’t know how I am going to stand being away from these little faces. It is good practice for later in the summer when David and I will be taking a much longer little jaunt away from the boys.

It is funny how much little things in my day excite me in a way that they never did before. Now the small act of seeing the boys eating sweet potatoes seems like the greatest event ever. Or how much a little baby smile just makes my day, the same way that I remember feeling when Knightley was a puppy watching him play. Now coming home from work to see my babies and my sweet doggy, I pretty much think my life has lucked out.

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We had a lovely, simple weekend here. We try to make the most of our time to just be with the boys when our work schedules all it. On Saturday, we set up our beach tent in the front yard so we could enjoy the great weather and watch David mulching the garden beds. (I am not going to lie; I liked having an excuse for only watching the mulching, because someone has to watch the boys, you know.) This was my view lying down next to baby D:
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Lucked out.

Finally, Last weekend, we watched Harrison and Phoebe for Melissa and Jordan. The boys are warming up to their cousins for sure.DSC_0504DSC_0507

Sorry for these disjointed rushed kinds of posts. One thing that I have lacked since giving birth is the ability to think coherently and deeply about anything not related to babies. I hope that my mental abilities come back soon, preferably before my work trip this week…

Sunday Night Soliloquy on a Thursday

On Sunday evenings, I watch Call the Midwife on PBS and it always makes me cry. The fictional stories of love and loss in childbirth in mid-century England always stir in my heart an appreciation and a recognition of the losses that I have endured and the happiness for what I have in my life right now.  Every Sunday evening, I feel like I love my babies a little bit more than I did the week before.  I remember all of the things they have learned that week and all of the ways that they have grown and I feel so lucky and happy to have them in my life.

This week is National Infertility Awareness week.  I am still infertile.  I am lucky because thanks to the miracle of modern medicine, I am lucky enough to have my babies in spite of my infertility.  My infertility wasn’t cured, but I was able to have children in spite of it.  Without modern medicine I never could have borne children of my own.  I still know how brutally difficult it is to try to find peace when dealing with infertility. The road is tough. It is littered with losses, failed efforts, thoughtless words from others, etc.  It is expensive to try to have children when you are infertile. Sometimes, it seems that giving up is the only viable option. I was to that point. I told David that the cycle that ultimately brought us the twins would be our last because I couldn’t handle the failures and losses anymore.  I was to the point where I knew I would be okay if we never had children, because I just wanted to stop feeling bad about myself and feeling like such a failure.

Thankfully, that last cycle brought us our boys.  They were the ones who were meant to make our family complete.  Every Sunday night watching Call the Midwife, I feel all of those feelings of loss, failure and ultimately redemption all over again.  I feel empathy for fictional characters on the television dealing with losses of their own.  It is so very hard. It is so very hard to not feel like a failure as a woman when you are infertile, because the messages that we receive now about our worth as women (perhaps more strongly in my faith tradition than in Western society at large) are still not so different from mid-century Britain.

The days go by so fast.  I want to remember everything that I can and take every opportunity I can to help my boys grow up feeling loved and supported. One day they will feel loss and failure. One day they will realize that the world can be a cruel place. I want them to know that I will be there for them during those times, because in ways they do not know and may never comprehend, they were always there with me during those times for me.

Here are some catch-up pictures of time going by:

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The boys were able to meet their great-grandmother, Grammy, on a recent trip down to the lake. It was a special day.

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There are many days I just want to document how they boys look so I will always remember it.

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This past weekend we went up to DC and stayed with friends. The boys went to their first Nats’ game, and thanks to our friends’ smart plan of buying club level tickets, we actually made it through the game since we had an air conditioned place where we could retreat for feedings, naps and such. We also just generally had fun at their house, including making use of their son’s ball pit.
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The boys recently turned four months old. In the beautiful springtime of North Carolina, it is hard to wish for anything more.

New Developments in American Pop Culture

At this time in my life, I have neither the time nor inclination to keep up with most pop culture developments. Most things that are popular in our culture these days cause significant side-eye reflexes from me. However, one thing that I do approve of is the takeover of late night TV by witty non-Americans who speak English with charming accents. I am pleased to temporarily have HBO for no other reason than to watch John Oliver. If I could stay up late at night, I would happily watch The Late Late Show with James Corden (The Wrong Mans is still one of my favorite British comedy miniseries, and I am disappointed that James Corden’s new job means there probably won’t be another installment beyond the two part Christmas special). If only I could remember to turn on the TV when I am up at that hour either pumping or feeding the boys. When I heard that Trevor Noah was selected to take over The Daily Show when Jon Stewart steps down, I was predictably elated. He is hilarious, worldly, and intelligent. Now if only they could put a form of Jack Whitehall’s Backchat on American TV, we would be set.

I was thinking that I liked these American pop culture developments, because I thought it meant that Americans are becoming more worldly, and their comedic tastes are becoming more informed and international. But then in thinking more about it, I actually don’t think that is the case amongst the general American public. I think that the demographic that American advertisers are trying to appeal to are becoming more worldly, for sure. The professional, upper middle class who have whatever small percentage of this country’s wealth that the 1 percenters don’t have also probably are the last Americans with disposable incomes that spend them on things that networks are paid to advertise. Our political leanings are hilariously liberal and our preferred travel is international. It is why so many Tea Partiers seethe with rage at our demographic because you have people like me who go so far in these preferences so as to proclaim in the same vein as the Notorious RBG that the American Constitution isn’t even the best in the world anymore, the South African Constitution is. The sad fact though is that in spite of their superior Constitution, South Africa still suffers from the world’s worst income inequality, although U.S. political leaders are certainly trying to give them a run for their money in that regard.

So yes, I do love these late night pop culture trends, but I can’t help but think that because the American citizenry are so disempowered in the plutocratic political scheme in which we now live (it ain’t democracy), the only place we have these discussions anymore are in late night satires hosted by non-Americans.

And now, I come to the real purpose of this blog post, a chance to post pictures of my boys looking menacing in Chelsea gear. After all, if I learned anything from the book Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class when I read it (and I did learn quite a lot), it is about how soccer hooligan culture in the UK used to be this outlet for ingrained disillusionment with the rigid class system in the UK and now it is just another example of corporatized culture. We listened to a lot of The Streets to prepare for these photos (It’s all “Dry Your Eyes, Mate” whenever there are too many tears around here, y’all).

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Is it okay if in this new worldly pop culture landscape I comment on the social class struggles of non-Americans too? Or is that still too much the American exceptionalism (even if I certainly don’t view Americans as exceptional at much of anything these days except the brilliance of mall food courts and drive through everythings).

Why I want my boys to be like Coach Smith

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Honestly, it isn’t even a question of whether or not they make coaches like Dean Smith anymore, but whether or not they make people like him.  There are a million and one stories I listened to about him during my life and more recently during his memorial period after his passing, but the fundamental thing is that he just cared about people large and small.  Because he cared about people, he did great things like stand for Civil Rights in North Carolina and stand for nuclear disarmament; but it all started because he cared about each person that came into his life.

Heck, I want to be like that.  I am so woefully not as thoughtful.

Firsts

I realize that in life there are one million firsts for everyone. For baby’s firsts, no one other than the baby’s immediate family members usually care about these firsts. Am I faithful in documenting either publicly or privately all of my babies’ firsts? No, but I do try to document the ones that really matter in some small way. Among those that significantly matter in our family are the following: Baby’s First Trip, Baby’s First Beach Visit, and Baby’s First Swim. Those matter because in my world, traveling, beaching, and swimming are three of my favorite leisure time activities and so I want my children to enjoy those things too so we can do them together.

We knocked all three things off the list this past weekend when my mom and I took the boys up to Virginia Beach to visit Melissa’ family. We stayed at the Sheraton on the beach, and although it was chilly and rainy for most of the weekend, a bad day at a mediocre beach is still much better than a good day elsewhere.

Stroller walks on the boardwalk were a must of course. I like to think the boys enjoyed the sound of the ocean because they were calm and content.

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Harrison was his usually energetic self and kept all of us entertained. DSC02404

We also enjoyed our views of the ocean from our hotel room balcony. When it warmed up a bit, we were able to leave the door open and enjoy the sound of the ocean while the boys napped. That is pretty ideal, in my view.

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Then there was the swimming. I have heard that young babies naturally enjoy the aquatic environment and my boys were no exception to that. Desmond, the natural cuddler, cuddled up, relaxed and also enjoyed some water tummy time.

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Calum liked laying on his back and kicking his feet.
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The boys were naturals in the water, much to my relief.

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Now I know that last picture exposes a shocking amount of cleavage from me. Look, this is my new reality. I was always someone who was a little larger on top, but all of this pumping and breastfeeding twins has made cleavage like this unavoidable for me. I had no idea how much milk I was producing until I stumbled onto a mom forum the other day (I had really avoided any sort of mom forum or discussion about parenting and babies since the boys’ births in part because I thought that would help me avoid some Mom guilt about not being good enough or doing things wrong), and I realized that the fact that I pump between 40 and 50 ounces of breastmilk daily in addition to nursing directly at least a few times a day is quite a lot. Now, my boys have enormous appetites, so even that amount doesn’t satiate them, but it turns out my breastfeeding expert doctor wasn’t just being nice when she told me how well I was doing because of how much milk I was producing. So all of that really hard and painful work (which continues to be hard and painful work) is paying off, so yay, I am not a failure at something biological when it comes to bearing children.

I leave you with this picture of Desmond, who already has perfected the look of a seasoned, weary business traveler in a hotel bed. It is something he must have inherited from his father.

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On Ice and Orthodoxy

I will get to the point, but let me start in a roundabout way.  I hate winter weather.  I am not one of those people who “needs four seasons.” To be perfectly honest, I do not understand those people.  The fact that you need so much gear to live in a climate that has winter weather tells me that human beings were not naturally meant to inhabit such places.  You can live easily in a hot sunny place where it rains without needing much.  This is where people belong.  I could easily live all of my days on an island with sun and a beach (and FYI people in the Pacific Northwest, if the ocean is below 65 degrees Farenheit, it isn’t a beach, it is a coast in my view). I have felt the instinctive need to keep moving South and to stay on the coast. Although my current address is in a coastal state, I still live too far from the beach for my liking.  I want to live somewhere I can swim every day, in other words.

Sadly, our winter lately has looked too much like this:

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The only redeeming part about this winter is that the terrible weather has coincided with my return to work so terrible weather means that the university has declared a ridiculous number of adverse weather days that have given me more guilt free days to spend at home with my babies, which I will gladly take.  That is another bonus of living somewhere winter isn’t usually expected to have so much fury – adverse weather days.  Let me tell you how many of those I got when I lived in New York – exactly zero.

In the LDS church, the baby blessing is somewhat of a rite of passage, although its exact purpose and value in the faith is somewhat questionable. In spite of being carried out by priesthood members, it isn’t a strict “priesthood ordinance” meaning that it doesn’t have any sort of redeeming value in an eternal context. People that die without being “blessed” don’t need it as an ordinance like baptism or the endowment for any sort of saving purpose in the next life.  To be perfectly honest, I really have always doubted the purpose of a baby blessing except it being a way for parents to show off their new offspring and have a public way to voice their desires for that child.

As a result of this, I have to admit when I finally had the boys, I was doubtful that I wanted to have any sort of public blessing. It is sort of gut wrenching for the kind of person that I am to know that because of my sex, I couldn’t be a part of a blessing for my babies.  I also don’t understand how it is that I can plead with God through my own personal prayers on their behalf but I cannot do the same in a blessing. If the effect of a “mother’s prayer” is just the same as a father’s priesthood blessing, then why can’t I bless my babies the same way? After all David can pray for them the same way I can.  I don’t find myself comfortable with these arbitrary distinctions the older I get.  Furthermore, before the experience of bearing kids, I had no idea that from the moment they came into this world I would feel very specific intuition and guidance about who these little babies are and what they can become. I felt it from the moment they were placed in my arms and we were contemplating names for them.  It made me a little sad to think that as their mother, I felt like carrying them inside of me and birthing them led me to know them in a unique and specific way, I couldn’t be a part of blessing them.

When I took Desmond to the hospital after his surgery, we spent the first night in this horrible unit where we had no walls and it was impossible to sleep.  Behind the curtain next to us was another little girl, her ailment not known to me. During the course of the evening, more women joined her mother on that side of the curtain and started singing religious hymns.  Then, they started praying together.  They were speaking French, but I think it was French Creole. From what I could make out, they were blessing this little girl. The blessing got louder and more animated. Soon they were all speaking at once and practically yelling. I cannot confirm what religion they were, because I didn’t ask, but I speculated, based on language and accent that perhaps they were voodoo priestesses? What religion they were didn’t matter, what was significant to me is that I was touched these women could express together to the heavens their wishes for this little girl’s health.  It made me feel sad that in my own religious tradition, I could not do the same for my boys.

Against the backdrop of these doubts, David and I decided to have a blessing.  In the end, I was the one that asked David to do it when he felt apathetic about it. I still don’t know why I wanted the blessings so much, except maybe I just didn’t want my boys to feel like they missed anything when they got older because their mom has too many questions. Whatever the reasons, we scheduled the blessing for a Sunday when we could have friends and family in town. The Sunday came and late in the morning we received an email from the bishop that because of the weather, church was being cancelled that day. I fumed, because it wasn’t snowing, only raining, and it wasn’t icing as they had speculated. After a couple of years with some “personnel” problems, shall we say, at church, I felt like once again, my family was less important than everyone else. I changed out of the Spanx and fancy Burberry dress I had planned to wear that day and threw on an easy jersey dress instead, opting to go barefoot and exposing my unshaven legs. And then, we ended up blessing the babies at home.  After the whole highstrung affair, with all of my doubts and questions, it felt as right as the baby blessings could possibly feel. I thought back to my own baptism and how it happened in our backyard pool instead of the church baptismal font. I have always been a bit unorthodox with these things, I guess. I have always been more comfortable outside of the spectacle of the formal, hierarchical, standard way we Mormons go about doing things. It is better to share an experience that I don’t entirely understand with just the people I love and with whom I can be myself instead of a ward congregation that includes some people who hate you and probably wouldn’t wish the best for your babies. The day felt more complete in its more less formal state. It gave me a moment just to be thankful for the boys and the fact that I got to be their mother and that I was able to share that with people I love.

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But yes, do I wish that I lived in a place that didn’t have the possibility of a weather forecast of freezing rain to send people scrambling? That goes without saying, even if, in this instance, the weather ultimately guided us where we needed to go.
 

 

Teach Other People’s Children Well

It isn’t anything new that I consider myself a passionate defender of public, state-supported education at every level. I grew up with a mom who was a fantastic public school teacher who at various points in her career, taught at every single level. This support for public education extends to medical education. Until this current school year, my sister taught at UNC’s medical school, and this year, she decided to add MD to her PhD and enroll in medical school itself. So I guess that I had a particular familial connection for the medical education component to this.

When I started seeing my reproductive endocrinologist at UNC fertility, I think I became more aware of residents and medical students as a part of my care team than before. In part, is because when you are having so many transvaginal ultrasounds, you become acutely aware of how many other people are in the room. When you are dealing with hard outcomes and talking about it with doctors and others present, you become aware of it too. So last year, when Sarah asked me to speak to her med students about my experiences and diagnoses, it actually was pretty easy to do so in a clinical way. By the time I actually managed to get and stay pregnant, I had no problem talking to any sort of medical students or professionals about my health issues. By the time the babies came, I don’t think I had much modesty with medical professionals (or the students and residents that accompanied them) left. Actually, while I have been in the hospital the past two months, this has also extended to pretty much anyone who works at the hospital who entered the hospital room, down to the housekeepers and the people who delivered food…

Because my adventures in breastfeeding have included many follow up appointments with lactation consultants as well as the Maternal and Fetal Medicine Doctor who specializes in breastfeeding problems, I wasn’t surprised when one day, the doctor asked me if it would be okay if she and her associates took some pictures of my battered, wonky breasts for possible inclusion in a textbook she is writing or other medical literature. I signed the permissions immediately. After all, if there is anything that I can do to educate others that sometimes breastfeeding hurts a lot and not all women have breasts perfectly situated for it, then I am all for it.

If only the elected officials of North Carolina shared my commitment to public education. Not only do I think that they wouldn’t strip down to educate others by showcasing the parts of them that are messed up and don’t work right (which for most of them, would be their brains), but they can’t even abide a university system that researches issues like poverty, biodiversity, and voter participation. Take a look at this webpage for full coverage of the Board of Governors (appointed by the NC General Assembly in the most partisan way possible) and their recommendations with regard to two important centers at the UNC Law School. I could go on and on about how their decisions stink of a dislike for academic freedom for professors who disagree with their regressive agenda and of a particular hatred for poor people and other disadvantaged populations. Yes, these are not people who have a commitment to public education at any level. It breaks my heart to think of the damage these people are inflicting to a university system that I love so much that I am willing to literally strip down to educate its’ students.