Mom.

I’m not even going to bother sugarcoating this post. It’s ugly, it’s dirty, it’s raw, it’s depressing. It’s my life in the last 1 month and 3 days, beginning December 14th, when my mom had her stroke.

I’d left just an hour earlier. And an hour after, I received a call just to be told she’d had another stroke. Off I went dutifully to the first hospital, where I was promptly informed it didn’t look good. Off I went to the second hospital, where they again told us that it was all most likely over.

And it was.

My mom lived on life support for 9 days in a coma. Her best chances, they told us, meant being in a persistent vegetative state. She’d never be able to feed herself again. Anything.

Just hours earlier, we ate lunch together and she talked about how she wanted me to make that pizza for Christmas.

I didn’t even hug her when I left. My son was rambunctious and he was hard to hold. So, he hugged her. I smiled. I left. And I didn’t know I was speaking to my mom for the last time.

When the time came, I sat in a cramped room with several family members, praying mom would die quickly so she could donate her organs. At 57 years old, her body gasped for an hour before she finally slowed her breathing in her last minutes. A week later, we held her funeral.

My mother-in-law took my son up to the casket to say his good-byes. It all seemed so absurd. That at 28, my 2-year-old and I were saying good-bye to my mom. And yet it was happening.

 

I’ll tell you the truth about grieving: everybody disappears immediately after it’s over.

 

My brother and I go through our routine of caring for our dad. People very rarely contact me now that the funeral has ended. It’s as though I don’t exist. Life has gone on. And as angry as that makes me feel, it casts a light on the numerous times I did the same when encountering someone who was grieving. It makes me feel guilty. It makes me feel awful.

 

On a petty level, I stew over the messages of people who tell me that they “know” what I’m going through. If you’re twice my age and haven’t lost a parent, you don’t know. If you are my age and haven’t lost a parent, you don’t know. Acknowledge your ignorance. But don’t you dare try to coat it as though you have any idea.

 

My relationship with my mother was complicated. I fully believe that she had narcissistic personality disorder. It wasn’t an idea I learned about until I was in my early 20s. After years of unrelenting conflict with my mother, it helped me navigate my relationship with her in far easier ways. I accepted that in her eyes, I’d never be good enough. I also accepted that her evaluation of me actually had nothing to do with me. And from then on, things were actually pretty good.

I knew her limitations and didn’t demand more of her because of them. I knew she’d never be able to love me as I hoped a mother would. I knew I’d never measure up in her eyes. I knew that in her mind, I’d never wash the dishes well enough or dust well enough or otherwise even marginally compete with her in caring for the home.

Things were easier after I moved out. She adopted the persona with me that she adopted for everyone who didn’t live with her: kind, compliant, never aggressive. I could snap at her and she’d never say a word. I knew that what she did when she got home was different, though.

In that way, I never really knew my mother after  I moved out. She had become a different creature.

It’s hard to deal with because she was a really good grandmother. She would get breakfast sandwiches without meat and she and my son would split them. She’d beam over how well he ate. She’d play with him, color with him, sing to him, cough obnoxiously for his entertainment. And despite everything…God, what I wouldn’t give to have just five more minutes. Me, her and Nathan.

The three Musketeers, she said. Just like she, her mom and my older brother had been “The Three Musketeers” before cancer had wiped Grandma Kathy from the Earth when she was only 42.

My mom did apologize to me in the last few months of her life for her behavior while I was a teenager and early 20-something. She’d apparently said the same to my dad, too. It doesn’t take away the trauma I grew up with, but it is a comfort. Was she genuinely sorry? Did she just realize that she didn’t have long to live? I’ll never know.

 

Learning to live with the uncertainty is just life, I guess.

 

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All About that Luteal Phase

So, the time has come. I just bought my first container of Source Natural’s Progesterone Cream.

Luteal phase defect has been haunting me since I first started trying to conceive with my son. The luteal phase is the timeframe between ovulation (roughly midway through your cycle) and the start of your period. If this phase is too short, it can be difficult or even impossible to get pregnant. And the problem has only gotten worse this time around.

I’ve been trying to conceive for 6 months. That’s an eternity to those folks who never have to plan out their pregnancies (or even wonder ‘if’ they’ll have another child), but totally normal for me. Still…I want to do something about it and maybe spread some information.

Taking 100 mg B6 a day throughout my cycle the first go-around helped my luteal phase defect. It made the problem *worse* this time around, so I abandoned it. People swear by applying 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon 2x per day during your luteal phase to lengthen it. Inner thighs, armpits, neck, belly…apparently it can go just about anywhere, although it’s best to alternate locations.

It was only $14, so I’ll be sure to report back on my personal experience.

Infertility, my old friend

All right, so I’m not diagnosed as infertile.

I was haunted by a short luteal phase in the 10 cycles it took to conceive my son. In other words, after ovulating (the beginning of the luteal phase), it wasn’t very long before my period rolled around (the beginning of the ovulatory phase). I averaged 9 days before having my son, when 12 – 14 is considered normal (and 8 is definitely “you have luteal phase defect!”).

Now it’s 8 days.

I’m drinking the bitter wine that is my 6th cycle trying to conceive. I honestly haven’t thought much about any of it until now. I’m still regulating after the pill, I said. And it took *10* times to make Nate. This is normal for me. But then there is that nagging voice in my head, as it was before I had Nathan, that says: What if you can’t get pregnant at all this time? What if cycle 6 turns into 12? 18? 24?

I am comforted by the fact that I have my beautiful little boy. If he is my only one, then he is my only treasure and I will ultimately be OK with that. He’s not a consolation prize. And I have decided that on his 3rd birthday, this mom is officially done breeding. I don’t want to get to 50 cycles. All right, that’s seriously thinking ahead, but really.

Without permanent intervention in place, I’ll wind up being that person who conceives when her kid is 12 or something. I’ve actually known people who went through that…sometimes with even larger age gaps!

I thought I’d be sad at the prospect of closing down the baby factory for good in just a year. But, you know, I’m happy about it. I’m OK with it just being the 3 of us against the world. We’re a pretty great team, you know?

 

But, in the meantime, I was taking 100 mg B6 a day to lengthen my luteal phase. Over the last few cycles, it has *shortened* it. So, good-bye, B6. Now I’m looking at the possibilities with progesterone cream. Generally, you apply it twice a day between ovulation and your period. So, that’s the next stop.

It’s also time to drop some serious weight. I’ve been overwhelmed a lot the last several months, and getting depressed, too. Adding in workouts tends to consume every last drop of energy and sometimes time that I have. Giving up more free time is a battle. Sometimes, you just want to sit and play video games. And instead, I’m reading the Game of Thrones books while hitting the cycling.

And breaking my ankle didn’t exactly help in the weight department. I probably seriously put on 20 pounds in just a few weeks.

 

 

Birthday Planning

All right, so my son’s birthday really isn’t until November. Since he was born almost smack-dab in the middle of the month, we have some versatility when it comes to birthday planning. Last year’s was a Thanksgiving theme. This year, we’re going Halloween.

 

I started working on this jack-o-lantern pinata. I’m not entirely sure how we’re going to hang it. I’m trying to keep this party within reasonable limits. I’m thinking we’re going to fill it with gummy snacks, granola bars, stickers, maybe small jars of play-dough and a few other treats. Because straight-up chocolate adds up fast!Pinata

I tracked down a few other cute ideas. There’s this e-vite generator which is making things easier. Why send paper invitations to family anymore? We’re all on Facebook!

I also found this simple punch recipe. Guaranteed kid-favorite flavors, plus the spooky touch of a frozen ice hand. Who WOULDN’T love that?

And everybody is crazy about some bone-shaped breadsticks and pasta tinted with food coloring for extra creepiness. I love that mozzarella balls and olives are used to create the eye effect!

Everyone’s definitely happy about dirt cups and pie pumpkins hollowed out for holding dips and sauces (like my hot spinach and artichoke dip from Food Network).

A witch ring toss and pin-the-boo-on-the-ghost round it off for a toddler’s Halloween birthday party. With some classic kids’ Halloween movies and beats going, it’s sure to be a winner.

But party planning aside, it’s so hard to believe that my little boy is going to be 2 years old! It seems like just yesterday I was gazing down at somebody who looked like this: IMG_20141117_075842097

Now he’s running everywhere, yelling, saying “Yes,” “Yeah,” or “Yesh,” to everything, and tormenting the cat and bird. My, how time flies.

 

Cholesterol, Breastfeeding and Weaning Edition!

Lots going on in my life the last few weeks. I ordered one of those at-home cholesterol kits from CoreMedical Laboratories. I have to say: they were prompt in returning my results.

The last time I’d taken my cholesterol, my total cholesterol was 164 and my HDL (good cholesterol) was 58. All of my other numbers were great too. That was back in 2011, when I had the time to work out for an hour (or more) most days of the week.

And then, this week, I received these results: cholesterol_results

 

I tried not to freak out immediately. My total cholesterol had gone up 46 points and was ‘borderline’ high. But those increases were almost solely in my HDL, which had also climbed nearly 40 points.

But then I began reading. And apparently, it’s very common for pregnant and lactating women to have high cholesterol. Knowing that took some of the pressure off of me. For a lactating woman, my numbers aren’t too bad!

 

Which brings me to the next big event happening in our lives: weaning.

 

By all accounts, I’m doing really well breastfeeding. My son’s 17 months old. After a c-section and multiple days of separation after his birth, success was not looking too likely for me. I even had to ask for a pump at the hospital to try and keep my birth plans from going completely to hell.

We had mostly gotten him down to a naptime and night-time nursing session in the last few weeks. This week, we eliminated the naptime nursing session and he didn’t nurse at all yesterday. He still gets up to nurse at night sometimes, but I am doing an OK job at comforting him back to sleep in other ways.

It’s weird. I never expected to have an emotional attachment to nursing. I’m happy in some ways that this stage of our relationship is ending, as I’m excited for what’s ahead, but I’m also sad about it. There were many nights I just looked into his eyes. Not that we must suddenly stop that, but it’ll be different now. He’s growing more independent. Of course, that’s a happy thing. I don’t mourn the passage of baby things too much. I realize that I’m getting a privilege so many others don’t.

I’m hoping to have him completely weaned by June. That gives us 5 weeks of more gentle weaning. So far, there have been some rough patches and meltdowns, but overall, we’ve done OK.

I might continue pumping and donating milk until Nate turns 2. I’m undecided. I *do* eventually have to start binding and close down the factory, but we’ll see!

 

 

The Boob Goes On

This is going to be a bit of a weepy blog. At least for me.

My baby is 17 months old today. For 17 months, I’ve nursed him when he’s sad, when he’s tired, when he’s lonely, when he’s bored, and when he’s hurt. And for the first time yesterday, I had to ease him onto a pillow on the floor beside me while we watched nursery rhymes instead. While I repeatedly distracted him from the nursing session he very much wanted.

Extended breastfeeding is absolutely normal in most countries and it has a lot of benefits. But in the US, we start getting uncomfortable. We start creating false dichotomies, insisting that if a mother hasn’t weaned by 12 months, she’s ABSOLUTELY still going to be breastfeeding at 4, 5 or 6 years old (not that there’s anything wrong with it, just not for me). Or that her child will have some weird complex with breasts.

He still gets up to nurse at night. But in the next month or two, our nursing sessions will probably be gone completely. I may or may not continue to express milk until his second birthday — I don’t yet know — but it remains the same:

The birth of his next phase of his life is the death of this one.

I never knew that I would wind up so emotionally attached to nursing. It was cost-effective, health-conscious and freely available, so why not? But as the day of my last time nursing my baby boy draws near, I find the emotions threatening to bubble up and overwhelm me. I’ve spent the last 17 months gazing down into crystal-blue eyes as they roll back into his head contently and he falls into a peaceful slumber. I will still rock him to sleep for years to come, but it will be different.

Not necessarily worse, but different. Getting rid of the pacifier, his bottles, even strictly pureed food didn’t have the emotional impact that this does. For the first time, I’m keenly aware that my little one is growing up and becoming independent. And that’s scary.

I cried yesterday as I tried to get him down for a nap without nursing him. And I cried again tonight as I thought about the end of our nursing relationship.

Better things are still yet to come in our lives. I just never expected to feel so emotional over one that is so transient and so simple.

Change

The other night, I stood at the viewing of an old friend’s grandfather. He had aged considerably since I’d last seen him up close.

This was not unexpected in the nearly 20 years that had passed since his granddaughter and I took turns walking down the street to the other’s house. But in the present, she and I stood telling stories and cracking jokes as though it hadn’t been nearly 8 years since we’d seen each other or really even talked.

We’d come a long way in all of those years. We had graduated from college, started and lost jobs, dated and dumped boyfriends and grown old enough to occasionally not get carded when buying alcohol. It was my first time meeting her again in person as someone else’s wife (and yet another person’s mother).

Life is really funny in all of the directions that it takes you. My third wedding anniversary is in a few days. And on that night 3 years ago, I spoke to an old friend for the last time. It was the last time I saw him, too, before deciding it was best that we went our own ways.

It was neither something I expected nor planned in the years we’d been friends. I assumed we’d call each other and share the intricacies of our lives until one of us died. And instead, the thought of him brings a smile to my face now. I occasionally wonder what he’s doing. And I wonder: does he know anything about me? Does he think about me fondly?

I often wonder about the sorts of change Nathan will see in his life. How many different friends will he have? Jobs, partners, dreams, pets? Will any of it come back around to the same path again? In only 28 years, it feels sometimes like I haven’t done much living. But when I really think about it, it feels like that’s all I’ve done. I’ve seen a lot change.

Imagining the sort of world my son will occupy in 20 years tests the limits of my imagination. It could be anything. The sort of life he’ll lead is entirely up in the air. But hopefully he too will someday have good friends he can call after years and find that he hasn’t skipped a beat.

And may he be just as happy fondly reminiscing, but content with the closed doors behind him.

Why I Didn’t Circumcise My Son

Mike and I were sitting in our apartment talking about the distant future.

“If we have a son, I want him to be circumcised,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because…” but the rest of the speech didn’t follow. Because it’ll look weird? Because guys should just be circumcised? For religion, tradition, any other number of excuses? Health, cleanliness? But I didn’t know the first thing about those ideas.

But that day, I decided to find out.

Religion and appearance get cited a lot as factors in deciding to circumcise. There are also concerns about cleanliness and STD rates. So, let’s talk about those and the reason I didn’t get my son cut:

1. “Circumcised boys get 10 times fewer urinary tract infections.”

This is true…but you’d believe UTIs are running amok. In reality, 1 in 1,000 circumcised boys will get UTIs in the first year compared to 1 in 100 uncircumcised boys. That still means that at least 99% of boys, regardless of cut, will NOT get UTIs in the first year. Circumcision has no impact on UTI rates after the first year. There are also other ways to prevent UTIs besides circumcision.

2. “But…sexually transmitted disease!”

Circumcision has been found to cut HIV risk for men ONLY in countries like Africa. By as much as 60%. But even the World Health Organization says other methods are more important…and no study shows that this translates to countries like the United States. About 1.2 million people are living with HIV in the US. Almost 50,000 people were diagnosed with HIV in 2013, while an estimated 27,000 were diagnosed with AIDS. Just over 1 million boys a year are circumcised in hospitals in the US, with between 50 – 60% of baby boys total getting circumcised now. That rate is far lower in most western European countries. Oddly, their STD rate is also lower than in the US. Maybe we should just teach our kids that there are better methods to prevent STDs than getting cut?

3. “He’ll look weird.”

As this map shows, circumcision rates are falling. They remain high in states where insurance continues to cover it. But, other than that, most kids born today are not going to be freaks in the gym locker room. Times, they are a-changing.

4. “But…cleanliness.”

There are tons of guides on how to clean an intact boy’s penis. Most problems related to not getting circumcised, like phimosis, in which the foreskin can’t retract over the glans, do not necessarily require circumcision. Steroid creams and foreskin stretching are common go-tos. And even pathological phimosis is just not that common — affecting about .6% of boys by the time they turn 15. Balanitis is another problem uncircumcised boys may have, commonly caused by not cleaning away soap. But again, antifungal creams, steroid creams and related treatments are go-to options. Only in severe cases is circumcision likely to be necessary.

5. “Getting circumcised doesn’t really hurt. My son was fine!”

Babies are generally strapped down on their backs for circumcision. While some hospitals use anesthetics, many do not. My son was delivered at Hutzel Hospital and I was told that babies were only offered pacifiers with sugar water…no anesthetic, no pain relief after. But circumcision still carry risk — babies have died, others have infection, others have had their penises damaged or amputated, even if this risk remains small. There’s also the fact that current research shows that newborns really do feel pain. There’s even the possibility that they feel it more strongly than do adults.

I made the decision not to circumcise my son because I believe this is his body. I feel it’s his choice to decide whether or not he should be cut. While this analogy is certainly less serious, I liken it to an ear piercing: my daughter should get to decide what to do with her ears when she can understand the risks and complications. I would only have my son circumcised if the benefits clearly and moderately outweighed the risks — which they don’t.

No major medical organization in the world endorses circumcision. The Royal Dutch Medical Association says “no.” The World Health Organization (WHO) is only focused on circumcision in countries like Africa to reduce HIV. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend universal male circumcision either, though it also does not condemn it.

Still, I believe in the right of every parent to make his or her decision for their son. I purposely avoided obviously biased sources for this post. Unfortunately, “intactivists” often get a bad reputation for extreme viewpoints. I want you to understand my reasoning…not feel attacked by it.

Becoming a Milk Donor

I recently discovered Milkin’ Mamas, an organization that takes donor milk and uses it to create formulas for infants in the NICU. Since breastfed babies tend to pack on weight faster in the first few months, this can up the odds that premature newborns might get the chance to head home sooner.

I made the decision to donate for one big reason:

My freezer is mostly milk. That's why.
My freezer is mostly milk. That’s why.

In addition to a bunch of frozen vegetables and 2 tiny frozen jars of bananas, my freezer is overloaded with milk. You’re probably looking at anywhere from 200 – 250 stored ounces dating back to mid-March. That’s not even acknowledging the 15 – 25 ounces I keep in my fridge — for when I’m gone, to make baby food, yadda, yadda, yadda.

But back to being a milk donor: what does it entail?

I had to fill out a 50-question survey chronicling all sorts of things — questions about sexual history, health history (“Do you have herpes?”), medications I’m taking, my OB’s contact information, my son’s pediatrician’s contact information and his birthdate. Moms whose babies were stillborn, who were surrogates, etc., do not have to provide any pediatrician information.

I was sent some follow-up questions. Since my son was born by cesarean, they wanted to know about any medications I received at the time. 6 months out from delivery, it was really difficult to remember. But, put simply: you pretty much can’t be on much in the way of medications to donate. Prenatal vitamins are fine. But while certain drugs (i.e., antidepressants) might be OK for milk for your baby, the milk isn’t ideal for NICU babies.

After that, I received two forms that I had to sign (just my signature!). I sent these back to Milkin’ Mamas so they could contact my OB and Nathan’s pediatrician. My OB was on it quickly — within a few days — but I’m still waiting to hear back from the pediatrician.

Milkin’ Mamas sent a package in the meantime. I received a thermometer (to check my freezer’s temperature). I also received a cheek swab to check DNA and 3 tubes for a blood draw. A phlebotomist will be coming to my house to draw it and will then send it off. And I also got an awesome marker to label milk storage bags. It’s the only one I’ve found that doesn’t smudge or disappear.

After that, Milkin’ Mamas pays to send a cooler to my house when it’s donation time. They also pay the return shipping for the milk. It’s cost-free for the donor. The other thing I like…they actually send milk storage bags when you run out.

Not all people are able to breastfeed. Not all are able to produce enough milk to feed their babies, let alone to help out other babies. I’m really glad that all of that pumping will pay off.

– Jenny