Writing with a New Baby

Babies sleep a lot. Except, it seems, when you want them to. My daughter will sleep in the car on the way to the grocery store, in the stroller the whole time we’re at the grocery store, and then for about two minutes after we get home. Which is just enough time to put away half of the groceries—the perishables, basically. Does she sleep at night? Sometimes. Does she sleep for long stretches of time? Sometimes.

The problem I didn’t think about before she was born is that whenever she’s asleep when we’re at home, I want to be sleeping, too. Or cooking, so that I can sate the ravenous hunger of a nursing mother. Or cleaning, so that all the burp cloths around the house get into the hamper before we do laundry again. Add in a full-time work schedule (which also adds: time spent cleaning breast pump parts + commute + putting on non-pajama clothes and brushing my hair + cooking/packing a lunch to bring + frustrating blocks of time where I have to beg her to wake up to feed before I leave in the morning…)—basically my time for writing has disappeared. Does this mean I can’t ever have a stolen minute or two to write? No. She’s on my lap right now squirming and I’m typing away. We just won’t mention that time she spit up onto my laptop keyboard, or how uncomfortable it is to lean at this awkward angle so that I can reach the keys with both hands and still keep her from falling off.

It’s frustrating, actually, how many minutes you recognize as “Oh, I could have been writing” minutes just as your little one begins to wake up and need you again. Supposedly breastfeeding even gets easier eventually, but at three months old it’s still pretty necessary for me to hold my boob in place for her, so she isn’t slipping off or smooshing her nose into it until she can’t breathe. Ever try to type with just one hand? I could probably get good at it eventually, but by the time I did she’ll have outgrown this phase and it won’t be necessary.

The point, really, is that even with the eight weeks of maternity leave, even with the naps she takes, even though she can’t talk yet and is only starting to be vaguely interested in toys—something always comes up. Writing always gets bumped down the list. It’s easy enough to do the dishes when you’re out of forks and the breast pump parts need to be clean again by tomorrow. Not so easy to put off those dishes and just write.

(Also, Netflix is evil. You sit down to nurse and you think, “I don’t want to type away super slowly with only one hand while I do this…” and so you turn on Netflix. Except an episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Is 45 minutes long, and you aren’t going to stop it halfway through just because baby girl is done eating. Even worse? Finding out you have HBO Go access through your in-laws cable subscription and finding 20 movies you’d love to watch…)

I thought, before I had her, that I would find plenty of time to write. It seemed inevitable. I would be healthy and whole again, after a very ill, soul-wrecking pregnancy. I failed to calculate all the extra minutes spent folding and unfolding that stroller, taking her for walks so she can see the world, staring at her cute face and talking to her to make her smile. They’re essential, all these extra moments. Even the hour you have to spend walking her up and down the hallway, bouncing her a little in your arms, while she fights off sleep because she just doesn’t wanna. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Truly. It’s just a sad consequence that I can’t write as much as I’d like to. I miss it, and sometimes that makes me really sad. She’s worth the trade-off, for sure. And yet…


Baby Stuff

The website that was completely instrumental to every decision I made regarding our baby registry was Lucie’s List. All the research and honest opinions on baby products helped me sift through the millions of options to find what we wanted/could afford. There’s just too much stuff out there for babies. It’s as bad as the wedding industry.

Items we couldn’t live without:

-Pack N Play: Ours is the Graco Snuggle Suite LX, but really any model with the raised bassinet insert and the changing table would work. She hardly ever sleeps in it because she sleeps in bed with me while her daddy’s in LA for the week, but that changing table is amazing. You want her up closer to your level post c-section, since bending over to clean and change her was pretty much out of the question for the first few weeks. (She doesn’t like the vibrating bouncer that came with this one, but the cat adores it, so it was nice for him to get a new toy to sleep in when he was feeling insecure about the shift in our attention.)

UPDATE: Apparently Graco now has a Pack N Play (called the Everest) whose changing table FOLDS DOWN when not in use. I’m super sad we didn’t know about it when we bought ours, as the changing table always being up is getting in the way as she gets bigger. Also, baby now enjoys the bouncer with vibration setting a LOT. She hangs out in it all the time, and the cat has had to make do with his cat tower again.Gabe in Bouncer

-Car Seat/Stroller: Because obviously. We got the Graco Click Connect type because my work had already given me a Graco Click Connect stroller. They’re pretty and functional and on the more affordable end. I don’t anticipate needing a jogging stroller because I don’t like running anyway, and I’d really rather go lift weights if I’m going to be working out.

-Breast Pump: We haven’t used it much because she’s still young and we want to exclusively breastfeed for the first four weeks, but I really do love my Spectra S2 pump. The two different modes really accurately imitate the way she nurses, and the pump can be super gentle, which was absolutely necessary during my tough engorgement period when my milk first came in.Milk and Pump

Kiinde Breast Milk Storage System + Bottles + Milk Warmer: Even though we haven’t used them much yet, we love this. Forget having to wash/sanitize bottles! The nipples are easy to wash and the starter gift pack came with adapters that let me attach the milk storage bags right to my pump. So efficient.

Little Giraffe Chenille Blanket: Great quality, super soft (even after repeated washings!), and so warm. Now that it is getting hotter we don’t swaddle her in it as much as the Aden + Anais blankets (which are also fabulous and everyone should get at least four of them), but this Little Giraffe blanket lives in the Rock N’ Play and keeps her cushioned and warm when she’s in there. She’s actually asleep in there right now as I write this.

-Diaper Bag: We got a nice $40 Eddie Bauer diaper bag from Target. Plenty of pockets, neutral enough design that Daddy doesn’t mind carrying it around. Forget spending over $100 on a designer purse-imitation diaper bag. We just need functional (and none of those fancy ones have all the pockets I wanted, plus insulated pockets for milk!).

Things we bought (+more of) after she was born:

-Hands-Free Nursing Bra: Oh gods, why would any woman want to sit around for twenty minutes holding the suction on one of those breast funnels? I had to do it in the hospital and once at home, and it hurt my back enough (and was frustrating to not have free hands) that we immediately got on Amazon and ordered one of these wonderful hands-free nursing bras. I was even able to lend it to my sister when she was here helping us the second week, because she’d forgotten to pack hers and was still pumping for our one year-old nephew.

-Backseat Car Mirror: I didn’t think I would need one of these because I’m a pretty zen mom. I don’t freak out about stuff, I don’t really get anxious. I’ll worry when the doctors tell me to worry, you know? But then I did a four-hour car ride down to LA with the little one in the back, rear-facing, and I didn’t like not being able to see that she was okay and hadn’t spit up all over herself. So hubby went to Target and got us one, and the drive back was so much better because I could see her.

-Breast Pads: We’ve ordered a THIRD pack of these Q T Bamboo ones, and I think that might be enough, but we might even buy another one with the next round of Amazon purchases. They are so much softer/more comfortable than the disposable ones we got at Target. They wash *great* in the washer and dryer, coming out soft and new (a big difference from the crusty, dried milk that’s on them after I’ve been wearing them). I’m pretty sure I’ve got overactive letdown AND oversupply, so I don’t know if other women would need as many of these as I do, but I go through them very quickly. It’s also nice to not have to put a wet one back on a nipple after a feeding—I can soak through them pretty quick depending on how full my breasts are. I’ve only soaked entirely through and onto my shirt once, though, wearing these.

-Burp Cloths: Even if you don’t have a super reflux-y baby, they will spit up. They’ll drink too much, not have enough room, have trapped air bubbles that agitate their system, whatever. We’re lucky that our little one doesn’t spit up all the time—usually burpings are mess-free. But every couple days she’ll basically projectile-vomit a little fountain stream of half-curdled milk, and then we have to change everyone’s outfits, wipe down all the furniture, and do a big load of laundry because she’s soaked through multiple burp cloths and towels. My favorite burp cloths are actually ones that my mother-in-law made for us by sewing squares of towel to some colorful fabrics (Adventure Time, Pokemon, and Star Wars themes). The towel is super absorbent and soft on baby’s face as she rests on a shoulder. I also use them under her head when she sleeps in bed with me, so that I don’t have to change my sheets all the time when she spits a little.

UPDATE: We also absolutely love the Aden + Anais Burpy Bibs. Pricey, but so absorbent! The shape is perfect for shoulder burping, and they’ll be great as bibs when she starts eating food. They’re the most absorbent of all the burp cloths we’ve tried (even the cloth diapers that we use for burp cloths!), and come in lots of cool styles.

-Bulb Syringes: We’re probably using the NoseFrida wrong, but it just doesn’t work well for us. The bulb syringe we got at the hospital, however, has already saved my little one from some serious oxygen deprivation. She threw up and it came out her nose, and she was having trouble clearing it herself. The syringe was powerful enough to actually clear her nostrils in record time, so that she could breathe again. It was scary enough for me to watch her go purple in the face in those few seconds that we keep the bulb syringe in the car seat at all times, and have ordered more to place around the house in easy reach (plus one for her diaper bag).

UPDATE: The NoseFrida works okay now that her nostrils are bigger, but mostly needs to be used in conjunction with saline spray to loosen up the dried boogers before they can be sucked out. I think the combo NoseFrida/bulb syringe is the best for any snot-sucking situation you might find yourself in.

-Nursing Sleep Bras/Maternity Tanks: When we’re better at nursing, I’m sure I’ll be happy enough with those nursing bras that unhook and sort of fold down off your boob. Right now, though, especially when she’s going through a growth spurt and nursing every hour or less, I love wearing a stretchy bra that I can just pull down off a breast. Likewise, the maternity tank tops I got from Target are indispensable. I wish I’d gotten more than just two (and I did send hubby back to Target for two more of these sleep bras, and two more loose-fit, non-maternity tanks). There’s just too much bulky stuff hanging out under your boob if you have a normal nursing bra and a normal nursing tank, both of which fold down and bunch up in weird ways, potentially cutting off your milk supply. The whole point of not wearing underwire to avoid mastitis is to keep pressure off of that area.

-Nursing Pillow: In the hospital it was clear pretty quickly how many pillows and re-adjustments and such were needed to find a good position to nurse in. I’m dealing with muscle pain right now on one side that’s probably related to my nursing position—some sort of overcompensation on my left side because the muscles are weaker or something. It could also be due to the fact that I pretty much always hold her on my right side, because it feels way more natural. Regardless, I know I would be way worse off without this nursing pillow that my mother-in-law got for me. It has a handy extra attachment that props her up closer to the boob on whatever side she’s feeding on, and allows her to feed in a semi-reclined position, which is better for us when she’s choking on my overactive letdown. She’s already pretty much too big for the football hold to be at all comfortable. (As a side note to this, a comfortable nursing chair/seat/whatever is a must. I can’t make recommendations because we’ve had this big cushiony armchair for a very long time, and got it secondhand from a friend in college anyway. But I’ve set it up with the right pillow support for my back, with a hanging organizer on the arm to hold a kleenex box, burp cloths, a book, etc. The ottoman is great, too, because when she’s done nursing I can put my feet up and she dozes on the nursing pillow on my lap while I watch Netflix or whatever.)

Baby K’tan Carrier: I’m only just starting to use mine, since I was worried about her feet being right at the level of my c-section incision, but I already really like it. We had to order one in a larger size for my husband, because he also enjoys wearing her. It’s a great way to bond, but it’s also just more calming for her, I think. She still isn’t super happy about being out in the world, so she likes to be close to people whenever possible.

Other things we’ve learned in the first few weeks:

-Periodic Breathing in Newborns. Look it up. Trust me, you will want to know about this before you notice it in your own baby.

-The Gerber clothes run slightly smaller than the Carter ones, so she outgrew the Gerber newborns first, and now has outgrown the Carter ones. Hand-me-downs are fantastic, as we haven’t had to buy a single article of clothing for her ourselves just yet. And people just keep buying her clothes, so I’m assuming we won’t have to buy her any clothes ourselves until after the first year or so.

-Huggies wipes tear pretty easily when pulling them out. The Costco Kirkland brand wipes are great, though. The Pampers ones work well, too. Amazon Elements wipes tear like the Huggies ones.

-Huggies diapers have elastic in the back, which helps protect against blowouts from that direction (but you still get some, because, babies). Pampers doesn’t have the elastic in the back, and we got way more blowouts when we were using those.

-The Amazon registry was a good idea, especially because old coworkers and family members sometimes got us Amazon gift cards instead of items from the registry. We ended up with a sizable gift balance, and have been using it to cover diapers and wipes, which with our Prime subscription are cheaper and get delivered straight to the door in two days.

-Colic is a ridiculous term that basically means “you have a fussy baby and we don’t know why.” We’ve found that she generally makes sense—when she cries or fusses it’s because she’s hungry, has a dirty diaper, is gassy, needs to poop and is having trouble doing so, or is too cold or too hot. You run through the list of possibilities, and after addressing all of them she usually calms down. That will get more complicated as she gets older and starts hitting overstimulation while her brain is developing in leaps and bounds, but for right now it’s a comfort to know that caring for my baby can be a pretty logical process.

-If you have to live apart, as parents, due to jobs, invest in some IP video cameras. We got a couple from Amazon, and I think it’s really nice for my husband to be able to check up on us when he is down in LA for the week. We also like to talk to him on the phone in the evenings (I put him on speaker so that she can hear his voice), and he gets to see us while we do this, and it makes us feel the distance a little less.

-I really love my sister’s approach to “advice.” She told us as soon as we announced the pregnancy that she would try not to offer advice, but that she’d be available if we ever had questions. That’s been great. She hasn’t stepped on my toes once, and I’ve got this willing and knowledgeable source of information who just had a baby a year ago. It’s been 26 years since any of our parents had a baby, so their information can be a little bit outdated. And they won’t know everything, since not everyone breastfed, or used disposable diapers, or had a c-section, etc.

Life really does change a lot when you have a baby, but so far we’ve been in love, even on the rough days. I completely understand and respect anyone who chooses not to have children—that probably would have been my path as well, if my husband hadn’t always wanted a kid so badly. But we’re happy with our decision, and now that she’s here I’m very much in love, and excited for all the new adventures life will throw at us. Mostly I’m excited to get to know her, and see who she is. Her growing awareness and expressiveness every day is amazing to witness.

The End of HG: Our Birth Story

I suppose the beginning of our birth story starts with an OB appointment. I had my week 37 growth scan with the perinatologist, and the results weren’t heartening. An abdominal circumference higher than the 99th percentile, and a head size in the 97th percentile. My OB drew me a bell curve and charted out our chances of getting the baby out of me naturally—he said we were probably running a 40% chance of either oxygen deprivation during labor and/or broken baby bones while trying to get baby out of my pelvis. And, a slight chance that baby’s head would fit but shoulders wouldn’t, in which case you’re looking at a 1% survival rate if they try to push baby’s head back through my pelvis to do an emergency c-section.

Looking at those odds, it’s vastly preferable to just do a scheduled c-section. It took a few days of calling my OB office to remind them, but then the labor and delivery nurses at the hospital finally stepped in and bugged my OB until we had a date and time nailed down. Then it was just six more days of waiting, and a 7:30 AM c-section (arriving at the hospital at 5:30 AM that morning).

I’ve got some control issues, a holdover from my childhood/relationship with my parents. They manifest most often in other family relationships, in people who have certain expectations and are vastly disappointed in me if those expectations aren’t met. So, I can get a little controlling when I feel like people are expecting something of me that I don’t necessarily want to grant. In this case, it was extremely important to me to preserve my dignity during the invasive procedure of cutting a baby out of me. I told all the (grand)parents that they should just hang back until we let them know that the surgery was over and we were settled. My mom ended up going in for a semi-emergency surgery of her own that morning, so it was just the in-laws who came into town. Respectful of my wishes but also trying to fulfill expectations of her own, my mother-in-law was waiting in the hospital lobby at 5:30 that morning to wish us well. She did go back to their hotel after that, for which I’m grateful. The last thing I want while I’m on the operating table is to worry about all the people who are impatiently waiting for me to make an appearance afterward. Having no idea how I would feel, or whether there would be any complications with me or the baby…it just made sense to tell people to chill out, relax, and not expect anything from us until it was all well and truly done.

My husband did an excellent job of being my sole support person (being the only person I felt comfortable having around while I was naked under hospital gowns, organs exposed during surgery, etc.). He described his feeling that morning as a “first day of school” sort of anxiety. We made sure he ate something (I had to fast for eight hours prior to the surgery), and made jokes and took pictures of him in his surgical scrubs. I got an IV and some instructions and a really fabulous Labor & Delivery nurse who walked me through everything with clear explanations, eye contact, and reassuring touches. The operating room was very bright, and slightly warm (to accommodate for baby). The table was much more narrow than I was expecting, but there was no risk of me falling off with that epidural.

The fabulous nurse held my shoulders while the anesthesiologist administered a numbing shot and then the epidural. I think that was the scariest part, just because you’re conceptualizing a shot going into your spine, and if things go wrong with your spine they’re not little things. I was just able to swing my legs up onto the table and lay down, and then they set up the curtain and surgical area while the tingling spread and my anesthesiologist tested my sensation with a pin. At one point, before my husband was even seen into the room, my OB asked, “Did you feel that?” My response was, “Feel what? Cause I didn’t feel anything, if you did something.” “I made an incision. I already started cutting.”

With hubby there with me, holding my hand, the rest went pretty quickly. There were a lot of tugging, pulling, pushing sensations that I could feel somewhere around my rib/breast area, but it was more the suggestion of things being done than actual feelings of touch or anything like that. And at one miraculous point, with a lot of tugging and moving of my numbed body, I was all of a sudden able to expand my lungs to their full size for the first time in months. It was—well. People talk about childbirth like it’s a miracle because they think children are blessings and reproducing a sentient individual is so damn cool and all. I think childbirth is like a miracle because of how in one split second it can restore you completely to yourself. Just you. No longer two cramped people sharing the same space. You get to live alone in your own body again. And if that isn’t the coolest feeling in the world, I don’t know what is.

The OB held the baby above the curtain for us to see the sex (though we were so shell-shocked we had to double-check with the nurse in charge of her!). They weighed her (7 lbs 15 oz), clamped her cord, wiped her down, all within sight of us. They brought her over to my shoulder so we could get some skin-to-skin right away, though pretty soon after her arrival there I had to turn away to be sick with a slight bit of projectile vomit that came on rather suddenly. I really only had time to say to the anesthesiologist “I’m feeling nauseous” before it was coming out. I’ve heard it’s pretty common for HG moms to vomit one last time during labor, and I’m not sure about c-section moms but it makes sense to me that my body would be freaking out a bit with all the cutting and such going on.

The rest of it was just a matter of cutting my tubes (thank the gods!) and sewing me up. Dissolvable sutures and dermabond. Super easy. The incision itself is about ten inches long, but then, she was still a pretty big baby for my 5’3” frame (and short torso).

Afterward was when I was so grateful for asking everyone to just hang out elsewhere instead of waiting impatiently at the hospital for us to finish. It isn’t like the movies, where dad comes running out yelling “It’s a girl!” and the baby is wheeled to some room full of baby bins and you coo at the one with the right name tag. Since she wasn’t exhibiting any ill health indicators, and her sugar checks were coming back in a good range, she never left our side. They wheeled us to a recovery room where my L&D nurse and the baby’s nurse stayed with us for two hours, taking vital signs and checking the things they check every 15 minutes without fail. It wasn’t an appropriate time for visitors—not with my bleeding constantly being checked, with her heel being pricked, with Matt being so steamrolled with the enormity of a baby AND a wife who had just been through major surgery. He was fantastic. Our phones had to be on airplane mode in the operating room, and we just left them like that, much too busy and preoccupied with “Is everything okay, is everyone healthy” to worry about the outside world just yet.

Eventually they transferred us to a room on the mother-baby floor, and we finally started calling and texting and sending pictures, trying to get the order in which we told people right (all the (grand)parents deserved to know first, then the siblings, then the extended family and friends, and on down the list all the way to our old therapist and the nurse practitioner who helped with my gestational diabetes…). My in-laws came to visit once I was decently gowned (still stuck in bed with no feeling in my legs and catheter inserted…but at least draped enough for slight modesty’s sake).

For a while the epidural and the morphine they’d given me during surgery kept the pain completely under wraps, and I was just feeling over the moon. Better than I’d felt in months. Physically, I’d say every ill effect of the pregnancy and its complications went away almost instantly. Slight heartburn stuck around for a few days, but considering all the hormones still circulating through my system, that just made sense. The headache, nausea, general malaise and lack of energy, muscle fatigue, food aversions, bad taste in the back of my mouth…it all disappeared faster than a bad dream. It was a friggin lightswitch, and all of a sudden the HG beast faded like it had never existed.

Emotionally, I think I can easily say that the day I gave birth was the best day of my life. It tops the wedding, it tops the day we found out we were pregnant, it tops graduations and friendships and just…all of it. Because in just one surgery, in just one moment of that sweet full expansion of lungs, I got myself back.

As far as the kid goes, Senga is fabulous. I’m very much in love with her. I don’t feel super different now that I’m a “mom.” Nor did I really expect to. I’m still me. And she’s her own person, and I have no idea who that is yet. I expect we’ll love each other, and we’ll fight, and we’ll have an interesting adventure getting to know each other and navigating some of the messier parent/child battles. All of that comes later, though. Mostly, I’m just so in love with every bit of her. I described it to a friend like this: “I’m super grateful to her for giving me the chance to house her body and soul for a little while, and I’m in awe of her existence because it’s so freakishly weird and cool that I helped make her.” Our pregnancy journey was not easy. If we’d known what to expect, we would have chosen a different path, and found a fulfilling life in other ways. We chose to have her, though, and we chose to survive the nine month battle to buy her the time she needed to come into this world. And now that she’s here, I feel like every smidge of discomfort, every experience that could now be an emotional trigger, every bit of physical deterioration, was ultimately worth it. It was a high price to pay, but I’m glad I did. And now I get to go along for the ride of watching her grow up and become who she’s going to be. How cool is that?

Restless Legs and Alien Parasites

Arguably, the chances that I’m carrying an alien parasite a la face-eater are pretty slim. We’ve had two ultrasounds, and it looked pretty human at the second one (this doesn’t, however, rule out werewolf, because it wasn’t a full moon on the date of that ultrasound…). Still, when something at the crown of your enlarged belly seizes up and feels like you think it would feel if someone were to punch you and then just hold that force in place… Followed a few seconds later with a swift jab to the inside of your ribs that reminds you to start breathing again… It’s a little unsettling.

We already know that I’m not one of those women espousing the “joy” and “wonder” of pregnancy. Sure, I think it’s cool in a sort of weird way, that we can create life and all that. And since I believe in souls, I spend some of my time wondering how the hell the soul gets in there, and at what point in the procedure it enters, and whether I would be able to feel another soul inside my soul, or if they could even occupy the same space at the same time, though they probably wouldn’t have anything to do with the physical plane as I understand it… So yeah, mystical process of creation and all that. Women’s bodies are miraculous and whatever.

But dark humor is really how we’ve survived this pregnancy. You kind of have to, when your body is basically allergic to being pregnant, and you and your poor parasitic fetus almost die a couple times. If you’re not laughing about it you’re neck-deep in despair, and that’s not very productive or helpful. Heap on top of that the scorn from the rest of the world who sees you “making light” of this whole miracle of creation, because they’ve never gone through HG and probably never will, and therefore don’t understand an iota of your emotions or experience at this point…

The truth is, I’m probably going to be a great mom. I don’t say this out of arrogance (well okay, I can be pretty self-assured, but still). Being so sick, and so close to death, it gives you an interesting perspective. You realize what matters and what doesn’t. All the WEIGHT of society’s expectations, imaginary concepts like “career success,” it just starts to slough away. I don’t shower much when I’m this ill, but every time it feels like more and more layers are being scraped away. The surface stuff that doesn’t matter. The walls we’ve built up or had placed on us that are supposed to help us fit in with everyone else, protect ourselves and make “progress” in this strange world.

The fact is, everyone is always telling us what to think, how to behave, what to feel. Very rarely are we left to our own devices to discover what is unique and intrinsic to our own cores. I realized today that the first time I told the world I wanted to be a writer, the message I immediately got back was, “You’ll never be able to support yourself with that.” There are two implications there. 1) I’ll never be a good enough writer to make a living at it, like some writers are able to do. That’s an interesting one, and probably due more to the psychological baggage of the person saying the comment than an actual reflection of my talent (it was seventh grade, no one expected me to be a Hemingway or King or Rowling yet). And, 2) The way to measure “success” as a writer was connected to monetary reward.

Have you caught on yet? How silly that second implication is? It took me a while to see it. How much money we make tends to be all wrapped up in our feelings of self-worth, because, hey, America. Couple that with a generation like mine who’s fighting tooth and nail with the baby boomers for their jobs, and more often than not failing due to lack of experience because hey, we’re still young, and you’ve got a dangerous cocktail that plunges you into mad despair. Except, look at the writers I most admire. No, I take that back. Look at the people I most admire. They tend to also be writers. But they are people first. I think of my middle school English teacher. She saw the passion in our fumbling attempts at poetry and prose. She encouraged us, praised us, pushed us to open up that well of creativity and let it pour out through the pen. My 11th grade English teacher, who had us write essays on what we thought was important to the human experience. Who let us pick feminist books to read, and told us that our opinions mattered and that we were people, valid and important, regardless of the teenage hormones raging inside. My undergraduate creative writing professor, who realized how fragile a college student’s ego could be, who would couch criticism in encouragement just to see a student keep writing, because as soon as we stop, there’s where despair lies. My graduate professors, who realized how necessary and timely it was to deliver swift kicks to the ass when your dialogue was boring or nothing was working dammit.

What’s interesting about all of these people? They have day jobs. Teacher salaries, sure, which are woefully inadequate in America. But a lot of them are writers. Published writers. Hell, my graduate thesis professor has written so many books and short stories that his Wikipedia page lists only “Selected Works.” I’d say he’s pretty impossible to keep up with, the pace he writes at. So why teach? Along with a healthy appreciation for the profession, I imagine there’s some desire in there for many of these people to have a slightly more stable, reliable income. Maybe health insurance, if we even offer that to teachers (we do, right? Please tell me they get health insurance…).

So, is it true that the measure of a writer’s success is in how much money they make? I’d say no.

Is it true that the measure of a writer’s success is in whether or not they’re published? Again, I’d say no. There’s a part of us that wants to be heard, to connect with someone out there in the faceless multitude. It’s why we write. But does it have to be through traditional publishing, or does it have to happen within a certain time frame? No, and no.

I’m 25. I’ve got a graduate degree, but no completed manuscripts I’d be ready to send to agents. I’m about to have a baby, which people tell me will take up a lot of my time and energy for the next 18+ years. Should I be down on myself for not being published yet? Or should I use this time to reclaim my natural love of writing, the mysticism and passion that I felt back in the seventh grade?

Because, to me, that’s so much more important than money. Writing used to be so much fun. It had a sense of wonder, of discovery and adventure and exploration. I want to feel that again. And that means, for right now, separating “being published” from my definition of success as a writer.

So on these long nights, when the infuriating, mysterious cases of Restless Leg Syndrome descend and keep me from sleep (not for any proven reason, but just because I’m PREGNANT, like that’s a specific medical, chemical, hormonal, genetic reason for something…), maybe I’ll be here, trying to reclaim that sense of wonder.

You can find the other posts in my series on hyperemesis gravidarum here.

Pride and Presumption

Instant Netflix just added the Keira Knightley Pride & Prejudice, which I love. It has a fantastic soundtrack, beautiful shots, and a stubborn and willful leading couple. I love it when main characters share my faults, and stubbornness is certainly one of them.

With such a simple title, you’re really encouraged to think about what pride and prejudice are as concepts, and how they contribute to the roadblocks that keep the main players apart until the end. I had an interesting realization doing some creativity exercises. I was reminded of times when I’ve said to a friend, “I’m proud of you.”

When I was younger I think I could say that without any pangs of discomfort. As I grew up, though, I realized the presumption that’s inherent in telling someone you are proud of them. To say you’re proud implies not only that you are at a higher proficiency level than them, and therefore able to appreciate the progress they’ve made, but also that you had some hand in guiding them to their success.

I think parents fall prey to this fairly often. I don’t know if they mean to appropriate the accomplishments of their children, but there’s always a shade of that, when they say they are proud of their kids. Like it was thanks to their genetics, their upbringing, their influence, that led their child to success. Perhaps I’m too touchy, but I never like to hear it. And times when I’ve said it to peers, I’ve realized that I’m actually looking down on them as I say it.

We’ll be careful to try not to do this with our little one, I think. There’s not much worse than someone stealing a piece of your success from you. It hardly encourages people to keep accomplishing things, if they don’t get to hold on to 100% of the pride in that accomplishment. I think the only people I wouldn’t mind hearing “I’m proud of you” from are my former teachers. I acknowledge them as mentors, though, as possessing more skill and experience than I in certain areas. They have guided me and therefore deserve some of the credit.

I feel like good parenting happens on its own, when the parents aren’t actually trying to guide and influence their kid. If your parents are good people, that will rub off on you. So often “trying” means “trying too hard,” and then turns into overcompensating and all that extra effort just spills over and puts pressure on the kid. I don’t pretend to know the secrets to motivating good behavior and good choices without placing some kind of pressure on a child, but there has to be a way. We’ll try to find it, whatever it is.