Sunday, December 19, 2010

One Year Ago and Today

One Year Ago -- A birth story
I wasn't expecting to go into labor for at least another two weeks.  I had my routine weekly OB appointment on December 17th and had absolutely no progress. I was horribly uncomfortable and hoped she would tell me something was changing.  The baby was still high up and cozy.  My doctor asked me about induction and I told her I didn't want to be induced without medical reason.  She was fine with it, and told me she'd let me go until 42 weeks, which would have put me around January 12th.  My original due date was December 29th, so I was at 38 weeks.  Despite my discomfort, I was going to let the baby come when he was ready, especially since he was predicted to be quite small.

I got home from the doctor and had a breakdown.  My hormones were going wild.  Every little thing made me cry.  A calender, a baby on a TV show, even my cats.  I went through work on December 18th with tears in my eyes.  My heartburn flared.  I was on an emotional roller coaster, and it was really the only time in my pregnancy that I was in that spot.  I was always so calm and cool, even when I was working 20 hours of overtime a week for months straight.

We made plans for the weekend.  The 20th was my husband's birthday.  We bought movie tickets and set a time to go to the art museum.  We bought groceries.  We sat on the couch and watched a movie and then went to bed.

I had woken up several times each night ever since I was 6 weeks along, so waking up in the middle of the night on the 19th was nothing unusual.  I went to the bathroom, and I wiped away a glob of goo and a little blood, again nothing too unusual, since it happened every time I was checked by the doctor.  I woke up a final time at 6:30am and when I stood up after using the toilet, a large amount of liquid ran down my leg.  I thought I might have urinated on myself, a common pregnancy problem, but when I shifted, it happened again and I noticed that there was a little bit of pink in the liquid.

I woke up my husband and he groggily rolled out of bed after I told him I thought my water had broken.  He has always been a really difficult person to wake up, so I think it took him a good 10 minutes to figure out what I was telling him.  Since we weren't expecting labor for a couple more weeks, we didn't even have our bags packed.  We got our things together and called the doctor.  My doctor wasn't on call on Saturdays, so we ended up talking to another in her practice.

We headed to the hospital at 9:30.  I was still only having light cramping instead of noticeable contractions, but since my water had broken and I had tested positive for Group B Strep, I was told to come in so I could start antibiotics.  The hospital we had chosen was a 20 minute drive and it was snowing lightly.  My husband made me sit on towels over a garbage bag because I was making a mess.

I had pre-registered at the hospital and we had called ahead, so they knew I was coming.  We walked to our L&D room and the nurse tested and confirmed that what I was leaking was amniotic fluid.  It took two nurses and an anesthesiologist to get the hep-lock in my arm.  I have terrible veins for sticking.  They are tough, roll, and have many valves that tend to blow.  It took seven sticks to get the hep-lock in so I could get started on antibiotics.  I ended up getting fluids at some point later because I ended up vomiting throughout my labor and couldn't even keep down ice chips.

I had a check and was only at 2cm and still wasn't having significant contractions.  At around 11am, I had my first real contraction, a ten-minute long tetanic nightmare.  I held onto a steady tone, a D-flat, and breathed through the contraction, but the monitor showed that my baby's heart rate had dropped as a result of the extreme contraction.  It didn't go back up when the contraction ended.  I got onto my hands and knees and the nurse gave me an oxygen mask and the change in position made his heart rate go back up to normal.

The doctor came in and told me that if it happened again and a position change didn't help, they'd be taking me for a Cesarean.  As it was, I wouldn't be able to use the jacuzzi tub because he wanted me hooked up to the external monitor.  I was still only 2cm dilated so the tetanic did nothing for progression.  The doctor wanted to give me pitocin, but I told him no.  I told him I wanted some time to try to progress on my own and only use interventions if absolutely necessary.

I spent the next hour and a half bouncing on a birthing ball while playing Diablo 2 on my laptop and watching Kung Fu Panda.  My method worked and I progressed to 4cm two hours after the pitocin threat.  I didn't get on the bed until transition.  I spent the next 9 hours or so on the ball, standing and leaning over, walking, rocking in a chair, and in the shower when they let me go off the monitor for a while.  My baby's heart rate stayed up.  I rocked through the contractions.  Even when I was just standing, I was dancing, swaying side to side.  We listened to music, played games, and watched movies for distraction.  A friend came by to bring my husband dinner around 5, but other than that, it was just him, me, and the nurses.  The anesthesiologist came by once to tell me that he could give me a high epidural despite my spina bifida, but I basically told him off.  There was no way I was going to let anyone stick anything in my spine.  I was handling the pain really well and I didn't need anyone trying to tell me that I should just take the drugs.

I'm not sure when I hit transition, somewhere around 9 or 9:30pm.  At that point, I couldn't stand up anymore because the pain was constant.  I kept humming my D-flat while lying on my side, rocking front to back.  At 10:20 I was ready to push.  The nurse told us the baby had a lot of dark hair.  I never felt the crowning or the "ring of fire".  I pushed with each contraction, which greatly relieved the pain.

At 10:49pm on December 19, 2009, my son Rowan was born and was placed on my chest while my husband cut the cord and I was stitched up.  He had a full head of black hair and dark blue-indigo eyes.  He was a hairy little guy.  He even had fine, dark hair on his forehead, ears, back, and arms.  His hairline and eyebrows were connected.  He was a tiny guy, weighing in at 6lbs 5oz and was 18.5 inches long.  He had quite a conehead, which resolved over the next 12 hours.  He had an incredible set of lungs, which he still likes to demonstrate.  He was extremely alert, active, and rooting like mad.  We had a little trouble initiating nursing because his mouth was tiny, but he got it after a while.  He kept looking at me with those big bright eyes.  He was absolutely beautiful.

I had such an endorphin rush that I couldn't sleep for 12 hours after birth.  I was out of bed 30 minutes after being stitched up and was able to take a shower an hour later when my husband went with Rowan for his first bath.  I turned the bathroom into a crime scene, but getting on my feet so quickly was definitely a major perk of natural birth.  Rowan was brought back to me in the room we'd be staying in and we snuggled up for some more latching practice while my husband slept.  I think he was far more tired than I was.

My regular doctor came to visit the next morning.  She kept calling me a "rock star" because of the way I handled my labor.  I was always calm and in control.  She was surprised that I was out of bed and moving around when she came in.  I guess they don't get many unmedicated births, even though it was a low-intervention hospital with the lowest Cesarean rate in the area.   He ended up going to the nursery for a couple of hours because he had trouble maintaining his body temperature even with skin-to-skin contact, but he was completely healthy.  He was better able to maintain his body temperature and we were home 36 hours after he was born and on to our great adventure.


Today I am nursing a toddler
The in-between matters, but this isn't about the year, it is about a year ago and today, so that is what I will observe.

My little boy's first birthday is today.  Instead of a helpless itty bitty baby, I now have an independent-minded tiny tot who asks for milk, and eagerly crawls to me to get it.  Our cuddle time is better than ever, since milk time is the only time he wants to sit still.  Rowan is busy exploring the world, but always comes crawling back to me when he needs a little milk.  He isn't walking yet, but he makes up for that by being a very early talker.  He started asking for "nana" at 8 months, and now he asks for "meh".  His first three words were "mama", "dada", and "kitty", and now he has added book baby, yeah, hi, up, crackers, done, more, stinky, poopy, Loki, Rhappy (sometimes called Pawpaw by him... her full name is Rhapsody), play, my, and done.  He is extremely animated and only falls asleep on accident.  He is observant and doesn't want to miss anything.  I get comments from strangers all the time on how smart they think he looks.  There just seems to be some light in those gray-brown eyes (used to be blue, but not anymore).

We're halfway to my vague goal of two years for breastfeeding.  The dynamic of our nursing sessions has changed considerably, even just in the last month.  He's faster now because he wants to get back to playing.  It is a huge change from the 45 minute marathons of even 3 months ago.  Our positioning has become acrobatic as he first learned to hold his head up, then sit, then crawl, and now stand.  The teeth weren't even a challenge after the initial problems I had with severe engorgement that lasted for over two weeks and Reynaud's phenomenon vasospasms.  He's got 8 teeth now and the points of a couple molars are starting to make an appearance.  He only nips when he's falling asleep, and only once did he nip hard enough to draw blood.


We've dealt with RSV/bronchiolitis (and a 4 day hospitalization), coxsackievirus, and gastroenteritis, but Rowan made it through his first year without an ear infection, diaper rash, or food allergy.  The last one was a huge concern for us, since DH and I both have food allergies, mine multiple and severe.  Rowan is vegan and loves to eat beans, tofu, leafy greens, tempeh, and mushrooms.  He chowed down on a pineapple cupcake at his birthday party, and followed it up with a few minutes of mommy milk before he went back to being overwhelmed by wrapping paper, sparkles, bows, and too many toys.


All the nursing pain I went through at the beginning was worth it just for this moment.  Rowan sprawled on my lap, napping off his party, a drop of milk still on his chin.  He is worth the hours and hours I spent pumping at work before I left my job.  He is healthy and intelligent and fantastic.  We are heading into unknown territory with toddler nursing, but I decided a while ago that I absolutely do not care if the ignorant criticize my parenting style.  I look down on my lap and see not an infant, but a little boy who still has a lot of growing to do, a little boy whose future is still forming, and I am only writing the prologue. 



Monday, December 6, 2010

Synesthesia 2

 Just a little bit more on my auditory-tactile synesthesia.  It came up on a message board recently, so I'm mostly just doing a copy-paste and adding some more detail.

I can't remember not feeling sound, and I used to think it was normal until I was in high school and wrote some descriptive poetry that the rest of the class thought was absolutely bizarre.  I had childhood epilepsy, which my neurologists think probably triggered the sensory crossing.  There are some sounds I avoid because they are physically painful for me.  The absolute worst are waterfalls.  We went to Niagra when I was a kid and it was like a full-body migraine.  There are some people I avoid talking to because their voices are like scratches, slaps, or cheesegraters destroying my face.  Words like 'reticulate' and 'purse' are an insult to my nerves.  

Synesthesia does have its upsides.  Some sounds are silky, cottony, or warm.  I have near-perfect pitch because I can feel it when an instrument or voice is out of tune.  I'm a classical percussionist.  Playing my instruments can be a touchless massage.  Piano and harp illicit a similar response  Cellos and basses are wet, like swimming, but violins itch if they start to go up into a more strident range. Plucked strings are a totally different feeling, a tickling tap that travels around my body. Steel guitars are spiders walking over my arms and legs.  Trumpets and piccolos/flutes can leave me with spinal headaches.  I would rather be in the band then listen to one.  Most recorded music doesn't bother me.  Rock concerts are quite a sensory overload, but in a good way.  I usually come away from them refreshed and euphoric.

I have played clarinet on and off since I was seven because we had one in the house.  The sound is hollow, a breath against my skin. Saxophones have a somewhat wet quality, which varies depending on the register. It's actually a tingly, refreshing feeling, like putting a touch of Vick's Vapor Rub on my chest and standing by a humidifier. The lower the range, the warmer it feels, and when it gets toward the soprano sax range, it gets icy, like the feeling you get when you suck on a mint and then take a swig of cold water.  Trombones, baritones, and tubas are a thud in my chest.  Cymbals are a full-body vibration, not much different from sitting by the engine on a small plane.  Oboes and Bassoons are like being breathed on and pinched at the same time.

Festivus preparations underway


I'm not a Christmas person.  I'm minimalist when I can help it and have a general disgust for commercialism.  Christmas is unavoidable from before Halloween until after New Years and it annoys me.  I've noticed so many people giving gifts as a substitute for showing love, and most people end up with a lot of stuff every year that they enjoy very briefly and then forget about.  I'd much rather get one small and inexpensive gift that actually means something to me than a whole assortment of expensive presents in throwaway wrappings and sticky bows.

My husband and I decided a while ago that we'd rather celebrate Festivus and the Solstice along side his and our son's December birthdays.  I don't like my son being called a "Christmas Baby".  I call him our "Birthday Baby" since we had our first prenatal appointment and ultrasound a day after my birthday and he was born an hour before his father's birthday.  This year, he can participate in feats of strength with the cats, something he has spent the last month practicing for.  I'm sure he'll air plenty of grievances in the confines of his diaper after we gorge ourselves on comfort food.  We are thirteen days from crossing over from "baby" to "toddler" and he seems to be on a mission to prove himself a big boy.  I'm a little sad that my itty bitty is growing up so fast.  He even got his first haircut yesterday so he no longer looks like the love-child of MacGyver and Bon Jovi.  He is big now and ready for some Festivus miracles.  My bet is this years big miracle will be him repeating choice words I yelled in the car earlier today.   Cat wrestling will commence after dinner on December 23rd.

We're having another vegan potluck, so I felt obligated to get a little tree.  I'm just going to put it on the table.  It's a living dwarf tree in a pot, so we'll plant it outside if it survives the cats this winter.  They ate the Norfolk pine my MIL gave us years ago, so I wouldn't be surprised if they nosh on this one as well.  I am fighting with bronchitis right now, and I really need to learn that I shouldn't go shopping when I'm sick.  The following pictures are my Yule tree...


Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Thanksgiving Present

I'm not certain how much milk is in this standard-sized cooler, but I think it was around 400oz.  I just sent it off yesterday on a journey north.  It is being transported by a recipient's family member to a little girl just a month older than my son.  She is a tiny little thing who was adopted as a newborn and can't tolerate formula.  Thanks to her mother inducing lactation and a lot of donor milk, she is gaining weight and doing far better than she did during the times she ended up on formula upon running out of donor milk.

This was my 9th donation.  I've donated approximately 3700oz to 7 babies in 6 families since March.  In addition to my own little guy, I've fed three adopted babies, one baby with a low-supply mama, one baby whose mom was unresponsive to the pump, and a pair of twins who needed a little extra for daycare.  I am nearing the end of my pumping era after slowly decreasing sessions since I stopped working.  I only do it once a day now and don't get as much as I used to.  My son doesn't need what I pump except for a very occasional bottle, so almost all of it gets donated.  I still have about 150oz in the freezer, so I'll be donating at least once more. 

My son will be a year old in a couple of weeks.  He is talking but not walking.  We're not weaning anytime soon because it is important to me to nurse him until around two years for more reasons than are necessary to list on this post.  He has no food allergies so far even though he is predisposed to them.  My little vegan baby is full of energy.  He is petite like me, and will likely be a small adult, but he is very healthy and loves to eat everything from cranberries to grapefruit to kale.  His favorite is tempeh.  My milk is still about 90% of his diet, since he is a light eater and solids are just for fun and practice at this point.  We did baby-led weaning, so he has been on finger foods only for months.

He is growing up and getting into trouble every thirty seconds.  I do miss the 6-month old pre-mobile phase where he was interactive but not getting into everything, but he is so joyful now and so curious.  We are moving on to the next phase of his life and this phase is cycling into memory.  It feels like he'll be graduating from high school in a week.  I am so happy to be his mother.  I'm happy that my journey through the first year of motherhood also helped other families.  I give what I have where it is needed and try to live without regret.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Winter descends

The leaves have fallen, the flowers are dead.  The air is beginning to chill.  There is a month left until the solstice, but it is already dark by 5pm and the season has switched from transcendental color to monochrome grey.

I miss the pines.  I miss snow draped over cedars.  I miss the sandy crunch of fluffy snow under skis.  I used to ski for hours through the northern forests, but there are no great forests here.  There are no cedars, no pines which were not planted by humans.  This place is grey and domesticated.  Its winters are slush and fluctuating temperatures, naked deciduous trees, gloom, dormant hibernating death.

The grey buries memories of blinding snow.  It destroys hope with an unrelenting, undulating despair.  The winters here are two months under desolate skies.  There are nothing but death and waiting seeds upon the plains.  The leaves drop, the wind blows, and the winter falls heavy with silent gloom and dormancy.

Northern Michigan winters are a far different beast.  They are not cheery, but they are bright, and the whiteness of the earth competes with a blue-grey sky and the snow triumphs.  Even at midnight, the bitter snow is bright.  It reflects the light of the moon, and absent the moon, it mirrors the stars and occasionally the aurora instead.  You can find your way through the forest by the light of the snow and still view the spectacular glory of the Milky Way above.  I used to go stargazing on the most frigid winter nights.  The sky was always clearest then.  The moon would hang resolute above the pines and the aurora would streak kaleidoscopic across the northern sky.  Twigs snapped, owls hooted, and the symphony of life accompanied the brilliant cosmos in an ambient duet.

There is no music in the winter dark in Kansas.  Life hibernates and the few sounds are urban and incidental.  It is dark so early, but the darkness is not illuminated by snow and galaxies.  Instead, city lights muffle the sky, and only the brightest stars and planets are ever visible.  The visible Milky Way is a myth, and any moving lights are planes and helicopters instead of potential UFOs.  Imagination is lost on urbanization.  The beauty of the universe is packaged and boxed and shown only in school texts and television documentaries.

It is not much improved outside of the city.  There are no lights and the stars return, but the plains are desolate and dead.  Trees are scarce, and they are skeletons instead of majestic evergreens.  They die every fall and are reborn in the spring.  Everything does here.  It snows, but not enough, and the snow is gone quickly.  Ice is far more common, and every snowfall is guaranteed to blanket a substantial layer of ice.  The naked trees are weighed down with it and often break.  Broken, tired skeletons, longing for a spring not soon to arrive.  Everything is wet and dirty, tired and depressed.  Snow becomes slush once grounded, slush becomes ice, ice melts to become mud.

I miss the water.  I miss spontaneous hockey games and skiing through the forest at night to find the perfect stargazing spot.  I miss the thick blankets of fluffy snow that last for months at a time.  I cannot go back to those memories.  There is nothing for me in Michigan anymore.  Some family to visit, but there is no future there, only past.  My present is here in Kansas, but my future is to be determined.  For now, I'm trapped between desolate winters and scorching summers.  The unending flatness is my home now and for the foreseeable future.  I gave up beauty for stability.  I do not regret it, but sometimes I miss it terribly.  Sometimes I dream of snow-painted evergreen bows but wake up to bare branches perched on a lonely stretch of ashen earth.  The northern forests call to me, but I can only listen and not respond.  The calls will remain unheeded for now as I prepare myself for another Kansas winter.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Farewell, Bennu

I kill electronic devices.  No computer, phone, or watch battery has ever stood a long-term chance against my bad machine mojo.  My computers are named so they can be identified on our home server, and not just because I'm odd.

Bennu was declared terminal and Fawkes fell into a coma on the same day.  I haven't had such bad luck since the great Mac and SEM implosion of 2004.  Fawkes (my desktop) refused to boot up after a restart and became nothing but a blinking cursor.  My husband the computer guru still hasn't fixed it, so I've been without a desktop for a month.

Poor Bennu decided to hang on just a little bit longer.  My son has an electronics fetish and yanked on the power cord a few too many times.  My little first generation netbook just gave up on me.  Its power connection had loose and the battery would not charge properly.  It died a long, drawn out, agonizing death.  The last weeks with Bennu were tedious.  I never knew when I would lose power and be shut off suddenly.  I could not work on my book or anything else of importance.  The end had come for poor Bennu.  It finally died completely and I was stuck using my husband's laptop to check email and not much else.

Bennu was a good little netbook.  On its tiny keyboard, I wrote three and a half books.  I used it to play Diablo 2 while I was in labor.  Its screen was tiny and its SD card only 8Gb, but I had become attached to my useful little device.  It is sitting on my desk right now, a corpse of a machine, awaiting removal of its useful files to be transplanted into a living device.

Adarna arrived yesterday and I am still getting used to the larger screen and keyboard.  It's a pretty little thing, and I think it cost me half of what I paid for Bennu.  The keys are noisy and it has an actual hard drive so it runs a bit hot.  Of course, we immediately wiped Windows XP from it's existence and installed Ubuntu.  I'm unapologetic when I say that Microsoft is just not right for our family.  We run Window's partitions on the two desktops, but those OS's are only there in case of a dire gaming emergency.

Adarna still needs essential files pulled from the server before I can really get to work on it.  My goal is to keep my new shiny toy as far from possible from my destructo-son.  His birthday is coming up in a month.  I should find him a little baby laptop he can pound on and not destroy.  Now, I just need to be given a little time to write.   I can't do it while he's awake, which unfortunately is also the only time I'm awake.  The child only naps on accident.  Words are stewing in my mind and I want them out, but it will take a daddy-and-baby-go-out night for me to type out anything.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Stream of Consciousness


Can't sleep.

Too much brain working, too many thoughts.  About what?  Nothing, as far as I can glean.  I'm foggy and wander from one thing to the next.  There is a pile of freshly washed diapers on the floor.  The baby happily pulled them off the couch and I haven't gotten around to taking them upstairs yet.  The cat is sitting on one of them.  Strange little cat, waiting for me to go to bed.  She never sleeps anywhere at night besides on my head.  Has for years.  Furry, purring, obnoxious, kneading away at my pillow.

My family is sleeping.  I left them upstairs playing Angry Birds on the smartphone.  They are dreaming while I am downstairs absently staring and channeling words through my tired fingers.  Is it late?  Not so bad, just before midnight, but such a long day it feels later.  Fasting and blood drawn before I could finally eat, and I've been hungry ever since.  I've been awake too long, and hungry for longer.  I've never been as hungry has I have the last ten months, but still slowly the weight falls off and now my pants are falling off with it.  I need to find my belts again, or at least my smaller pants.

There are toys everywhere down here in the basement.  Drums and gear bugs and plushies and things that make noise.  I am surrounded by drummers and my son is already showing aptitude for the musical arts.  He beats drums, and taps at the xylophone with purpose.  Perhaps it is just me.  We took video of him last night, and he played something beautiful.  Sleepy Time for Solo Vibraphone, composed by a ten-and-a-half month old boy, perceived a genius by his tired mother.  Beautiful and haunting, you cannot be out of tune when you play the vibes and that is part of the reason I love mallet percussion.

I used to be a decent mallet player, but my myoclonus mostly stripped me of that talent.  I twitch too much to be consistent.  I still play, but as a perpetual amateur.  I left the semi-professional group this season.  Too much work and stress and all I had to practice on at home was a vibraphone.  The spacing is different on the others.  I can't play piano anymore either.  My fingers are slow and I can't straighten all of them out.  Damned nerves, damaged by years of self-abuse and a long-misdiagnosed mitochondrial defect.

I haven't slept much lately.  I'm not as tired as I should be, but I am weary.  I can't think straight.  I try to nap, but just lay blankly and enjoy the warmth of my little boy cuddled next to me.  I don't think he is the reason I can't sleep.  He's big now, and I'm not afraid of crushing him anymore.  My husband still is afraid.  I hear noises and they keep me awake.  I solve puzzles and math problems in my head.  I've always done that.  I've always swung between narcolepsy and insomnia.  I exist on my own clock.  I can dream without sleeping and sleep without dreaming because my REM stage is abnormal.  I can dream while wide awake and aware that I am dreaming.  I can sleep while conversing and remember everything I said.

My cat is looking at me with tired eyes.  She taps me with a paw, begging me to stop typing and go to sleep.  I want to, I really do, but my brain has not shut down yet.  I sit, accomplishing nothing, nothing at all.  I breathe, I blink, I type but my motions are meaningless and automatic.  I want to sleep, I want to dream, but mostly I want to wake up feeling refreshed after a good night.  That last dream has never happened to me before, and likely never will.

Synesthesia

To a lot of people, I am some sort of freak.

I feel sound.  Sometimes I taste it, but mostly feel it.  I hear it as well, but my senses are both crossed and parallel.  I have no idea why my senses are like this, but it might be a result of childhood epilepsy.  Auditory-tactile synesthesia.

Music can be physical ecstasy or intense pain.  I have near perfect pitch because it hurts me when a note is out of tune.  That is why I would rather be in the band than listen to it most of the time.  Trumpets and piccolos stab at my nerves.   Marimbas are as close as I can get to a massage without being touched.

I have a hard time with names and words.  I won't go into names because the names I loathe are often the ones others love.  Some words are horrendous, like cheese graters being raked along my face.  Many are a slap, a punch, or just a creeping feeling along my spine.  I avoid many words in my speech, and they are fine when written, but hearing them spoken is a different manner.  I have to deal with it and ignore it, but if I pay attention at all, the feeling is still there.  I am still having sand paper rubbed over my hands and needles shoved into my jaw.  I taste what drain cleaner smells like, taste astringent, chemical, disgusting.

These are some of the words I hate.  The meanings are irrelevant.  Maybe I hate them, maybe they hate me.  Perhaps it is mutual loathing.  My love for the written language does not extend to verbalization, and I find it occasionally distressing.

purse, ma'am, panties, slacks, spew, reticulate, regurgitate, plethora, placid, flaccid, squid, squire, square, squander, squawk, smack, fidget, swab, hubby, pew, caulk, junior, scrumptious, squabble, sixth, bifurcate, slap, appetite, spray, colloid, spleen, flake, flub, perpetuate, squabble

Synesthesia can be entertaining and isn't always unpleasant.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, I have lovely words like miasma, solace, crystalline, gravity, adiabatic, attrition, cinder, beryllium, electric, sonnet, and stellar.  Those trigger more favorable tactile responses.  Silky strokes and soft, cottony dabs.  Minuscule massages along my temples.  Sometimes I'll taste something sweet, not overly, just a small grain of sugar on my tongue or a hint of maple.


Sigh...  This is why we are going to have such a hard time naming our next child.



Monday, October 25, 2010

To my little boy, the insomniac

You are sleeping now, finally.  Every nap and every night is a fight, but once you are asleep, you stay asleep.  Still, it is a fortunate day when you nap, and an even more fortunate night when you fall asleep before midnight.  I get you to sleep by cuddling you in a dark room for an hour or more, but I usually end up asleep before you.  All of my waking moments belong to you, and I am afraid to move you when you nap or you won't nap at all.

I know you don't want to miss anything.  I know the world is new and exciting and now that you are mobile, there is so very much to see.  Your personality is starting to settle in, and what I see more than anything is overwhelming curiosity.  You have always been so alert and so aware of your surroundings, even as a newborn you looked into the eyes of others and began to understand.

Thanks to your grandmother, you have more toys than we know what to do with, but you don't care much for them.  You'd rather sit outside under the trees, swing in the park, and steal electronic devices and skeins of yarn off the couch.  The world is your toy.  The world is yours to mold under your creative will.  You are already manipulating your environment through pillow forts, figuring out the mechanics of baby gates, and removal of wall outlet covers.

Little one, it surprised me when you began to speak even though you weren't even nine months old yet.  You still only have a couple of words, but you know how to use them.  Early talker, late mover, and you are just now figuring out how to sit up on your own without being placed.  Maybe you just didn't have anyone to model that after.  After meeting another little boy and watching him cruise on furniture, you had the cruising skill mastered within days.

You are growing up so fast.  Every day is a new skill.  You are 10 months old and perfect.  Soon you won't be a baby anymore and will never be a baby again.  Soon I'll have to set you loose on the world and see where your exuberant personality and obvious intelligence take you.  You'll always be my baby, but I resign myself to knowing that one day you will be a man.

For now I'd rather watch you sleep, innocent one.  You are cuddled up on my lap, snoring softly.  You are beautiful and happy, energetic and inquisitive.  I will hold on to these moments to recall in the future days when you are a sullen teenager and a busy adult.  Silky hair, soft skin, color-changing eyes, a slight smile when you sleep.  I'm saving this moment for later.  I am slowly raising you and teaching you to be a wonderful person, but for now, sleep, dream, play, learn, and live surrounded by love.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Just Play


I am not a grown-up. I am old enough by far to qualify as one, and I am an adult. I feel like the moment I grow up is the moment I forget how to play. I don't want to forget. I don't want to be serious. I show restraint most of the time, but sometimes I just need to let loose and run through the trees, lost in a fantasy. Am I a woodland fairy, a deer, a hawk soaring low on the hunt? I want to keep my vivid imagination intact.  I can't write unless I can put myself in the mind of another, and I need to hold on to the child in me to do that.

I am a responsible adult.  I have an engineering degree, a mortgage, a family.  I had a "real" job until it became evident that I wasn't getting paid enough to make it worth the stress once I subtracted gas and daycare from my wages.  I am responsible for the little man crawling joyfully around my feet right now.  He is looking up at me and smiling and I am playing with him even while writing this.  We are playing "hide the mouse from the baby".  Sometimes that is all it takes to entertain.  I am his mother, his caretaker, his soul provider of nutrition for the first six-and-a-half months of his life, his playmate, his diaper changer.  If I ever forget how to play, how could we relate so flawlessly?  I can make toys from paper and plastic bottles, create soft friendly bears from a ball of yarn and some stuffing.  My imagination frees us from the need for manufactured toys, though we have a houseful thanks to my mother.

There is too much seriousness in the world.  Too much grown-up behavior.  Take a break from it.  Forget about your job and your bills for a few minutes and play with your children.  Pretend.  Be the dragon to their knights and princesses.  Go out side and make up stories about clouds and birds.  Paint a picture together.  If you don't have children, play anyways.  It's refreshing, really, it is.  Sled down a hill, roll in the grass, jump in a pile of leaves, just do something!  Life is so much better when you allow yourself a moment of fun within the otherwise endless doldrums of routine responsibility.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Life in Stitches



Stitch by stitch an object is created. One element on top of another, repeated over and over again in a variable sequence. What begins as an indistinguishable mass slowly and tediously takes shape to become a recognizable object. Order from chaos, the basis of the entire universe summed up in one little craft project. Each stitch an atom, each row a molecule, the object a sum of its parts and the realization of a thousand little stitches. I can follow the same pattern a hundred times, but each outcome will be slightly different. Different stitch, different tightness on the hook, different isotope. The yarn will have variations. Whatever I create is absolutely unique, and it is not just because I have the compulsion to combine colors in strange ways and add stitching flourishes where there usually aren't any.

My compulsion to crochet has been renewed. For the past week, I've been creating hats. Every one of them is different. I use different stitch patterns, different types and textures of yarns, and different colors. They fit on different sized heads. I made a newborn hat for a friend's baby, a toddler hat that my son does not fit into yet, and three sizes in between. Five hats so far.

I don't remember when I learned to crochet. I did it quite a bit in college, and my interest has waxed and waned ever since. I've made huge objects, like a 8x6ft afghan, and small objects like baby socks. I crochet when I watch TV or movies because I can never sit still. I always need something to occupy my hands and mind. My house is full of things I've made, and other houses have pieces of my idle work as well. I've made baby gifts and birthday presents. My favorite was a partially dismembered zombie doll I gave to my amazing friend for her birthday.

The little creature in the picture above is the recipient of most of my current work. He is quite a fan of hats, and I'm glad for that because I'm working on his fourth hat now. I'll probably keep making baby hats for a while. I have a few more friends with babies due soon. Winter babies need warm heads and I need something to occupy my hands.

Stitch by stitch by stitch an object is created. One wrong snip and it can unravel into a totally unrecognizable mess. One right stitch, and something beautiful emerges. Something of my own creation, unique by my hand, unrepeatable, and fascinatingly strange.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Some people just shouldn't speak.

Today is a snarky day and I just have to rant.

There are people out there who are so messed up in the head that I really can't understand how they function. There are some things you just don't say to people, especially people you don't know. There are more things that you just don't say to anyone, and if you're thinking them, you seriously need to reevaluate your life and probably get some professional help.

I was at the gym today like I am every weekday for my Pilates and yoga classes. When my class was over, I picked up my son from the gym's child watch. He was fussing a lot, so I sat down in a nice comfy armchair to the side of the entry area to feed him.

After a couple of minutes, and woman walked up to me. She stared for a minute, put her hand on her hip, fondled a cross around her neck with the other hand, shook her head, and said, "I just don't understand why God lets people like you have children."

Okay... um... what?
No explanation, no other dialogue. Just that. "I just don't understand why God lets people like you have children."

I don't use acronyms very often, but seriously, WTF, lady?!? First of all, doesn't your book say not to judge others? Don't you God-fearing folk remember that it is not your place to assume God's "plans". Ignorance is not bliss, and neither is insulting other people.

I had to think about what I was doing to offend her, and realized it could be any number of things. I am offensive to a lot of people just because I'm not like them. I'm vegan, I chose not to alter my perfect newborn son's body for cosmetic purposes, I'm short enough that people assume I escaped from Munchkin land and am now living under an assumed identity in Kansas, I am not a Christian and don't hang out in the closet gathering dust on the matter. I mentally made a list (I like lists because I can number them and math is fun) on the outward ways I must have been offending her and deemed unworthy of my child by a total stranger. Some possibilities are absurd, but so was this entire event. I have an overactive imagination and like to speculate...

1. I was breastfeeding -- Oh no, this is the big one, the most obvious offense against the moral fiber of the Midwest. Doubly offensive is that I was nursing a 9 month old. I didn't have my boob popped out for everyone to see or anything. After 9 months, I've learned to be discreet, even without being cocooned in a cover. I'm sorry, lady, I'm not going to formula feed just so you feel better about yourself. I try to give my son the best I can, and since these babies are fully functional, they're my baby's for nutritional satisfaction. I'm not going to pump for a bottle either, because then I end up engorged from not feeding him. I'm not going to feed him in the bathroom, because that is disgusting, and I'm not going to wait until we get home because it is downright cruel to let him scream in hunger. If you don't like my magnificent mammaries and how I use them, ignore me and walk away.

2. My presumed age -- I get this one a lot. I look like a teenager, but I'm 28. For this reason, I don't assume anything when I see mothers who look like young girls. My husband is not cradle robbing, I am not in high school, and I'm about 10 years older than I look. Maybe she was jealous because I'm aging well.

3. Cloth diapers -- My little guy's diaper was showing, mostly because I had him wearing a pair of leggings I made from knee-high patterned socks. I don't like putting him in pants because he crawls out of them. His cute little fluffy butt was showing under his onesie. I don't know, I've seen some people get pretty damned defensive about their disposables. I think sposies are disgusting, but I'm not about to come up to another mother and berate her on her choice to use them.

4. The diaper bag -- I have a really cool diaper bag. It's hand made our of really bright fabric covered in tropical scenes and parrots. Maybe too feminine for some tastes? It does its job so I don't complain about it. If it was too feminine, maybe I should have bought the pink striped knee socks to make his leggings in after all. But I can't do that! He'll catch The Gay! By a similar token, I turned parts for a potential afghan into a yoga mat bag, which was sitting next to me. It is bright, obnoxious, and a good use of afghan squares I lost the instructions for.

5. My book -- I was reading Steven Hawking. How Godless of me. Better watch out, intellect is contagious.

6. My shirt -- I like woot. Occasionally they have a really sweet shirt I can't pass up. Today I was wearing my recycled phoenix shirt, and the picture clearly showed above my nursing son. It is the life stages of a phoenix (flight, flames, reborn) in a recycle symbol. I guess since my version of apparel rebirth had nothing to do with Zombie Resurrection Jesus, praising Jesus, loving God, or any silly play on words or corporate symbols in the form of altered advertising, I must be an unworthy parent. Maybe I should buy the vegan "Praise Seitan" shirt and see what she thinks of that.

7. I left my child in the gym's child watch for an hour. Someone else is raising my child.

8. Conversely, I was not at work and it was the middle of the morning. I must be a leach on either my husband or society.

9. My tattoo -- I have several, but the only visible one at the time was the treble clef over a blue moon on my ankle. Didn't you know? Tattooed people are unfit parents.

10. I radiate Godless heathenism. It must be true. I mean, look at me, I have an invisible "Atheist" tattooed on my forehead. Only Christians can see it. I just looked in the mirror. Non-believers must not be able to see it, because I certainly can't. My child is unbaptized so I must be sending him straight into the bowels of Hell. Save him! He must be saved! His soul must be saved so he can go to Heaven! Nah, that's his choice, not mine. If he wants to believe in something, he can, but I'm neither going to encourage it, nor discourage it. I have texts from a dozen different religions in my house. He can read them and decide for himself what he thinks. Just because I don't believe, didn't baptize him, and only go into churches for weddings, funerals, and La Leche League meetings doesn't mean that I shouldn't be a mother.

What did this woman see when she looked at me? She's the only one who knows, and all I can do is speculate.

"I just don't understand why God lets people like you have children," she said, and I stared at her in shock. I really can't believe she said that, but she did.

I stroked my son's hair and he stopped eating and smiled up at me. I gave the first response that came into my mind. I smiled crookedly, snapped my book shut, and said,

"I guess Darwin wins in the end after all."

She walked away in a huff, and I returned to feeding my child.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Part 5: Life of a Milk Donor

(This is a continuation of my previous post on my milk donating experiences)



I am at peace with my body. I have stretch marks, left over baby flab, my own natural set of inflate-a-boobs, a mouthful of repaired teeth thanks to 9 months of morning sickness and severe reflux, and a lion's mane of frizzy hair. I could look better. I am trying to look better through yoga and pilates classes, but that looking better is so that I feel better and have more strength and endurance to chase around my little crawler. I try not to spend much time looking in the mirror, aside from making sure I don't have anything on my face or in my hair. I still fight with my psyche over how I look, so it is better that I stay in my zen place. I am not fat, I am not ugly. I am not worthless. It took me so long to realize that. I struggled so hard against my confused thoughts when I was younger, and even though those thoughts surface on occasion still, I am finally at peace with the body I have.

I have realized that my body is amazing. It has nothing whatsoever to do with aesthetics, but instead with function. I gave birth naturally after laboring on my feet in my own way, after so many people doubted I would even escape without a cesarean. So what if I'm under five feet tall? So what if I started out at 110 lbs and built like a ruler? My body did exactly what it was supposed to and continued after. I have a pair of fully-functional super-capacity breasts, and though they may not be so pretty to look at anymore, they get the job done.

Actually, they're chronic overachievers. You know the type, the valedictorian who raised her hand for every question, graduated with a triple major in three years, became the youngest whatever in whatever field, all with a smile and grating spunk. I was never that overachiever, but I guess a pair of my body parts decided to be. I can do the math for that one, since the engineer in me has always been obsessed with numerics...

Tomorrow I make another donation ("small" this time, at least for me. 200oz to help a pair of twins the same age as my son to make it through their first year without needing any formula at daycare.) , and after that one, I will have donated 3000 oz to 5 babies in 4 families. In addition, I have grown my own little munchkin from a petite 6lb 5oz newborn to a energetic 17lb 8.5 month old. He's still little, but you can't expect much other than little coming out of me. I think he'd weigh more, but to him, my milk is pure energy and he's spent every minute since he learned to crawl getting into places he shouldn't be.

So... 3000oz. I have to think about that one. That amount wouldn't fit in my freezer, or in my kitchen freezer plus the new little chest freezer we got for the garage to store my extra milk. 23.44 gallons. That's a good sized fish tank, twice the gasoline tank capacity of my car. 88.7 liters. Here's a good visual for that one, line up 44 two-liters of pop, or 23 gallons of milk, and I've donated a little more than that. Add in the approximate amount I've fed my son, I'd say an average of 32oz a day over 8.5 months, and I've made at least 11,500 ounces of breastmilk. 90 gallons. That's 770 lbs, 7x my body weight.

Wow.

My body did that? My flabby, stretch-marked, frizzy-haired body? I feel like a super hero. By day, a normal, unassuming mother of one, doing the best she can with what she's got, by the night the hyper-lactater, feeding the babies of the Midwest, one ounce at a time. It is easy disassociate myself from that aspect in between donations, but now that I'm about to make another one, all the feelings of accomplishment come flooding back and the super hero comes out to play. It might be a little bit of an ego trip, but maybe after all the downers in my life, I can be deserving of it because I was able to do something to help others who needed it. Something so easy for me, but so hard for so many others. I helped feed their babies, and they gave me a sense of self-worth I don't think I could have gotten anywhere else. The best therapist in the world does not compare to the ephipany that your body can do something so normal and so natural, yet so extraordinary and precious at the same time.

Its hard to believe my son is almost 9 months old. He is so grown up, trying to be so independent, and sometimes when I look at him I get flashes of what he'll look like as an adult. He still needs his mommy though, and loves his cuddle and nursing times. He still nurses every 2-3 hours during the day, and now refuses a bottle. Everything I pump now is for donation, except for a little bit to mix in with his food. I'll try to get him to drink from a cup at some point since he loves drinking water from a cup, but there is really no rush because I'm only rarely away from him long enough to miss a feeding anymore. I pump in the morning after nursing and at night before bed and get between 12-15oz a day to freeze. I think that's a little more than I got extra when I was still working. I've been donating since March, and in that time, my own little one has grown up and is quickly crawling toward toddlerhood.

I get asked about milk sharing and donating a lot. I know quite a bit about the milk banking end, but I chose to go the sharing route instead. It is more personal. My milk isn't mixed with the milk of others, pasteurized, frozen and refrozen, and sold for $3-4.50 an ounce. I've considered donating to a bank since a new one has just opened in my city, but its hard to trade the personal of donating to an individual to the impersonal of donating to a group. I still might do it next time, but we're on the old end of what a bank would accept now, and my freezer fills up faster than the paperwork would get through. Another reason I've stuck with sharing is the specific composition of my milk. I qualify to donate to the bank and am on no meds except prenatals, but what sets me apart is my diet. I've seen pleas all over the sharing forum for donations free of certain allergens, and because of my own allergies, I qualify to help many of them. I do not consume any dairy, eggs, fish, or shellfish, and those exclusions generated inquiries from all over the country. I hated to say no, but I know I can't feed everyone, and I would rather donations stay fairly close to home so the risk of shipping is minimized. The specific requirements are up to the individual families, and some families will accept donations from mothers on certain medications. It is important to disclose health information because milk sharing is built on trust. I can't see any sane woman going through the trouble to knowingly put both her child and another in harms way by exposing them to diseases or potentially dangerous substances. Have access to your prenatal testing records and make them available if requested and disclose all medications and substances you are taking, including over the counters, caffeine, and any occasional alcohol usage. Recipient families set their own terms as far as whether or not caffeine and other things are acceptable (some babies react badly to caffeine), so be honest with them. They deserve respect and honesty because it their childrens' livelihoods are at stake.

I know the families I've donated to. Not well, but well enough that I care. I've talked to them online, in person, and on the phone. I've seen pictures or met the babies I've helped feed. I know their stories and their names. We've cried and laughed and shared stories. Each family comes from a different background from my own. They have different compositions, different values, different ways of raising their children, but we are bonded through the way we feed our babies and that transcends the differences. These are families I never would have met otherwise, and I had very little in common with some of them, but we were brought together by a commonality. We all shared the desire and drive to give our children the best possible start in life, and I am so very, very fortunate and so very grateful that I have been able to help them in such a personal and meaningful way.

Despite the chaos in the rest of my life, I have a sense of peace now. I have confidence, but not too much (I still keep a just-in-case stash, after all). I look in the mirror and see past the reflection. I see me, the real me beyond the exterior, and I can finally and honestly say I like who I am.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On love...

There is a lot I could say about this, but for now I'll just leave a passage from Mayfly Requiem. Sometimes love just doesn't make sense, but we have to learn to deal with it anyways. I'm not dealing with spontaneous love, love with no explanation or reason, but I know people who have. We do not choose who we love, and the who doesn't matter. What matters is that we love at all, because without love, we are nothing but ego and dust.

Love is a peculiar affliction, but you know this already, my sweet Dia. Bitter, uncontrollable, unpredictable. It washes over us like floodwater, sweeping away all common sense and replacing it with rambling, fluttering sweet nothings. We try to shove it aside and forget our feelings toward mortals, but we are creatures of emotion and the harder we push away, the harder it grips us. We have never been able to escape it.

What is it, anyways, this affliction called love? Attraction? Moths are attracted to flames, but that does not mean they love it and does not make it not dangerous for them. Lust? I don't think so. I can lust after anyone physically appealing, but that does not mean I want to spend a mortal lifetime together. Chemistry? Pheromones? The insatiable urge to relieve a bit of sexual angst? I don't know, Dia. Maybe you know better than I, even though you've now found yourself in a loveless relationship. Maybe this love word so freely thrown around is just a word.

Or, maybe, it is more. Maybe it is a bond, a subtle version of the link we share, a tendrilling vine of souls, spiraling ever closer together. A gentle understanding, unashamed acceptance, a dream which continues upon waking, a futile wish never to be alone again. Whatever it is, love is a lost struggle to us, another relic of the past and memory of the future. Can't do anything about it though, can we? We are meant to love. We are meant to lose. Love is our promise of a bittersweet end, and our desperate, hopeless struggle not to hurt anyone along the way.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Human Rights

I think of strange things while driving in the car. Today I was inspired by a bumper sticker, but I can't remember what it said because I was too busy mentally composing this list.

I'd like to hope that someday we will be socially evolved enough to respect each other as we are, but I know it won't happen within my lifetime. I do not think I am a pessimist, I just have a Utopian dream. Human nature tends toward two extremes, cynicism and unthinking callousness. We either see the world for the mess it is or block it out and ignore the world to focus strictly on our own ambitions. In my utopia, all humans have the same inherent rights, but are perfectly free to be individuals. These rights are independent of government and belong to every human being on Earth.

Love -- You have the right to love the person or persons you are attracted to. It is recognized that love is not a choice, and the gender, race, age, religion, and any other defining factor of the loved is not relevant in the ability to love. Consummation of love between mutually consenting adults is a private matter not to be interfered with by others. Love between people may wax and wane, but it is not a trivial matter and love outside of the traditional male-female relationship is not seen as anything other than another variation of normal.

Bodily Autonomy -- You have the right to do what you wish with your own body. No one, including parents or guardians, has the right to alter your body without your permission with the exception of emergency procedures and reconstructive surgeries on minors. You have the right to make your own decisions about what goes into your body, what your outward appearance is, and what medical procedures are undertaken. Your body is yours and yours alone.

Health -- You have the right to receive and expect medical treatment for any injuries and illnesses sustained. Should you not wish to partake of any medical care, it should not be forced upon you and you have the right to refuse. At the end of your life, you have the right to comfort, respect, and dignity in your palliative care. It is your responsibility to make your wishes known to your next of kin before it is needed, and your next of kin should respect your wishes. You have the right to live without fear for your health due to inability to pay. The patient should come first in priority, and the payment should only be discussed after stabilization of the health condition

Life -- You have the right to live without fear of your life being taken by another. You should not be a victim of war or murder. Your life has worth and it is respected universally.

Sustenance -- You have the right to clean drinking water and enough food to meet your body's needs. Gluttony should never exist in one nation while its neighbors are weathering famine. You have the right to your appropriate optimum nutrition from the moment of your birth until the time of your death.

Environment -- You have the right to a clean world. You have the right to live on land, drink water, and breathe air free of hazardous chemicals and toxins. No corporation should compromise the safety of the people by utilizing chemicals in places where food is grown and water is consumed by humans, animals, or crops. You have the right for your health never to suffer as a result of environmental toxins.

Individuality -- You have the right to follow the path of your choice without coercion. You can choose your religious beliefs or lack thereof, your lifestyle, your career based on your skills, your spouse no matter his or her demographic, whether or not to reproduce, what consumer items to buy, who to vote for, and how and where to live.

Education -- You have the right to a comprehensive, unbiased education. Your abilities are taken into account and you may continue your education along the lines or your preferences and skills. Knowledge should not be hidden, costly, or unobtainable to any who wish to seek it.

Voice -- You have the right to be heard. Your concerns and ideas matter even if they are ultimately unobtainable. No one has the right to oppress your voice and keep you silent. Your voice is your greatest power. Use it if your choose, and let yourself be heard.

Choice -- You may choose whether or not to take advantage of these rights, but it is always your choice and your choice alone to make. You do not have the right to choose for others and others do not have the right to choose for you. Your life is your own to live, but do not expect others to choose to live your way.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dreamtime

I lose time. Hours, days, weeks, months. I can remember them, but I don't feel like I was actively participating in them. Memories are dreamlike and I can't remember either beginning or end. I lost a week this time. I drifted mentally while doing everything I was supposed to, but I lived in a perpetual fog and acted automatically.

I have narcolepsy. I was diagnosed when I was twenty, at the end of my sophomore year of college. I was napping more than I was awake, hallucinating, and had been losing muscle control as a result of emotions since I was a child. I had a sleep study ordered by my neurologist and was diagnosed, and the diagnosis was reconfirmed when I was 26.


Damn it, it is two days later. I lost track not long into writing this. At least I've been working on my book a lot. It is another time-eater, but not a time-waster by any means.

I gave one of my major characters narcolepsy because it has only rarely been accurately described in fictional literature and on screen. He has my hallucinations, cataplexy, and time-loss. I even gave him my summer time experiment, where I spent a summer between classes sleeping when I was tired to see what my body clock would do. That was the summer right after I was diagnosed, and before I found a medication that worked at all. It was also the summer I wrote The Crystal Lattice.

I am currently unmedicated and have been for several years. I spent a lot of time on a medication called Provigil, but the side effects compromised my health. I was always jittery and never hungry so my weight dropped to 85 lbs. I switched to Ritalin after that, but the effect didn't last long enough and I developed a quick resistance to it. I tried Provigil again a couple years later on orders of a new doctor, but this time it irritated my stomach so much I couldn't keep anything down and my weight started to drop again. I am now just treating my primary coenzyme Q-10 deficiency (autosomal recessive mitochondrial disorder, diagnosed via muscle biopsy when I was 25), and the supplement treatment for that disorder has actually helped my narcolepsy enough that I am functional.

I still have cataplexy, and I still hallucinate. My husband told me I was frantically thrashing and yelling about bugs on the walls a week or so ago. I hallucinated giant butterflies one day in the park while playing frisbee. It doesn't happen very often, but it still happens. I also can lucid dream, hold conversations while dreaming, and am aware of my surroundings while my brain is registering REM on an EEG.

I don't think any of it is so bad. I am intensely creative and am able to be inspired by mundane things. I have an excuse to fall asleep in class, which was upheld by my alma mater's disability services when I was working on my bachelor's. It is not all bad, but my life is dreamtime and I never really know when the next attack will strike. I have a decent amount of control over it since my sleep attacks are overwhelming fatigue and not a sudden drop into sleep, but I don't drive more than 10 miles if I can help it. Narcolepsy is my normal, and though it would sometimes be nice not to have it, it is part of who I am.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Gloaming



twilight is a clawed embrace,
raking at the golden hour.
a hunger burns unrelenting
but i know not what i desire.
the dark, the stars, a misery,
to touch the gossamer sweet light
with hazy eyes and hazy mind.
the shadows set, transition to gloom,
twilight gloom, a weighted dark,
and sunlight's last remorse.
darkness growing, ever burning,
coldly creeping ambiguous light
the claws of nightfall longingly reach
for my soul, my twisted soul,
which aches for the taloned caress
and hungers with sharpened teeth.
it lasts but an instant,
and then all is dark,
the end of twilight, that fleeting hour,
power fades into the trees,
and my soul retires
until the gloaming of dawn.

(This was written during a sunset thunderstorm a couple of years ago. The photograph was taken at a campfire a different night.)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Life of a Milk Donor

The International Breastfeeding Symbol August 1-7 is World Breastfeeding Week, so I have decided to repost the four journal entries I have written so far on milk donation. I originally posted these on a parenting forum. This might seem a little strange to my male and other non-mother readers, but I assure you guys, this is a completely natural thing and I am not the least bit ashamed of it. If you are uncomfortable with it, just skip reading it instead of harassing me about my choices. My goal is awareness, not criticism.

Part one: (written 4/15/10)
You never realize how much something that comes naturally to you is worth until you find someone who needs what you have and can't provide it herself. My hidden talent is priceless to the two women two babies who receive my extra milk. I have a precious gift, and it means everything to them.

Breastfeeding did not come easy to me. My milk came in on the third day after my son was born, and on the fourth, the engorgement began. For two excruciating weeks, every thing that touched my breasts was agony. My husband often had to hold my hand when I fed my son because his small mouth and shallow latched caused more pain than most of my contractions did. My little Bs swelled past a DD and walking up and down the stairs felt like having a pair of bowling balls ripping through my skin. My overactive letdown made my son cough and sputter.

Two weeks of ice packs, hot showers, and no painkillers, and the engorgement finally ceased, though the pain continued for a couple more weeks. It wasn't until 8 weeks that I was nursing pain-free and my son learned to handle the letdown.

At 3 weeks I began to pump the opposite side my son nursed on so I could build a supply for when I went back to work. My first couple of sessions, I got 1.5oz from either side. Within a week, I was getting 2.5-3, and by the time he was hospitalized with bronchiolitis at 12 weeks, I was averaging 3.5-4oz per side per session at work, and 6-8oz from the side opposite of feeding in the morning plus another 2 or so from the side he ate off of. I had 900oz in the freezer and could barely open the door anymore without something falling out. I was freezing 15-20oz a day over what he was sent to daycare with. I pump twice at work, once in the morning after we nurse, once on the opposite side after we nurse after work, and then a final time to clear out the remainder before bed.

I suppose I could have cut back on pumping so I was such an overproducer and tried to reduce my supply, but that seemed such a waste. I had all this milk, was continuing to make more and more every day, and knew someone out there might be able to benefit from it. I researched milk banks and was qualified to be a donor, but quickly realized I didn't want something I made in abundance to be broken down, pasteurized, and sold for pharmaceutical profit. I contacted the local La Leche League and went on Milkshare, and that is where I found my two recipient families.

It turns out dairy-free donors are in high demand. So many babies can't handle cow proteins. I am a long time vegan and still taking prenatals so my milk is pretty much benign and allergy free. I had inquiries from all over the country, but after some deliberation decided I wasn't comfortable with shipping such precious cargo. Through my two contacts, LLL and Milkshare, I found two local mothers, both parents of adopted babies. The first was given about 750oz, the bulk of my original stash, and a week later when the second one contacted me, she received 250oz. I'm giving her another 300 that I've accumulated in the last 3 weeks when we can arrange a time.

I'll never forget the gratitude of either mother when I gave them my milk. Both were amazing women who were inducing lactation, but did not make enough milk for their adopted children. They made the decision to give their babies the best start possible by giving them breastmilk and I was only too happy to help. They help me clean out my freezer, I help them feed their little ones with the most valuable liquid in the world. Both of them thanked me profusely and called me "amazing", but I think they are the ones who are amazing. It is a tough decision to choose to feed your child another woman's milk instead of resorting to formula, but now that I've seen it, I know I'd do the same thing in their position. I've developed an appreciation for breastmilk, so much that I do not consider breastfeeding a "choice". I am helping to grow two beautiful babies besides my own thriving boy. Any little inconvenience pumping causes is totally worth it.

At just under 4 months, my son eats more now at daycare, 12-16oz, but i still pump twice that. A 10oz surplus day is a bad haul. I use my work pumping time to read. I've read 7 books since going back to work, more than I read all the way through the pregnancy fatigue. I'm hungry all the time, but I can eat whatever I like and still safely but slowly lose weight. I'm still a very heavy, though high volume, eater since I want to produce the best quality milk I can. I take care of myself to take care of my son. My son is only on the breast at home so we still get our mommy time no bottle can replicate. I know my body will never be the same, but for the first time I love it because I know what it can do. I can give birth all naturally and I can feed a small village. I now love the battle-scar stretch marks covering my thighs from the edema and slashed across my breasts and abdomen, the new Ds that feel bolted to my chest when full, the occasional leak that reminds me everything is working as it should. I am proud of my body. It is not the traditional skinny waif beauty anymore, but I have faced the battle to motherhood and won. My skin is better than it has ever been and I'm blessed with a total cease-fire with my former enemy AF.

I am nursing while writing this one-handed and I plan to breastfeed until age two and will continue to donate until I don't have to pump anymore. I have many varied skills and talents, but being a milk donor has brought me a bigger sense of self-worth than anything else I've done. All babies deserve the best start to life possible and I've helped bring that start to three.

Part 2: (written 4/29/10)
I gave one of my recipient mamas a big surprise on Tuesday. She lives two and a half hours away so it can be difficult for me to get milk to her since we obviously both have little ones. My family was driving through her town on their way home from visiting us, so I had them make the delivery. She was only expecting 200-250 ounces, but I sent her 450! I didn't realize I could make so much extra in a month plus a little leftover from earlier. I was shocked the day before, when I did a preliminary count of the storage bags in my freezer and came up with 90 bags. I freeze in 5-6oz portions, so she got over 450oz for her gorgeous little man. This was enough to supply them for about a month, since she was able to breastfeed him some herself. I kept 50oz in my freezer and have continued to add since my big freezer clean-out, round 3, on Tuesday.

As of now, I have donated somewhere in the neighborhood of 1500oz to two different families. Being the science nerd I am, I had to do some calculations to put my excess milk into different perspectives...

1500 ounces is...

11.7 gallons

44.4 Liters

187.5 cups

46.9 quarts

93.75 pints

44,360 mL

30,000 calories (at 20 calories/ounce)

99.5 lbs (at 8.5 lbs/gallon... this is 5/6 of my post-baby body weight)

And this is only from my extra! I've produced so much more than this for my own son, since he's on the breast at home and gets sent to daycare with 16 ounces on weekdays.

I find these numbers empowering. I suppose I could have done something silly, like take a bath in my leftover milk or make a metric ton of soap (I actually did make a little from expired daycare leftovers), but my milk is worth so much more than that. It was worth the initial agonizing pain and latch struggles to watch both my son and two other babies grow and thrive because of the incredible gift I am giving them. Maybe I have an altruistic streak, or maybe I just hate to see something precious wasted. I am proud of my body and what I can do. I love it even if I don't always love to look at it. I found I am almost euphorically happy to help other mothers in such a profoundly personal way.

Since my parents made my most recent delivery, they finally understand what I am doing and how much it means to both myself and my recipient families. After my mother saw how full my freezer was after emptying it not a month earlier, she finally got it, and no longer admonished me to save my extra in case I ran out. She had me in a time when new mothers were counseled to keep timers handy and only feed for 5 minutes on a side. No wonder so many ended up resorting to formula to keep up with a hungry baby! I know my little guy would suckle for 45-60 minutes at a time when he was a newborn, so expecting a grazer to only feed for 10 total minutes is asking for a hungry, unhappy baby and a low-supply mother. Anyways, she understands now, and after my family finished the rather strange task I gave them of delivering body fluids to a complete stranger, I received a happy text from my mother exclaiming "The dairy truck has been emptied! You just made someone very happy."

Milk sharing is not a new thing, in fact it is as old as humanity itself. I decided to open up and write about it because so many people now think it is strange or even disgusting. I have extra, someone else needs more, it is only natural for us to cooperate in making sure everyone involved has the right amount. I am so happy my body does what it is supposed to do, and more. I guess in a way it is one of my callings, to make a small sacrifice of convenience on the sometimes rocky path of motherhood. I now live for others more than myself and I wouldn't give it up for anything.

Thank you to all who have read this and my previous entry. I hope you all realize what amazing people you are, no matter what paths in life you choose.

Part 3: (Written 6/8/10)
My freezer is once again mostly empty, but the belly of my little recipient isn't. Both my own little firecracker lovebug and the handsome little man adopted from Africa who I currently donate to are growing big, healthy, and chubby thanks to this amazing substance my body is able to provide them. It is the most valuable substance in the world, simple and natural and far tastier than gold, diamond, or oil. My milk is a cornerstone for their futures, a foundation to grow their bodies upon.

To date, I have donated 2100oz of breastmilk to two babies. My most recent donation was on Sunday, a substantial 600oz that I accumulated over 5 weeks, which along with what his mother can provide will feed my little recipient for at least a month. I've donated 1350oz to him and thanks to my donations and smaller donations by several others, he hasn't needed formula since he was less than a month old. All I've asked in return is reimbursement for the storage bags, a nominal amount I just use to buy more storage bags.

My own son's well being is certainly not being neglected by my donations. I simply make too much and instead of leaving the extra in the freezer until it is no good, I am putting it to good use. I pump at least 30 ounces a day in addition to exclusively nursing when we're together, and he usually only takes 15 at daycare. He is not on solids yet and has never eaten anything but my milk. He gained almost two pounds last month and should be somewhere around 16 at his weigh-in for his 6 month appointment in two weeks. His feet are starting to hang off the end of his carseat. I'd say that is pretty good for a baby who started out at a tiny 6 lb 5 oz and 18.5 inches long. I'd swear my milk is caffeinated even though I don't consume caffeine because my little boy is a bouncer, dancer, kicker, of extraordinary energy. He'll play in his jumparoo for an hour straight without getting tired, doesn't take more than cat naps, and sleeps soundly for 9-10 hours a night. I either have super milk, super baby, or both.

I'll have to find a new recipient family next month since my current one is moving far out of the area. They weren't really in the area to begin with, a 2.5 hour drive away, but we managed since they lived in the same city as my in-laws. This last time, recipient dad drove all the way out here to pick up the milk. I'd like think it was worth the 5 hours in a car, since my donation will feed his little one for a full month while they get settled and find donors in their new city. I don't think I'll have difficulty locating a new recipient since dairy-free donors are in high demand. The only difficulty I foresee is choosing... choosing which baby receives my donation, figuring out whether I am willing to ship the milk even with the recipient paying and arranging all the shipping. It is hard giving up something so personal and meaningful, especially when it is hard to guarantee it reaching its donation without damage, and especially during the summer heat. It's hard to chose between families when every family has an equally heartbreaking story to tell. So many babies can't tolerate or thrive off of formula and can't digest milk proteins, and so many adoptive families and low-milk supply mamas want to give their little ones the gift of breastmilk.

I am about 1/4 of the way to my two year goal, and I don't see any reason why I won't be making at least a couple more donations. My little boy's intake has gone up, but I still freeze at least 10oz extra per day. This strange and often overwhelming gift I have is his as well as mine. Up until this point and until we introduce solids in a couple weeks, every ounce of him was grown by my body, both before and after birth. I might leave the messy solids feeding primarily up to my husband, but my body is no where near done providing nutrition for my little lovebug yet. I don't know how and where this journey will end, for we are still just under 6 months in. I feel I still have a lot to give, both to my son and the children I will donate to. This ride is taking me to places I never even considered before, but I am so glad I was able to hop on and enrich the lives of those I have shared my milk with so far.

Part 4: (Written 8/1/10)
I began celebrating World Breastfeeding Week a day early by cleaning out my freezer. To most people, this would mean defrost and disposal, but for me it is something far more meaningful. You see, I cleared my freezer when I donated my 22nd gallon of breastmilk via a 700oz donation to a family who drove 700 miles round-trip to pick it up.

What was my extra milk worth? An ounce per mile, 128 miles to the gallon, 5.5 gallons. Enough milk to supplement a low-supply mama with ongoing health problems and her baby for at least six weeks. Most people wouldn't make that trip, but those who would know that an ounce of mother's milk per mile is worth far more than the gasoline it takes to retrieve it.

Would I go so far if I was in the same situation? Probably, but I've been lucky so far. Low supply is not something I've had to deal with so I don't know exactly what I would do. I do know we are definitely not a formula-feeding family. I guess it works for some families, but it is not for us under almost any circumstances. I know I would find a donor if one was needed. One thing I have noticed in the three families I've donated to is that the entire family is on-board with the decision to use donor milk. This weekend was the second time it was just the husband or husband and an older child who came for the pick-up. They were extremely grateful, and more than that, they understood. My husband knows my wishes if anything were to happen to me. He knows where to seek donors and what to look for because he saw it from the donor end.

My bond with my son is more than just holding him and looking into his eyes while feeding him. I am growing a person, a little man whose future is being shaped by the actions I take now. My body grew him when I was pregnant with him, continued growing him while I exclusively breastfed him, and is now further growing him as we are slowly introducing solid foods. Up until 6.5 months, every inch and every ounce of him was grown by my body. There is both power and empowerment in a bond like that. My body is not only doing what nature intended of it, it is going even further. I have not fed one baby, but four, four unique individuals, one entirely grown by me, and three growing with my assistance. I may end up being just a small part of their growth, but I was part of it so we share a bond far greater than mere strangers, even though I have never met any of them in person. Every painful early latch, every moment of severe engorgement the first couple of weeks, every minute spent attached to the pump was worth it. I am giving just a little bit to the future of the children I feed.

I do not know where I will go from here. I resigned from my job recently because I realized the immense amount of overtime I was doing due to recent environmental disasters and the horrible stress was not worth the small paycheck. I was turning most of my paycheck right around into daycare and I was losing far to much time with my family. I gave my two weeks notice and that was it. I trained my replacement, packed up my desk, and became a stay-at-home mom on July 23.

I am still pumping in the morning and before bed because of my oversupply and so I have extra milk to mix with my son's food and for babysitters. I am freezing at least 10oz a day, which is about what I froze before I quit my job. We bought a used chest freezer for the garage a while ago, but haven't been able to hook it up since all of our downstairs furniture was in the garage following a flood and repair work. Once we get it running, I'll start filling that freezer. I imagine barring anything strange happening or my supply tanking, I'll be donating again in the future. My son is 7.5 months old and I would like to breastfeed him until around age 2, so we have a lot of time and a lot of milk left.

I don't need to change the world on a large scale. I only need to better the lives of those around me and those I can. My experiences donating milk have changed my outlook. I now know what gratitude means. I know about bonding and sacrifice and love, and I don't need to look any further than the photographs of the families who have received my milk and even more, the eyes of my child, asleep in his room above my head.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Time

We are a culture obsessed with time. When, how old, wake up, go to sleep, deadlines, schedules, weekdays, weekends, paydays, due dates, deathbeds. Wear a watch, set the alarm, hurry, hurry, don't be late! Ticking and tocking and chiming and tolling. Past and future are always in our thoughts, but what about the present? How can we even live for our futures if we don't pay attention to the now?

We worship time unintentionally. We hang or place shrines to it in nearly every room in our homes, wear its symbolic representation on our wrists, watch its long arms tick ever so slowly toward the end of another workday. Its cry wakes us in the morning, and we are sure to reset it before bed at night. We become slaves to its whims, doing the same tasks at the same time every day as we cross off dates and months and years one by one by one. We lose the small moments as it pushes us into the future. We cannot escape its unyielding wrath or its ultimate plan for us. Time has become our master, and we its slaves.

Time deities are widespread in world mythology. Chronos, Father Time, the Fates, Kairos, the Norns, Kan-Laon, Huh, Vertumnus, Geras, Mundilfari, Manu, Death. Whatever it is called, it is the beginning, middle, and end of our lives, a pervasive presence we cannot escape. Some cultures are far more hurried than others, but all spend energy fighting time. There are miracle cures and fountains of youth, life support and life-long restrictions of diet, sex, and happiness, all with the intention of extending the reach of an individual's time. Immortality is too often sought through extending one's own life unnaturally instead of through leaving a legacy for the future.

Slow down. Breathe, just take in a long, deep breath and absorb your surroundings. Watch a spider build a web, watch your children play, watch the washer complete a cycle. Mesmerizing, isn't it? The present is where everything happens, but we are often far to worried about what comes next to take any of it in. We lose our own childhoods dreaming of the future and lose our children's to deadlines and over-scheduling. Suddenly, our children are grown, we are old, and the future holds only the promise of an end.

I am not saying forsake all duties and scheduling, but take some time each day and just savor the moment. Discover something small and beautiful. Spend time with those you love. If you don't at least once in a while, you'll find all of sudden that you are at the end of your time and full of regret over what could have been. Recognize that the smallest moments are often the most meaningful. Do the things you always wanted to do today instead of procrastinating further, for you never know which day is your last. You never know when Time will come to claim you, so spend every day eliminating potential regrets.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Solitude

When I was fifteen, I visited Japan as an exchange student. I spent a day on a boat on Lake Biwa 琵琶湖 . I remember nothing of the day, other than this rock. It stood far out in the water, far enough that no land was visible from any side. It stood tall while everything around it was drowned by unrelenting water. On the surface, it was quite small, a tiny island peering above the waves, but beneath the blue-grey, it was a mountain. It was the one mountain to break from the watery depths of Biwa and crown the waves with simple glory. Beauty in solitude. Unrelenting dignity despite being out of the element of all its peers. Sometimes, one must experience a bit of loneliness to break free into a new realm of understanding. Stand tall, and do not be afraid to stand alone if the thundering waves threaten to drown you into obscurity.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Evergreen and Indigo

The name of this blog has quite a bit of significance to me. Evergreen and Indigo is the title of the 1st chapter in my fourth book Mayfly Requiem, which I am still transcribing. The story itself is completed, but I made the decision right away to hand write the entire thing, so I am now going through the tedious process of writing it out. The colors signify forests and the night sky, the two symbols of my own childhood. Mayfly Requiem is the story of a fallen immortal, written as both a confession and a series of letters to the narrator's sister, who is also an immortal. It deals with misplaced, misinterpreted, and mis-recorded history (history is written by the winners of wars and the politically strong), gods who are fallible and not much more than stronger beings than the humans they oversee, guilt over innocent actions having horrible consequences, and forgiveness, both of the self and of others.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter Evergreen and Indigo, the first of many second-person letters the narrator Lani writes to his sister Dia.

My first memory is of evergreen. Not the tree, but the color. It embraces me, caresses me, envelopes me in a furious glow. It is comfort. It is home, my home, our first home in Lusifal in the days before we knew who we really were. I still dream of it, but you are no longer part of those viriscent dreams, my dear. Our vines have been severed and now I can only dwell in the evergreen alone. There are so many things I choose not to remember, but so many more I am unable to forget.

Dia, I remember you telling me your own dreams were not green, but indigo, an overwhelming blue twilight lit by stars from within. It is your own, and I can't even imagine it. It is only one more thing that makes us different. I can not experience your twilight, and you can not feel my evergreen. These are always the realms we experience alone, though we often dream each other within them. We reinvent our childhoods in deep colors, but are forced to face reality the moment we open our eyes. You always handled it better than I did. You were always stronger than me. I envied you, envy you, for that. Maybe that is why my dreams are still evergreen.

On My Version of Pantheism


When I was seventeen, I found myself on a mountain overlooking Grenoble, France. I was touring Europe with a youth symphony, and my host family took me hiking up the mountain. I remember looking down from our resting point at a little glacial lake and thinking, "This is nature. This is all there is, and all there needs to be, and it is phenomenal." I took a picture, but it in no way captures the magnificent and immense scale of the scene. I really started to find myself from that perch in the French Alps.

I was raised by a Methodist on the edge of a national forest. We went to church mostly on holidays and if it was socially convenient. I think she went every Sunday until my father died when I was four, and then her perspective changed. I spent most of my time outside in the forest, and I think that is how I ended up dabbling in paganism for a couple of years. I loved the nature aspect of Wicca, but I never actually believed in gods and goddesses. In college, I had an epiphany on an overnight canoe trip. I was watching the stars overhead and realized that this, nature, was all their was, but that was more than enough. My respect for science deepened further, and I was inspired to write my first book, The Crystal Lattice. I was always a huge science and nature aficionado, and was working toward my engineering degree. After my epiphany, I started calling myself "agnostic pagan', and I refined that term to "pantheist" after I learned the terminology.

Nature calms me in a way nothing else does. After my friend died, I sat outside all night watching the Aurora Borealis. After both the Columbia disaster and September 11, I went out into the woods and wrote poetry for hours. When things got tough in college, I would spend a night camping in the forest with my schoolwork. I reclaim my oneness with nature and visit it with reverence and respect. Every particle and physical interaction in the universe is part of it. I am one little piece, but that just makes me part of the whole. Its energy is mine, my individuality is part of its collective soul. Every rock, every star, every animal is part of the whole and what happens to one happens to all. My philosophy renders me a tree-hugging vegan, but that is perfectly fine withe me. I love the Wiccan sentiment of "An' it harm none, do as you will." I let others live their lives as they wish as long as they are not hurting anyone else. I just wish other people would do the same.

I have run out of time for now. My little piece of love in the universe is now awake and ready to start his evening.