Not Just a Notebook

I remember a conversation I had with a friend in college.  We concluded that a friend isn’t the person that flocks to you at your most catastrophic moment, but the person that unexpectedly offers to walk ten minutes out of their way to pick up the notebook you forgot but frantically need for your next class. For some reason, this conversation has always stuck with me.

This week has been one of those really trying ones. It was a week of stressful work commitments. It was a week when the summer nanny I hired two months ago said she had something come up and she was no longer available two weeks before her start date. It was a week when my dad collapsed in a grocery store parking lot and I had to gently coerce him over the phone from thousands of miles away that his collapse and ongoing chest pain were both very valid reasons for him to please go to the local emergency department. (I did not win this battle, and ultimately had to beg his friend to just go to my parents’ house and give him no choice but to be taken to the emergency department.) It was a week when I had to be steady and calm for my mom who is shaken by having witnessed my dad fall unconscious on the cement ground, not knowing what to do or how to help him. Yesterday, I hit an all-time week low, when I was trying so hard to get some sleep, any sleep, before my overnight shift, and felt close to my tipping point. It was like I had hit a hard stop. I thought to myself, “I can’t. I just can’t do this.”

This mom thing. This work thing. This juggling-of-all-aspects-of-life thing. Damn, is it hard. I can barely keep together the day-to-day; then add anything on top of that, and I am sure to topple.

So what exactly pulled me through? It goes without saying–though it is always worth saying–that the majority of what pulls me through day in and day out is my husband. Always my husband. But I was surprised this week at what I needed to pull me through. And that was friendship.

I was pulling into the work parking lot, when I parked the car and saw the flash of a banner across my phone notifying me of a new e-mail. I saw it was from our summer-nanny-to-be. I read her apologetic words of why she could no longer be our nanny this summer, and my heart sank. In that moment’s emotional outburst, I reached out to a friend that I knew could relate. Later, my mind still reeling, I reached out to another friend. Within 12 short hours, I had three potential new summer nannies thanks to friends that somehow took it upon themselves to help me find a replacement, and another friend willing to drop everything and spend weeks with my kids. I have no words for what their rallying on my behalf meant to me. There I was, feeling defeated and incredulous, and there they were, walking that ten minutes (okay, more than that) out of their way to bring me the notebook that I so desperately needed in that not-crisis but not-inconsequential moment. It was nothing dramatic. It was nothing worthy of gossip. But there they were. Friends. Delivering friendship in its greatest form.

There is a feeling that comes with friendship. It is hard to describe in one word. It is feeling accepted. Feeling you belong. Feeling respected for who you are. Feeling prioritized. Feeling loved. All of this in one bundle of goodness.

I have said thank you to my friends that pulled me through this tough week. But saying thank you makes me feel sheepish when I mean so much more than thank you. What I want to say is that I’ll remember that you brought my notebook to class for me, and next time, without a moment’s hesitation, I’ll bring you yours.

A Work Day That Ends in Sushi

Previously published on:

My husband and I waited seven years to get married; in those months after we became engaged, before I even picked my dress or wedding colors, I had already started planning for the family that occupied our daydreams. We’d have three kids; I was sure of it. We would have two boys and one girl. Of course, our baby girl would be the youngest so she would have two older, protective brothers. They would come on cue two years apart.

Instead, I picked my strapless A-line dress, we settled on red roses and ivory linens with gold trim, we got married, and we had six miscarriages.

I would get pregnant, and just as we would allow ourselves that hopeful glimpse of the first trimester final stretch, I would miscarry. It was crushing. Yet it became a cycle that I became all too familiar with. My emotions became a pattern of predictability: excitement, anxiety, devastation.

By my third miscarriage, the emotional strain of losing each baby I had lovingly carried  brought me to the point of buckle-at-the-knees desperation . . . followed by a sinking relief. I felt relief that I wouldn’t have to wake up another morning asking, is my baby’s heart still beating? I would let my anxiety wash away, replaced by a heaviness in my heart, and almost a strange sense of peace. It was a dark place to be, but a familiar dark place. A place that I could control.

In the midst of uncertainty, I even developed a miscarriage routine. Routine was something I could do. And something I could do well, on my terms. It was a way to say, “I got this.” Even if I didn’t.

 I would realize I was miscarrying, and continue through my day. Continue to care for other people, to smile and joke, when inside, I was hurting so much. I was thinking, “I know you are hurting, patient-in-my-emergency-department, and please be assured I will do my best to take care of you, but you see, what I can’t tell you is that my baby is dying and I am hurting too.”

My baby is dying right now as I stitch up this cut on your finger. My baby is dying while I try to figure out why you are having abdominal pain. My baby is dying while I tell your loved ones you are having a heart attack. My baby is dying and I can’t take care of her the way I can take care of you.  My baby is dying and no one knows it but me.

After work, I would call my husband, then stop to get the sushi I had craved since learning I was pregnant. I would go home and focus on the pain of my cramps, because that was exponentially easier than acknowledging my broken heart. When everything passed, I would mentally brush my hands off and ready myself for the next time. That was my routine. My miscarriage routine.

I was riddled with guilt over everything about it.

During this two-year period, I felt like a failure. I felt like a weak woman. I felt I was doing something wrong. I felt it was my fault. I felt guilty. I felt inadequate. I felt out of control. I felt ashamed. I had never felt so vulnerable and nothing had ever felt so personal.

A year into the process, I went to an infertility specialist and received the million-dollar work-up. Nothing was wrong. How could nothing be wrong? But test after test confirmed that, “Congratulations! Nothing is wrong!” Translation: there is nothing we can fix. I was started on this medication and that medication, because “It’s worth trying.” I was hopeful, but hopeless. I was exhausted from this constant testing of my emotional strength.

And then it was our seventh pregnancy, and this time–twins!!!! Twins!!! My excitement was quickly followed by a flood of anxiety. My husband and I kept our news to ourselves. We held our breaths.   We had been through this. We tiptoed around our fears, whispering to one another, stifling the excitement we held in our glances towards one another, and we waited. And waited. And my belly grew. And I had no cramps. And I had no bleeding. And I saw their heartbeats. Time and time again.

The infertility specialist said we didn’t need him anymore. I sat still in his clean, slightly-dated office, in the same blue upholstered chair with its thin wooden arm rests, the same chair I had sat in for two years, staring at the same framed picture of him and some big fish he had caught with his nephew, and I weighed the heaviness of his words. Then I broke down in wave after wave of tears. We didn’t need our infertility specialist anymore.

We passed three months. And four months. And five, and six, and seven, and eight!!!!! And two healthy beautiful babies were born.  They are beautiful to this day. I stare at them sometimes, and marvel at how they came to be.

Sometimes when I am tucking in my five-year-old daughter at night, I tell her, “Do you know that you are more beautiful than I could have ever imagined?” What I mean to say is, everything about her existence is more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.

When we decided to have a third, I was ready for the journey. I was nervous of going through the process again, but having had our twins, I knew it was more than worth it. The day we decided we wanted to try again, I put up my defenses against my own emotions.

Five weeks later, just like that, we found out we were pregnant. I braced myself. I was fearful this would become another pregnancy that would fall victim to my routine. I went in for ultrasounds every week. Week after week, there was a heartbeat—I couldn’t believe my ears. And then our beautiful baby girl came into our lives seemingly seamlessly. It was too good to be true, but it is true.

These three beautiful babies of ours.

I realize now after eight pregnancies and three babies and innumerable dreams for our family, there is nothing to be ashamed of. There never was. There was nothing I failed at.

 These days, when I see the chief complaint of “possible miscarriage” show up in my emergency department, I want to see that patient. Not because I can provide better care than my colleagues, but because I want to share my story. Mother to mother. I want to give them hope and I want them to know they are not alone. I am unashamed of the tears that fall from my face when I share in their grief and acknowledge my own. I want them to know it is okay to grieve and natural to feel defeated, and then it is okay to hope again when you are ready.

Sushi has once again become my favorite food. When I eat it now, it doesn’t taste the way it once did. I don’t feel like I am swallowing heartache, loss, and failure. These days, when I stop for sushi at the end of a long day, I bring it home to share with my three children and husband. We talk about what was good about our days, what could have been better about our days, what we look forward to tomorrow. It has become our family favorite meal.  No words can express what these days that end with sushi mean to me now.

I am thankful for everything I have been through. It has given me what I have, it has given me who I am, and it has given me what I have to share. And most of all, it has given me and my husband our beautiful, healthy children.

The Thing About Mother-In-Laws

I met my husband in college. Just two college students trying to make it to class and finish papers before those absurdly-quickly-approaching deadlines. We met each other’s friends, we learned about each other’s hobbies, and about each other’s likes and dislikes. We came to know each other’s favorite study spots, favorite foods; we came to understand how the other dealt with stress and success. We were different in so many ways, but we were beyond compatible and I think we both knew, this was it.

Fast-forward seven years: he proposed, I said yes, we got married. Instantly, I had another side of the family, and so did he. But what has been on my mind isn’t brother-in-laws, or sister-in-laws, or father-in-laws, though they all have their crucial places in our lives; what has been on my mind is mother-in-laws.

It’s a strange thing isn’t? You’ve grown up your whole life with your own mother, who is the center of your world. You know what a mother-child relationship is like, what it should be, based on your own upbringing; and here you are, a grown adult, being thrown into a new mother-child relationship. Except no one is the child, and really, the mother role has changed dramatically.

I think about the parallel lives my mother-in-law and I have lead. She too was present in her children’s lives from the moment they were born. She too made decisions about when she would breastfeed her children and when she would give them formula. She too decided how their foods would be prepared when they transitioned to solids. She too decided when her children would begin to potty train. She too decided what vegetables they would eat, what type of milk they drank, and what clothes they had hanging in their closets. She too planned their summers and weekends together. She too orchestrated every detail of her young family’s lives down to the socks her children wore. Neither of our families would have taken its particular routes without us in them.

I think about what it must be like to evolve from being a mom, directing every part of your child’s life, to now assuming the role of a mother-in-law and grandmother. In thinking about this, I have come to realize the most wonderful thing about my mother-in-law. No matter our differences, my mother-in-law never judges or criticizes the choices I make as a mom. I wish I could bold this, underline this, shout this through the written words on the page. She now stands witness to another person making a separate set of footprints in this path of young motherhood, with footprints that are different from her own. I imagine it must be hard at times to see another person parenting the people you love in a manner different than your own.

But. She never judges me. She never criticizes me for the decisions I make for my family.

And this is why my mother-in-law has taught me the greatest lesson of whom I’d like to be when I enter into her role.

As a young mother, struggling to navigate the raising of young children, this is the greatest gift a mother-in-law can give: non-judgmental eyes, and a gentle, but resilient ever-present support. This is the quiet, constant backing I need for my waxing and waning confidence.  This means everything to me. And while my Type A spirit, will keep me barreling forward in my independent parenting style, my mother-in-law’s influence on how I would like to be as a grandparent and mother-in-law resonate loud and clear. The best way to be–I have come to appreciate–is to respect a young parent’s judgment, way of parenting, and just be supportive and present.

Becoming a mother-in-law, I imagine, must take some adjusting to. You now share this role as the heartbeat of your family with someone you never anticipated sharing this role with.

I am so thankful to have the best mother-in-law to learn from. She has shown me what it is to be kind, to be patient, and to be open-minded. She has given unconditional support, even to a daughter-in-law that is somewhat frantic, somewhat uptight, somewhat of a neat-freak.

The thing about mother-in-laws, is that adding that title to their resume changes nothing about who they are as a mother, because our ultimate goals are all the same: to love the families we share and be present in the best way possible. I am thankful that I have a mother-in-law that gets that.

Thank you to my mother-in-law. You are the definition of love and I couldn’t be more appreciative of having you here to steady our day-to-day chaos.

Happy Mother’s Day. We love you.  Please never move.

Sweet Claire is Two!

Oh, Sweet Clarabelle! Today you are two! My heart can barely take it! I never imagined having a girl like you, and everything I could never imagine makes me so proud of the little girl that you are. You are Sass. You are independent. You are daring. You are brave. You will do it your way. You walk with confidence and the cutest diaper waddle strut. You are on a mission, and nothing will stop you. You will climb up the biggest ladder to go down the biggest slide, and if Dad tries to hover over you, you will be sure to speak your mind, and tell him, you got this. It makes your dad sweat, but it makes us so proud that this is who you are.

Even better than this fierce independence, is this crazy innate compassion you have for people. Since you learned to walk, you have learned to walk up and comfort your family when they are sad, not feeling well, or just plain tired. You will run and grab blankets for your grandparents and siblings when you think they don’t feel well or when they are sleeping. You try desperately to cover them in the blanket you found, and pat them ever so gently. I think about this weekend, and how your brother awoke from his nap a groggy, still sleepy guy, snuggled in my lap. You grabbed a blanket, put it over him, and patted him on his hair. You subsequently stopped mid-play, three times, to check on him. “Ok Dax?” you would say, as you offered him a stuffed animal, a toy, his water bottle in your effort to cheer him up. Whenever your dad sneezes, whether it be right next to you or from a room down the hall, you always turn his way and say, “Ok Daddy?” When you see your big sister crying, you squat down and put your face in hers, and babble soothing words and kiss her on the cheek. When you bounced a little too hard on my legs, and I let out a grunt, you stopped to ask, “Ok Mommy?” When you saw two dogs fighting at the park, you murmured, “It’s ok.” Oh, sweet, Claire, where does this huge heart and sense of compassion come from? It is truly amazing, and there is nothing I love to watch more than you watch over our family, with those little grunts of effort as you try to lift a huge blanket up onto the couch to cover your grandma when she is napping.

I love to try and guess what kind of girl you will be. Will you be a tutu-twirling, dancing, singing, pink princess like your sister? Or will you gravitate towards sports and getting dirty outside? I think what you have proven to us thus far, is that you cannot be categorized as any one type of girl. You love your bracelets and necklaces and headbands (or, your sister’s bracelets, necklaces and headbands.) You love being chased, tickled and swung upside down. You laugh with pure joy when you slide down the slide and fall in the mud, yelling “OW!” as you pick yourself up and giggle and climb back up to the top. You try to climb on your brother’s bike to take it for a spin, leaving your tricycle as if it is too baby for you. You are your own girl, and no one is going to define that for you but you. And all we can do is follow along—nothing could make us prouder.

You have already grasped the concept of sarcasm. I suppose there is no way you couldn’t, being part of our family. Your favorite thing to do is offer us your favorite foods, “here go, Mama”, and when I reach for your sticky, wet handful of raisins, you pull away and smile that devious smile promptly stick the handful in your mouth, erupting in fits of giggles at your trickery.

I have to bite my lip when I witness how you handle adversity. When you get in trouble, and you are sent to time out, you protest, you cry, then you settle down. And when it is time to come out of time out, you have the biggest grin on your face, trying to disarm your disciplinarian. Or sometimes, you waltz right into time out, defiantly, as if this was the plan all along, and come out, head held high, smiling as if there is nothing that you are not in charge of about this situation. Sometimes, when we are warning you that your time to listen will be over in “1, 2, . . . “ you chime in with us at “threeeee” before you decide to listen, as if we are prepping together for the next big step to finish the squash on your plate.

How can one girl be so fierce, and yet so full of fun-loving energy and compassion? We don’t know how you do it, sweet girl. But I can see it in your father’s eyes. You have your parents by the heart strings. Your brother and sister adore you, want to take care of you, and love you. We cannot imagine our lives without you.

Happy birthday, Sweet Clarabelle. Keep braving forward, and we will keep chasing after you, proudly trying to keep up with your every, independent step.

We love you always.