August 23, 2013

Caper Challenge

 I know it's been all "BABY!" up in here for a while, so when my Twitter buddies Ricky and Joseph asked who in the blogger world might be interested in a writing challenge, I decided, "Why not? I can do that along with a full-time job and a 2-month old baby!" hahahahahah I know, right?  But I did it! 

Here were the rules:

The Category: A Caper. Now, this isn't limited to a bank heist or something (though that's definitely an idea!) but it's definitely not an action-hero shoot 'em up. Use your imagination with it, because it can be serious or humorous or anything you want it to be, as long as it sticks with the general concept of a character in a tight spot having to figure a way out.

Required Elements: These can be used as little or as much as you like, but must be included.
     1. A rooftop
     2. A custodian named Glenn
     3. The line "Well, that's not how I would have planned it."

Here's more info and a list of participants on Joseph's blog, too.  I plan on reading the rest of them when the afternoon sleepies hit me later today.  You should, too!

Anywho, we had a VERY short deadline, so this has been neither titled nor edited/proofread.  Proceed with caution, if you choose to.  Just know that I decided to interpret "in a tight spot" in a slightly different way (don't be dirty).  

Shelby closed her eyes tightly and pressed her thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose.  She slowly inhaled and exhaled, trying desperately to lower her rising blood pressure by sheer will.
“Hello? Shelby, are you still there? Hello? Can you hear me? Damn these cellular phones; we never had this problem when I was—“

“I’m here, Mom, geez.” Shelby resumed her pacing up and down the length of the whiteboard, the clicking of her high-heeled boots echoing off the classroom’s empty walls.  “I’m here.  Look, it’s not that I don’t want to come home for Thanksgiving this year.  It’s just that—“

“Do you need money? Is that what it is? I’m telling you, if that boyfriend of yours would just get a job and stop letting you carry all the burdens, we’d see you more often.” 

“Will you just stop for one second and let me finish a sentence?” Shelby took a deep breath. “My last class is at four on Wednesday and, while I’m sure none of the students will bother to show up, I kind of have to be here.  Payroll would prefer that I actually teach the classes they pay me for. Then Cal has a gig on Saturday night, so it just doesn’t make sense for us to—“

“A gig? You won’t come see your family on a holiday weekend because Cal has to go play guitar at some dive for—“

Shelby jabbed hard at her iPhone screen. “End, end, END,” she muttered, feeling slightly wistful for the days when the forceful, gratifying snap of the flip phone ended most phone conversations with her mother.  She sank wearily into her desk chair and pressed a button on her laptop, bringing it whirring back to life.  The email was still up on her screen:

Sent: Tuesday, November 22, 4:43pm
Subject: MESSAGE FROM THE DEAN: Spring Semester

Dear valued employee,
We regret to inform you that, due to budget cuts, classes previously given to adjunct faculty members will be given to tenured faculty next semester.  Your contribution to our esteemed university is greatly appreciated and, should funds become available next fall, you all will be given first priority when and if classes become available.  Please contact a Human Resources representative if you have any questions.


Herman Anderson
Dean, College of Fine Arts and Literature

Shelby sighed.  A part of her had hoped that the email would have disappeared during the phone conversation with her mother.  She stood and closed the laptop, resting her hands on its lingering warmth for a moment before sliding it into her leather messenger bag.  As she turned off the classroom lights, she paused at the sight of her reflection in the rectangular class window of the heavy wooden door.  Her eyes looked wide and scared, and her disastrous-on-a-good-day hair was desperately attempting to free itself from its messy bun.  “Jesus,” she muttered , and walked into the empty hallway.  As she turned to lock the classroom, she heard the creaking wheels of the custodian’s mop bucket further down the hallway, approaching the Dean’s office suite. 

A wave of bitterness coursed through her as she saw the soft glow of the track lighting illuminating the exquisitely framed black and white photos of campus activities that adorned the walls of the suite.  Warm and inviting, its carpeted floors and gleaming wood desks seemed to mock Shelby.  “We’re sorry about your shitty life, Shelb, but budget stuff and all that. No hard feelings.  By the way, have you seen the espresso machine we got for the break room? It’s right next to the Keurig we got last month.”  

“DING!” Her text message notifier went off, startling her.  

MESSAGE: Hey. Extra lessons tonight, forgot to tell u. Extra $$ though, right? Love u. Home by 10.” 

She smiled.  Poor Cal.  She peeled the flyer advertising his guitar lessons off the front of her door, for once not caring if the tape left a gummy residue behind.  She noticed that there were only a few phone numbers left to tear off at the bottom and, for a brief moment, she thought it might be okay after all. If the recent surge in bearded, emotional hipsters carrying guitar cases across campus was any indication of Cal’s future success as a guitar teacher, maybe they could get through the holidays and the spring semester. 

If she got a part-time job.

And if she could defer both of their student loans for a while.

And probably cancel cable and just watch TV online.

Shelby sighed again.  As she approached the suite of offices at the end of the hall, she heard a low voice from inside.  She paused at the propped open glass door and peered inside.  The custodian was standing in front of the two (two!) gleaming, expensive, black and chrome caffeine-producing machines and reading a piece of paper, muttering to himself and shaking his head. He ran a tan, callused hand through his thinning hair. 

“DING!” Shelby dropped her phone, and the custodian’s head jerked up and he looked quickly in her direction.  

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry, I was just on my way out and saw these lights were still on and I thought I heard someone talking, so…” Shelby trailed off as the custodian’s eyes narrowed.  He looked with contempt in his eyes at her engagement ring and her iPhone, and Shelby suddenly felt self-conscious, as if she needed to explain to this stranger that the ring was a family heirloom and yeah, she had a fancy space-phone, but she had to be on her brothers’ cell phone plan just so she could afford the monthly bill. 

Then she saw his eyes moved to the folded piece of paper in her own hand.  His face softened and he said, “You too, huh? ”  Shelby frowned, confused.  Had he found one of Cal’s guitar lesson flyers somewhere else in the building? 

“I don’t—“  Her eyes landed on the heading at the top of the piece of paper he was reading:

Sent: Tuesday, November 22, 5:03pm
Subject: MESSAGE FROM HUMAN RESOURCES: Outsourcing Custodial Service, Spring Semester

Dear valued employee…

She understood.  

She quickly slipped the piece of paper into her messenger bag and sheepishly shrugged her shoulders at the custodian.  “Yep, me too. Found out this afternoon.” 

“The bastards. Waited til the end of the day, too.” He carefully folded the dismissive email and tucked it neatly into his faded blue work shirt. The paper half-covered his embroidered name. Glenn.   “Been here thirty years and now they’re outsourcing me. Budget cuts, shit. But this,” he gestured to the coffee shrine in front of him, “this is an important purchase.”

Shelby laughed. “I was just thinking the same thing.”

The custodian smiled.  An awkward silence filled the space between them.  Shelby didn’t know what else there was to say.  It seemed inappropriate and ridiculous to just say, “Well. Sorry you got fired, too. Happy holidays!” so she turned, hoping to leave without being noticed again. The custodian’s voice stopped her.

“We should take ‘em.”  

She almost didn’t hear him. “What did you say?”

He was staring, fixated on the two shining coffee machines.  “See how well the pampered office drones do without their morning cappuccino.” He looked at her again and smiled, a gleam in his eyes that wasn’t there before.

Shelby smiled back.  “Right.”

“I’m not kidding.” He winked at her.  “You like coffee?”

“Well…yes.  Of course I do, but…”

“Then let’s do it! Let’s serve ‘em up a big ol’ Venti cup of ‘Kiss my ass!’ whaddya say?” 

Shelby waited, sure he was joking.  But as he waited, his eyes gleaming with the mischief of his plan, she saw that she had two options at this point: be a witness or an accomplice to his crime.  Neither was all that appealing but, if she was out anyway, she may as well give one last middle finger to the bureaucracy on her way out the door.  However…

“How do you suppose we get out the door with these things? There’s a security guard at the entrance, and, while we’re justifiably pissed off, wouldn’t you like to get paid for the time between now and the end of the semester? I don’t know about you, but every penny counts right now, so…”

He brushed aside her concerns with a wave of his hand. “I have an idea.” He disappeared into the Dean’s office and, moments later, returned into the reception area with his large, wheeled trash can.  “Here, put this on.”  He threw an extra work shirt at her.  “Those guards just see a blue shirt and wave us on by.  That’s if they even look up from those fancy phones they got.” 

Still unsure, Shelby put the old man’s extra shirt on over her tunic and leggings as Glenn carefully removed the two shining coffee-makers and placed them into the large trash can.  It looked like a nightshirt on her.  Surely the security guard would notice how strange she looked.  As though he could read her mind, Glenn spoke again.

“Don’t worry.  We may not even see ‘em.  We’re goin’ up.”


“Follow me. You push that mop bucket.”

Shelby followed Glenn out of the suite of offices and looked up and down the hallways nervously for wandering security guards.  Glenn motioned for her to follow him down the long hallway to the service elevator.  He jingled his keys mischievously before inserting the key to activate the elevator.  They were both silent as they boarded the elevator and Glenn pressed a button marked “R.” 

“Why does the service elevator go to the roof?” Shelby asked.

“Hell if I know. Just know lots of folks go up there on smoke breaks. Don’t exactly feel like we belong in the faculty lounge, y’know?” 

Shelby nodded.  She did know.

The doors opened to the rooftop, and Glenn pushed the trash bin out onto the landing. Shelby wheeled the mop bucket out into the chilly night air.  She followed Glenn to the edge of the language arts building roof and waited for his next move.  He stood, quietly looking across the dark, empty campus. After a moment, he finally spoke.

“Thirty years.”  Shelby didn’t know what to say.  Suddenly, having to see if the Starbucks near her college apartment would hire her back for the busy holiday season didn’t seem like quite such a bad thing.  She was still young and marketable in her field; she’d find something.  But what would happen to Glenn?  

Just as she was about to say something, anything about how they’d both be okay somehow, Glenn turned to her and smiled.

“Ready? Which do you want, the ex-presso maker thingy or that thing with the cups?” 

Shelby laughed.  “Gimme the thing with the cups.”

Glenn handed her the Keurig and Shelby held it out in front of her chest, just past the ledge. She looked once more over at Glenn, hesitation creeping back into her mind.  He folded his arms across his chest, crinkling the form letter email in his pocket, and nodded at her.  The sound of the paper and the raise of Glenn’s eyebrow gave her the reminder she needed.  Screw them.

She closed her eyes and dropped the machine.  Seconds passed, and then the distinct sound of shattering plastic and chrome on sidewalk made them both laugh out loud.  Shelby leaned over the ledge and could faintly see the demolished coffee maker in the parking lot below.

She smiled at Glenn, suddenly feeling energized by the cold air.  “Your turn! Get out the ex-presso machine!”  Glenn rubbed his hands together with anticipation and lifted the heavy machine out of his trash bin. With a grunt of satisfaction, he threw the machine off the building like an Olympian throwing a discus. 

This time the noise was much louder.  Shelby and Glenn leaned over the ledge to once again survey their handiwork.  At that exact moment, the autumn clouds parted and the bright moonlight lit the empty parking lot just enough to see where the espresso machine had landed.  It sat perfectly between the white lines of one parking spot.  The sign above the parking spot read “RESERVED FOR THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSITY.” 

Shelby’s smile faded.  Surely they’d be caught now. She looked over at Glenn to see if he had a similar reaction.  His smile was even bigger.  He said, “Huh, look at that,” and chuckled a little.  Then his chuckle escalated into full belly laughs.  “Well,” he said, between gasps of laughter, “that’s not how I planned it. But I’ll be damned.”  

“Aren’t you afraid of getting caught?” Shelby was concerned for the old man.  She didn’t want him to get fired and lose any severance pay from the layoffs.  This had been a stupid idea and she was regretting their actions.

“Honey,” said Glenn, “I’ve been talked down to my whole life.  People think they can shit all over a janitor just because he cleans up after them.  Even if I get fired, I’ll be just fine. Hell. Maybe I’ll take up the guitar. I always wanted to; I’ve just never had the free time.”

Shelby smiled. “Are you sure?” 

“I’m positive. Now you go on back down.” He handed her the keys. “Take the mop bucket, and leave the keys inside the shirt and draped over the bucket. I’m just gonna stand here and enjoy this a few more minutes.”

Shelby turned and headed back toward the service elevator.  Suddenly she stopped, turned, and walked back to face Glenn.  She pulled a folded piece of paper out of her messenger bag and handed it to Glenn.  He looked at it and frowned.

Shelby smiled. “I never printed out my email.  Take this. Call the guy on the flyer and tell him Shelby sent you. First five lessons are on the house.”

Glenn’s eyes widened in surprise.  “Happy Thanksgiving, Glenn.”  Shelby turned to go back down the elevator and out the doors of the language arts building and into the unknown future.  Before the doors closed, she called out to Glenn, who was still watching her with the flyer in his hands.  “I’m serious Glenn! Come for some lessons. I’ll make you a cup of coffee!” Glenn stared at her a moment longer, then burst out laughing.

He was still laughing as the elevator doors closed.

August 16, 2013

Mind and Body Update

It's so hard to believe that I'm quickly approaching the end of my son's seventh week of life (it's still so beautiful and strange to say "my son") and even more quickly approaching his two month birthday.  I would say that the time has flown, but it really hasn't.  If anything, it almost seems like it's been longer than just seven weeks and has he so quickly gone from this:

to THIS:

Real men love their pink chairs!

so quickly?!  He's already outgrown newborn diapers and newborn clothing, and we had to take the newborn insert out of his carseat because he was too big for it.  I won't pretend like this doesn't make my eyes fill up a little bit, but I look forward to each new day as he looks a little bit different and shows a little bit more of his personality!

But anyway, this blog post was going to be about me and how I'm doing!

I'm happy to say that I am feeling so much better.  Physically and mentally.  Do I still have hard days? Of course.  Sometimes I feel like two hard days' worth of emotions and feelings are crammed into one really crappy hour at work when I'm simultaneously a) overwhelmed with all that's going on at work, b) missing my kid something fierce, and c) somehow back in the Deep Dark Feeding Guilt area of my mind.  But those crappy times are getting easier to navigate and shorter in length as I find ways to acclimate to what is my New Normal.

Someone asked me recently if I miss being pregnant, or if I missed having Z inside my belly.  I don't miss the latter, really, because (as I've mentioned many times here on the blog), I never really felt as connected to him as I do now.  I think a lot of that has to do with us not finding out if he was a boy or a girl beforehand, but also with it being my first experience with pregnancy.  However, sometimes I do miss actually being pregnant.  Not those last few weeks of pregnant, but the middle and later parts when I felt like I was the cute pregnant girl everyone would smile at walking by.  Or how much I really did love how my pregnant belly looked (still so, so not taking for granted the fact that I managed to avoid stretch marks).  I also miss not being self-conscious of the extra flabby belly around my midsection...not feeling like I had to "suck it in" for 9 months was kind of awesome.

I'm very happy with how my body has bounced back after having Z, though, and I don't take that for granted. 

40wks pregnant (L) vs. 5wks postpartum (R)

I feel like maybe God is giving me a little bit of a break on that, after all I've gone through, physically, after my delivery.  Don't get me wrong; I'd happily carry around an extra 15-20lbs or still look a little pregnant in order to have had a better breastfeeding experience.  But I so badly needed to feel myself again, and this area of my life is helping. I got an extreme amount of joy in unpacking all of my favorite sundresses and washing them to wear again.  It's like I've got a whole new wardrobe all over again!

However, I'm still struggling with "feeling like myself," when the very definition of who I am has so drastically changed!  I'll never be the old Mandy again, because I'll never have NOT had Z again.  This experience changes a woman irrevocably and, while she is still the same person, she's...not.  It's really very hard to explain.  So I won't try.  Not right now, anyway.  Maybe on the next Mind & Body update.

I also miss feeling him kick inside me.  That really was a tremendous feeling.  I just recently discovered that another friend is about 17wks pregnant and, as she was describing feeling her baby move, I suddenly felt a bit envious of that! There really was nothing like that feeling.  Last night, as Michael and I were drowsily chatting as we were in bed, I suddenly said "Whoa!"  I felt very distinct phantom kicks in my stomach! I don't know what it actually was or, if they were phantom kicks, what causes them, but in that moment I remembered what it felt like to have his tiny, growing body kicking away in there.  It made me smile.

All of the physical issues caused by the Nursing Saga are healing very well, too.  I was actually able to sleep on my stomach the other night (and it. was. glorious.) because I was finally healed enough for it to be comfortable.  I saw the surgeon yesterday for what was probably (and hopefully) my last follow-up appointment and, for some reason, I felt sad about it being my last appointment. I actually got emotional when I was thanking him and the nurse for everything they've done. It's strange to say that, with all I've been through, but somehow seeing the hospital as I drive past it on the highway or visiting the surgeon's office for a follow-up and, I'm sure, next week when I go to my postpartum checkup with Dr. V, just ties up all the loose ends of the pregnancy and the birth, and means it's really over.  It probably sounds strange to say I'm sad about that.  It probably sounds even more strange to hear me say that I feel envious of the women who are having babies every time I drive past the hospital. I don't know how to explain it, really.  It just was such a huge, all-consuming part of my life for the better part of a year it's over. 

In all honesty, I'll also miss the doctors and their nurses.  I really loved going every month (then two weeks, then week...) to those appointments and learning about my changing body and developing baby, and asking questions based on what I'd read that month or researched that week.  It was kind of fun, and I think it speaks volumes about the medical professionals I worked with that I will genuinely miss seeing them with any regularity.  

Right now in this "adapting" stage of our new life, I'm finding that my biggest struggle is living in the moment and enjoying that moment or that day for exactly what it is.  I find that I'll either be sad about the past (still feeling acute disappointment about not nursing, looking at Z's newborn photos, packing up his teeny tiny clothes that I'm amazed ever even fit him) or I'll be worried or stressed about the future (holding him and fighting back tears already knowing that some day he won't want me to do that anymore).

I am trying to take all of this to God much more often than I have been.  I pray that God will allow me to forgive myself when I am angry about breastfeeding, and I pray that God will keep me in this moment right now when my son is asleep on my chest and making sucking motions with his mouth and sighing in his sleep.  I pray out loud while I stare at my son and ask God to guide Michael and I in raising him, and I pray that he'll be happy and kind and loving and sweet and inquisitive and compassionate...and that keeps me in that moment just a little longer. And when that happens, my brain quiets down enough to not worry so much about the past or the future.  I just am.  We just are.

I've discussed a lot of this with my husband, of course, and he just wants to see me less inside my own head, I think.  He tells me all the time, "I'm so proud of you," or "You're doing so great, Mommy," and I love that.  He knows what I need to hear when I need to hear it the most. 

Other moms (new moms of littles as well as moms with kids much older) have also been my saving grace, lately.  They understand like nobody else will -- especially recent new moms.  It's fresh on their minds or they're even currently going through the same things I am (shout out to the June 2013 mamas, for sure!), which makes it so much easier to talk about the ups and downs of these first weeks and months. On the other hand, it's also necessary for me to spend time talking to friends about things other than baby Z -- work, theatre, etc.  It reminds me that I'm not wholly defined by this child's birth or by being a mother; he's just altered the definition of who I am. The whole definition of me, once I figure it out, will be greater than the sum of its parts. 

I was emailing a lot of this stuff to my friend Kathy while simultaneously writing this blog, and she just really hit me with an arrow of emotion to the heart with this:

I have no idea what kind of parent I am. I only know that I'm pretty good at it and I love it. And my child is intensely happy and is turning into a spirited, kind, hilarious little person. That's my benchmark. I'm going to be me. This me is going to do theatre again someday. This me is going to get a new house sometime in the next year. This me is going to screw it all up, and cry and feel bad at times. This me is going to be profoundly joyful. This me is going to be frustrated. This me is going to feed my child fresh fruits and veggies and cheese as well as microwaved chicken nuggets and an ocean of Goldfish. This me is going to sing every single day, to an audience of one (or three if you count [my husband] and the cats).  This me is going to do great things. [My son] will be one of those things. 
Eventually, you will be excited to meet the new you. I know I am, because I can kind of see the woman you're becoming and I'm kinda crazy about her.

You know? I kinda like her, too.

August 8, 2013

Z at One Month

Technically, it has been 5 and a half weeks since Z was born, but it's been hard to have time to sit down and write about his first month!  I expect that won't change as we celebrate other milestones and months, either.  I really want to do these posts every month, though, to update on how Z is doing as well as how Mommy, Daddy and Carmen are doing and how our family is adjusting to our new life!

I can't believe how quickly time has passed. I know that is probably #1 on the Most Cliché Things Parents Say list, but it's so true.  Especially since so much of the past six weeks was marked by stress and pain with my breastfeeding issues and hospital stay.  And now I'm officially back at work (don't even get me started on the crappy state of maternity leave in this country and how women are forced to either go back before they or their bodies are ready OR suffer financially for staying home longer...) and Z is in day care 3 days a week.  I won't say it "feels like only yesterday" that he was born, because it doesn't.  But, it does amaze me to see how much he's changed:

2 days old

One week old

One month old!
As of his last pediatrician's appointment on July 17th, Z was 9.2lbs, still 21 inches long, and is in the 94th percentile for head size (which makes us laugh and laugh...the child does have a large cranium!). I am positive that he has gained weight since then!  Just this morning I was very sadly noticing that I am going to have to pack away his newborn clothes soon.  They still fit him (though a bit snugly) on his body, but they just will not go over his head without him getting really cheesed off.  So I think we're moving into the 0-3 month clothing!

He is a CHAMPION sleeper!  I attribute a lot of that to him being formula fed, because it keeps him full for longer.  He naps well and, once we swaddle him and put him in his crib for the night, he will sleep soundly for 6-8 hours! Glory hallelujah!! I still wake up several times throughout the night because I am just sure he'll wake up hungry (and I may or may not tiptoe into his room to make sure he's still breathing), but he apparently loves to sleep!  He sleeps very soundly, too.  Even Carmen barking at the air conditioner coming on doesn't rouse him. 

He loves his vibrating bouncy chair that he borrowed from his cousin (my niece), and he likes to be propped up on the boppy pillow so he can look around.  We will be trying the play mat again very soon.  The first time was a major disaster.  Trust me. He hated it and screamed for an hour afterwards.  PLAY MATS ARE TRAUMATIZING, apparently!

He's starting to give us some very cute smiles, and they're the real kind! They aren't just "falling asleep smiles" or "gassy smiles," though we get those still, too.  He hears us talking and turns his head to hear the other person if one of us is holding him.  He hated sponge baths, but now that we use his tub, he really seems to like them -- or at least not mind them! 

He likes to be worn in the Baby K'Tan wrap, but we have only tried this a few times before I had surgery.  Now I'm nervous to try him in the wrap until my incision site heals and closes up completely.  But he sure did love it!

So how is the rest of the family doing??

Michael is so great with him!  He takes so many of his feedings and I can tell by watching them together that he really enjoys this bonding time with Z.  One of the perks of my terrible experience with nursing is that Michael is able to feed him now, and I know that's made a world of difference in their father/son bonding time!  His flexible teaching schedule also allows him to be at home with Z a couple of days a week, which I think is so awesome.  I think that Daddy sometimes gets the short end of the stick on time with a new baby, and I'm so grateful that they will have these days together.  Especially as Z gets older and interacts with us more!

Carmen is great with the baby!  She's very interested in her little brother.  She just wants to have a few opportunities every day to sniff his head and maybe get in a lick or two on his little feet, and she gets very concerned when he's crying.  She'll either leave the room or give us a look as if to say, "Hello? Do you not HEAR that?  Do your job and make it stop!"  We think she judges our parenting skills sometimes, honestly.  She also likes to lay down on the floor as close as possible to his bouncy chair when he's in it.  She's very protective of her little brother!

How am I doing?  Well the last few blog posts will describe where I've been, mentally, emotionally and physically.  But I am happy to say that I truly am healing in all three areas -- some just a little more quickly than others.  In the almost two weeks since my surgery, I have bonded with Z 100% more than before my surgery and while we were still fighting the Breast Wars.  I'm cooking up another blog post in my head about the transition from pregnancy into motherhood...because I think it deserves its own recognition.  Someone asked me recently if I missed having Z inside me, and I can honestly answer "no."  Now that's not to say I don't miss being pregnant.  That's a different question.  There are some things I truly miss about being pregnant, and the transition is just so quick!  Literally.  One minute you're pregnant and the next you're just...not.  And then your body and your mind have to play catch up, all the while dealing with a completely new life.

I will say that Michael and I watched a documentary on HBO last night called First Comes Love (I highly recommend it!), and the filmmaker's birthing coach said something that completely summed up how this has felt. In talking about the pain of childbirth and how it can be so bad that you think you might die, she said something to the tune of "A part of you does die.  The part of you that can just go out whenever at a moment's notice.  And the part of you that is born -- the mother -- is sometimes slow to surface."  I found myself nodding vigorously, because that's exactly how it's been for me. 

There was an immediate and powerful love that I felt when they put him on my chest as soon as he was born.  But then when they took him away and to the nursery for his first bath, and everyone left and I was alone in the labor and delivery room, it felt surreal. Like it hadn't actually happened.  It wasn't until I had been cleaned up and settled comfortably into my postpartum recovery room and Michael was out getting us dinner that I suddenly and passionately missed him.  Luckily he was rolled in moments later (the memory of him being rolled in, wrapped like a burrito in his hospital crib and covered in a blue hat and blanket knitted by the hospital makes me tear up just thinking about it) by a nurse who must have read my mind.  And even once we were home, the first few nights were brutal, and the next couple of weeks only marginally easier.

But as we settle into our routines, however temporary they may be as he grows and changes, I find that I'm obsessed with my son. Every look on his face and movement he makes breaks my heart in the most extraordinary way.  If he's asleep, I miss him.  Even when I'm sitting right next to him.  It's amazing, and sometimes I wish I could pause time.  But, at the same time, I look forward to what's next.

Got off on more of a tangent there than I intended to, but....oh well! 

The last six weeks have been quite the roller coaster, and I'm excited to see what twists and turns are coming up for our little family!

August 6, 2013

My Nursing Struggle -- The Rest of the Story

So, the last time I blogged about this, I was exclusively pumping (with a not-yet-set expiration date in mind as I was producing not very much with each pumping session), on antibiotics for a case of mastitis, and still processing the feelings and the guilt associated with being what I considered to be a big ol' failure at breastfeeding.

Where are we now?

Well, I'm still dealing with the feelings.  Not so much of being a failure anymore, but there are moments when the disappointment and the anger is still very palpable and real.  But I've been through even more drama since that post.  I wanted to follow up with the next things that happened in my Nursing Saga, and since it's apparently World Breastfeeding Week and there's been a myriad postings on my Facebook feed from mamas of all ages and with all sorts of experiences breast AND formula feeding, I thought now was a good time to finish out my story.

A few days after I got on the antibiotics for mastitis, I noticed that the lump in my left breast, up near my armpit, was not only getting larger, but much more painful and angrier-looking.  I called my OB's office on a Friday morning as soon as they opened, and told them that the antibiotics were not helping, and they scheduled me to come in the following Tuesday.  My best friend arrived to spend the weekend with us and meet Z for the first time, and I was pretty decently distracted for the better part of the day.

Later that afternoon/early evening, I had to pump again to stay on schedule. By this point my right breast had pretty much thrown in the towel.  I was getting nothing substantial from that side, and what I did get looked more like water than anything that would satisfy my child, and because of the little yield, the pump was basically just beating the crap out of that side and starting to make it very sore.  Also, the left side, while still producing like a champ (well, a champ compared to the other side...still I was only getting about 1.5oz total per session), was so painful due to the growing lump/mastitis that I could barely make it through a 15-20 minute pumping session.

By the time I was ready to pump on this particular Friday evening, I didn't even make it 10 minutes. I was bent almost completely over at the waist and had tears streaming down my face because of the pain.  I also just felt like total crap.  A quick check with the thermometer showed that, once again, I was running a low-grade fever.  This had happened a few times before I got on the antibiotics, but it never went above 100.5 and usually it didn't even last the night.  However, my husband had had enough by this point.  He very lovingly insisted that I call the after-hours number and try to reach the OB or midwife on call.

After a short conversation with the midwife, it was clear to her that something was wrong if I was still feeling so awful after 72 hours on antibiotics, so she suggested that I get myself to the emergency room quickly.  Not like that's alarming or anything...

Since I didn't want Z anywhere near a hospital, I called my parents to let them know I was going to the ER, and my grandma met me up there to stay with me.  Once I was triaged and sent to a room, the nurse and the PA came in to assess the situation and do some bloodwork.  When she saw my breasts, she visibly winced and said they looked worse than any she had ever seen.  Awesome.  At least I know I wasn't just being a wimp!

Long story in the ER short -- my white blood cell count was a bit frighteningly high, and the lump in my breast was clearly abscessed, so I was going to be admitted and have an ultrasound done to see what was going on on the inside.  I also had MORE blood drawn from both arms so that cultures could be grown, and I was immediately put on an IV of antibiotics and morphine because the pain was so bad that I couldn't even hold my arms at my sides.

I went to bed in a hospital room, all alone, away from my husband and my baby for the first time, and not knowing what was going to happen the next morning. I heard the word "surgeon" mentioned at one point, but nobody told me anything really.  I just knew that the abscess was going to have to be drained somehow.  The pain medication and the antibiotics helped me to sleep and reduced my fever to where I could be comfortable.

The nurse attending me was surprised I didn't feel worse than I did for longer before coming to the hospital.  The truth was, I'd been on round-the-clock Ibuprofen ever since having Z because I never felt really 100% right.  Any time I would get a low-grade fever or feel tired and run-down, I just assumed I'd overdone it and needed to rest.  I had no idea that this infection was picking up major steam in my body.

The next morning, the OB on call visited with me and we discussed the fact that I needed to stop breastfeeding/pumping at this point (more on that later), and that she really wanted me to stay one more night in the hospital on antibiotics, since my white blood cell count was still so high and since the abscess was so large. Then the surgeon came by to visit me and introduce himself and tell me about what we were going to do.  Unfortunately, the abscess and the infection were so large that he had to do a surgical procedure to empty it.  It was too large to just numb and lance (OW OW OW).  He explained that it would be an open wound and heal from the inside out, and that there would definitely be a scar afterwards.  He was so apologetic about that; it was very kind of him.

Everything moved very quickly after quickly that I barely had time to text my husband and my parents to let them know I was going in for surgery (for the first time in my life, might I add...).  They didn't even make it to the hospital before I was being wheeled into the OR.  I'll admit that I was afraid.  I know it was a very minor surgery, but I had never been put completely under anesthesia before, and I was scared.  I just wanted someone to be there, and I was so flustered that I didn't even know how to pray or what to say.

God works in such crazy ways...when I was in the OR, trying not to cry while I'm laying on a gurney, and the anesthesiologist came over to explain to me what was going to happen, I just happened to glance to my right at his assistant/nurse, and it was the first boyfriend I ever had.  I use the term "boyfriend" loosely, because I was probably 12 years old and he went to my church.  We never even held hands, because that would have been scandalous to me.  It was so good to see a familiar face that I immediately started crying.  He was so sweet!  He asked about Michael and the baby, and told me he'd be there the whole time during my surgery (side note to laugh and laugh that the boy I wouldn't even let hold my hand in the 6th grade was going to be in the room when I had surgery on a boob...hilarious move, Universe).

When I woke up (it's SO weird to not remember an entire chunk of your dreams, like when you're asleep...just...OUT), my first thought was "my throat hurts" and then "where is my husband?" Luckily I didn't have to stay in the recovery area for very long, and I was wheeled back to my room, where my husband and my dad and my grandmother were waiting.  My mom and stepdad were on their way back from San Antonio.  Michael told me that the surgeon had come out and told them that everything went really well, and that it was the worst case of mastitis/worst abscess he'd ever seen.  Once again, I impressed a doctor with the shitty condition of my breasts! Awesome!

I was pretty groggy, so everyone left me to rest fairly quickly. Later that evening, Michael and my best friend came up to see me and brought Z because I was so sad to be away from him. I hated staying that extra night in the hospital, but it was good for me to get the sleep (what sleep I could, with nurses coming in and out all night long to change out meds and check vitals and all that...staying in the hospital sucks) and the extra doses of antibiotics via the IV.  I was discharged the next day after a visit from the OB on call and the surgeon again, with instructions to come back in a few days to have the packing removed from the surgery site.  Since then, I've also had the drain removed, and now there is just a HOLE IN MY BODY where the incision was made.  It's as freaky and weird as you'd think.  This morning I nearly passed out just thinking about it...but it's the best way for an infected area to heal, is what it is.

Follow up appointments have shown that I'm healing really well and that the infection I had was actually MRSA staph.  Yep.  Scary.  I'm SO glad that my husband pushed me to call when he did and that the midwife on call was so adamant about me going to the ER.  You can tell pretty quickly the severity of a condition by the look in an nurse's eyes and the speed with which they get an IV in you, and let's just say they weren't moving slowly in my case.  It makes me really upset to sit and think about what could have happened, but I choose not to dwell on that.  It's done, and it's getting better.

I will have a scar.  But honestly, I'm glad it'll be there.  I'm still, even after everything my boobs and I have gone through, struggling with guilt and the tiny voice in my mind that says "you could still try! once you're healed!" It's insane, I know.  Even the doctors told me "Why didn't you stop earlier?"  And all I can answer is that I wanted my baby to have breast milk.  I knew.  I knew in my mind, and my body was telling me way before it got bad that it was in pain and it was time to stop, but I was stubborn and I didn't listen to my body.  So now, when I feel like I didn't do enough, I can look down and see that scar and know that I did just about everything.  And I went through a lot.  And it's okay that I'm done.

There's a part of me that's also still dealing with a lot of anger. I'm angry with myself for not taking better care of myself so that I could enjoy my maternity leave and my very very limited time at home with Z.  I'm angry that my precious few weeks off were marked by physical and emotional pain, and that I had to go back to work before I was really healed and without spending pain-free time with my son. I'm angry that every lactation specialist I spoke to just told me to keep going, instead of, considering how bad it really was and that, despite how much pain and resentment I was feeling, telling me it was okay to stop and that any milk I had been able to provide for Z was amazing and enough.  I'm angry that I didn't "succeed" and I'm angry that I still can't let it go sometimes.  But I'm moving forward every day, and I have such a beautiful, happy baby to remind me of what's really important.

There are just so many emotions tied to new-mommyhood.  Overall, and most importantly, I have bonded with my son MORE in the past week and a half since my surgery than I did in any of the preceding four weeks of his life.  I look at him now and I can focus easily and effortlessly on him and how much love I have for him.  I'm not thinking, "if he falls asleep in the next few minutes, I can still pump on schedule," and dreading pumping. And when I'm holding him as he falls asleep, that oxytocin kicks in and I feel the exact same heady, content sleepiness that I felt when we had those rare moments of successful nursing.  I think that's really cool, and I thank God for that...that I'm able to experience some of those same hormone-induced (the good kind) new mommy feelings without the stress and the pain that came with nursing him.

The question I've gotten the most recently is, "Will you try breastfeeding again if you have a second baby?"  The honest answer is that I have no idea.  None at all.  It's too early to even think about something like that while I'm still processing all of what happened with my efforts this time, and while there's still a hole in my boob.  I just don't know. 

I know some people think it's weird that I've shared so much of this.  But it really does help me to write it all down (so to speak) and I still hope and pray that it might help someone else who is in the same situation, wishing someone would tell her that it's okay to stop if you're miserable...if you're hurting...if you're not bonding with your baby...if you dread and resent breastfeeding...if your supply is low/non-existent.  I still know that there are things I could have done and could still do, physically, to nurse Z, but...emotionally? I'm done.  I'm cashing in my chips and counting my losses and focusing on the future and the happy feelings. 

Because a happy baby and a happy family is what matters the most to me.  And a good place to start with that is my peace of mind and my confidence as a mom...which I'm slowly but surely achieving again.