October Around Here

We got into a good routine. Up early with both kids, a game of mancala or a phonics lesson over the first cup of coffee. When it was time for the first nap, I would take the baby out for a walk while the big kid played piano or did math. In the afternoon, another walk before dinner. More home cooked meals than I thought possible. Bedtime less of a hassle now that the big kid’s afternoon nap was gone. The overnight still more sweet than frustrating.

And then I went back to work

And it was good in some ways, and challenging in others. First the baby didn’t like the bottle, and then we figured out a bottle that worked. Then the baby decided he didn’t want to take daytime naps, and then they sort of started working, but not always.

On my first day back at work, I also started therapy to help make sense of the grief and anxiety that have weighed me down since the baby’s difficult birth. I sought out therapy after my hospitalization back in March; it took this long – and a referral from a second provider – to actually be seen.

Babies are full of mystery, and every day is a work in progress. I have several weeks of paid and unpaid leave remaining that I will use up by taking Fridays off. This didn’t feel as good initially as taking several more weeks off with my little baby, but now that it’s been a few weeks, the three day weekends are providing to be essential: one day to catch up, one day to relax, one day to prepare for the coming week.

Speaking of which, it’s Sunday afternoon, and that means the Sunday reset: taking every stolen half hour to restock diapers, put away laundry, prepare ingredients for upcoming meals, coo at the baby, or convince the big kid to run another block.

October Reading

October Eating

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This.

There’s nowhere I want to be but here.

Nothing I want to do but this.

Nothing I’ll ever do that could be more important than this.

I had no idea.

I don’t ever want to forget.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
—Mary Oliver

September Around Here

We survived the first month with two kids. The baby continues to be easy. The big kid continues to be challenging. I imagine that at some point, these things will meet in the middle.

This month, the big kid turned 4. In past years, we’ve opted for a special outing rather than a party or gifts – this year he got the water bottle he wanted, and we celebrated by going to the Arboretum for “a nice troll hunt” and having pizza for dinner. This year, however, he seemed sad that we weren’t celebrating with others – when we finished making his birthday cupcakes (chocolate blueberry, his request), he asked who would be coming over to share them.

10 days ago, it was 90F when we went to a fall bonfire at the park that is effectively our back yard. We toasted marshmallows and swatted mosquitoes and bounced the baby and assured the big kid that his friend would be there soon – and then comforted him because he hadn’t understood that sharing birthday cupcakes with her meant that they were taking the remaining two cupcakes home.

In 10 days, I go back to work after 8 weeks at home. I have A LOT OF FEELINGS about this, as you might imagine. I’m devastated to be leaving my baby when he’s so small. I’m anxious about the adjustment period for everyone. I’m overwhelmed because if we’ve struggled to stay on top of all of the things with all of us home, how are we going to manage when I’m gone a third of the day? I’m not sure what to anticipate when I go back, workwise, since nearly 6 months have passed since my boss and I were both in the office. I’m worried about finding a balance between work, family, and home responsibilities while still making room for myself. For the last few weeks, I have intended to take some time to think about how I want to try to strike this balance, about my intentions as I return to work, about my expectations as I end my leave. Now, to make time for that.

I feel worn thin. I’ve had complications that have prevented me from exercising yet – and the new schedule means I don’t know when exercise will happen apart from a lot of walking – which is good, but not enough when exercise is the primary way I maintain my mental health. Like many women, I’m struggling with a Supreme Court hearing that is effectively gaslighting half of the population. I’m trying to find space to deal with trauma feelings from a difficult birth on top of existing trauma feelings from my heart crisis. I’m holding my babies close and hoping that we can do a good enough job of parenting them that they don’t grow up to reinforce the patriarchy.

September Reading:

September Eating:

Welcome to the Spinning World

Prologue
We knew that we wanted you, but then your brother turned 2, and then our country descended into madness, and it was some time before we could even consider bringing another person into this world. But against our exhaustion and uncertainty and inertia, you willed yourself into being.

Winter
My body told me you were with me weeks before tests would confirm it. In December, an ultrasound at 5 weeks, and there you were, a tiny bean, enough to share your news with our family. We learned the same day that you would have a new cousin in Holland.

We told your brother right away. I didn’t want to – I wanted to be sure you would stay – but he proved to be good at keeping surprises.

I was so tired, just bone tired, for weeks. I had strong aversions to foods and their smells – fish, raisins, and, horribly, coffee. Your brother and I brought home a terrible stomach bug from the holidays and took turns lying on the bathroom floor in absolute misery.

I set my intentions for the year on the eve of my birthday. In most years, I make a list of things to accomplish. This year’s list focused on doing less, turning inward, setting lower expectations for myself recognizing that one of the things that made adjusting to your brother so difficult was that we thought we would be the same people on the other side.

At the end of January, your brother weaned. It was simultaneously sad and easy – we were both ready, we just didn’t know it.

We settled on a girl’s name easily, but a boy’s name was harder. Your brother had a funny long name for you that was shortened to: Mr. Baby.

We started telling people when occasions presented themselves. It was SO FUN to share the news in person.

At the end of the first trimester, it was like a switch flipped. One day I felt terrible, the next, almost normal.

I went to Denver for work and walked cautiously through the dusting of snow, remembering how I’d almost fallen in Philadelphia at the same conference with your brother newly in my belly.

Spring
I went to Iowa to visit your great grandma and to help clear out her house. The news of you didn’t quite register, but she reminded me that it took seven pregnancies to get her four babies.

A few days later, I blacked out in a restaurant, hitting my head on a table, and ended up in the ER. That is a different story, but it’s yours too, as you were with me while the doctors tried to work out what was happening with my heart. They listened to your heart as well, strong and steady, and you were part of every decision. (Making choices that could mean life or death are hard enough when you’re only making them for yourself.) Your papa felt you move for the first time the day was admitted. The day we left the hospital, we saw you on the ultrasound: Nico.

I was switched to the high risk practice, and to a dream of a doctor who made me feel engaged and supported in our care.

Recovery from the pacemaker was hard. I felt fragile in ways I’d never experienced. I looked for therapy because I knew this wouldn’t be the last big change. I struggled with the physical restrictions, remembering how early I had had to stop running the last time, and resenting my body for not letting me do the things I felt I should be able to do.

Meanwhile you grew steadily, and when the weather suddenly turned at the end of April, the belly I had been hiding under drapey sweaters was obvious.

We canceled our travel plans and burned my vacation time with family outings closer to home. We went to Iowa for your great grandma’s 100th birthday. Your papa and I spent our first night together away from your brother, a relaxed trip to Madison where we walked and talked for hours.

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Summer
Your brother and I went to Rockford to see your cousins and grandparents. In the pool, you flipped around in my belly like a fish.

In nearly every way, this pregnancy felt different than the first. Some of that was your position – you were head down, unlike your brother, who stubbornly refused to flip. Some of that was just being older, in a different body than the 34 year old one that carried your brother.

I had imagined an active pregnancy, but it didn’t work out the way I hoped. Yoga and swimming were off the table initially due to surgery, and then I never got around to making them happen. I stopped running in May. With your brother, I biked into my seventh month; a colleague’s terrible accident struck that off the table. When my gym closed for the summer in June, I started walking everywhere.

You moved all the time, but especially when I had fruit or sweets. I was addicted to Chloe’s mango fruit pops. I would have one after your brother went to bed and then sit on the couch and marvel as my belly rocked from side to side. We didn’t take weekly belly photos; I made up for them with videos of you dancing.

The nesting urge hit early, so we were ready for you by mid July. Every Sunday night I felt sad as the number of weekends left as a family of 3 dwindled. Every weekend we stocked up “just in case”. For weeks, I closed out every work day with the expectation that I might not be there the next.

We rearranged our bedroom in August and moved your brother to his own bed. I cried myself to sleep as another chapter abruptly ended.

Weekly monitoring for a month. A trip to the birth center after I didn’t feel well. A trip to the birth center, bags in hand, after hours of contractions that went nowhere. More days of exhausting, disappointing contractions, of answering a hundred questions about when and why and how uncomfortable I must be.

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The End
We waited, expecting you any day. On your due date, your brother and I went to the beach. Two days later, after a day of big meetings and ongoing contractions, the doctor offered an induction.

The neighborhood is still at 5am. We took a Lyft to the hospital while your brother slept at home. And then we waited for a long, hungry grey day while the induction did very little for my body or spirit. Your papa went home for a few hours. I bounced on an exercise ball and ate lemon Italian ice.

At midnight, they gave my body a break – food and sleep – before round two, more horrible than the first. Labor came, then, hours of contractions moving you closer to our arms. As the sun rose, I fell into a rhythm of breathing through the pain, then floating away in the moments in between.

We were moved to a different room. My water broke not long after, and time went sideways. I worked through the pain for as long as I could, but then it was too much. As I labored down, I could feel you moving through my body like a sled through snow, leaving an impression of your absence.

It was time. I pushed with everything in me. But then it became clear that you had turned your head just enough that you weren’t coming out, and so my doctor asked how I would feel about another c section. I trusted her enough to say yes without question, but cried from pain, exhaustion, and disappointment as I was prepped for surgery.

You were born 36 hours after we arrived at the hospital, 40 weeks and 4 days after you willed yourself into being. Your birth was the easy part; putting me back together was difficult, as the doctors struggled to deal with my bleeding, scars, and pain. We hadn’t planned on any more babies, but the danger of your birth decided that for us once and for all.

But here you are, my last baby, my constant companion through a very strange year. Welcome to the spinning world. We’re so glad you’re here.

How to Help, Right Now.

Chicago has been under an excessive heat warning since Saturday. We tried to go for a walk for Father’s Day yesterday. After half an hour (and a second iced coffee), we had to call it quits to hide out in apartment for the rest of the day with the blinds drawn.

We have a window AC unit, but even with it running on high all day, it never got below 83F in our bedroom last night. I tucked our son in at 7:45. He tossed and turned from the heat until well after 11.

This morning I’m thinking of the children who will be sleeping in the “temporary tent shelter” in El Paso. It’s 75F there – cooler than Chicago – but the highs this week will be around 100F every day. How will those children sleep? How many of them will toss and cry for their parents – just from the heat?

Our son woke up at 6:30 and snuggled with me on the couch before asking for his breakfast. When I left for work, he was working on math problems on the couch with his papa.

He’ll be 4 in September. This is a hard age. Some days he’s sweet and helpful. Other days he’s a nightmare. Some days he’s both. Some hours he’s both. I’ve been reading a lot about how toxic masculinity starts to infect boys young. I have a lot of thoughts about this, but while making sense of them, I keep returning to a place of deep gratitude that our son is so closely bonded to us. That we can at least try to mitigate some of the societally-constructed bullshit because at least for now, he loves and trusts us and the other grown-ups in his life, and feels comfortable exuberantly demonstrating that love and trust.

So what happens to these children who have been taken from their parents? We know what happens because we’ve been doing it longer than we’ve been a country. We know what happens because we did it to generations of Native children. We know what happens because our country did it to generations of enslaved families. We don’t have to look to Nazi Germany, but we can look there as well.

But we also know because we have children of our own. Imagine the drama of the worst drop off at school or daycare or grandparents’ house – or even just an average level of departure-related drama. Nearly 4 year olds know drama. Now imagine this is happening with no opportunity to prepare your child. No helpful Daniel Tiger songs to mitigate the drama. No way of knowing if your child will be safe or fed or cared for. No idea when you’ll be reunited – if ever.

The harms are real, and they’re immediate, and they’re long-term. These are the sorts of things you never get over, never outgrow. Our country is breaking children. Our country is destroying families. And unless we, every one of us, takes action, we are as culpable as the agents at the border or the bureaucrats in Washington.

Here are some things you can do right now. Go do them. Right now.

Stray Thoughts on the Hospital and After

The hospital food was worlds better than expected. I would go so far as to say that it was decent for non-hospital food, and that was while ordering from the ‘cardiac diet’, which meant no full-fat anything. However, it’s hard to eat a strictly pescatarian diet in the hospital for multiple days, which is why I’m relieved again that I define my diet as vegetarian-mostly.

In his spare time, my cardiologist designs (or at least used to design) high-end men’s shirts. Mom thought that this level of attention to detail was a good thing in a cardiologist.

My nurses were mostly wonderful. I think it helped that I wasn’t the typical cardiology/ICU patient – I was generally self sufficient, except for when they needed to connect IVs or disconnect my machines, and by the third day, I was able to do at least the machine part on my own as well. My daytime nurse the last two days was delightfully bossy. I appreciate that in a caretaker.

I had to make my first after-hours call to the cardiologist after a particularly bad coughing spell (thanks, hospital cold, for infecting my entire family) resulted in new soreness/pain around my pacemaker “pocket”. The on-call fellow was very kind and patient – and surprised me by calling back half an hour later with the offer from my cardiologist to fit me in Monday morning for a quick check of my device. All is well, but I appreciated the reassurance, and the willingness to get me in right away.

That said, I also had a major crying jag after the coughing fit but before the reassuring call back from the cardiology fellow. The pain was secondary to the fear – not of something life-threatening happening, but of going to the hospital for something that seems minor and losing another week of my life. I’ve been told this will get better.

What happened.

The short version: I blacked out in a restaurant last Sunday. While being monitored overnight, my heart stopped for 13 seconds. I spent the next four days being continuously monitored around the clock and…nothing happened. There’s absolutely no indication what caused the incidents on Sunday.  I got a pacemaker as an insurance policy, and was discharged on Friday. I’m fine apart from recovering from the surgery, and there are no significant lifestyle modifications going forward unless I decide to take up a career in welding or as an MRI technician.

The longer version:

Last Sunday, we took a day trip to the suburbs to visit the Little Red Schoolhouse nature area and have lunch at a place that had promising vegan options. I was hungry by the time we made it to lunch, but not overly so, and probably hadn’t had enough water, but I wasn’t dehydrated by any means. We ordered lunch, and as it arrived at the table, I had a moment of feeling weird, and the next thing I knew, I was being picked up off the floor, having hit my head on the table or the floor or both.

I was convinced to be transported to the ER by ambulance, where I promptly threw up my virgin Bloody Mary (thanks, motion sickness). We waited for more than an hour in the hallway of the ER before being moved to a room, where they checked me out, did blood work, etc. More hours of waiting in the hallway and – nothing. No idea what had caused the blackout. Nothing wrong with my blood sugar, blood pressure, electrolytes, etc. No signs of concussion. Annette and Liz drove out to rescue us, taking the boy out for ice cream while we waited for news.

They wanted to keep me overnight for monitoring. Panicked at the idea of an out-of-network hospital stay, we called my parents (my dad is a doctor), who strongly encouraged us to stay. I was admitted, and Annette and Liz drove the guys and our car home.

Once I was settled in my room, I called N to video chat. While were on the phone, I blacked out again – except this time I was hooked up to telemetry devices, and they could see from the readout that my heart had stopped for 13 seconds. Over the next few hours, I had what could best be described as hot flashes – a temporary rush of heat, nausea, and dizziness – that they correlated with sharp drops in my heart rate (into the 30s – my resting heart rate is around 55 normally). The on-call cardiologist was called in. Family friends came to see me and got the doctor straight talk, which was relayed to my anxious parents. The decision was made to transfer me to the University of Chicago, which is where I would’ve preferred to be the whole time. I arrived by ambulance (no throwing up this time) around 5am Monday morning.

I spent the next three days waiting for something to happen, first in the SICU, then in the cardiac ICU. Nothing happened. No more hot flashes or pauses. No more nausea or dizziness as long as they let me eat. Nothing. Not only was I the unusual young patient in the cardiac ICU – I was an otherwise completely healthy one. It was surreal to say the least.

Meanwhile, my family was scrambling to cover things at home so that N could spend time with me at the hospital. My sister and the baby dropped everything to drive in for the first night. My mom flew home early from vacation, and took turns with N visiting me and wrangling the boy at home or in the hospital lobby – he couldn’t visit due to flu season. Everyone was amazing and did their absolute best through an exhausting week.

I met with more doctors than I can even possibly remember, especially since some of them stopped by in the very early morning or while I was trying to eat, or called while I was in the middle of talking to other doctors. The attending cardiologist happened to be the head of the electrophysiology team and a “rising star in the field of arrhythmia management” – exactly the sort of person you want on your case if your heart is doing something weird. He was mystified, as were the colleagues he consulted at top rhythm centers around the country.

He presented me with several options, all of which he said he felt equally comfortable recommending, both for my health and in terms of his responsibility: I could go home after several days of monitoring. Or I could go home with an implantable chip that would transmit my telemetry data to them for longer term monitoring. Or I could get a small pacemaker that would “catch” my heart if I experienced another pause or dip.

We talked it over extensively, and came to the conclusion that the pacemaker was the safest choice. I kept contrasting this choice with choosing to wear a bike helmet. If I don’t wear a bike helmet and have an accident, generally I’m the only one affected. If my heart crashed again, however, it could be disastrous. We got exceptionally lucky that it happened while I was sitting in a chair and lying in a bed. The thought of it happening while driving, or crossing the street with the boy, or walking down a flight of stairs, or cooking dinner – any of those could be catastrophic.

So on Thursday, I got a pacemaker. The surgery was done under sedation, not general anesthetic. A small injection in my groin allowed them to access a vein to place a sensor that would allow them to generate a map of my circulatory system. After making a two-inch incision just below my collarbone, the pacemaker lead with a tiny sensor was introduced. The doctors used the 3D map to thread the lead into my heart, attached the device, and closed me up. It took about three hours from start to finish.

I was rolled back to my room, where I spent the next four hours flat on my back on bed rest. I wasn’t allowed to move my left shoulder or my right leg. They angled my bed up to about 30 degrees so that I could eat for the first time in 18 hours (I didn’t order wisely, but managed to finish my veggie burger without too much mess). The plan was to discharge me after the period of bed rest, but neither N nor I thought that would be safe, so they agreed to keep me another night. I spent my last night in the hospital zoning out and watching Battlestar Galactica and trying not to think about the previous few days, or the days ahead.

So what is life for an otherwise healthy 38-year-old like after getting a pacemaker? A few more days without showers. No driving for two weeks. I can’t lift my left arm above my shoulder for 4-6 weeks. I’m very sore, though the soreness has as much to do with strange motions compensating for my range of motion as it does with the surgery itself. I have a box under my bed that downloads data from the pacemaker and transmits it to the doctors and the device company. I can’t climb radio towers, or take up welding, or hang out between loss prevention gates at stores. I can’t play football or any other sports where there’s a risk of hard contact to my chest. I can’t get an MRI.

But I can have an almost completely normal life – once I figure out what normal feels like for all of us after all of this.