Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Full Circle

In April 2008, I was in a new relationship. I was intrigued by and really falling for a new guy. We were approaching Holy Week and this new guy suggested we take a half day on Good Friday. We spent the afternoon hiking up Kennesaw mountain, and after finding a huge boulder, sat down together and said a rosary. I got home that day and immediately wrote my grandmother a letter. Dear Grandma, there's this new boy. And today we said a rosary. out loud. together. during a hike. The rest is history, beautiful, complex, blessed history.

Fast forward 2 1/2 years, one wedding and one baby, and we were preparing to celebrate Ross's 33rd birthday. Not one for material gifts (other than a good bottle of scotch), he requested we take our new babe on a hike back up Kennesaw mountain. The fall weather made it a perfect choice and up we went. Admittedly happy to have the extra 15lbs attached to me to tighten up these, well, everything, we set out and had a wonderful day. With only one minor-'when the heck are we getting there, mama is tired' moment, we reached a perch with a stunning view of Atlanta. We sat down. I fed our little gal and Ross began the The glorious mysteries. I was holding my baby, saying a rosary with my husband, on the same mountain where I knew he could be the one just a few years ago. I don't know when I've felt such utter peace, confirmation, joy.

So, happy birthday to God's single greatest gift to me. Thank you for getting this book worm off the sofa and into the great outdoors. I'd be missing so much if it weren't for you. I can't wait for our girl to see all the beautiful nature, hand in hand, with the best dad in the world!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

40 days

Hey y'all~ my aunt gave me this article and I could write a complete thesis on it. I love it. While I won't say I battled post-partum depression, I did have many days of "what the heck were we thinking followed by torrents of tears."  I loved this explanation of western society and how we are getting it all wrong.  So, grab a cup of tea and feel affirmed. It's not our fault ;)

40 days
By Jen Rognerud, Sunday, August 1, 2010, 7 comments

 I hear about it all the time. It’s my job to hear about it. What I’m most often told is this: “It’s like a light suddenly flipped on.”

Women tell me of bluer skies and darker nights, of fluctuating emotions and unexpected, bone-shaking beauty. They tell me that they can smell the earth beneath the snow, taste toxins in the air and hear the phone ring before it actually does.

They talk of orgasmic pain, unbearable pain, or else they thank God for drugs. They are wild, angry, and soft. They are beautiful, beaten, and grounded. They love their midwife. They hate that one nurse. They have a little crush on the handsome doctor. They wonder if they will always regret the C-section with this much intensity. They wonder if they knew love before this. They wonder if they will ever sleep again.

They are all a little bit different. Only one thing is the same: They are a really big deal.
In many cultures, birth is still an animal act and the postpartum period an exalted affair. The new mother is revered as the most important being in existence, and the community makes sure she knows it. Her strength is commended, her tenderness protected; her worries and wounds are soothed. She is massaged with sacred oils. She is fed special soups, lovingly prepared by those who have walked the path before her. It does not matter if it is her first baby or her fifth. After each birth, she is pampered and worshipped, an adored queen.

While true parenthood begins in an instant, with new life’s first breath, the full transition from pregnancy to motherhood takes a little while. Around the world, 40 days seems to be the magic number. That’s 40 days of the mother lying in with the new baby, 40 days of bonding, breastfeeding, and embracing her heightened sense of being. The Latin cultures call it la cuarentena, but it is not an actual quarantine. It is a period of respect for the woman’s metamorphosis.

Some communities insist that the woman stay in bed, while everyone else works around her. Other traditions include quiet celebration, intricate ritual, and contemplative walks in the woods. Usually, female relatives tend to the postpartum woman - they feed her, clean her, and teach her how to nurse. While 40 days is the approximate time period for concentrated care, it is understood that the new mother may need a little extra help for the better part of a year.

In the Western world, the postpartum period is not a beautiful, celebrated time. In fact, it is often thought of as a time of chaos and despair. In the United States, we try to recognize a period of 40 days. Six weeks is often when a working woman’s maternity leave is up and it is when she goes for her final appointment with her obstetrician. That six week check up is our big ritual, and the main purpose of it seems to be to get the green light for sex and exercise (although most women don’t honestly feel like doing either until much later).

American postpartum support generally consists of a few casseroles, a present or two for the baby, and unsolicited advice from mothers and in-laws. The pregnant woman is fawned over and spoiled, but the postpartum woman is discarded in favor of her precious offspring. She has most likely had a clinical hospital birth, somewhat rushed and with professionals calling the shots. She is pushed from the hospital within 48 hours and once home, she finds herself isolated, overwhelmed and exhausted. I’m not speculating. This is the norm, and this is why postpartum depression is a Western phenomenon.

While Americans like to say that “it takes a village,” villages don’t exist. We have walls between us and thick social boundaries. Even in the tightest communities, casseroles are the standard in reaching out. Smart visitors might throw in a load of laundry or take older siblings for a walk to the park, but for the most part, the postpartum woman is expected to entertain her guests.

Our relationships with our own mothers are often strained. Families are fractured, separated by distance and tension. Close friends aren’t as close as they should be. New moms don’t feel comfortable expressing their emotions, which range from ecstasy to exhaustion, from sadness to rage. And somewhere along the way, we’ve written out quiet but persistent expectations for our postpartum women. They should put on their make-up. They should get out of the house, maybe just scoot over to Target for a bit. They should pull themselves together as soon as possible, because if they don’t, we’ll start to worry. And by worry, I mean talk.

Basically, we’re getting it wrong. Basically, it’s a mess.

That’s where I come in.

As a postpartum doula, I support new mothers in the month or so after birth. I cook, fold laundry, make tea, bake muffins. I give foot massages and hugs. I keep visitors in line and I keep Mama from writing thank-you notes if there are dark circles under her eyes. I offer to do it for her. It’ll be our little secret.

I am CPR-certified and overeducated on all things newborn. I know the signs of postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis, birth trauma, and mastitis. I know how to achieve a good latch at the breast, I can make a bottle with one hand, and I know several tricks for soothing fussy babies.

I honor birth stories, I shoulder anger, I dissolve guilt and fear. I do not judge and I do not try to do things my way. I teach, but I don’t give advice unless asked. I am a humble servant, I am a secret keeper, I am a baby burper. I am a mother to the mother.

To put it plainly, I give American women their 40 days - their much-deserved rest, ritual, and fanfare.

I didn’t go looking for this. This is not what I wanted to be when I grew up. As weird as it sounds, I was called to it. There is a need for this service, a deep and desperate need that I simply cannot deny. And I think there’s a quiet little need for me in particular, because I get it; because I believe in what I do.

Still, I’d be more than happy to be taken out of a job. I’d love it if our communities embraced the doula’s responsibilities, making my role obsolete. I’d love it if Americans could see beyond the split-second text message in front of them and realize that mothers, quite literally, make the whole world.

So yes, I’m calling us out, America. Come on out, aunties, bosses, sisters, brothers and friends. Wake up neighbors, grandmas, and book clubbers. Mamas need more than baby showers. They need more than maternity clothes and pre- natal yoga videos. They need to be cherished. They need love and support and time. They need those 40 days.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

random observations from a weekend away

mega stream of consciousness- consider yourself warned.

Mary Kate and I came to Savannah for St. Vincent's Tea and Tour of Homes. It was a great day and brought back a bazillion memories of our days there. Sister Pat held Mary Kate and MK gave her as much trouble as I did back in the day. I think Sister is happy that she will likely be retired before she has any chance of another Sullivan girl roaming her hallways. On that note, I really really really miss Savannah. I miss everything about it. But I know that 45 stars have to align all at the same time for us to get back home. And as I told Jesus at Mass Saturday, 'not my will but yours be done.' I'm smart enough to know that if I force the issue it will not end well.

Speaking of Mass, we went twice this weekend. As I've said 30 times before on this blog, one of my most treasured memories is attending the Saturday evening Mass with my grandmother. I debated on taking the squaker (new nickname. after 5 minutes with her, you'll get it) since she had almost no nap but settled for some quiet time with mom as sufficient and put on her church clothes. It was so worth it. My kid hammed it up for all the ladies on the handicapped row, smiling and cooing. She and my grandma talked to each other so much I had to separate them. I love that my kid made the ole ladies feel so special. I was a proud mama.

There was another mama there that I have thought about a bunch. She looked about my age, maybe a few years older. She looked exhausted, hair uncombed, disshelved, unshowered. I say this because she had her five children with her- and while she looked like she had been run over by each kid on their bicyles, the kids were angels. They behaved, participated in Mass (minus the expected pinch in the side or two), and walked to communion with hands folded in reverence. That mama may not have gotten a shower that day, but heck if she didn't bring her kids to see Jesus. I hope God blesses her for raising great babes. I know He will.

There was also another mama there who was sitting behind us. The few times MK decided to squak, this nice lady, Ms. Fisher, held her finger and smiled and talked to her. My gal rewarded her with a smile. It was nice to sit next to people who didn't expect me to get up and leave at the first squak.

Today we went to Mass with my mom and dad (mom and Katie were cooking a big family dinner when grandma and I were there the night before and mom's faaav thing to do is show off her grandchild at Mass. We went twice just for grandma. And because I didn't get  too much prayer time in the night before trying to keep squaky quiet). Anywho- she was less behaved today but it was still really nice to be there. Being at your childhood church is just special. I loved it.

I debated on leaving later tonight but right now I'm watching my kid perched on my mom's stomach. Mom and Dad are talking to MK and she's talking right back. As much as I miss my hubs and our home, I won't take this away from mom and dad, or MK. Plus I want one more free meal out of this trip (and maybe a tank of gas???) Any ideas on when I'm too old to mooch of the parentals??

My child will not take a pacifier so today mom took off the nipple of a bottle, stuffed a burp cloth in it and MK sucked herself right to sleep. I'm sure that's a bad idea but also sure I'll be trying that again. I am tired of being my girl's pacifier.

I have easily gained 5 lbs since being home. And since I own about $500 in jeans in a size BELOW where I am, my new status as un-employed mandates that I fit back into those jeans. Plus mom bought me some precious boots from Red Clover that will only work over those size 4 skinny jeans. Am I sounding superficial enough yet??

The best part of being home is having extra hands to handle my girl. It's nice, though I start to miss her. Sweet baby was in Aunt Roo's arms at TJ Maxx and caught sight of me. She put out her bottom lip, let it quiver for a sec, and then started crying . It both melted me and broke my heart at the same time. I think it's the first time I realized she knows me by sight- you know, apart from smelling her dinner on me. I felt special.

Another benefit of being home is getting to actually read. Fr. Tim sent me "The Birth Order Book" and so far, it's pretty fascinating. I'm excited about understanding the people in my life better, my husband, siblings, and using it to get my kids better in the future. It may take me 2 months to finish without the extra hands but I'm loving it.

I'm a little nervous about the drive home tomorrow. My smart husband suggested I leave Atlanta last week right after MK's 6:00 am feeding since she usually goes right back to sleep. I looove my morning sleep but agreed and he was right. Except she woke up at 5:00 am for that feeding but whatev. We got to Savannah without stopping once. Heavenly. Now, for tomorrow, we're in a different boat. The good news is that since being here, she has dropped that morning feed (probably because my mother and sister exhaust the poor child). So I don't know what she will be doing tomorrow. So, I took the suggestions of facebook friends and bought some calming potion elixer from Brighter Day and hope the drugs work.

Okay, the squaking is now full on yelling. I should go rescue mom. I know she loves/craves/worships this time with her granddaughter, but have I mentioned I miss my husband? 

Forgive the random assortment of thoughts. It was just fun to type with two hands for a change.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mary Kate 3- months

Hey little girl,

I am bad about routines, yours and mine. But since I see you sleeping better and behaving better with a routine in place, I am working on it. I'm also working on keeping better records of these precious few months. So, a week late, thoughts on your 3rd month.

This month you continue to awake to the world more and more. Our best smiles from you come from the changing table (for obvious reasons). You coo and make the g sound and squeal at us. It's just the beginning of your finding your voice and we know genetics alone ensures us that you'll have lots to say in the coming years.

You are sleeping better and better and for this, mama is on her knees in thanksgiving. (As I wrote those words you started crying 30 minutes into your nap. nice.) You sleep from 9:45-10 until 9:30-10 am with a feeding between 5:30 and 6am. I succumed to pressure to put you to bed earlier and that got me 4 nights of 3:30 am feedings. So to the birds that plan went. Mama has the great luxury of staying home with you so if you want to sleep until 10, by alll means. Diet coke and English muffin are consumed with 2 hands happily.

This month mom and dad celebrated our 1 year anniversary and readily help folks do the math. You were not a shotgun baby, my love. We left you with Aunt Rae Ann, only the 2nd babysitter you've had after me-maw. We could have never dreamed we'd get to have you so quickly but wouldn't have it any other way. Now, your brother or sister, we can wait on them. Mom has a loong memory of the first few months with a newborn. But back to you.

You are slowly letting me put you down while we eat dinner or mom cleans. The swing and the bumbo seat buy me 10-15 minutes of peace before you realize there are no hands snuggling your sweet self. You have discovered fans this month and this also buys mom a few minutes of teeth brushing, hair combing in the bedroom. You can see the tv now and if I am not careful, I will easily turn you into a couch potato. You definitely like the lights and sounds of dad's tv. But how you could not see it- that thing is obnoxiously big.

You are still nursing like a champ and this one mostly easy task for us makes me very grateful. You will finally, finally take a bottle without much complaint and for this I am also very grateful. While my favorite place on the planet is with you, some tiny bits of separation are good for mom (and you.)

Some of my favorite sights throughout your 3rd month: clasping dad's shirt while he walks around with you, noticing monty for the first time, your big, huge smiles that make your eyes squint, family talks at night when you coo and make sounds at mom and dad, watching you look at dad while he gives you a bottle, seeing you and dad watch tv, those profiles so similar.

You still really don't like the bath and have discovered that arching your back delays that little bum from hitting the water. Distraction works sometimes and my rendition of "Don't you wish your girlfriend mama was hot like me" got us through a bath without much yelling the other night. Don't judge, you are not the easiest of babies.

You also DETEST your carseat. Please hurry out of this phase love. Back arching also delays the carseat. If you want to be spoiled by me-maw and loved on by aunt roo (translation: never put down), you cannot scream the whole drive to savannah this time. Have mercy on mom, this upcoming trip is solo.

Sometimes to my detriment, I don't read a lot on baby stuff and don't always know what you "should" be doing at this exact moment in your development. The doc has give us her stamp of approval so we'll trust her training. At your 2 month appointment, (which was 3 weeks late, so it was technically a 3 month appt), you were in the 90% percentile for height and 75-90% for weight. While we call you a chub or a tank often, Dr. Combes says much of your weight is in those long bones. Dad may get his volleyball player afterall.  You were 13.5 lbs at that appointment which floored me because 2 weeks earlier you were there with your first cold and you were 12lbs 6 oz. You know what kid, maybe you'll be long and lean like dad's family. Maybe you'll be roly poly kid. Folks loooove to comment on precious chubby babies (I do too). Whatever you are, whoever you become, know a few things please. 1. Jesus loves you just as you are. You are exactly the girl he wants you to be. Love him. He's awesome. 2. Your beauty comes from your smile, your compassion, the way you treat others. And at this very moment, your dad I  think you are radiant. We love your chins (note plural ;) , your rolls, your smile, your cries, your back arches, your squaks, your cuddles, your coos. We love you just as you are, today, tomorrow, in 40 years.

As this 3rd month ended, we saw some welcomed changes in the overall ease of you.  You were not a colicky baby (like granddaddy reminds me I was 30x a day) but no one will ever accuse you of being laid back. It's not really your fault though, no one has ever called mom or dad laid back either. You fit right in to our high energy, sometimes high strung family m'love. But we are enjoying you more and more. And because of you, I never forget to say prayers anymore; because it's impossible to fall asleep without thanking God for the gift that is you.

You at 3 months and 1 day (Brady K's 1 year birthday!) Thanks to his LaLa for the photos because (see above about routines) mom is bad about taking pictures of you each month. Aunt Roo will be all over me about that! 

P.S. today, 10/13/10, you rolled over for the first time. I guess that's what all that squaking was from your crib. You had a trick to show mom! Good job kid!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Saying Goodbye to the Gradies

Today I turned in my badge. I handed off my parking decal. I had lunch with co-workers. And as I fed my baby from the seat of my car on Coca-Cola Avenue, I stared up at the Gradies. This huge, amazing, ugly green hospital has been my work home for four years this month. Four years ago, I excitedly took a job as an HIV/AIDS social worker, happy to be in Atlanta and happy for this new leg of my social work career. I never in my life imagined...

I never imagined that one of my first patients would be among my most memorable, that I would beg a judge to grant him mercy to keep him out of jail. I didn't imagine that I would help him get clean and sober, get him contributing to society, only to too quickly watch him fall back into his addiction. I never imagined how hard it would be to help him die in peace.

I never imagined that most days I would pass a girl my age with spina bifida and HIV on the street, a girl who would become my patient and who challenged every morsel of me. I never imagined the breakthroughs we would have together and the prayers I would say for her as she sat in her wheelchair, panhandling money for her pimp. I could have never fathomed the abuses and wrongs that got her to that place.

I never imagined a job that would introduce me to the most amazing group of women, the Missionaries of Charity and how that would change the trajectory of my life so profoundly.

I never imagined that I would get to hold the hand of a little girl and explain to her what was happening as dementia took over her young mother. Helping her understand this awful thing was an honor.

I never imagined how much of a priviledge it is to work with a team of young doctors, nurses and social workers who care for the poorest of the poor, the most addicted of the addicted, the "least of his brothers and sisters."

I never imagined the amount of days where I would put my head in my hands and say I could not watch one more person suffer, could not prepare one more person to die. And then I would wait, knowing the Holy Spirit would send me something to keep me going- a young man living a great life in spite of his HIV, a kind priest saying a Mass for a patient- giving her the dignity in death that she never got in life.

I never imagined the inspiration I'd gain from people living wonderful lives despite a crazy regimen of pills, therapies and pain. I never imagined how much they would fill my heart with awe and love.

I never imagined the quality of people I would meet in doctors who forewent the hundreds of thousands guaranteed in procedural specialities and instead committed their lives to an $80,000 salary when that amount was a fraction of what they owe in student loans. I didn't imagine the nurses who could have easily gotten into a higher tax bracket but stayed at Grady, committed to Grady and it's special patients.

I never imagined how much better a social worker I would become from those days, good and awful and how thankful I would be for that experience. I never imagined how amazing it would be to work with a small team of people who would become like family, who care for these special people so well and who cared for me so very, very well.

I never imagined how valuable I would feel learning about the medical aspects of HIV while I helped teach the physicans about the many, many other aspects of HIV that would affect their treatment.

I never imagined the memories that would be burned into my heart of the patients, of each of their stories and how each of them changed my heart forever.

I will miss most parts of my work at Grady. I am thankful for every part of it.

May God bless every one of the Grady family, the employees and the patients. Our city and our state are so much better because of that crazy place!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Morning prayer

My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Scafidi, told us once that she started each day with a simple prayer and I have never forgotten it.

"Good morning, Dear Jesus, this day is for you. I ask you to bless all I think, say, and do."

Each morning when my high maintenance girl is on her changing table, we say this prayer. She smiles and coos and I begin the day really trying to dig into my faith and let Jesus be a part of everything I think, say, and do. Usually by 9am I am saying an Act of Contrition instead, but A for effort, right? Anyway, I was thinking about exactly what this prayer means in this 'new normal' life.

Good Morning Dear Jesus, This Day is for you.
Each day I should be living this day for HIM. The goal at the end of the day really shouldn't be that I fold 4 loads of laundry or sweep 2 tons of dog hair. It shouldn't even be that MY goals are met. It should be that in every instance, I did the most mundane of tasks FOR HIM. Tall Order Mrs. Ninness...

I ask you to bless all I think.
Let's start off with the most difficult first. One of my BFF's recently hugged me good-bye and said "don't think so much." I left laughing. That was comical, a real knee-slapper. Me, Keri, social worker, over-analyzer, don't think so much. Hilarious. So let's be realistic. I'm going to think. A Lot. I'm me. But maybe I can pray pray pray for God to bless what I think. Because we all know that thoughts lead to actions. So, I pray that my thoughts slide right on past baby weight, guilt, my multitude of inadequacies. I pray that God would bless me with the ability to re-direct onto things of HIM- a beautiful, thriving child, a patient, hard-working husband, a family who loves me at my worst, beautiful fall weather, etc, etc, etc. I know the good things exist, I just too often fall into the trap of thinking too much about stuff that serves no purpose in living my day FOR GOD (see above).

I ask you to bless all I say.
Yeah, this one's hard too. I am getting more sleep these days so my tongue is not as slippery but too often kindness is not the first thing out of my mouth. I ask that God helps me to complain much less, to say words of gratitude and appreciation, affirmation and support. It's pretty easy with that pudge of a baby girl, but my husband and mom and even friends deserve more than they've gotten lately from negative Nancy here. And I am smart enough to know that it's all cyclical- positive thoughts, positive words, positive thoughts...

I ask you to bless all I do.
That same BFF from above also shared some great advice to me. "The best way to mental health is physical health." In the case of a girl with a mild case of the blues and a moderate case of bad health habits (read: too much aspertame, sugar and not enough exercise), this struck me. So I ask God for help in motivating me to simply get out and enjoy this beautiful weather with a walk or hike or run. And maybe a tall glass of H20. And a whole lot less diet coke (anyone know of any correlation between artificial sweeteners and depression?) I digress. I have also noticed that I need my days to have some structure, some plan. I don't know what should fill them, but am working on a balance between some quality time with my girl and not punishing her with too many trips in the carseat and mama's need to get O.U.T. Regardless, I hope for God's blessings on the things that I do, on making my actions reflect my belief in HIM, my FAITH in HIS plan for our family and my gratitude toward Him.

Okay- the little tank is awake after her 11 minute nap. On to trying to put this prayer into action once again...