Friday, October 20, 2017

To the NICU nurse who washed my pump parts

To the NICU nurse who washed my pump parts- thank you.

It was the middle of the night, and I had pushed the wheelchair over to Sammy’s NICU room with my bin of pump parts on the seat. I still hadn't held him yet, but I wanted to be near him. Caleb was sleeping in my hospital room and I wanted him to be able to sleep. He had been my hero and my champion the past few days, and though I couldn't do much, I could pump elsewhere so he could rest.

I don’t know if you had other babies that night because you made me feel like mine was the only one. You told me about pumping for your own babies, and how you made just enough milk. You taught me that milk could be trapped behind the white silicone piece on the pump. I think of you every time I pump, when I gently peel that part back to save those valuable drops.

You gave me company and made me feel like a normal human, not like a patient. When I finished pumping, I stood for a minute, watching my sleeping baby.

“Can I wash your pump parts for you?” you asked. 

A simple request, but so meaningful. Even though I was only a day or two into pumping, Caleb or I had been washing the parts every two hours around the clock. I don’t remember what day this was - two or three - so we’d washed them somewhere between 24-36 times. What a luxury it was to have someone else do it. You’d probably washed pump parts way more times than that for patients and certainly for yourself, but you still offered.

And it was a grace I will never forget. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

To the new owners of 622


You don't know me, but I lived in the house you own now from approximately 1988-1993. It was the first address I memorized and is the place of my earliest memories.

I actually have no idea how many children before or after me came into conscious memory in the same house. Probably a lot, since the house was built in the 1950s. I have thought about this a lot, now that I have my own house and my own baby whose first memories will be in this physical place.

I remember being three there. When I say three, I mean three years old, but I also remember being just the three of us, Mommy, Daddy, Ellen. I remember running to the top of the stairs when I was learning to get dressed and hollering down for my mom to tell me if the item of clothing was forward or backward. I would hold it up and she would either say "Yes!" or "Other way.". I remember my mom telling me to put her hand on her belly to feel the baby kicking, and I never could.

I remember building a garden out of cinderblocks in the backyard, planting the seeds, and I remember harvesting carrots. The garden was in the northwest corner of the backyard, near the fence that we shared with our neighbor Charlie. I didn't know cardinal directions then, but I know them now. I wonder what's in the northwest corner of your yard now.

Charlie was the neighbor to the west. He was kind and elderly and had no children of his own. My parents often went over to his house to chat. Sometimes I would go too, my parents begging me to sit still, but it was so hard for a four year old. Instead I would trace the intricate carvings on the wooden frames of his furniture. Or I would lay on the floor and play with the fake fruit that sat in a bowl under an end-table.

Years later, when Charlie passed away, my parents would become the executors of his estate, a true testament to the power of being neighbors. It was from Charlie's house that we acquired the bed that I slept on from when I was seven or eight until I moved out of their house. The end-table with the fake fruit went to my grandparents, and when they passed away, I knew I wanted it. It became more rickety over the years, and we recently parted with it, but the memories remain.

I had my fourth and fifth birthdays in that house, and maybe my sixth, but I don't remember very well. At one of my birthdays, an older neighbor girl that I was dear friends with brought a Skip It. Do you remember these? It was a plastic ring that went around your ankle with a ball on the other end with a counter. You would try to hop over the ball as you swung it around. When they were popular, I did not have the motor skills to be good at it, so I mostly remember them as a very frustrating experience.

That same neighbor girl used to come over and play paper dolls with me in the little room or office in the back corner of the first floor.

It was from the window of this house at 622 that my parents pointed to the hospital where my baby brother would be born. He came home to this house. So many memories with him here. Running around the basement, falling down the basement stairs, swinging in the back yard.

It was in the room to the left of the stairs where I put lotion on my stuffed lion one night and ruined it.  Does that room still have a clothes chute in the floor? While my family lived there, a man stopped by who had also come into conscious memory in the house. He asked about the clothes chute and my mom shared that she was afraid of us falling down it, so kept a dresser on top of it. The man fondly remembered that when he was a child, he and his siblings would slide down the clothes chute. He was very tall and sturdy, so it was hard to imagine, but of course he would have been much smaller then.

Here's something you may not want to know about the bathroom upstairs. I remember one of my friends (a boy) from preschool or maybe church coming over and peeing in the shower. I was both horrified and filled with amazement.

When we moved out of 622, just up the street, one of the things we had to fix was the bathtub. We had always used it with a rubber disc that sealed off the drain. I remember asking my parents about it during one of my last baths there. They explained that the purchaser of the house wanted a working bathtub drain. We currently have the plastic disc that we use to stop up the bathtub in my house. Maybe someday Sammy and I will have a similar conversation about it.

I have so many more memories in the house - birthdays with grandparents in the dining room, making cookies with my mom, eating Nilla wafers with my dad while watching airplane trails. Know that your house holds all of these memories.

And yet, it also doesn't. The memories are stored in my heart and mind. It's like Charlie's table - I was able to get rid of it because I knew that getting rid of it would not erase the stories.

I hope you enjoy the time you live in that house. It will always be special to me. May it also be special to you. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Some nights after work, I have been known to cook 3 meals, do a load of laundry, and have a phone chat with a friend. This is not one of those nights.

Real life #amirite

The baby is asleep already. I sit at the table, holding my bowl of lentils and rice in one hand, and a spoon in another. As I stare blankly out the window, my whole being feels hollow. My eyes feel hollow, my torso feels hollow. It's been like this all day, the weight of everything pressing down. 

I realize that the bowl and spoon are too heavy, and I put them down. Next I realize that even though I am hollow, I am too heavy, so I schlump forward on the table. Still too heavy. I want to be in darkness and I want to be on the floor. I lay down flat on my face on the carpet. I wonder how to proceed, but I am too hollow and too heavy and too damn exhausted to wonder very hard. 

I don't know how long I lay there, hollow and heavy, but eventually I feel my heartbeat against the floor. I remember, not with my mind, but literally re-member, finding my body again, feeling it fill up. I am still heavy but it is transforming into groundedness. My breath finds me and I turn my head to the side. "That's why I wanted to lay on the ground." I realize, my instincts affirmed again. 

This is what post-partum depression feels like. Sometimes. If you've been with me for long, you know that I am not afraid to tackle sensitive personal subjects on the blog. It actually feels better to share than not share. The American Psychological Association says that 1 out of 7 women will experience postpartum depression. While we were in the NICU, we learned that number is probably too low on average, because those are just the ones who seek help. And if you spend any time in the NICU or have a traumatic birth, the odds only increase. 

Several months ago, Samuel started to cry. Almost always when he cries, I rush to him, full of love and compassion. But that particular time, I reached for compassion and came up empty. Instead, my body reacted, "Meh. Oh well." Because I was prepared, first by my midwife, then by the NICU staff, and finally by the pediatrician at the first few visits, I knew what the disconnect meant. I saw my counselor from years ago, but could tell that this was not her specialty. I saw my doctor. I talked to my post-partum physical therapist (every woman needs one of these). I emailed my pastor and she called me while I was pumping one day to talk to me. I reached out to friends. I told my parents. I started seeing a new counselor. And things started to get better, lighter, little by little. 

I still have moments like the one described above. But they are more familiar now, and they end more frequently like I describe above. It wasn't always like that. And if I get stuck, I know where to turn, mostly. 

If you are struggling with this, search for "postpartum resource center" in your area. And tell people. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

on privilege and parenting

Dear Samuel,

I am often struck by your demographic information: "white, male". It is uncomfortable to recognize that those two characteristics, things completely out of my control or your control thrust you into the most privileged category of human on the planet.

What do I mean by privilege?

I do not have to worry about police stopping your car (or worse) because you look like you don't belong.
You will always be given the benefit of the doubt.
In every career field, you will be able to find a role model who looks like you.
I will not need to actively strive to keep you out of the school to prison pipeline.
You are likely to earn higher wages than your white female counterparts or your male or female counterparts of other races.

Now, don't get me wrong, your dad and I plan to do everything we can to raise you to be a kind, generous, confident, hard-working individual. But, the fact that data can tell us all the above points about you and your life while you are still an infant means that there are some inequalities in our system.

I am trying to prepare for these conversations (and other hard ones) now. I know that I am going to have them imperfectly, but I think it's better to try and be imperfect than not talk about it at all. To close, here is a quote from a podcast I listened to about this very subject recently.

"If we're silent about it, it tends to trivialize the voices of these marginalized groups of people, that can contribute to minority children feeling devalued. And as a white person in America, you have the privilege of not having to think about your race. You're not constantly reminded of the fact that you're white. And so, it's a lot easier to take a colorblind approach when you are white. Where if you're a black person in America, you are constantly thinking about your race. And so I think it's important that as white people, we also recognize that not everybody has this priviledge of not having to think about our race all the time. And if we want to move toward true equality, it has to be an effort on everybody's part." - Dr. Brigitte Vittrup

Sunday, October 8, 2017

I love weddings

My pastor sometimes talks about the Celtic idea of thin places. These are places or times in life when the veil between the human and the divine becomes very thin. The saying is that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in thin places, that distance is even shorter. (Source)

I went to a wedding a while ago. I find weddings, on the whole, to be thin places. There is something exceedingly special about being in a crowd of people that know the couple from all times and stages of their life. This crowd converges from far and near to celebrate in a way that is unmatched at any other time in someone's life. The energy is palpable. We are all breathless as the groom* and bridal party trickles in. Finally, the bride makes her entrance. The joyful significance of her procession down the aisle to her love brings a tear to many an eye, particularly for those who have watched them chase after love for many years before witnessing them finding it in each other.

There are things about weddings that make me feel uncomfortable. Sometimes I feel nervous about seeing people I haven't seen or talked to in many years. (#IntrovertProblems) This usually passes after I push through the first burst of it.. sort of like diving into a cold pool. The worst thing about weddings is when the officiant (or anyone else, but especially the officiant) makes stereotypical marriage jokes or offers marriage advice during the ceremony. The jokes kill the sacred mood that was just created during the processional. And let's be honest - the couple isn't going to remember the advice - you should have given them that before the wedding day.

But even amidst the small talk with strangers or the awkward jokes and advice, I still love weddings. To me, this is a sign that they are truly a thin place. In the midst of our too-long, rambling toasts and wondering if we are dressed up too much/ not enough, something special happens. It's un-ruinable. And that is why I love weddings.

*I have never been to a wedding with two grooms or two brides (though I hope to someday!), so I can't speak to that experience, but I imagine the weight and beauty of the ceremony would be similar. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Kenosis hymn

I wrote this last year while I was pregnant, but for a number of reasons, decided not to share my pregnancy online. 

August 21, 2016

Who, being in the form of God
did not count what he had
as something to be grasped...
but he emptied himself
he took the form of slave
becoming as we are
becoming as we are
And being in every way like a human being
in every way like you and me -
he was humbler yet.

These are words based on Philippians 2:7 from a song we sing at church called "Kenosis hymn." I hear in them an invitation to release my own agenda and priorities, to open up and let God's energy flow through me rather than balling up my fists and trying to control it.

It struck me a lot today that this release is something I've been... what is the word?... wrestling with this whole pregnancy.

Pregnancy is opening up your body in a very physical, emotional, and spiritual way to the real needs of another person living inside you. No longer is your body just available to serve you. Hunger changes. Cravings happen. Sleep needs change. Emotions are all over the place. Things that were familiar before become unfamiliar. I used to know how much to eat every day, how much I could eat if there was a lot of delicious food available, and then how long it would take me after that to go back to my normal hunger levels.

This is the most real way I have ever been asked to empty myself and my own desires to serve someone else. I desire wine? Too bad. I want to stay up and get that project done? Not going to happen. My cravings are bizarre, my clothes don't fit. And the only way forward is to embrace it, to release into it. To acknowledge the privilege I have in hosting this small person that I do not yet know inside me. It is a radical hospitality that demands much... it will demand almost everything. And in its own small way, I hope and know that it is serving God somehow. Because when we open up ourselves to the stranger, we open ourselves up to Jesus. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

We are three!

Author's note: Apparently this got lost in my blog files. But even more than one year later, it is still accurate. 

August 11, 2016
Dear Caleb,

Last night, I dreamed that my mom was becoming a police officer and that you and I were taking a second honeymoon. But I already told you that.

What I didn't tell you, but you probably felt the ramifications of since I hugged you like eighty bajillion times this morning, is that I stayed awake for a long while thinking about you and about love and marriage. 

I thought about how we have lived in a new place every year since getting married - three in total - and about how this year we aren't planning to move anywhere. I say "aren't planning" because we weren't planning to move anywhere last year either, but you just never know. 

I think it's pretty special, because looking back on it now, I remember our first place on Jackson and how new marriage was to us and how new life together was. How I didn't really want to see very many people that year except for you. How we both changed jobs, me twice. It was a special time. Remember when we used to sit around and listen to the Hobbit on tape, because we didn't have internet or TV or smartphones? I remember at the end of that time, I really wanted a room with a door besides the bathroom. It was hard in some ways, but I remember feeling so in love with you, and so thankful for you when you comforted me about the mice. So. many. mice.

And our second place, in Rosedale. It seemed like the cleanest and most beautiful home in the whole world. Everything was finished, and there was carpet and the washer was in the kitchen, and you had a garage to tinker in!  It was the perfect size for us, with two rooms with doors besides the bathroom. It was close to everything and so cozy. 

Then last year we bought the house where we live now. Our neighborhood is a blend of re-done and run-down, but still very live-able, houses. Nobody cares if you don't mow your lawn, or if you have a rooster, or get your mail in your underwear. I like it. We have lots of ideas for improving our house, but time is tight, and money is tight because of our plan to get out of debt. One thing that has defined this year is that Ralph lived with us for most of it. And we got our lil chickens, who have been a source of great delight. 

And as I laid in bed and thought about these things, I thought about how people say that you think you couldn't possibly love each other more than you do on the day when you get married. But somehow over the years, through the daily routines and waking each other up, and reminding the other person that you are out of milk or peanut butter, your heart grows and grows. And even though there are tense times or times when one or both of us is stressed, I love you so much more than I ever have before.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Words and not rushing it

Sometimes my baby just wants to be held.

At times, this is difficult for me because my baby is HEAVY. He was 15 lbs by six weeks. But he has all the same needs for closeness and cuddles and comfort as a teeny little baby.

A fierceness I didn't know I had sprang up inside me sometime during pregnancy. One of the places I was surprised to find myself directing this fierceness was at protecting his littleness.

"What a man child!" an acquaintance exclaimed upon seeing him when he was just a few weeks old. "No." I heard myself say. "He is a baby, a newborn baby. Please do not call him a man child." A larger than average baby, yes, but still, relatively speaking, a very tiny human being.

People often call their baby boys "little man". This phrase has always bugged me. Babies are not little men. They are little boys or little girls. No need to make them adults before their time. I think this is especially true for babies who are on the larger end of the growth charts. A friend who has a 3 year old who is big for his age shared with me a particular challenge - he looks older, so people expect him to behave like an older child. But he is still very young. It is important to me that he gets to be young, gets to be a baby. He is little! He is growing and looking bigger every day, but when I step back, I see that he is still very small. (Though I am sure there will be a time when he lets me know that he is no longer a little baby, but a BIG boy. And that will be lovely too!)

In general, I tend to place a lot of importance on word choice. Words have power. I am careful to not refer to my baby as "naughty" or "bad". Partly this is because an infant can't really be naughty or bad. (Though of course they can be fussy, wake often, and be very needy!)

I am careful about what words I use when I soothe him. I try not to say, "Don't cry." It's important to me that as he comes into consciousness memory as a child, that he knows that we value his emotions and he knows that crying is a healthy emotional expression. I try to say instead, "I am so sorry you are upset, but I am glad you are letting me know how you feel. I am going to keep trying to help you work through this and together we will figure out what you need." (Yes, it did feel a little funny to say that initially to a newborn.)

More than anything, I want to hold space for my child to be himself at each stage, and language is a part of that. I want to stretch out space for my child in the midst of rushing and hurrying. I want to be mindful of his pace.

I imagine my day as a series of scatter points across a graph. I am a line going from A to B to C to D, etc. What I want to do is take a metaphorical tent post and stretch the line from the ground up, creating a little more room. I try to do this by slowing down, with my actions and my words, and hoping we'll both linger here a little longer.