Wednesday, November 17, 2010

rise early on that day with shining faces...

About six months ago, I was living in Bella Vista, recovering from surgery and getting up the courage to walk and hike again. On those hikes I liked to listen to audio books. I’m a huge nerd about that. My favorite writer is C.S. Lewis (okay, he’s probably tied with Jane Austen), and I listened to him a lot for encouragement. I was tired and sad and feeling lonely much of that time, and he always brings me encouragement, and sometimes a sobering, liberating lesson also.

Suddenly, strolling through the bright green leaves and warm sunlight as I was, Lewis’s thoughts about Christmas were streaming into my ears. Now, that past Christmas, even though I wasn’t back to my full health yet, I had worked extra hours till I was sick so I could be sure to buy gifts for everyone. I wanted to be generous and show how thankful I was for my recovery. I felt guilty, I remember, about being too tired to send Christmas cards. I can’t say I remember feeling a lot of holiday cheer, which saddened me. More saddening, I couldn’t remember having really celebrated the shocking miracle of God Himself being born into the world as a helpless child.

As I listened, C.S. Lewis tried to describe what Christmas, in the true sense, would look like to an outsider and how it would differ from the commercial version of Christmas we get so easily entangled in.

“But the few… also have a festival, separate and to themselves, called (Christmas) which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep (Christmas), doing the opposite to the majority…, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most temples they set out images of a fair woman with a newborn child and her knees and certain animals and shepherd adoring the Child.”

Though it was still in the hazy future, I felt excited about celebrating Christmas in a new way the next go around, without financial stress, without exhaustion, without guilt… not just trying to “squeeze in” a bible reading but rising early, face shining, to adore the Child. I started looking forward to Christmas again instead of dreading it. Little did I know, God was preparing me for the fact that we wouldn’t be able to afford presents this year. And so far from being a depressing thought, that’s become a freeing notion. I feel free to show genuine love this year, coming together with those I love to celebrate—truly celebrate.

Though I’m definitely not against presents, nor would I dream of judging those who love to give them and get them, as a preference I lean towards Lewis when he says in Letters to an American Lady, “I feel exactly as you do about the horrid commercial racket they have made out of Christmas. I send no cards and give no present except to children.” (Lewis also pointed out in the essay that presents during Christmastime were originally more like token gifts, such as fruit or candy, and not the crazily elaborate exhibition we’ve come to equally expect and dread.) But that said, if a person enjoys giving gifts, likes sending cards, loves doing elaborate d├ęcor and throwing elaborate holiday parties, if a person is the type that ends up energized instead of drained by all of this, I think that can be a genuine expression of joy. My point is that I want to examine what I try to convince myself is “fun” and what I tell myself is “generosity” and "the spirit of the season" and see if it’s really even true this year. If I end up weary, drained, and full of uncomfortable obligations, something is wrong.

This year, I am asking that people do not buy me any elaborate gifts, and that they don’t worry if they do not give me a gift or a card at all. I plan on finding genuine ways to show my love and joy this Christmas. I already have more than enough reason to be thankful.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

back to true life and true joy

I thought I couldn’t be pushed anymore without falling over for good.

Most of my readers know the story: last year, after having my first child, I was unexpectedly diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. After that came major surgery and losing my right kidney. As I recovered physically, life seemed to be getting back to normal and yet something was a little… off. I felt that I had more fire to walk through, and I feared what might be coming. After that, I lost my beloved cat, Dickie. Only someone who has truly connected with an animal so that much that this creature feels like a person, almost like a child, can understand how I felt when I had to put Dickie to sleep and wept as he died in my arms. Then came the big one. My husband lost his job, in a really crappy way, right after we had sold our house. I was left with no medical insurance in the wake of recovery for cancer and major surgery, and in a marital crisis. And no means to buy another home.

Would you believe me if I told you I’m more at peace than ever? I don’t think God does any bad thing to us, but I think, in his mercy, he uses our human crises to draw our attention back to true life and true joy. It’s as if my husband and I were merrily skipping toward a cliff, and he allowed us to fall down and get scraped up pretty bad so that we would stop and really look at where we were. We are doing that now.

Without further ado, I would like to share some of the things I’ve learned so far. I have so so so much more to learn, but I’m taking it one day at a time.
1 – People are somewhat worse—and much, much better—than I ever imagined. Until this happened, I didn’t understand the depths of selfishness and disregard for others that people who claim to be Christians can show to others. I didn’t see how many people feel perfectly prepared and justified in casting the first stone. I didn’t realize how easily some people could use their “spirituality” as a tool of manipulation. I also found, though, that MOST people, both Christian and non-Christian, are much more caring, accepting, and forgiving than I ever could have imagined. I also don’t expect people to react “perfectly” to my pain anymore. People have their own troubles and their own fear and pain, and if the root of a relationship is in love, anything can be overcome.
2 – It takes more strength to ask for help than to think you can do it on your own. We are going to marital counseling, have gone to counseling sessions separately, and are attended an amazing group called Celebrate Recovery. This is a group for anyone who realizes they need help. I say that because I have come to see we all need help, and desperately. I remember the first night we attended CR. I felt like I had entered a room of sane people for the first time in my life. If that sounds over the top, think about it. A good definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. These people realize they can’t keep doing the same things, and that they need support, and God's strength, if they’re ever going to do things differently.
3 – I realized just how much darkness I have in me. I thought, perhaps a little proudly, that I didn’t have any enemies, that I didn’t really “hate”. That was before I was lied to, manipulated, and given misrepresentations of the truth about the things that mattered most to me. That was before the well-being of my family was threatened. That was before I felt like I was wet and cold, dying outside, and people kept splashing by me, soaking me to the core, never inviting me in not because they didn’t care but because they had themselves to worry about. There's not much time for remorse or empathy when you're looking out for number one.

I now know that I have a breaking point. I have felt hate, and it is horrible. I know what it is to forgive a betrayal that's been repented of, when my forgiveness has been sought... and I know what it is to try to forgive betrayals when you know they'll never be acknowledged or apologized for. I just can't seem to accomplish that second one. I know that that darkness has always resided within me and if I don’t let God reach into the core of my being and fix me up, then it will simply shrink below the surface as the memories fade, like a nasty sea monster, ready to rear its ugly head again the next time I’m tested to the core of my being. I’ve learned, though I haven’t mastered it, that the unmerciful need our mercy more than anyone.
4 – I have learned that God isn’t “annoyed” with me. I tended to frequently imagine God as slightly irritated, turning his back in semi-disgust at all my imperfections. I didn’t realize I was thinking this way, but it was there. I didn’t really see God as friend, as Daddy with open arms. I didn’t often use the name “Jesus” in conversation. So many anti-Christians have done their best to lend that name a ridiculousness just by casting people who use it in a ridiculous light. I had let that intimidate me. And since I usually talked about God, not Jesus, I usually just thought of God, not his Son. And yet ... since my life got smushed like a pancake backed over 50 times by a semi, I have felt the presence of Jesus right next to me, encouraging me, telling me he will never leave or love me any less or withdraw his hand no matter how badly I react to life. I have felt Jesus, yes, Jesus, telling me that all these things are actually SMALL compared to all he’s going to accomplish in me.

"For of this I am confident, that He who has begun a good work within you will go on to perfect it in preparation for the day of Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:6

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Eight Ball Brain.

The post is going to be all over the place, since I haven't posted in so long. Bear with me or just skip around to what interests you, or even just read the first and last paragraph (something I occasionally tried with my more boring textbook chapters in college that never worked extremely well) because this post is just as much for me as it is for you.

My mind has been welling up with so many ideas to post about, that when it comes time to think about writing, I can't remember any of them. It's like an over-stuffed magic eight ball. I shake it to see what comes up, and a jumble of things slosh to the surface, unintelligibly. Oh well, focus will grow as I commit to writing more regularly.
This has been the most difficult, and by far the best, year of my life. My Mom, so incredibly knowledgeable and fun, had a great word for it yesterday, but I can't remember what the word was. It's a word used to talk about something that happens to characters in novels--basically "the good catastrophe". Emma thinks Mr. Knightly wants to marry Harriet and it's all her doing, Dr. Elwin Ransom gets kidnapped and taken to Malacandra. Amy Ha begins suffering bizarre bouts of insomnia, then is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer... right after having her first child.

For several months, I was in what you'd call an anxious state. I was enjoying every minute with my baby, utterly supported in love by my husband, friends, church and family, and yet struggling with something that, deep down, I thought I had to accept. I really thought I wasn't going to live all that long. Until then, I'd always had the idea I'd make it to being a cute, senile old lady. It wasn't that I thought the cancer I had--kidney cancer--was going to kill me. In fact, it is really the "best" kind of cancer to have, with a huge majority of victims reaching a full recovery, and I, being so oddly young to be diagnosed, had an even better chance. No indeed. I thought in my pretty little head, though I shared it with no one, that being diagnosed with cancer meant that I was far more likely to get it again in some more deadly form. You always hear sad nightmare stories about cancer coming back and back and back again, and I thought surely it was the way I'd go sooner or later.

After having my right kidney removed, I was pronounced to have undergone a complete surgical cure. It was all gone, and miraculously, if it hadn't been placed the way it was and if my darling Ransom hadn't been squashing against the tumor late in my pregnancy, it's likely I'd still not know anything about it. In that case it could have spread to my lymph nodes, and from there, disaster. Still, I was certain that I had a special talent for cancer. It wasn't until I went ahead and asked my doctor (always, always ask!) a few months ago how much more likely I was to get other kinds of cancer and he looked at me, surprised, and said they're aren't any studies that suggest just because I've had cancer once I'm more likely to get it again, that I was able to shed the secret burden. The good thing, however, was that over the months I had begun to make peace with it. To think differently about death and, in consequence, about this life. I think God allowed me to have this experience.
I've become extremely grateful for the wise teachers I've never met in person, though in a sense I'm certain I know them. In particular these teachers are C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen, Madeline L'Engle, and Mother Teresa. I have much more branching out to do in the world of literature, but as Lewis's character Psyche says in Till We Have Faces, "It would be dark as a dungeon inside me without his teaching."

One of the things I've been feeling a push to write about is what I've learned from these teachers I've never met.

Then there's the HUGE, heartbreaking joy of being a mother, something I could dedicate an entire blog to.

Then there's the new rebellious girl inside me who has finally started to understand why people will exaggerate their "shocking views" just to anger bullying, legalistic people who send the message that there is only one right way to be a Christian, and only they know what it is. I'm not saying it's right to respond this way, just saying I've begun to understand it.

There you have it. A few teasers for you. More coming soon.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I bet you were expecting me to talk about my kidney...


Fashion is good for me. For the most part. I know I just had my kidney removed so you’d expect me to be talking about that (and I will, a bit) but right now what I want to talk about is this fun thing that’s always cheered me up. Where did I get this interest, this nigh obsession? Not from my mother. She’s a total tomboy, although less in recent years, because of her daughters’ influence, she says. I learned how to put on makeup from teen mags because my Mom didn’t wear any, and I dreamed up outfits and sketched them constantly when I was a little girl. I did a lot of experimenting with my hair with the help of my two brave, perhaps at times reckless, older sisters. They were brave with my hair, that is. Scissors and brightly-colored dye came into play more than once. As the years went by, I developed an admiration for certain fashionable celebrities: Audrey Hepburn, Drew Barrymore, Gwen Stefani. I didn’t want to be exactly like them, by any means, because I’m not and never could be anyone but me which is great, but they did inspire me. It’s more of a vibe or aura thing, I guess. With Audrey, it was her ability to completely adorable and totally the lady while still being fun and daring.

With Drew, it was her free-spirited, positive radiance mixed with a lot of unabashed femininity and classic glamour.

With Gwen, it was her nutty mixture of rebelliousness and girliness and her whimsical, costume-y boldness.

All three, when I analyze it, are very feminine and glamorous while still seeming confident, individualistic and down-to-earth.
The day before my surgery, I was hanging out and B & N with a non-fat latte with one splenda and looking for reading material that would take my mind off the fact that I was getting an organ nipped out of my body in less and 24 hours and what did I go to? Fashion, of couse. I found this special “Vogue Guide to Style” or some such and began flipping through it. One big point continually preached within its glossy pages was the idea of finding a style and sticking to it. “Women with real syle,” it basically said, “know what works for them and stick to it. They don’t change their look every other day. This shows true confidence.” At first I was resistant. After all, I like to mix it up. Some days I feel like playing the bohemian princess with the flowing dress and jangling gold necklaces, maybe even a toe ring, and ethereal metallic makeup. Others, I like to seem slightly rebellious with zippers and studs and messy-on-purpose hair. There are many variations, but I won’t go into all of them here. My thought was, my moods change, my interests evolve, so I wouldn’t want to get stuck in a rut, would I? But then, there’s something to be said for steadiness. Without it, we would never be able to stick to our goals—muchless come up with any because we’d be in a constant state of flux about what we truly want and who we truly are. After very shallow some soul-searching, therefore, I decided it would be a good thing to develop a bit more of a “uniform.” Only one that has plenty of wiggle room. The way you adorn yourself, I believe, influences how you feel about yourself and your place in this world more than a lot of people realize. And if you can’t form a steady idea of who you are, that’s always open to the fact that you will inevitably learn and grow, you may never develop that deep focus and decisiveness that helps you keep plugging away at that novel even when you don’t feel like it, or on a more mundane level, the ability to toss out those jeans you never truly felt comfortable in anyway and that always put you in a slight funk but that you insist on continually wearing so you can get your “use” out of them.
So, when taking a break from mulling over more important things, I’ve been fiddling with the idea of my basic daily get-up. What makes me the happiest and how can I develop a better sense of what works for me so I don’t continually purchase what I won’t wear?
So, without further blabbing, here’s my little arsenal I’ve just started developing:
With eye makeup, I’ve realized that I can be a lot more daring and still not look freaky or like I should be strutting on a street corner. My favorite thing is to wear straight-up black eyeshadow and liner, but just on my lids.

In the crease, I like to add a wash of fun color, something bright and straightforward that complements what I’m wearing. I’m working on building a collection.

With my lips I like something red that can be a subtle or intense as you like, depending on how you apply.

This is Benefit lipstick in Frenched. Oooh la la.

Or something warm and corally with a bit of sparkle.

Benefit lipstick in candy store:

And my fun recovery get-up? This stripedy onesie of which Ransom would be proud!

Got it at Target, baby!

Don't worry, there's more to come on my fashion musings. For the moment, I'm worn out, but you haven't heard the last of this development by any means. I'm know there are a million beauty and fashion blogs out there, but this one's fun for me.

Love to all!!! (After all this fashion talk, I feel like we should do some kind of haughty cheek kiss. Muuah, Muuah, daaa-ling!)


I forgot to mention one thing: my new statement piece. You've gotta have a few trademarks, right? I ordered this from Forever 21 with the help of a brighten-my-recovery gift cert from my dearest, dearest Jenny. I had tried it on in the store but they didn't have my size. Anyway, yeah, it's leopard print, but way more Audrey Hepburn than Peg Bundy. At least I really, really hope so.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Little Bits of Life...

Well, what's been going on in my little life lately? I had some shocking health news, as you all know now. Shocking it is, but not dangerous. Yes, I will be without a kidney, and yes it IS cancer--yikes!--but I should recover just fine. I will also carry with me the distinction of having my case, rare as it is, presented at a tumor conference. Goodness knows how many specialists have been eyeballing those kidneys of mine. But this is how God answers prayers in the loveliest ways. I wanted confirmation that everything had been thoroughly checked out... and boy is it gonna be.

I've been visiting my Mom in Siloam lately, as often as I can. I have such a great time with her. We play with the boy, take walks to the charming downtown and look at the shops and drink lattes and eat apricot crumble cake or go to teas rooms, play Scrabble while Ran naps, and just generally enjoy talking and laughing together. She is such an amazing person with so many amazing gifts, and she always encourages me in my spiritual walk and my creative ventures. And Ran just happens to adore her.

We dressed the cutie pie up in a white tiger costume, just for fun! And paraded him about town. This photo my Mom took at the park downtown is one of my all-time favorite pictures.

My parents' house is so charming and I love little touches like these stone urns on either side of their front steps. My Mom is amazing at gardening. See the happy yellow butterfly on the pansies?

One of my favorite things to do with Ransom is to give him baths. It's really a great playtime, because he's adored water from the getgo. I play classical music while I bathe him and always let him watch the water pouring down like a waterfall, to make the experience totally transcendent for him, ha ha. He loves it and always tries to drink the water.

I've gotten the chance to spend more time with my sixteen year-old niece lately. She's such a great girl and interested in creative writing and drama, just like me, and, of course, her uncle Vu. This is a snapshot from when we kidnapped her and took her to the Iron Horse coffee shop in downtown Rogers and a cute antique shop. She's a lot of fun and she even tried to change Ransom's diaper the last time we saw her--it was her first one!

Ransom has been experiencing a milestone a lot of babies go through lately. Stranger anxiety. It hits at slightly unpredictable times. Sometimes he's fine with strangers and even smiles at them, but if he stares at you for a time and then makes this face (see below) you know the waterworks are coming! I feel for him, but I can't help but laugh cause it's so cute. I also feel that I should continue to be diligent about having him around a lot of people in different settings so he can get comfortable with it.

I love having my sisters and their awesome husbands over for game nights and singing on Lips or Rock Band. Julie and I love to sing and lately we've both started taking to the drums. Is there perhaps some hidden musical talent there?

Monday, August 31, 2009

It’s two-thirty in the morning and I can’t sleep. I’m not sure if it’s stress-related. I know most people assume that when you can’t sleep but although I feel stressed by the idea of being very tired tomorrow, which only exacerbates the problem, I think most of it boils down to the fact that these have been my sleep habits for so long… getting up in the night, staying up to all hours, and I would always make it up the next day. Of course, I can’t do that with a baby to take care of. And I start to worry about my abilities to care for him on so little sleep. Then sleep becomes even more difficult. I can’t change my habits overnight, I know, but I need to change them as quickly as possible. People have made all kinds of suggestions, such as to knock myself out with Benadryl, (I’ve taken two, nothing) not to watch TV in the evenings (I hardly ever do) and now I’m starting to wonder if I should call my doctor and ask for sleep aids. Regardless, I may as well do something constructive since I’m up, so here is a journal entry I started weeks ago about being a Mommy, and what I’ve observed.

You can NOT trust 90% of the parenting advice you get. The other 10% is golden.

So, as you see, I’m not saying you can’t trust parenting advice. I’m only saying that only a very little of it will apply to you. Some of it will be downright insulting, some just bad, some okay for someone else’s child, but occasionally you will come across the wise parent who (non-preachily) drops some little tidbit or says how this book helped them and you’ll spend the rest of your baby’s childhood thanking God he brought you into contact with that person at that moment.

Here are some examples of the kind of advice I find extremely dubious:

The kind that starts, “Experts say…” Who are these experts exactly? The articles often don’t say. And how, may I ask, did these so-called experts come to their conclusions? What kinds of studies were done and how many? Have the conclusions based on their research been contradicted by any other “experts”? I’m not about to trust a faceless person whose only credentials may be that they wrote one of the billions books on parenting.

The kind that obviously goes with a very specific philosophy of parenting. This is something I’ve learned. There are many, many different philosophies out there, and the people who preach them state their point-of-view like fact. There’s the Le Leche League/attachment parenting crowd who are extremely confident in stating advice that completely contradicts the Babywise school of thought, the school of thought I happen to buy into. You can’t just randomly google, say, a breastfeeding question therefore and get the definitive answer. Both Babywise and Le Leche are extremely supportive of breastfeeding, and each strongly contradicts the other.

Most people you talk to are well meaning, but they have only their own kid/s to go by. It seems to me that because every child is different, you can’t raise any two exactly the same way and expect the same results. My Mom tells me that when she was a little girl, if someone even spoke to her in a stern tone, she would cry. One of my sisters on the other hand, has a son who laughs at the idea of a spanking. When I was a baby, I loved being cuddled as much as possible. When my sister Wendy was a baby, she’d squirm to get out of my parents arms so she could run around. I think there are certain principles, such as the need for oodles of love and affection and the need to learn discipline and self-control, that apply to all children, but specifically how they apply differs from child to child.

Now, about the advice you can trust. Well, that’s the advice that works. This advice is almost always given out of love (though much bad a advice is also given out of love, too). There are people who only feel comfortable when others in similar situations do things exactly the way they do—it’s an insecurity thing, I believe—and then there are people who will make suggestions simply because they genuinely think they can help and want the best for you and your baby. Sometimes people will make little comments that just leave your heart in knots of self-doubt. If what they said gets under you skin, work out why. Maybe there’s truth in it. Sometimes, though, there isn’t. And some parenting books will leave you so confused and anxious when they contradict what’s already been working for you and your baby… and tell you their way is the only way. I find it’s best to put these books away, for a while at least.

“Motherly Pride” can be a very bad thing.

I was feeding Ransom one night in the nursery when Vu had his co-workers over for a team-building game night and I read Mere Christianity out loud to us as a way of entertaining myself and soothing him. I came across the chapter on Pride, the sin of sins. This is a chapter I need to re-read every few months at least. It always shames me. Lewis acknowledges that we use the term “pride” in different senses and to feel proud of your child in the sense that you think they’re absolutely wonderful and your brimming over with affection for them is absolutely natural and good. That’s not what I’m talking about. The kind of pride that creeps in and messes with your motivations for being a good parent is what I mean that we mothers, or at least I as a mother, need to guard against. Lewis describes pride as being essentially competitive. Pride doesn’t get pleasure out of being rich or beautiful, but being more rich or more beautiful than whomever. When I see a kid throwing a temper tantrum in Wal-Mart and a Mother responding with bitterness and anger and I say to myself, “I’m not going to be that kind of mother.” I have to be careful what territory I’m verging into. It’s fine to see people doing things and disagree, even resolve not to do those things yourself, but, I have to ask myself, “am I wanting at this moment to be a good parent out of love, or because I want to be better than that parent?” And where is my compassion for that mother's situation? Do I get a secret little satisfaction out of the idea that my parenting will be “superior” to hers?

You can make your baby and excuse for not getting things done, or you can get creative.

This I learned from observing Vu. He’s had a lot more experience caring for children, in actuality. Vu’s Mom has spent many years helping out families in the Vietnamese community, and there were always babies around his house when he was growing up. When he moved back to his parents’ house to help with a family crisis, his nephews Tony and Topher were babies, and he had a big hand in raising them. They are two of the happiest, most well-behaved kids I’ve ever met. This last Sunday Vu suggested I take the day to relax, and he would watch the boy. I’d kind of been a single parent that past week. Vu had been entertaining co-workers at our house, then playing with the church band during the afternoon on Sunday, then spending the week teaching drama camp every evening. He did it because he felt called to and I wanted to support that, but I was a little rough around the edges. He kept Ransom with him and played with him, but also managed to get a lot done. Ransom played out front in his bouncy seat while Vu fixed the garden hose, Vu took the monitor outside when Ran was napping and cleaned out the pond. Ever since I observed the way he calmly did his thing and took care of a few things around the house while still caring for the boy, I realized that with the right attitude it certainly can be done. I choose the right moments—when Ransom is fresh and cheerful and in the mood to play near me in his bouncy, bumbo, or jumperoo, and I fold clothes or do dishes or whatever else I need or want to do. He really likes to watch me do things and I talk and sing to him while I work. I’ve found that he doesn’t mind being in the Baby Bjorn while I vacuum. This is so freeing, to open your mind to the possibility of being able to accomplish things. I think it’s our minds that hold us back more often than anything else.

You. Must. Stay. In. The. Present. Moment.

Your baby is always in the present moment. If he’s frustrated because you got his arm stuck in the sleeve of his complicated but oh-so-cute onesie or if he’s squealing in delight because you're talking nonsense to him, this moment, for him, is eternity. I think that’s why babies cry sometimes like it’s the end of the world. They don’t know that their frustration is going to pass. We do. I calmly say to him now, “this too shall pass, sweetie,” if he fusses about something unavoidable or necessary. The great thing about the fact that children are always in the present, though, is that it’s a good reminder for us parents. How much of our lives, once we make it into our twenties and thirties and have so many plans, responsibilities, memories, hopes and fears, are spent just experiencing what’s right before us? It’s sad because the present is truly all we have. Most of those fears and some of the hopes will never be realized, and that’s okay, because not everything that comes into our heads is part of God’s plan. But we still can waste so much time thinking about it all. Ransom is the best reminder I have to let all of that go and just be. I’ll be walking him in the stroller for instance, stewing over something or other, and I'll look down and see him smile, just look me in the eye with the most tender unconditional love and joy, because I'm Mommy, and suddenly nothing else matters, and nothing has ever been so wonderful as this precise moment.It’s also so important to stay in the present moment when caring for a child because it takes all your awareness to keep up with and take joy in, all the many things you do with (I prefer “with” rather than “for”) your baby every day. I thought when I had a baby I’d worry a lot more about all the trouble in the world, but in actuality, I worry less. Interacting with him always calls me back to the here and now.

Monday, July 13, 2009

How Ransom Came Into The World (Written Weeks Ago, Just Remembered To Post It!)

(Okay, I wrote this several weeks ago. Little Ransom is now nine weeks old and weighs 15 lbs.!)

Five weeks ago he was still in my belly. That’s difficult to comprehend. Here he is, weighing 11 pounds (last time we checked) with my cheeks and lips and Vu’s eyes and hair (we think his nose might be mine, too, but we’re waiting to call that one) and a face as expressive as a stage actor. My sister once said of her first son that as much as he changed their lives, he was so amazingly familiar, so a part of them, that they couldn’t really fathom how he hadn’t always been there. I know what she meant now. And yet I never could have “predicted” Ransom. He’s totally his own person, complete yet with so much to learn and so much to show us.
I was going to be induced on a Wednesday at 10 am. I was nearly a week past my due date. That evening, when I finally fell asleep, I was still not able to grasp the gravity of the next day. But the pain started making it’s way through my dreams and into my consciousness at around 3 am. There had been jokes (and wishes and even prayers from some) that I’d go into labor before the induction. Not sure if the pain that morning was the real thing—we’d already had a false alarm, so disappointing—I took a hot shower and tried walking around the house a bit, to see if the contractions would continue. When I started needing to steady myself on a counter because of the pain, I woke up Vu. As he started gathering our stuff for the hospital by the door, just in case we decided to go in early, I sat on the couch and watched the clock. The contractions were coming five minutes apart, very steadily. Zillah, the kitten we found dying in the road the night I found out I pregnant, the kitten that Vu nursed back to health, came and draped herself across my belly and purred, as if she knew. She is so light I hardly felt her. Just the soothing vibration of purring and the warmth of her fur. I talked to her to distract myself from the discomfort, telling her how she was Ransom’s and how it was because of him that we found her, and she stared into my eyes.
When we got to the hospital it took a little convincing and a little nerve gathering for me to go in. I started to second-guess myself. The contractions weren’t that bad, I said, gripping the sides of my chair and gritting my teeth. Maybe we could just nap there till morning, when they would be expecting us. It was around 4:30 am, I think. It only took a few minutes of that before the contractions and Vu convinced me it was time to go ahead and go in.
With these contractions, I felt grateful for the wheelchair I had disdained on the night of my false labor. The nurse I got I remembered us from that night. She was nice in a bedraggled, distracted kind of way. Surely she’d been having a long night. Things were progressing slowly, but time seemed to speed up. At around 9am, they went ahead and started me on Pitocin to get things going faster. My doctor was going to be out of town that evening and they wanted me to have the baby before she had to leave. I still don’t know how I feel about this. I have an idea that Ransom might have been born naturally on Vu’s birthday, had we not hurried things along artificially. They warned me that the pain would start to get more intense. As it got worse, they asked me if I’d like to go ahead and get the epidural I’d been planning on. I admit, I felt ready for it.
The epidural guy (sure there’s a more technical term) had a friendly face, a reassuring smile, and a huge needle. They brought Vu around to face me during the procedure and hold my hand. They worry fathers might faint if they see what’s going on back there. The epidural felt strange, but didn’t hurt. I was told my legs would start to feel warm, then numb.
I felt a little warmth in my legs, but also a strange tingling sensation in my upper back. It wasn’t until about an hour later, realizing I could still wiggle my toes and lift my feet and feeling the contractions quite painfully, that I suspected that, for me, the epidural wasn’t quite going to work how I’d expected. But then, who knew exactly what to expect? I’m not sure the reason, but the epidural never fully took. The positive though painful side of this was yet to come. I would feel everything a few hours later: head, shoulders, legs, slip out and it would be so crazily unbelievable and somehow very awesome. The nurse who got me through the hours of pushing that later ensued had bright, steady blue eyes and a calm, sensible air. As soon as she came in the room she automatically tidied up the mess of tubes and cords left by the tired night nurse and generally brought a little harmony to the room. She asked for Vu’s name, remembered it, and addressed him by it. She was the nurse I’d prayed for.
The contractions got increasingly more painful. There was a button to push if I needed it, to deliver more medicine to help with the pain, but pushing that button didn’t seem to make any difference. Another nurse came in and asked if I was feeling the contractions now and was it painful.
“Yes. And very, actually.”
“Just push the button,” she said kindly, and left.
Okay, I thought, I guess this all an epidural does. I said no more about it. Someday I’ll learn to stop being too polite.
I managed to wince my way through a few games of Connect Four with Vu while we waited for our moment, much to amusement of our blue-eyed nurse. (Sadly, I can’t remember her name, even though she told us and I remember thinking it didn’t suit her.) Vu let us end on a game I won. Sweet of him.
Towards the end I sat quite still, breathing, smiling at Vu, too distracted by the pain to say or do anything else. Then, finally, it was time to push.
Alright! We’d have this baby out in no time. Right.
We pushed on my left side. We pushed on my right. We pushed with my lying on my back and Vu holding one leg, the nurse holding the other. We counted to ten while I pushed. She told me it would help if I didn’t push with my face. The doctor showed up and I pushed with her help for a while. I started to feel dizzy and very, very hot. I started having a hard time keeping my eyes open.
Towards the end, when we were into the second hour of pushing and my doctor had delivered another baby and come back, I noticed Vu’s sympathy pushing though my blurred vision. Every time he and the nurse would hold back my legs and count, Vu would hold his breath and strain with every muscle in his body until I took my break and let my eyes close again. I told him he’d better not pass out on me. The nurse laughed.
I was dimly aware, towards the very end, of comments that my temperature had reached 107, but I was holding to the more important thing being said: my baby had a full head of hair. They could see my baby’s head, if only for a few seconds at a time.
Just when I thought it was never going to end, that that full head of hair would remain unseen by me forever, things started happening really fast. There was talk of the vacuum. I’d been pushing so long and my temp was so high, they wanted to get this baby out. I didn’t want Ransom to come out with a cone head, but I was too weak to protest.
I think Vu remembered the last part better than I do, fully conscious as he was. I remember a sudden sensation of extreme pain and tears streaming down my face. I found out later what I was feeling was an episitomy. Then out the vacuum came. I was asked to push again. I felt like this had to be the last time and my head crashed back on the pillow. The doctor said
“Amy, Amy, look.”
His head was out.
I can’t remember exactly what happened after that but I remember pushing, Vu saying he could see the head, and then suddenly feeling the rest of him come out. The doctor pretty much threw him on top of me. He was very quiet. They slapped him on the back and he coughed and began to cry.
And this was the most amazing moment of my life to date. I was sobbing, Vu was crying and telling me I did amazing, the baby was amazing, we were saying “I love you,” I remember seeing that his eyes were dark and beautiful and that his skin felt so, so soft, but what was behind my tears is hard to explain. Joy, of course, but how do you explain it? Every new parent tries but words fail us. You can say “her face is bright and pure like the rising sun,” or “his eyes sparkle like the ocean,” but what is the sun like? What is the ocean like? With this wonder called birth you just hit the core of God’s beauty and all you can do is cry.