Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What They Don't Tell You...

Ben and I had taken Hannah to Chinatown for a little Sunday adventure and we were on our way home when I saw the picture. How wonderful! Our dear friends had given birth to their baby girl! As we drove over the Brooklyn Bridge, Hannah fiddled on her harmonica, and I lost myself to visions of the post birth bliss Ben and I had experienced two years earlier. An invisible bubble encircled us as Hannah turned towards the familiarity of Ben’s voice and so calmly looked into my eyes. It was in those magical first moments that the three of us became a family. 

Back in the car, Hannah struggled to make out the word harmonica and Ben and I fought to keep our excited grins back. Hannah hadn’t been much of a talker and Ben and I, knowing that she understands so much of what we say, have refrained from stressing out about it. It was was wonderful seeing her find her own way to language and ,once again, we were reminded that when you follow your instincts, you are never wrong. “ Hommee Hommee Hommeeca Mommee Mommee mommeeya” she ramble before settling on her final attempt. “Mommeecock! Mommeecock! Mommeeeecock!!!” she cried. Ben burst into laughter. I laughed as well, but within moments my laughter turned to tears. Ben looked over at me with a big question mark.

All everyone ever tells you when you’re pregnant is how hard it’s going to be. That you’re never going to sleep, that you’re going to fight, and that things will never be the same. What nobody ever does, is come up to you to tell you how freaking amazing, ridiculous, reaffirming, how wonderfully hysterical it's all going to be. Yes, being a parent is hard and it's true, nothing will ever be the same. And I have to tell you something, thank goodness for that! 

 As we made our way home a little tired, a little late, the scenery outside the car window changed, but inside, the three of us were exactly where we needed to be. Ben put his hand on my knee, “Why are you crying?” he asked tenderly. I looked out the window, ashamed of my emotional outbreak. “I’m just so freaking happy,” I said, wiping away a tear. I was unbelievably happy for the three of us, for what we've had so far and for what we have to look forward to. I was happy for our friends and the joyous journey in which they were about to embark. Ben held my hand and Hannah chimed in, “Moooomeeeecock!” she declared. Ridiculously happy is what I was.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Closing The Circle

It's hard not to have faith when, after struggling in the dark for so long, life rewards your hard work,by turning on the light. Walking giddy from today's workshop, with a doppy grin and oxytocin bubbling from every pour, it was impossible not to think back to myself two years earlier, sobbing all times of the day with the fear and doom of impending labor. For most of my pregnancy, I had little concern for how I would get this growing child out of me when the time came. I was fairly unconcerned about it until taking a child birth education class in which we watched a video of women giving birth. It was while watching these women labor, and sob, and howl like wild wolves that the great fear I carried deep down inside was exhumed. And it lived with me, fed on me, and transformed me in the weeks that followed. 

Life is cyclical, so it is no surprise that, little more than a year later, I found myself once again, grounded with fear. Becoming a mother had changed me. I burned to be a better person, a greater role-model for my daughter and still, the more I thought about it, the more this dreadful sensation welled up inside of me. Regret; it looks so simple and clean written on the page when, in reality, it only ever emerges muddied and unrecognizable from the rivers of our subconscious. It was only after weeks and weeks of sifting threw the fine silty mess, that I become familiar with regret and it's faithful companion fear.  

I had a loving husband and wonderful daughter, but something essential was missing and in a way, I was ashamed. While it was true that I had survived many of the harrowing circumstances of my life, I had yet to fully overcome them. It was heartbreaking to look back, with a truthful eye, at the opportunities I willingly threw away, and how few risks I was ever willing to take for the sake of my own fulfillment. I was 35 years old and still parked on the tarmac fretting about whether to take off or not. It wasn't my intention to dwell on my regrets. What I wanted to to do was move forward, but that was impossible without confronting the fear that had kept me from seeking my potential and purpose for so long. I was time to learn to stop listening to the negative voice in my head that told me I was not capable, and begin replacing it with one that was more supportive and compassionate .

It has been one of my greatest challenges, becoming my own advocate. But like I said, hard work, does not go unrewarded. Almost two years after my daughters birth, I found myself watching the very same film that ignited my fear of birth. This time I was not watching it in preparation for birth, but as part of a Doula training workshop I had finally had the courage to take. It turned out, my instructor, Debra, was the one who had made the film because, after years and years of supporting birthing mothers, she was inspired to spread the word that fear was not an essencial part of the birthing experience. I never told Debra how I had felt after watching her film because, during the weeks before my daughter's birth, I came to terms with my fear. On the morning of Hannah's arrival, I awoke early to contractions. My husband slept for two hours as I lay beside him, quite and alone, experiencing my rushes without a trace of fear. When he awoke, he stayed by my side and supported me the entire day. My instincts were strong and I followed them and my confidence made it easy for my husband to follow them as well. I felt comfortable in each moment I was in, and I took each rush as it came and, though the experience was intense and as powerful as a speeding freight train, neither of us felt fear. The birth of my daughter was an unexpectedly beautiful and life changing experience. It has changed the way I see myself, and has made me a better parent, and a better person. Letting my fear surface and really feeling it prior to labor was cathartic and emotionally prepared me for the empowering capacities of birth.

The night before the Doula workshop, my fears and doubts did all they could to convince me I was not worthy of such a career path. There would be many others at the training that were more suited, more deserving; what was I thinking? What made me think that I could support a woman through labor, when it was a struggle to support myself through this new experience?  The negative voice in my head was making a compelling case when, it finally hit me: I would never feel worthy until I took the first step to becoming worthy. And, with nothing to guide me but faith, that first step would be have to be blind. By thinking, for even a moment, that I could do this, I had already made that step. Now all I had to do was to take the next step by truly forgiving myself for not believing in myself sooner. Completing the Doula workshop closed the circle that began two years before, and ended the negative cycle of fear that had dominated my life for as long as I can remember. In the two years since my daughter's arrival, I have learned that in birth, and in life, you are never wrong when you follow your instincts. I've realized that fear is most often a positive indication that you are on the threshold of something profound. And, if you are willing to show yourself the compassion and support you hold in your heart for others, you can hammer away self-doubt and let emerge in its place the excitement and wonder of the great power that is inherent in each of our bodies, and our hearts. I have yet to assist a birth as a doula, but as I prepare myself for the experience, I can't help but feel, that it has been a long time coming, this labor of birthing and of being born…

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Snapshot, Folded, Frozen in Time...

 This picture was taken a few days before Hannah was born. I had taken the last month of my pregnancy off from work and had no trouble filling my newly liberated hours. I baked, and made frozen meals for after her arrival. I got Hannah's room in order, and cleaned and cleaned and cleaned our house. On the Friday before she was born I became wrestles and went for a walk.

It was a windy day and the clouds hung low, sailing across the sky like marshmallow sailboats. I stood there at the end of the pier taking in the horizon. The cranes stood in the distance like mechanical giraffes, and sailboats skated across the water with grace as lady liberty stood watch. My mind was clear. My life was about to change I was very much aware. However, I was experiencing a momentary stillness only felt one other time in my life.

Nineteen years earlier, though I was only 17, I felt the same fleeting wisdom as I watched a blizzard consume the view from my 8th story apartment window. I was warm and dry on the other side of the glass, but life was about to seep it's way in to my adolescent world and, for as long as I stood at that window, without fear or excitement, I knew it. I was at peace with it.

The Friday before Hannah's birth, it only took me a moment to recognize what I was experiencing. When past, present and future reside so close to one another that you can feel the knife poised waiting to cut a line between them, and for only a moment, you can dance on the edge of its blade. After twenty minutes I walked home, I was no longer restless. I can remember little else from that day, only that two days later, Hannah was born and sure enough, my life changed. 

I feel blessed for both of these moments. Even more so that I was wise enough the second time around to take a picture. This is only a snapshot, but I will forever remember both of those women, standing brave before the threshold of life and all of it's joys, it's disappointments, and all of its beautifully unreined chaos. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Defining Romance

Some people would like you to believe that once you have children romance is dead and that spontaneity is out the window. Don’t believe them. While it is likely you will have to repress a few impulsive urges, that does not mean that you can never enjoy an impromptu romantic afternoon or evening. Babies take naps, so do toddlers, older kids have music class and sleepovers, and they all thankfully have a bedtime. In fact, allowing for romance post child requires that you embrace spontaneity with a fervor like never before. It requires a whole new level of ingenuity, ardor, dedication, and lets face it, a few hours of lost sleep. 

I have never been a fan of The ‘Romantic’ dinner. The candlelight, the soft music, the strawberry shortcake for two, the whole thing just seems absurdly premeditated. As if romance were something calculated. I happen to know that Fancy Valentine’s Day prefixes are the antithesis of romance. Nothing can ruin the wild nature of prospective love more then sitting in a room full of other hopefuls trying to approximate the very same thing. While you can aspire for romance, you can’t plan for it, and you certainly can’t buy it for $85 a head with a complimentary glass of Prosecco. Romance is organic, uncultivated; it grows out of adoration; respect, and desire, spontaneity is what sets it aglow.Sure, strawberries and Champagne with a loved one is special, but I’ll take getting caught in a rainstorm then warming up with a hot toddy with them any day.

For Ben and I, a romantic dinner usually includes cooking together, though sometimes we cook meals for one another. Much of the time it involves us geeking-out on how the food turned out, what we would do differently next time, and waxing about future cooking challenges. Sometimes we will choose a bottle of wine to go with the meal or make a cocktail and other times not. We never plan these romantic dinners, so it hard to say what they will involve and its hard to define what exactly makes them romantic. They pretty much just come about on their own, Hannah goes to sleep easily, the meal just comes together, we are both ready and willing to un-wind. What I can say, it that, now that we have Hannah, there is one ingredient that we can pretty much count on in order for us to have a romantic dinner, and that’s a baby monitor.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Beacon

They say that routine is important in a child's life. What they don't emphasize enough, is how important it is in a parent's life. Some weeks, being the parent to a toddler is like an all-day-party filled with munchkin giggles, baby-body-slamming sessions, brave new stunts, and my favorite, tiny people goofy dance sessions. It's hard to top the heart swelling you get when you hear your four month old belly laugh for the first time, or watch her first sovereign steps, or hear her crazy ramblings slowly focus into language. Routine is a major factor in these moments, but more important, is the roll it plays in the most desperate days and nights of parenting. Some weeks, it seems that each day gets better then the last and you wonder, what did I do to deserve all this? My last week, was not one of them...

On Monday morning, prospects looked good. Hannah and I had a week filled with sing-a-longs, playgroups, swimming for me, and toddler yoga for her. Later in the week, Hannah had her weekly date with Grandma and Grandpa while Ben and I went out to dinner with our friends My Linh and Andrew, and Friday I would be heading out for my first solo trip in a long long loooong while. On paper, it looked great. But as all you fellow parents and life livers know, things don't always go as planned.

Monday Hannah was fussy from teething, but we worked through it. I went swimming while she tore it up in childwatch. After she went down for the night, I cooked some food and went to bed. At 3am I woke to nausea, and stabbing pains in my abdomen. The stomach virus hit me harder than it hit Ben, and I was very lucky that he was able to watch her the next two day as I stumbled around the house trying to will myself into a vertical position and failing miserably.

The beginning part of the week was shot, but that certainly didn't have to effect the remainder of the week. By Thursday I was feeling much better, though still battling a massive headache. Determined to move on with my week, I rested during Hannah's nap, and before setting out to dinner, downed some Advil and slathered my temples and neck in tiger balm. 20 minutes into the bus ride I was feeling pretty good. 25 minutes into the bus ride, I got a call from Ben, My Linh and Andrew's babysitter was sick; Dinner was canceled. I bet you it was the stomach flu, I though bitterly, at least I still have my weekend.

12:30 that night I woke to Hannah crying. After 20 minutes of listening to Ben try and coax her into sleep, I joined him in battle. Every attempt and every tactic was met with tears. She did NOT want to sleep. She played and cried off and on for the next 5 hours. After checking her out, the pediatrician told us that it sounded like a gastrointestinal development that happens around this age and can result in crying episodes due to intermittent pain. Though it was unlikely to happen again, there was a chance it could. As much as I was looking forward to needed my weekend, I just didn't feel right leaving either of them. I canceled my weekend plans.

Needless to say, Friday afternoon was a low point. On a normal week, taking care of a toddler is like driving up a mountain road in dense dense fog. On a good day it's impossible to see more than 2 feet in front of you. During a rough week, routine is imperative because it provides landmarks. These landmarks cultivate balance by punctuating chaos with satisfying meals, fulfilling activities, and oh so needed down time. Suffice it to say, Hannah and my routine for the week had been completely decimated. It had been close to a week since I'd been swimming, Hannah had grossly exceeded the amount of hours she would normally tolerate in the house, meals had been missed, and hours of sleep sacrificed. We were both grumpy and in a desperate need of some sort of beacon, though neither of us had the energy or inclination to search for one.

That night, Hannah Slept. Ben and I slept as well. Saturday morning we all had breakfast together and headed out to the Y for family swim. Hannah's restless legs chopped through the water like tiny propellers and her giggles echoed off every surface. I did some laps, and by the end of the swim we were all starting to feel as though we had found the first landmark back to routine, to normalcy, to a good night sleep, and to buckets and buckets of giggles.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Planting The Seed

6 years ago, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, hit the self-help scene like a hurricane. Everyone was talking about this new take on the law of attraction, which seemed to promise a better life, a higher paying job, and a better marriage by simply focusing on what you do want rather than what you don't want.
It was also 6 years ago that my roommate Glynnis and I were sitting in our living room drinking coffee and making fun of the entire notion. "Parking your car in NYC can be a hassle, but not if you know The Secret" she said with an infamercial tone. "Getting inappropriately fondled on a crowded subway car can be a real pain in the you know what... but not if you know The Secret!" I responded with a giggle. 

We were of course familiar with the notion of positive thinking, and were no strangers to the law of attraction, it just seemed far-fetched to us that any of these techniques could overcome unbending circumstances. Neither of us were dating anyone at the time and we were both thoroughly disheartened by the lot of men with whom we were acquainted. " Well we do spend a lot of time concentrating on the flawed traits of the men we know," I admitted. It was true, neither of us had any problems articulating the things we didn't want in a relationship. "Alright then, let's  try stating what it is we do want in a relationship!" Glynnis declared. It certainly was worth trying The Secret out if we were going to make fun of it. 

We sat for some time without an answer. It was unmistakably more difficult to recognize what we wanted then what we didn't want. I had been reading Julia Child's, My Life in France at the time and was moved by the mutually loving and supportive relationship Julia had with her husband, Paul. Julia followed Paul and supported his career without question, and when it came to Julia following her heart, Paul was not only her number one cheerleader, he used his artistic skills to help her. All I could think was, why are none of the men I know like this? Why do none of them seem to take joy in the successes of the women around them? Why are they not supportive? It was then that I realized.
Julia and Paul Child

" I want Paul Child!" I exclaimed. "You want what?" Glynnis laughed. " I don't actually want Paul Child," I tried to explain, " I want what Julia and Paul had." "And that is...?" Glynnis asked expectantly. "I want a man who can support me and whom I want to support. I want a man who loves to see me do my best and can be there for me when I don't. I want a man for whom I am happy to do the same," I was almost out of breath saying it. It was so clear to me all of a sudden, yet it had never occurred to me to test it on my tongue " I want MY Paul Child," I declared. It felt wonderful to say it. 
Sitting across from Ben and friends on the night we met
It was 2 years later that I met Ben and I can't say I recognized it immediately. There was something different about him for sure, and after a few months of dating, I knew what it was. The revelation terrified me at first.  Here, blooming in front of me was the seed I had planted two years before, here was my Paul Child. The fear subsided and I'm happy to say that left in it's place is a deep sense of gratitude. Ben is no Paul Child, and I could never hope to be Julia, but our mutual love, respect, and support of one another comes from the same inspired place. I know that whatever I decide to do, Ben is behind me all the way and I hope Ben knows that I will support him in whatever endeavor makes him happy.

Five months pregnant in San Francisco 

 It only seems appropriate, that today (well, yesterday actually), on our first wedding anniversary, that I thank you Glynnis for challenging me to envision what, at the time, I didn't believe could exist for me. Would I have still met Ben had I not tried out The Secret? of course I would have! But this certainly does make a better anniversary story.

Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge a year ago

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Shut Up and Do It...

"You've already got it Madeline. Your doing it. Now, KEEP GOING..." said Joe, shaking his head in disbelief. I've been taking swimming classes for the last few months, and my oxymoronic coalition of willfulness and apprehension has never been clearer then when I'm swimming. For example, when learning flip turns, I struggled and pushed myself until I finally got it. Then something happened. I would swim, flip, and for some reason stop. Joe, my teacher, was perplexed. "Stop thinking about it and just DO it!" he finally told me after I had pelted him with one too many technical questions. Little did Joe know that this innocent little flip turn was quickly becoming a metaphor for my life, and swim class, my therapy session.

I decided to try his advice. I stopped thinking about it, all of it. I stopped thinking about how to do the turn, about why I seemed unable to follow through after accomplishing it, I stopped thinking about how symbolic this was of my life approach, and I just did it. I swam, kicked, turned, and kept going. Water up my nose, having done nothing close to a good turn, I kept swimming, because, in actuality, this was a swim class, not a therapy session. And although swimming might help clarify my issues and strengths, I am here to swim. Simple.

So with that in mind, I decided that my one resolution of 2012 be reserved for the pool. I am famous in class for shaking my head 'no' every time Joe gives us a challenging task. Every time he tries to test our ability, I put the breaks on by deciding that I won't be able to do it. Well not anymore. As of 2012, if Joe should tell us to swim 8, 50 yard sets on the 55, though it might seem outside my ability, I will not question him, I will not shake my head 'no', I will not even try, I'll just do it. If I accomplish it, great! Awesome! Amazing! If not, alright, no big deal.  I'll just keep going.

To be honest with you, I'm a little scared and a little excited, probably of the same thing... I'm scared of all the times I may not cut it. I'm more scared of the times that I will. In ways that I don't wholly understand, I'm most scared of finding my potential - as if holding it in my hands might be too great, or too disappointing. It's impossible to know from where I stand, but I have decided that 2012 be the year that I get down to tapping my own potential, and there is no room for low balling it. It's time to just shut up and do it,  and it's time to eliminate the word 'no' from my vocabulary.