I’m currently sitting in my rocking chair, watching my children watch Ninjago while supper cooks.
I must admit, becoming a SAHM has been tough. I’m not a big fan of the drudgery, and I always feel like I’m not doing enough. If I’m not contributing financially, I should be super-Mom at home – the house should be spotless, dishes always clean, laundry always done.
But it’s not. I’m always behind; the house is usually a cluttered explosion of toys and clothes and books; my husband makes supper more often than not; I’m still grossed out by raw chicken; I haven’t magically become a master chef. I struggle.
Despite the struggle, I think I’m glad to be where I am. More specifically, I’m glad to not be where I was. I was afraid I’d miss the academic life, but so far? I don’t. While I wish I could magically fast forward to knowing what I’m going to do professionally, I am at least confident that I made the right choice. I think this is where my family is supposed to be.
P.S.: This is what I’m making for supper, kind of. I sautéed garlic, onions, and an organic mushrooms medley in olive oil and threw that into the mix. And I may have mismeasured the cheese. We’ll see how it turns out.
After my mom died, my sons struggled to comprehend the finality of death. They were not quite 4 when she passed. Because my husband and I have rather complicated relationships with theology and religion – he veers toward atheism, while I’m the “I believe there’s something bigger than us but don’t know what” brand of agnostic – we didn’t have the comfort of “She’s in heaven with God” answer. I desperately wished that I could spoonfeed them that deliciously easy answer. It would’ve been a comfort to me to believe it in the face of such a gaping void left by her absence.
My husband and I struggled to explain death and what happens after it. My husband’s atheism hit hard in an early attempt – he told them after death is nothing. She’s just gone. Sponge children that they are, they parroted this repeatedly in those first weeks. And each time I heard those tiny voices proclaim “She’s dead. She’s nothing now,” I was gutted fresh. He back-pedaled. He tried to soften with the comforting truth of uncertainty. I did too: She’s with us always in our memories, forever in our hearts.
As they – indeed, we all – continued to process our feelings about her death, we would have conversations and questions. I’d cry. My husband would tell the boys not to talk about grandma because it made mommy sad. I confused them all with contradictions. Don’t stop talking. Yes it makes me sad. But I need her to stay a presence in my life, sadness and all. I still do now, as I wipe away snot and tears even this moment.
Weeks or months into the new normal of my mom being gone, my older twin again asked where she was, what happened to her after death. And I turned the question back to him: I don’t know for sure. Where do you think she is?
“I think that grandma is a cloud.”
And I’m comforted by that thought. That she’s light and ethereal and yet still a significant presence for us; even if we can’t touch her. She’s a cloud now.
Yesterday, the world gained another cloud, removed from the tangible reality of her family’s life much too soon. But she will remain ever present in her legacy of compassion, activism, and love. The world will not forget you, Laura. We will always know you’re here.
Six years ago today – my first time holding Baby B, celebrating his first full week in the world. This visit, especially compared to the tumult of the one less than twenty-hours before it, was serene. It marked the start of a new normal for me in those early weeks. More frequent visits, once I was cleared to drive and could make the trip on my own. Still tentative and hesitant in how I related to my own children….asking the nurses’ permission to touch, to change diapers; waiting for James’ evening visit to hold one – in those early days, we were limited to one twenty minute kangaroo session a day, so we alternated. I was grateful for twins so that I didn’t have to wait forty-eight hours to hold my child.
But even amid the stress and fear and uncertainty of those 62 days in 2011, there were these moments of peace. Contentment. Joy. Getting to change my first diaper – and watching James tackle that challenge for the first time ever through the small holes of the isolette (added +32 difficulty points, at least). Seeing the signs on the boys’ stations each time they joined a new weight class.
Discovering that these tiny little people had their favorites on the staff – Robert’s first love was nurse Dara….Watching them start to watch me through the acrylic of the isolette, becoming more aware of their environment.
There are so many things I wish I had known when I was in the thick of it. But at the same time, the NICU experience is so completely individual. I read the thinkpieces when they come across my feed from other NICU vets, and often I have to stop because they don’t resonate. Those experiences weren’t mine, and their advice to others rings hollow. I don’t think it’s possible to universalize the trauma of NICU, and those attempts to do so would’ve made 2011 me feel all the more isolated.
And yet here I am, still trying to put my experience into words and share it. Maybe there is a book in this. But I think maybe it needs to be polyvocal. To show that there isn’t a single experience of this kind of trauma.
This photo is from the night I first held my one minute older son, six years ago today. He was six days old.
My face is red and tear-stained because this moment almost didn’t happen that night. For those first few days – which, at that time felt like six eternities strung together – we kept asking when we could hold our babies. “After they get X test done.” I don’t remember the name, but the test was a scan to check for brain bleeds…it sounded important, and I was so frustrated when, every time I showed up at the NICU, I learned that the test had been pushed back yet again.
On October 10, 2011, though, something happened. “They haven’t gotten to hold them yet? Why haven’t you let them hold their kids? Let them hold their babies,” I overheard the attending neonatalogist tell the charge nurse. There had been a miscommunication. We didn’t need to wait for that scan to hold them. We should’ve been able to hold them October 5th. October. Fucking. 5th. 5 eternities earlier than that day.
I knew this now. I could finally hold my babies. Cradle their whole bodies in my arms, feel them against me, rather than reaching awkwardly through a hole in a plastic box, feeling them through a tangle of wires and tubes, trying to will my hand to be encompass the entirety of their small bodies so that they felt secure and loved and not alone. I knew that there had been a mistake. I knew I was authorized to hold my own children, and by god, I WAS going to hold them.
Only this happened right around shift change…”You’ll have to leave the ward for an hour and come back once we’ve changed over.”
And I lost control. The tears weren’t new, but the anger was…well, the anger directed outwards. For the first time since my preeclampsia diagnosis in September, I was angry at someone else. Them. Those nurses. The doctors who hadn’t been clear in their instructions. The hospital. The world. Everyone who, in that moment, was conspiring against me to keep me from holding my babies. I don’t remember what I said, or how loudly I said it, but I let loose.
Finally, after yet another set of eternities, someone relented. A goddess in pink and teal scrubs would stay late so that we could hold our babies. I scrubbed up again and changed into a gown. I sat in the vinyl recliner. And for twenty glorious minutes, I got to hold one of my children for the first time since they had left my body.
And I sobbed. For the first time, I had a glimpse of what it might mean to feel like his mother
Yesterday we celebrated the boys’ 6th birthday. Today, Facebook has bombarded me with pictures that James and my mom took during their first day in the world. And today, six years later, I’ve started trying to put some of my memories into words.
This time 6 years ago, I was still in my room in Labor and Delivery, still in bed, hooked up to monitors and IVs and drifting in and out of consciousness. I remember I was wide awake and feeling no pain around 3 in the morning – the spinal block hadn’t worn off yet, and I was on a dilaudid drip, too. The convulsions, headache, nausea and hot flashes from the magnesium sulfate had, at least for the time, subsided, but I still wasn’t quite “with it”… I couldn’t see a remote control (and didn’t remember the way hospital TV remotes worked), so I couldn’t turn on the TV. I had my phone. So, quite logically (for my HELLP/trauma/drug-addled mind), I figured I would try to work on my dissertation…Needless to say, that wasn’t exactly productive. Later in the night, I sent an email to my committee apologizing for not having a chapter for them to read because I’d just had the babies 2 months early.
I hadn’t seen the boys since they were whisked away from the operating room. I hoped they were alive. I hadn’t seen James or Mom in what seemed like a hundred hours, as they were both with the boys. I was afraid to ask the nurses how the boys were doing, because I feared the answer being bad. I couldn’t remember hearing them cry when they were taken from me. Did they cry? Were they breathing when they took them? I drifted back into oblivion for a few minutes. Maybe it was hours. It felt like days.
Some time during their first 24 hours in the world, James Facetimed me from the NICU. I saw my sons, hooked up to machines monitoring their heart rates and breathing, strapped into little padded cuddlers and lying on heated pads. Tubes went into their mouths and noses. They were so tiny and red. The preemie diapers dwarfed them. James’ hand was bigger than they were. They weren’t supposed to be here yet. My body failed them. I failed them. What if they didn’t make it?
They say that it’s important to walk as soon as possible after your c-section in order to start the recovery process. I couldn’t try to stand or walk until they removed the catheter. They hadn’t done that. Apparently October 5th 2011 was a busy day for Buffalo babies, as the L&D staff was busy; I felt forgotten. As I lay in the uncomfortable bed — the one with the removable bottom bit designed for deliveries — I heard the sounds of other mothers coming into L&D, leaving L&D. The sounds of babies crying as they entered the world, at the right time, staying with their mothers and going to the maternity floor upstairs. They had babies to take care of; they were the mothers who needed to start their recoveries. My babies were three floors above me, hooked to all those machines; there was nothing I could do for them; my recovery could wait. Someone from lactation brought an industrial-strength pump. I tried to hook myself up to it, and nothing came out.
The anesthesia wore off; I felt more pain. My blood pressure spiked again; the seizures came back; another round of magnesium and my skin was on fire. My entire body felt irreparably broken.
It was after midnight, officially October 6th, before one sympathetic L&D nurse finally got tired of waiting and wheeled me to an elevator to go to the NICU. 26 hours after their birth, I finally got to touch them through their isolettes. I spent mere minutes with them before I was wheeled away. Back to the L&D floor, past mothers laboring, resting, soon to be holding their babies…
It was October 6th before I tried to stand; my legs buckled under the weight of my body. It was late that night before I was transferred to the maternity floor. James sprung for the fancy private suite…it seemed a foolish luxury, but that foolish luxury was the only comfort I had with my babies still two floors away from me. I would spend much of my time in that fancy room attached to the breast pump, desperately hoping for my milk to come in, for that part of my body not to let my babies down like everything else.
Much of the following two months remains a blur. We left the hospital without our babies, and would do so for the first 62 days of their lives. I spent those 62 days in haze…hooked up to a pump up to twelve times a day, doing everything possible to boost my production but still unable to meet their needs. I had alarms set throughout the night so that I could wake up and pump – every two hours, like clockwork. I got to the point where I could hook things up and go to sleep attached to the pump.
“Sleep while you can! HA HA HA!”
“You’re so lucky, you aren’ up all night with newborns!”
Things actual parents said to me. Friends and loved ones. People likely to be reading this post. Know that, if you were one of the people who said these things to me, in that dark period, I still can’t fully trust you.
I was so hesitant with them; asking their nurses for permission first to touch, then to hold my own children. We spent their first Halloween and Thanksgiving on the top floor of Sisters Hospital. I started fantasizing about just running away with them. Just picking up my own babies and running. What could they do? Is it kidnapping to steal your own babies from the hospital? I was diagnosed with severe postpartum depression and anxiety at my first follow-up appointment with the obstetrician. I would later be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The PTSD triggers aren’t as frequent as they used to be, but sometimes it still hits hard. Long hallways. The smells of certain strong disinfectants and soaps. The sounds of monitors beeping. Seeing those pictures from their first day on earth, when I was floors away and didn’t know if they were even alive.
Basically, the stuff that I’ve learned well enough to use has been out of necessity: there’s something I’ve wanted/needed to do, and WYSIWYG stuff wasn’t cutting it, so I just learned to do it from scratch through a random mix of tutorials and backward engineering. I think that’s why I never really got past “Hello World” when trying to learn to program. Fuck the theoretical knowledge and plop me into the praxis; I need to make it useful pronto or I lose interest. This is a running thread for me – I had the same kind of problems in academia when talking literary or cultural theory. I’m not a fan of thinking thinky thoughts just for the philosophical wank of it; root that shit in practical application so that I can get a three-dimensional understanding of it, of why it matters. (See Karl Marx’s Theses of Feuerbach if you want to wank philosophically about theory/praxis). So, yeah, that’s a thing for me.
Anyway, how does this relate to my current, post-academic mid-life crisis? I want to have an app that does things, and there isn’t an app that does the things I want it to do. So I need to make that happen, which means I need to learn how to make an app. And preferably not one that fucking tells the world “Hello.” Because I’m an anti-social bitch to begin with and wouldn’t greet that many people at once anyway.
We arrived to our small Maine town late the night of July 16, after embarking on our cross-country road trip with 4 humans, two cats, and a U-Haul of our most important possessions on July 13, stopping for one night each in Topeka (aka, armpit of the country), Indianapolis, and Buffalo. We stayed with my mother-in-law for a week as we got things settled at the house, and finally began our residency here on July 26, after our new Purple mattress finally showed up.
That means we’re roughly two weeks into our new home, our new normal. And I gotta be honest….I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. I am not a Pinterest mom. Most days, I feel like I’m losing my mind. This is a huge adjustment for 3/4 of the family – until we got to Maine, the boys had been in preschool or summer camp for at least a few hours a day, but now are home 24/7 until they start kindergarten; I am only very recently unemployed, and while I was an academic for 15 years, I was in the ranks of contingency and taught every summer session (no summers off for me); only my husband has returned to familiar territory, which is telecommuting.
So what do we do with ourselves? I’m still figuring that shit out. Lots of visits to the local library, a membership to the children’s museum in Portland, and as many inexpensive outings as I can swing…but it still doesn’t feel like enough. To be honest, I’m foundering. I feel like I’m letting everyone down, and it sucks. Especially as everyone in my former life prepares for the new semester to start, I can’t help but feel like I’ve failed. This is the first August since 2002 that hasn’t seen me preparing for the coming year, either as a student or teacher, and I do miss it. I hope to feel differently come November and I see them complaining about grades and conferences and all that stuff, but right now, from my perch on the outside looking in, I miss it. And I hate that I do.
It’s been a tough couple of months. After some distance from the academic bullshit, I find myself floundering at the prospect of life without guidelines, structure. The existential angst hangs over me, even as we have a zillion things to do in preparation for the cross-country move. Which, by the way, has a date: July 10. That’s when movers should be here to pack the stuff we have left for them to pack. That means we have a month to pack up the house, to tie up loose ends here before undertaking what, I hope, will be our last move for at least a decade.
I need to make lists. I need to have the security of a list from which I can mark things off.
In less anxious news, I am currently five weeks into Couch to 5k and being more diligent in my ketogenic eating habits. I want to get into better shape, both physically and mentally, and this is helping.
Lastly, because I want to make sure I remember it for later, I did this method of cooking chicken breasts in the Instant Pot for today’s lunch, using garlic, curry powder, and garam masala to season the chicken. Definitely a do again recipe.
My spouse is currently in New England where he will be closing on our house tomorrow. It’s the next to last week of classes, so I obviously couldn’t go. This week I’ve been juggling solo-parent duty with the boys on top of the usual work stuff.
The final countdown of the semester has begun (let’s be honest – it began the day in February when I finally said “Fuck it”), and the obnoxiousness is getting intolerable with the students. Requesting extra credit, skipping classes, and some stuff today that just floored me….seriously, how can a grown-ass adult (and yes, they are adults) blatantly skip my class and then ask me for special treatment? ON THE SAME DAY? I just don’t get it. Maybe I’m just getting too old for this shit, but I would never pull the shit that’s been thrown at me this semester.
To put a positive spin on it, my frustrations about this stuff are just another indicator that I’m making the right decision. I haven’t gotten nostalgic yet; I haven’t felt wistful or had any moments of buyer’s remorse (so to speak). Maybe it’s that this particular set of circumstances has soured me on the profession; I don’t know.
I do know that I just don’t have the passion I used to have for the job. I’ve lost the spark that kept me going through my 4.5 years on the market. Whatever the case, I need the change.
Our tiny little down didn’t have a March for Science today, so our act of protest was engaging in a shitload of science at a rocket launch: the physics of the rocket stuff, geology in the dirt and rocks we examined, a little animal biology discussing the large femur we discovered at the launch site. Twin 1 insists it’s a fossilized T-Rex bone; Twin 2 is gunning for triceratops (likely a cow).