Monday, August 18, 2014

Time for Number Eleven

It was my junior year of college, and I was dealing with some serious stuff. My sister, still in high school, was pregnant. My mom had suffered a heart attack. My first love came out to me as gay. And, as always, in the background, was the perpetual abuse my father laid on anyone unlucky enough to stay in that house with him.

My wonderful college roommate, Katie, could tell something was amiss. She urged me to get help, but like the good, in-denial American I was, I shrugged it off and said I was fine. Despite the fact that I cried nearly all the time.

Then, one day, my phone rang. It was the campus counselor, calling to tell me I had an appointment with her. She said my roommate had made it for me.

And thus began my life in therapy. Seventeen years later, I've rarely gone more than a few months without an appointment.

That on-campus therapist helped me cope with the craziness of that moment. She helped me realize that I couldn't fix what was going on with those I loved. She helped me embrace the moment. It ended up being a great year.

Then, that summer, I used my earnings working at Cracker Barrel to pay for my own therapist. She helped me cope with the fact that I had to live under that insanely dysfunctional roof for one final summer, as well as encouraged me to try dating straight men for the first time ever. It was a great summer.

After I moved to NYC, I found a therapist who guided me through my intense loneliness and feelings of insecurity as I pursued my theatrical ambitions. He also helped me level out after witnessing the twin towers on fire from my apartment.

Then the therapist that served double duty as Dave's and my couple's therapist and my individual therapist - something I've since learned is a no-no in the field. Still, she helped me work through my feelings of jealousy and insecurity and mistrust of men as I learned how to be in the first (and only) long-term relationship of my life.

There was the new-age-energy-healing-but-billed-herself-as-a-typical-social-worker therapist who did little for me after Stella was born and I battled my raging PPD.

A perfectly OK therapist who tried to help me manage my PPD, but then my insurance policy changed and she was no longer covered.

The assigned-to-me and thoroughly bland therapist I had to see after my stint in the mental hospital ER during that raging PPD.

The "I Can't Believe This Woman is a Therapist" therapist who hoarded things and animals in her tiny Brooklyn apartment and spent more time complaining about her neighbors than counseling me about my persistent PPD.

The amazing, incredible, life-changing Louisville therapist who properly diagnosed my myriad of disorders brought on by a cocktail of abuse as a kid and some funky world-view crap by teaching me, step-by-step and in a classroom type setting, how to manage my emotions and accept myself as is. I only left this miracle worker because she had the audacity to retire.

And my latest therapist, a woman with a lot of experience helping trauma survivors, who encouraged me to use writing as a way to process the stuff I'd never before found a way to process.

If you're counting, that's ten. Ten therapists. This doesn't include the many therapists I met with for that initial interview, but ultimately decided I couldn't work with them. (A ton.) I know from therapists, let me tell you.

And now, my latest therapist is closing her practice, and I must find another person with whom to work. I don't think it's an over-statement to say I'm heartbroken to have to do this again.

But I will. Because I know that proper mental health is crucial. I deserve a life worth living, and Dave, Stella, and Sam deserve a good, steady, healthy wife and mom.

I just really, really, really hope that when I find my new therapist, it will be forever. I'm really tired of going through this.

PS - In case you're wondering, I'm willing to put this all out here because I'm trying my damnedest to destroy the stigma that persists around mental health. People everywhere (including me) have deeply mourned the passing of Robin Williams, and many wail and cry, "Why didn't he get help?" Those are also some of the same people who are shocked when they find how outspoken and open I am about my mental health struggles and my reliance on therapy to function. We can't have it both ways. If we want to save people from the black hole of suicide, we have to not act weirded out about therapy. *Steps off her soapbox.*

Sunday, July 20, 2014

I Need a Best Friend

A Young, Sassy, Pre-Kid Randi with Alex in NYC

 An Older, Still-Sassy, Post-Kid Randi with Katie in Orlando

I recently spent two days with my college roommate, Katie, at her house in Orlando. When I left, after hours spent talking about every known topic with this woman who gets me on every single level, I felt like a salve had been applied to my soul. I also felt thoroughly depressed to leave her.

Katie wasn't my first best friend. I had different best friends throughout my school years. And she wasn't my last. I became fast and intense friends with Alex, a woman I actually cast as myself in an autobiographical play I wrote, produced, and directed in my twenties in New York. (It may sound narcissistic, but she is truly a soul-mate.)

But that's when my line of best friends ended. Not coincidentally, this coincided with breeding. I had Stella, suffered the worst postpartum depression I could have imagined, then withdrew from everyone. Then we moved to Louisville, where I jumped head-first into an intensive career (see my previous post), worked my rear-end off to reverse the effects of PPD, then got pregnant with Sam. Although I didn't suffer the same debilitating PPD with Sam, having a baby makes socializing nearly impossible. Don't believe me? Try carrying on a meaningful conversation while making sure you son doesn't pull a chair on top of himself or grabs at your shirt because he wants to be fed or suddenly needs a nap or poops all up his back and into his hair or throws a tantrum because you won't let him teethe on your cell phone. It's challenging.

So now I find myself intensely lonely. This may surprise people because I am fairly extroverted. I know a lot of really cool people here in Louisville and am not shy about talking to them. I have different circles - work friends (or I guess former work friends - sigh), Moth storytelling friends, fellow friends in the birth work field, college friends, friends through our synagogue, and mom friends I've made through social media and new moms groups. Among this varied group of people, there are women who feel like they could be Randi's Next Best Friend, an honor I'm sure they all covet. I just don't know how to get there.

I talked about this with Katie, who shared that she has similar problems finding a local best friend. We both feel like creepy stalkers when we ask for new friends' phone numbers. And even when we get past that, we don't know how to make the leap from talking about our babies and our jobs and the bands we like to talking about our views on God or nitty gritty secrets about our relationships or the fears that drive our anxiety.

So, this is a new goal of mine, along with eating better, exercising, and meditating, which are always on my self-improvement list. First, I will nourish my existing, long-distance friendships. Alex and Katie deserve much more than the infrequent phone calls I've given them, and I look forward to being in the loop of their wonderful lives again. But I also need to nurture my friendships here in town. I hope that with my less-emotionally-consuming career choice, I'll be able to have the energy to go out and get dinner with people more often. I hope that I'll again have that person I can call when I'm angry at someone or elated about something or deeply confused about which path I should take. I also look forward to fulfilling that role of shoulder to cry on when her life takes a downward turn. I look forward to feeling really connected once again.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Why I'm Leaving My Job as a Middle School Teacher

The other day I was driving in the car when I told Stella that I'd no longer make the long commute to my job as a middle school teacher, and that I'd be working much closer to home in a preschool and sometimes as a doula.

"But Momma, who's going to teach your kids? You love your kids," she said.

I think it's pretty telling that my own daughter, when confronted with the news that I'd spend more time with her, thought first of my kids. Not my students, mind you, my "kids."

That's because, for the past four years, my kids have lived in my heart. There wasn't one day where I left my work at work. Work came home with me, was the topic of conversation at dinner, was the insomnia at night, was the anxiety and worry because I had no control over a situation that was making the life of one of my kids hard. My mother always said I had soft heart. Well, that soft heart made it impossible for me to compartmentalize my life effectively enough to be both a good mom and a good teacher.

I loved that job. I loved looking for creative ways to teach language arts to kids who were sometimes reluctant to learn it. Watching kids who told me on the first day of school that they hated to write later slaving over a play. Helping a kid who'd never read a book before finish up the last chapter of The Hunger Games. Watching as a student bravely performed a slam poem about the abuse she suffered under someone she trusted to a class of supportive and empathetic peers.

In a world where people constantly worry about our future generation, I was only ever given hope for them.

But it took its toll. I can't tell you the awful things some kids confessed in me. Things I had to then report to those in authority. I can't tell you how many kids told me they contemplated suicide. How many kids hated their lives. How many kids had home lives that would make the best of us break.

Sometimes those kids cried with me over lunch. Sometimes they wrote their confessions to me in letters. Sometimes, I found out these things about the kids only after weeks of antagonistic and incredibly rude behavior on their part.

It wasn't easy. Facebook followers of mine probably assumed I was Robin Williams from "Dead Poets Society" from my status updates. I try to focus on the positive on social media, and I definitely brag a bit. And while I did have my student fans, I also had many, many kids who drew unflattering caricatures of me, who called me names not safe for work, who yelled in my face that they hated my guts and wanted to punch me.

I don't blame them. They were going through the toughest developmental time in the world and dealing with difficult stuff. The problem is, that soft heart my mom mentioned? It also means I have thin skin.

I no longer took their mean words to heart, but being challenged day in and day out, fighting for attention and withstanding harsh insults affected me much more than I let on. In fact, had you walked in my classroom on a given day, you'd probably think I was impervious to adolescent behavior. I was downright calm, cool, collected, and almost always positive.

But had you been in my house in the afternoon when I walked through the door with a baby and a kindergartner, struggling to make dinner and change diapers and help with school projects and clean 4,000 parts for my breast pump, you would have discovered where all the pent up frustration went. The worst days were the ones I got annoyed at my poor kids over totally normal kid behavior. The best were the ones I held it in until they were in bed, then slowly let it steam out of me as I brainlessly watched TV and comfort ate crappy, crappy food.

My babies are only babies once. And they deserve a mom who's not flustered most of the time. So, until they're older, I need to put this career on hold.

I'll work with smaller children - a job that will have its own challenges no doubt - but will also be absent of outside-of-school-hours spend planning, aligning with standards, grading, writing rationals, etc. And there will be kids for whom I'll worry, but they won't also be battling their adolescence.

And finally, this gives me space to pursue my path as a doula, and if you've read my blog at all, you know that I'd be miserable if I didn't explore this. I'm obsessed with helping women achieve healthy, respectful births that are good for them and their families, and I just didn't have the time to do the reading, research, and actual field work necessary to do that.

But, my God, am I going to miss this job. The kids, obviously, most of all. Watching them grow into self-possessed young adults with their own voices. Watching them become aware of their gifts and strengths, and watching as they overcome obstacles. Doing what I can to help them with this difficult stage of life. Laughing with them over sarcasm and fart jokes. I will seriously miss that.

I'm also going to miss my colleagues. I worked with the some of the best teachers I've ever met at this job. Some of them routinely work 10 - 12+ hour days. They are creative, passionate, compassionate, energetic. They care as much if not more about those kids than I do, and routinely go above and beyond the call of our contract to get those kids on a track to an excellent future. They do not shy away from challenges, adapt well to change (and let me tell you, in public education, change is the only constant), and push themselves to achieve greater results each year. I would be the happiest woman on earth if my kids have teachers half as wonderful as these in their lives. Those who fear teachers are mongrels trying to steal tax dollars while zipping out at 3pm and only working ten months a year would have all their illusions destroyed if they spent one day with these folks.

I will miss that school. In a time and place obsessed with standardized test scores, the principal and the teachers have delivered year after year. And yet - and I'm so darn proud of this - the school does not drill and kill, does not do that test prep crap, and it retains its physical education and artistic programs. Our kids come through that school as well-rounded, curious young adults - not disheartened youths who've been trained to bubble in stuff with a number 2 pencil.

I will miss it. It is so much harder to leave a job you love than one you hate. I've experienced both in my life, but none have been as hard to deal with as this one. I just look forward to that day, a few years from now, when I run into one of my students as he/she kicks butt at a wonderful career. That'll be cool.

Monday, July 14, 2014

My Unpaid and Totally Cheesy Endorsement for the Disney Dream Cruise

Sam stealing a nap at Castaway Cay.

A rare family portrait starring everyone's favorite canines.

Attention to detail: our wonderful waiter made Stella's ketchup into a Mickey every night. 

Ready for Pirate Night.

Dave and I used to be true travelers. We backpacked. We hiked. We camped. We spent our honey moon traipsing all over Ireland and Scotland, meeting the people, eating the food, drinking the brews, experiencing that culture - not just watching it all from a tour bus.

And like most people before they have kids of their own, we made fun of other parents for doing things differently than we thought they should. Like taking their families on cruises. We rolled our eyes and talked about how our kids would really EXPERIENCE things. Our kids, and we, would be cool.

Well, we were wrong. It is wonderful for kids to hike and backpack and camp - I won't disagree with that at all. And we save money to travel somewhere every year, because exposing our kids to different cultures is a huge part of what we believe will make them intelligent, worldly, compassionate, well-rounded folks.

But there's a problem. When you pack up your one or more kid and travel to, say, a beachhouse (like we did last summer), it's true that the kid gets an amazing experience. Unstructured time in the ocean, hiking through nature, chasing crabs on the beach, building castles. But what are you - the parent - doing? Reminding them not to track in sand into the rental. Making breakfast in the morning, lunch in the afternoon, and keeping them behaved in a restaurant at dinner. You're slathering on sunscreen and watching them like a hawk when the tide comes in and sitting in the beach house at night, exhausted and bored because the kids need to be in bed by 9 or else they'll be a wreck the next day. You get back from vacation as tired and cranky as you were before you left, but you spent all your money so you can't hire a sitter so you can take a nap.

This year, with the addition of ten-month-old Sam, I knew we needed a different vacation. One where we could do things as a couple as well as a family. A vacation where I could hand my children over to trained professionals who'd take excellent care of them while I did something grown-uppy. Something that might remind me of a me before I used words like "grown-uppy."

So, I talked Dave into considering a Disney cruise - a short, three-night excursion to the Bahamas on the epic ship The Disney Dream. Once he realized this meant we'd do no cooking, no cleaning, and would have time to ourselves, he agreed.

So now, without further ado, let me answer the question I know is burning through your brain: Was the Disney cruise all it's cracked up to be?

The short answer is yes, absolutely. The long answer is yes, absolutely, and here are some reasons why:

1.  The Childcare. I know the sanctimommies of the world will faint when I say this, but it was so incredibly awesome to have time alone as a couple on this trip. And it made it even more enjoyable that the childcare was so fantastic that even a neurotic worry-wart like me felt 100% confident in it. Stella's childcare was included in the price of her cruise admission. That meant she could come and go as often as she wanted from the time they opened in the morning until the time they closed - midnight. Since she's six, she was part of the Oceaneer's Club - a series of rooms as cool as Andy's Bedroom from Toy Story (complete with toys bigger than you) and Pixie Hollow. The counselors are compassionate and well-trained, even knowing how to handle Stella's sensory issues with ease (and yes - that actively came up). Characters like Minnie and Mickey come to the club, meaning the kids get tons of face-time that they don't necessarily get at Walt Disney World itself. It was so good that Dave and I often found ourselves talking Stella OUT of going there, because we wanted her to do something with us. Remember how I said we thought we'd be cool parents? Well begging your six year old to spend time with you pretty much cancels that out, doesn't it?

But what about Sam? Well, there's a nursery on board fashioned after the "It's a Small World" ride. It costs extra, but at $9/hour, that's pretty darn cheap (and worth it). It was impeccably clean and had a wonderful staff. They were breast-feeding friendly (which I know they should be, but if you know anything about this current climate, you know that's not always true). They had a separate, quiet room for sleepers, meaning we could put Sam in there every night while we painted the town - er ship - red. They even snapped photos of him playing and made a sweet art project for us using his footprints. You have to trust me when I say I have a great instinct for how well a childcare facility is run, and this one was top notch.

Also - both clubs will feed your kids lunch and dinner. They'll even chop up your baby's food into tiny bits for you. So YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO A DAMN THING TO GET YOUR KIDS FED. Do you hear me????

And, to top it all off, their security was amazing. Each kid gets a bracelet with a computer chip in it that stays on them. When you sign the kid in, the bracelet is scanned, along with your Key to the World card - a credit-card-type-thingy that is also your room key and charge card. That Key to the World has a photo that pops up on their computer of you and your kid, so even if the card is taken, ain't nobody getting your baby. And finally, when you come back to pick up your kid, all the scanning and whatnot is repeated, but this time you need to give them a SECRET CODE WORD. Seriously - I had no anxiety that some nefarious character would take my kid. And if you know me, you know that's nearly impossible.

Finally, if you have older kids, they have clubs for them, too. From what I could tell, and mind you this is coming from a middle school teacher who knows her stuff, it seemed those clubs treated the kids like the young adults they are, not like overgrown children. So you could let your tween or teen run off with similarly-aged kids, knowing they're getting supervision and not getting into crazy on-board shenanigans.

2. The Ship. I'd been on two cruises over twenty years ago - one on Royal Caribbean and one one Norwegian - both to the Bahamas (the most reasonably-priced option). Hands-down the Disney Dream is the coolest ship I've ever seen. The theater was as beautiful as the Broadway theaters I've been to, and nearly as large. The atrium is gorgeous, with a chandelier that Stella swears is Elsa's from Frozen. The three on-board formal restaurants are each very different in decor, one more delightful than the next. There was a regular pool, a shallow pool for littles, a spash area for toddlers, and - possibly best of all - a pool area only for people 18 and over (which is nice when you're tired of screaming kids jumping in next to your head). There were hot tubs and lovely places for strolls. Window seats in the portholes and Italian-style cafes. And, for this family at least, the piece de resistance was the AquaDuck - the world's first cruise ship water roller coaster. It is clear and 14 stories in the air and SO MUCH FUN. We loved it so much that, after riding it once each with Stella, Dave and I might have put both our kids in childcare just so we could ride it together. (Did I mention that we used to think we'd remain cool? It gets funnier every time I write it.) We loved the ship so much that we didn't even debark the day it landed in Nassau. We weighed the pros and cons, and decided that schlepping a not-yet-walking baby around the island to do some over-priced, second-party excursion just wasn't worth it. And we made the right choice, baby.

3. All-Inclusive/Food. It is so nice when you're on a budget not to have to worry about where you'll eat or what you'll order. It's even nicer when the food you eat is fantastic. The only thing we paid for out of pocket was Sam's childcare, our rummy cocktails, and some souvenirs. Otherwise, we didn't worry about a thing - even when we ordered four different appetizers and four different deserts - for three of us. They even had sushi at the lunch buffet one day. (The sushi guy and I became friends after I visited him several times). You can even indulge in room service - no extra charge.

4. Disney's Private Island, Castaway Cay. It's OK that we didn't debark on the Nassau day, because we more than made up for it the next day at Castaway Cay. You simply walk off the boat and walk onto a pristine, lovely beach. The water was gentle and crystal clear. There were ample umbrellas and seating. You could rent flotation devices and snorkeling gear. There was a delicious (included) barbecue lunch on the island. There was a character dance party. We even saw a stingray! This was my favorite day, by far. Oh, and there's a special beach called Serenity Bay for folks 18 and over. We could have put the kids in childcare and traipsed off with the child-free folks, but we decided to be good parents this one day. But I love that name - Serenity Bay. Doesn't every parent wish to visit Serenity Bay at least once a day?

5. You can be as busy or as relaxed as you want to be. I love Disney World, I won't lie, but you don't feel like you're earning your money's worth unless you GO GO GO all day and all night. The cruise felt different. There are character appearances every day, and we partook, but unless your kid is a diehard fan who needs to see Mickey 100 times in three days (thankfully ours isn't), it's not that big a deal. There are wonderful shows day and night that we loved, but you could skip them if that's not your thing. There are night clubs for every taste, as well as lounges to just sit and talk. There are even on-board 3D movies (great if the weather's bad, which we didn't have to deal with) and Shabbat services for us Jews (that we didn't attend because we're bad Jews). So, if you want to run constantly, you won't run out of things to do. But if, like Dave and me, you want to sit comatose in the hot tub for an hour and a half, you can do that, too.

6. It's Disney. Disney does everything better. They just do. Their attention to detail is insane, and this is coming from an annoyingly detail-oriented person (just ask my husband). For example - they have a "Pirates IN the Caribbean" theme night where everyone can dress up as pirates. I was able to get my daughter a costume, but I couldn't find the time to get one for the rest of us. No worries - Disney provides you with adorable bandanas so you can still dress as a pirate. There are hidden Mickeys all over the ship - which is helpful when you're in line and you need something to distract your kids. Interior rooms for us poor folks have no windows; but on Disney you get a "virtual porthole," which has a tv screen with a live feed to what's going on outside. Disney characters from Finding Nemo and other films even come by to say hello. And, Stella's favorite part, the chocolates on the pillow each night that are, of course, actually good quality.

That's all I can think of for now. We're going to start saving ASAP for next summer, and I'd love to go for a longer cruise if possible. If you plan to book a cruise, I recommend working with Small World Vacations. They're authorized through Disney, cost nothing extra, will find you the best deals, are quick and courteous, and will even get you on on-board credit. (I don't know how there's no down side, but there really isn't.) And if you're looking for tips and tricks, go to Mousesavers. Their advice helped us get the most out of an already wonderful vacation.

Have a wonderful summer! Oh, and if anyone from Disney is reading this and wants to reward me for this free advertising, that Disney Magic trans-Atlantic cruise planned for May 2015 looks great.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dear Mom at the Bookstore

Dear fellow mom at Carmichael's Bookstore today,

First off, I've never done one of these open letters before. Many of them tend to be passive aggressive attacks on someone's parenting. Others are a bit on the cheesy, kumbaya side. I'm aiming for neither.

But I just wanted to take a moment to reach out to you. I walked in the store on this hot afternoon, my ten month old son bobbing around in my Maya Wrap, my six year old daughter walking beside me. We came in to pick out a couple of gifts for the back-to-back birthday parties she has this Sunday. Ah, the life of a kid.

You were already in the kids section with your adorable baby son.You snickered when I rejected an activity book that Stella proposed because I said, "It looks like it'll be more work for that girl's mommy than for her."

I liked you instantly, because I, too, tend to eavesdrop on others' conversations and laugh when I hear something funny. And I really, really, really like it when people laugh at me when I think I'm funny.

I smiled at you. You told me my kids were cute. I told you yours was, too. Your boy was crawling around on the floor, picking up and putting down some board books. You said, "Yeah, I'm letting him crawl around on this dirty floor." Something in the way you said that made me realize that you might think I was judging you. I hated that thought. I really, really hated it.

So, I took Sam out of the wrap and put him on the floor, too. I told you that he's my second, so I've been anything but neurotic about letting him ingest dirt. We laughed.

You asked if I recommended any board books and I did - anything by Sandra Boynton. We watched as our sons totally wrecked the children's book section and my daughter very carefully searched for gifts.

At some point, you went to your stroller to get the bottle for your son. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems you were looking at me out of the corner of your eye. Were you? I hope I'm wrong, but I'm a pretty intuitive person, and my feeling was you thought I, again, might be judging you.

And then it dawned on me. I have a look these days. I don't wear makeup (mostly because it melts off my face in the summer), my son tends to spend these hot days only in a t-shirt and his cloth diaper, and I'm carrying around my son in a carrier rather than a stroller. In this day and age of Mommy Wars when it seems nearly everyone has their team, I guess it seemed that I belonged to a team. A team that might just judge another mom for using a stroller and disposable diapers and a bottle.

This thought made me so sad. Maybe you thought none of this, but the fact that I thought you might think it also made me sad. What's happened to mothers these days? Why are we so quick to find a style and plead an allegiance to it and suspect anyone who does things differently?

I took out a pouch of baby food and gave some to Sam. True, he was hungry, but I also wanted you to see that I don't fit any type, because if I were truly the type I seemed, I'd have made my own baby food. But I'm too damned lazy for that.

This is my second baby, so I worked through a lot of my self-consciousness with Stella. But I still feel twinges of insecurity. For example, I wonder if you could tell how pretty I thought you were, how envious I was that your baby belly had melted away into a flatter stomach. I'm not proud of that thought because, as a feminist, I know how important it is to accept my body as it is. But for a second I felt like an awkward, lumbering elephant next to you.

Regardless, it was nice spending some time with you today. Our encounter was brief, but it made me think about the forced separations we moms impose on ourselves daily. How we have our "type" and seek out other mothers who also are in that "type."

Well, I am not in a type. I carry my son in a carrier because I hate lugging a stroller around, not because I think strollers are bad for babies. In fact, Sam wouldn't let me put him in a carrier for months, not until I tried the ring sling, so he was a stroller baby for exactly nine months, and still is about half the time. I remember reading a post on the local mother's board from a woman who felt sorry for the babies in their car seat carriers rather than a body carrier at the doctor's office. I kindly let that woman know that my baby didn't need her pity.

Anyway, maybe next time I can get your number. Making new friends as an adult is tough. And not very likely through an open letter on a minimally-read blog.

Your fellow mom,


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why I Give a %*&@ about Birth

A very pregnant me wishing this was a real pina colada. Not a very "earth mama" sentiment, right?

I'm passionate about birth. I'm even taking a workshop this weekend to learn how to be a doula - a person who offers support to the birthing mother and anyone else who's with her during birth. I read every article about birth I can find, I watch every documentary I can find (and my husband laughs as I cry when the baby is born every. single. time.) I love to hear others' birth stories and see others' birth pictures. I can't get enough.

It's funny. As a kid, I found birth SO GROSS. In fact, anything relating to "that area" gave me serious willies. Then, I got pregnant with Stella. I was in awe of the changes in my body, and totally curious about the birth to come. A friend who just had a baby told me to consider looking into natural - or unmedicated or low-intervention - (it seems whichever term I use pisses someone off, so I figure I'll just piss everyone off) birth, because it was so much better for the mother and baby. That seemed like b.s. to me, because I don't like pain. Pain makes me cranky. And I like modern inventions and stuff.

But once I started doing even a tiny bit of research, the facts couldn't be ignored. Interventions like inductions and c-sections can be life-saving when needed, but they are often overused for no evidence-based reason. They are hard on mothers, and they can even be harmful to babies. Although I dreaded the pain, I really wanted to do what I thought was best for that little bean. So I did it. It was crazy and intense and so painful I thought I might die, but I did it. And then I became obsessed with it.

But there's a problem. The problem is that even though I did what I thought was best for my baby, and even though I want to learn more and educate others about how birth doesn't have to be traumatic and can be much healthier for all involved, I'm apparently a "type." In fact, when many people hear that I want to become a doula, they often either cringe or say, "Oh, you're one of THOSE."

I'm a type. So much so, that an article was just written about how people who are passionate about birth are part of a cult. I've never been in a cult in my life, but apparently I am now. And apparently I think that if you don't have an unmedicated birth, you're less of a woman. Or you didn't have a spiritual awakening. Or you suck. Whatever.

Well, for the record, I don't think that. I don't get mad at women at all. Women go to care providers they trust and follow their recommendations. I do that with my doctors, too. Unfortunately, when it comes to birth, many care providers are relying on practices that are simply not evidence-based.

And I don't think birth has to be spiritual. It was for me. It helped me heal from the sexual trauma I suffered as a kid. But for many women, it is something to be endured. That's fine. It still doesn't have to be terrifying for the mother. It doesn't have to be awful. And for so many women and their loved ones, it is.

So. Let me dispel some myths.

1. I think that women who don't have unmedicated births are less than. I don't. You had a baby. I think you're a mom, and I think that's incredible. I hope you felt supported and healthy and not terrified during your pregnancy and birth, because I like and care about women. That's why I call myself a feminist. Proudly.
2. I don't think c-sections and inductions are ever necessary. Ha. No. I've been lucky that I didn't require either, but I know they're life-saving. My sister had preeclamsia with my nephew, so an induction saved both their lives. There was a time when babies and mothers routinely died, all because we didn't perform c-sections. I think both are amazing. I also think they're overused for purposes that make no sense.
3. Epidurals are the devil. Nope. I asked for one each time, but my birth crew reminded me that I wanted to do it without one. (My main fear was of the headaches some women suffer from them, because I'm prone to headaches anyway.) From what I've read, if an epidural is placed after a woman has begun actively dilating, and she continues moving after its placement, epidurals can be fine. They can slow down labor to the point that other interventions are necessary if used too early or if the woman is not allowed to move around; that's my main beef with them.
4. Birth is wonderful and you are an idiot to miss out on that. It's too bad there are no videos of me giving birth. I'm not the serene woman singing during her contractions, I'm not the smiling woman floating in a pool. I'm the woman shouting expletives and telling my husband to get out of my face and screaming at my midwife, "WHY AREN'T YOU DOING ANYTHING?" Yes, the intense experience of birth was, in fact, spiritual for me, because it helped me to love and trust and revere my body. And the surge of endorphins afterward was, in fact, amazing. But the process itself did not feel great. And I think that if you never experience that in your whole life, that's OK. I'll never run a marathon, and I think I'm still pretty cool.
5. I think doctors are quacks and not to be trusted. No. I love my doctor. I love my friends who are doctors. Modern medicine is a marvel. However, I prefer midwives for birth. They are lower stress, lower intervention, more woman-centered. There are amazing obstetricians out there, I've heard. And if I got pregnant a third time and had some complications, you better believe I'd go to one.
6. Home is the only place to give birth. Home births are actually illegal in some states. Which is stupid. There's no reason why a healthy pregancy can't end in a healthy birth at home, and home births are considered quite normal in many parts of the world - like Scotland. (You can read more about that in Brigid Kaelin's fantastic blog, by the way.) In Kentucky, you can only have a home birth if it's performed by a certified nurse midwife, not a certified professional midwife. But in Louisville, where I live, there are no area CNM who perform home births. So, in essence, if you want to have a legal home birth in Louisville, you have to travel to an out-of-town certified nurse midwife and expect her to travel to you on the big day. Which is why many people opt for "illegal" home births in Louisville, overseen by CPM. (Yes, this is confusing. And it really shouldn't be.) Regardless, I gave birth in hospitals - both times. It was a compromise. I wanted a home birth, but Dave liked the assurance that came with a hospital. I really don't care where people give birth, but I do wish that every woman who gave birth in a hospital had the experience I had at Clark Memorial Hospital. It was so calm and nurturing. Birth centers are a wonderful compromise, but they are few and far between. So give birth where you feel comfortable. If you don't get arrested, that is.
7. The birth experience for the mom trumps the health of the baby. This is, by far, the most hurtful piece of b.s. propaganda about birth enthusiasts out there. I did not start down this path for my own "experience." In fact, I endured the pain for the health of my babies. Those interventions that can save lives can also have side effects for the baby. It has been proven that babies born by c-section are at a higher risk for asthma and allergies. Additionally, a recent study found "that induction and augmentation of labor with oxytocin [Pitocin] was an independent risk factor for unexpected admission to the NICU lasting more than 24 hours for full-term infants. Augmentation also correlated with Apgar scores of fewer than seven at five minutes." Plus, I recently wrote how new evidence shows that many interventions can make breastfeeding more complicated than it has to be. So, no, I didn't put myself ahead of my baby, nor do I think anyone should. In fact, I see it the other way around. Interventions that save lives = wonderful. Interventions that are not necessary can be harmful to babies as well as moms. This is how I see it.

So, there. I'm not in a cult. I didn't drink placenta-flavored Kool-Aid. (Sorry? Too much?) So why do I care? I care because I don't like how many women feel scared of birth. Birth is natural and amazing and can be very empowering (whether it ends in a vaginal birth in a rose garden or a c-section in a hospital). When women feel afraid of their bodies and bullied into procedures about which they haven't been properly educated about risks and side effects, I see that as a feminist issue. One that I'm excited to fight for. No matter how much propaganda is thrown my way.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

I'm Not (Just) Lucky: How to Succeed at Pumping By Really, Really Trying

 My Voodoo Magic Combo
 Unflattering Self-Portrait on My Last Morning of Car Pumping

Pumping at work. Oy. What an adventure. Sam is now 9.5 months and we made it. We did it. We're still nursing now that my school year is over. And I'm taking an extended vacation from that stupid pump.

Can I tell you how many times throughout this process someone said, "Oh, you're so lucky - pumping didn't work out for me?" While I have nothing but sympathy for anyone for whom nursing doesn't go as planned and/or doesn't work out at all, I really got tired of hearing I was lucky. It's like telling someone who got promoted due to their hard work and tenacity that they were "lucky." It's like, "Um, no, buddy, I WORKED for this."

So, in order to both document this wild ride and offer support/advice/humor for anyone in a similar boat, the following is a list of ways that luck did play a part, as well as ways my own hard work played a part. You need a special mixture of both to survive this, that's for sure.

1. The Birth
Luck: I'm so lucky that I had a healthy pregnancy, despite the fact that I was classified as a "geriatric pregnancy." (SO MANY EYEROLLS.) I carried Sam to term and then some (40 weeks, 5 days), and never had any complications - no gestational diabetes, no group strep b, no high blood pressure, etc. Why would any of this relate to breastfeeding? That brings me to...
My Hard Work: I had a vaginal birth. That is becoming increasingly rare, especially in my neck of the woods. Of course, whether or not I had a c-section was not entirely in my control (see all my luck above), but I did do my part. I sought out care providers who use evidence-based practices, namely not inducing unless there is a medical reason to do so. Inductions increase the risk of c-sections, and c-sections increase the risk of breastfeeding difficulty. I also had an unmedicated birth - not because I felt the need to show off (I'm actually a wimp when it comes to pain) or because I'm such a hippy (we ate at McDonald's the other day), but because it is the most assured route to avoid a c-section. (Even epidurals can slow down labor to the point where care providers feel the need to use inductions, which often lead to c-sections.) I've said it before and I'll say it again: c-sections are miracles. Before them, babies and mothers died in childbirth routinely. But they are widely overused, and women are not made aware of their risk factors nearly enough, especially when it comes to breastfeeding. Can a mother successfully breastfeed after a c-section? Absolutely. I know many women who have. But it is more challenging.

2. Starting Our Nursing Relationship
Luck: I'm lucky that Sam latched on like a champ, moments after birth. I'm lucky my hospital, Clark Memorial, had fabulous lactation consultants on their staff who came in to help me, despite the fact that I was a second-time mom who successfully nursed her first kid. I'm lucky I married a guy who understands how intense the first few days of nursing are so he fetched me water after water and countless snacks as I nursed Sam on demand.
My Hard Work: I nursed Sam on demand. Day and night. Night and day. That's the key to breastfeeding in the beginning. After about three weeks, I did start pumping, and I let Dave give Sam one bottle per week, so I could get a bit more sleep. Even that goes against lactation consultants' recommendations, but I had to take a balanced approach, because my mental health seriously suffers with lack of sleep. But mostly, I just fed the dude when he asked for it, and that mostly happened between the hours of 10pm and 5am. (Yawn.)

3. My Leave from Work
Luck: I took a three month leave from work, much to the shock (and dismay?) of my students and coworkers. I'm lucky that I qualified for FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) at my job, and I'm lucky that my boss was amenable to the situation.
My Hard Work: I felt that, for me, six weeks wouldn't be enough time to establish a solid nursing relationship so I could pump successfully. (I also felt I wouldn't be ready emotionally or psychologically, but that's another story). We worked hard to budget for this, because I was only paid for five weeks of the leave through disability (although I certainly didn't feel disabled after birth). We saved and scrimped, for sure. I also knew to look into the possibility and know my rights. I also had to plan three months worth of sub plans for two different grades so I could be away from my classroom all that time. That was so fun. Yeah.

4. Pumping Time and Space at Work
Luck: I had so much luck here. My boss was 100% supportive of my decision to pump at work. He told me not to worry about being late to meetings because my family came first. I was able to pump in my classroom, which was easy and convenient. I just had to cover up the window on my door (I had an interior room, so it was my only window) and lock my door. I already had a mini-fridge someone gave me for free to keep all my stuff in, and I was able to use those nifty wipes so didn't have to schlep my milky goods to the public sink to wash them off. My schedule wasn't perfect, but I was able to pump every four hours (once before school, once during my planning/lunch, once after), and that worked OK for me. My planning period was also the lunch period, meaning it was an hour and a half, rather than an hour, and that was a true godsend. My fellow coworkers on my team were also totally sympathetic and supportive, understanding when I had to jump up to leave a meeting.
My Hard Work: Even with all this support, I still had to stand up and demand my time to pump. It would slip people's minds and they'd plan two back to back meetings, or someone would show up knocking on my door when the pump was going. I had to stand up for myself and, sometimes, I had to cope with the fact that someone was annoyed with me. I never hung a sign on my door, because if my students knew what I was doing some would use it as fodder for drama, so kids often knocked relentlessly on my door while pumping, and that was very stressful. Not to mention the fact that I had to pump in the car on the way to work many days. I started work so very early, and I had to help Dave get the kids ready, so it was the only way to get it done in time. Once, I forgot breakfast, so I ran through a drive-thru strapped to all my equipment. Another time, my pumping bra fell out in the parking lot and was run over by another car. Another time, one of my very sweet students spotted me out of the back of his bus and waved enthusiastically, thankfully not noticing my weird get-up. I did wear a cover over the pump, but it still looked very weird. Oh! And twice, custodians walked right in on me while pumping in my classroom. I like to think that was the highlight of their days.

5. Maintaining Supply
Luck: When I came back from my leave, I had a great supply. I'm talking "I better make sure I have my breast pads or else" kind of supply. I pumped plenty for Sam's daycare, plus I had plenty to spare.
My Hard Work: And that's where my luck ends. First off, when Sam was only three weeks old, I started pumping once daily. I was busy and tired, but I knew that I wanted a freezer stash of milk. So, by the time my leave was over, I had 60 oz of milk in the freezer. And I was able to add to that stash at first, due to my plentiful supply. Very soon, though, that supply started to plummet. So, I started playing around with foods and beverages, and eventually settled in on a daily routine that worked for me: steel-cut oats for breakfast, lactation cookies as a snack, tons of water, and a Guinness each night before bed. That worked for a while, but then it started to drop again. So I added the supplement, More Milk Plus, despite the fact that it was expensive and gave me tremendous gas (sorry students). That helped, too, but I wasn't making enough. So we bought some organic formula when my freezer supply was finally gone. I took my first pump (see below) to Babyology, where they tested its effectiveness for free, and deemed it fine. But, eventually, I decided to return to them to rent a hospital grade pump. Although it was large and clunky, it worked wonders and finally saved my supply (along with all the above foods/beverages - none of which I could skip without seeing a dip).

6. The Pumps
Luck: My wonderful friend Bethany had an extra pump, an Ameda Purely Yours, that she just gave to me. That is lucky, especially considering pumps cost between $100 - and $300. And, when I had to rent the pump, I'm lucky I could afford that.
My Hard Work: I guess mostly I worked hard trying new things in order to save my supply. I lugged around the hospital-grade monster when I had to, and finally I discovered that now, thanks to Obamacare, most insurance plans pay for pumps! So I was able to get a Medela Pump in Style FOR FREE from And let me just say, it is so much better than the Ameda.

So, that's that. I'm not tooting my own horn. I got very lucky in many ways. But I also worked my rear end off maintaining this relationship. And I'm so glad I did. Now, when Sam and I want to go out, I don't have to pack bottles - just me. And although I'll need to start pumping again to build up a supply for those days I actually go out, right now I'm letting that pump gather some dust.

Good luck to all who are trying to pump and work. It's hard work! Make sure you tell your spouses that every day.