Once upon a Pregnancy Anniversary

Sometimes dates mean a lot to me. I love to take note of anniversaries of special events, whether happy or sad. Thanks to day planners, digital photography, and even Facebook with its ‘On this Day’ memories feature, this has been made ever easier! Often these special dates can get me feeling emotional or sentimental, and usually very pensive. I may just casually mention to someone that a certain date is a little anniversary of some sort, but inside, it churns and churns until I can connect with it in a bigger way that satisfies me in all my existential needs.

Well, everyone. We all have those anniversaries. Once upon a time, our stories were just beginning. For each and every one of us there was a day, one just as important as our birthdays, when we first got started. It was a day when Mom and Dad spent some time together. That would be our conception date! Ah, that magical three-month age. A year is 12 months: you spend approximately 9 months pregnant, have your baby, then three months later, oh my, a year has passed since you became pregnant! It’s magic! A fairy tale! How many Mamas out there know, or have an idea, of when their little one was conceived? I know I do. My daughter’s most likely conception date anniversary was a few days ago, at least the date that directly led to her conception. Hence this entry. I know many of the dates, events, and feelings that led up to and surrounded it.

Last year, my first pregnancy anniversary was extremely emotional.  This year, I’m writing this with my seemingly huge 31.5 inch tall, nearly 25 pound, 15 month old sprawled out sleeping on my lap. I am a mother. I’m used to it and I am used to her. The memories of desperately wanting to be pregnant, of surprise at becoming pregnant, are just slightly less consuming. Yet I have still taken note of so many of them, in different ways than I did last year. Mother’s Day this year fell on the first day of my last period 2 years ago. Bingo, instant reason to mentally commemorate that bizarre date that they use to determine the start, and thus the end, of your pregnancy. Last year I took my daughter to visit my paternal grandparents’ grave to honor that day. Mother’s Day two years ago was one of a series of events that led to me feeling that the conception that took place just over a couple weeks later was a kind of grand culmination, a happy ending.  I took note of the day a college acquaintance shared an article giving hope to women waiting to be mothers. I took note of conversations I had had with friends in those few weeks, serious or silly, medical or crass, about the prospect of trying to become pregnant.  I know what days they happened and I can picture where we were sitting or standing or walking. I thought of meaningful conversations and interactions with family, or even strangers, that had made me feel something during that time. I thought sipping leftover homemade sangria I made for Mother’s Day did the trick. I thought meditating like crazy did the trick. I shared a recent story about the significance of a particular meditation class on my personal facebook page. (Last month I took my daughter into the room where I took a meditation class a couple days before I got pregnant. It was an old mansion with an ornate fireplace flanked by female figures in togas. She put her hand on the statue’s belly and said ‘Mama.’ I lost my breath. She has a sense.) I believed forgiving myself for my mistakes was the key. I thought eating some more snacks maybe kicked my ovaries into gear.  I thought that feeling like my heart was open to life was something I could pinpoint in retrospect; I was striving to embrace the past, the present, and the future, and welcome them all to join me, shape me, and allow me to simply be.  I felt gratitude fill me. It had been a long time coming, something I had been working on for a while. I needed to forgive myself for a number of things: a car accident, losing photo data and files, personal relationships. I had just gotten to a point where I could say I forgave myself. I could say I not only overcame my stressors, but learned to live through them, and look forward to the future and adventures to come knowing that I was, in some ways, powerless to change, but not hopeless.  I still felt the extreme discomfort I sometimes feel in myself, but paired with renewed strength. I remember outings I went on, parties I attended, the freedom I was trying to attain. I can feel it now. I’m so thankful I can still feel it and relive it. I don’t know if it is natural for us to feel like attitudes and actions and breaths of release and heartbeats of gratitude enrich us for this, for any type of motherhood or caretaking.  I believe in science, but I also believe in feelings; for me, their strength forces me to listen to them.

Maybe the day my daughter was conceived wasn’t anything special.  It was a weekday. I went to work. I went to the store. I went to an exercise class. Who knows what other mundane things I did or didn’t do. But, before that day, things were different. As a result of that day, unbeknownst to me at the time, an entirely new combination of DNA would now exist. My X would join with another X and the makeup of another completely distinctive human being would quickly start to form. There was a new genetic code virtually identical to every other person ever to live but still unique enough to never have existed before. That little doll face that I look at a billion times a day was coded and destined to look just how it looks now. It’s unbelievable. It’s unreal. It is a beautiful story able to be retold as long as time. How could you not feel like it’s a special date? It was the start of a huge process of physical and emotional changes. To think, two whole years ago I was pregnant; it doesn’t seem so far in the past.  Also, realizing all the things you did before you knew you were pregnant is another interesting topic to cover!  Thinking of what happened in my body two years ago just makes me think what chance luck I had. It happened the way it did and it has worked out so perfectly in so many ways.  I just can never think of my body the same way again. I was riding that cusp between never having been pregnant to becoming a vessel for the growth of another person.  But I didn’t know. There was a miracle that occurred that we were so unaware of.  A miracle for us, a gift. A chance occurrence that made absolutely all the difference for her! What chance. Incredible.  She would not be otherwise.  It was something so completely ordinary that has happened as long as history. But it’s beautiful how it happens. There is so much love and every other emotion that can go into it. It’s amazing to think of being pregnant two years ago, since at times pregnancy feels like something so far off.  It’s nice to be reminded how recent it was and how much I still recall and feel connected to it, and how I have adjusted to having my baby here.  I recorded a video for my daughter last year around this time to explain some of this to her: what she means to me, how much I loved being pregnant with her, my hopes for her, and those feeling I tried to instill. I don’t think I said everything I needed to, but I am so glad I got some of those emotions out so soon after her birth. It was another way to celebrate and acknowledge the anniversary.

Last year I also realized it happens to be the birthday of my favorite female singer. The strength and power of the day coupled with how completely ordinary it is, has been undeniable; I try to allow days like that to push me. They force a kind of willingness to find my own meaning in the random, sometimes forgettable details of life. This year, a celebrity death that very much affected me connected as well; his funeral was on that date. I think it added to the extreme emotions, and to the feeling of heaviness of memories. Loss and gain go hand in hand. I felt a lot on that day. This year, my in-laws were visiting from across the country, and we were traveling to a family wedding.  There were a lot of emotions in every direction. I planned a big day out the day before. We did a couple things that reminded me of the time I was newly pregnant — going into the city, getting ice cream. Mainly, being active and finding happiness and peace in the midst of a stressful time. Finding the continued flow in life. I’m still remembering that time and what I was doing — events, feelings, people — and remaining in awe of life. Valuing that treasure called life can save me and allow me to pass on wisdom to my daughter and her generation of how precious life truly is, and why something like a pregnancy anniversary is something to hold in your heart forever. I’m glad we kept track of it, even if it might seem a little weird.  There’s more to acknowledge than meets the eye, and there is always something more to come.

Happy 2nd Mother’s Day to me: Why I am not disappointed by motherhood.

My husband once said to me that he was so glad that motherhood was living up to my expectations. He was happy to see that I was not disappointed by it. It felt good to have someone say that to me. It meant my joy in motherhood had radiated out. Others could see it. That’s kind of my thing, you know, that I want — for my joy to up the spirits of those around me. And it was true!  I’m really not disappointed by motherhood. I’m not saying it is all easy, or that it doesn’t make a lot of tasks more complex or stressful (topic for another entry), but, especially as time has gone by, I feel it has met and exceeded so many expectations. Let me start a bit earlier, though…  

I have always wanted to be a mother.  When I was little I loved my dolls and built up complex familial relationships between my Barbies. Thanks to that I’m still actually pretty good at keeping track of that kind of stuff, haha. Growing up, my mother spoke very highly of motherhood; I felt how much she enjoyed being with my sister and me. I knew it was something I wanted. My husband and I knew we would wait a bit to have children, but, even when you get to the point of being ‘ready’ and thinking about your future child almost every single day, life may not cooperate, for a variety of reasons!  The indescribable longing of thinking of my future child all the time, but simultaneously reaching a point where I truly had to come to terms with the idea that I might not ever meet that child, was heart-wrenching.  Then, two years ago, May became very lucky for me. I became pregnant.

I had a lot of hopes riding on getting pregnant. I have very high, lofty ideals in many areas of life. My hopes and ideals were riding on one little female fetus. The little girl she has become hasn’t disappointed in the slightest.  But why? Why do I feel that way? I know most every mother thinks her kids are wonderful and perfect and is so happy to have them in her life. But sometimes motherhood disappoints. I know some days we all reach points of feeling that way, and it is OKAY. Maybe I’m doing a disservice to say that motherhood lives up to the hype, and more.  I know that’s a source of disappointment, and even depression, for many new moms.  We are humans, and we are complex people who have many other identities, interests, people, activities, and things that fulfill us other than our children. But, for now, I wanted to reflect on why it has, for me, at this time, indeed lived up to my hopes.

First of all, in my job, I cleaned poopy diapers for 300 pound elderly bed-bound people. For years. It doesn’t quite prepare you for the breastmilk projectile poop at every single diaper change (but hey, at least baby poop doesn’t smell and the diapers aren’t as big!). However, it sure got me to learn to appreciate the joy in the simple task of cleaning up after someone’s most basic, basic needs.  In fact, I learned to love that kind of work so much I never sought to really advance my career beyond that, to my own detriment in many ways.  But it made me so very happy.  Not necessarily the poop part, but I hope you catch my drift. I think my happiest is connecting with people in very basic,  very emotional, very genuine ways. I really, truly believe that working for over 10 years in health care, caring for ill and elderly patients at their most vulnerable times, taking care of their most basic physical and social needs, and learning to find meaning in those daily activities, was crucial. It was crucial to my happiness during those years, but also crucial to finding a way of appreciating life in all its most beautiful and harsh realities, at every stage of health and existence. It gave me the mental and physical skills and knowledge to take care of another person, to keep things clean, and to take care of my own life in certain ways.  All that has helped me to more fully appreciate the dirty tasks of motherhood and, not only not dread them, but sometimes enjoy them!  A clean butt after a huge poop might be your biggest accomplishment for the day! Relish it!

Waiting to get pregnant was more difficult than I could have imagined, but somehow it really did leave me with gratitude when our miracle finally did happen.  I really appreciated it. I really meditated on it. I focused on what a miracle her life was as often as I could while I carried her.

I anticipated being a lot more nervous as a first time mother, since I tend to be a nervous person and grew up with an overprotective mother. Okay, those closest to me know I still freak out sometimes in regards to the baby, maybe more than sometimes. But generally I am amazed at how chill I am. I can’t handle a lot of other aspects of my life, but with her, hey, I can do! I can do it all. I can take care of all her needs, I can feed her with my body, everything, It’s a huge boost of confidence in myself and in her. She’s a champ! With confidence in her, and in us as a team, I have been less apt to feel disappointed or panicked or like I am failing, especially as we have gotten to know one another better and feel more secure in our routines.  

Having a close, supportive network of family and friends helped. Especially in times of strife, when I couldn’t really see my own value, I saw it in the people who continued to love me.  Slowly, I came to feel the pangs of realizing our importance as individuals and the unique beauty that each of us possesses. From before she was born until this very day, I look for those traits in my daughter.  I sensed her strength before she was born.  I know the things that make her smile.  I try to appreciate them.  I learned from my past how to value someone’s smallest assets, and I try to continue fostering that when I look at her. Having help and support from those family members and friends in giving advice and caring for my daughter were also huge factors in not being too overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood.  I don’t think that having help should be a privilege in child-raising; I think it’s necessary.

Mother’s Day 2015 was a very mixed day. I felt the sting of not yet being a mother, and a few stressful events were occurring. My dear maternal grandfather gave me a lesson that began with the question, ‘what is a miracle?’ I video recorded part of his lesson.  It was uplifting and it made me feel grateful and loved. It was a wonderful perspective on how the true joy in life is the privilege of helping and doing good deeds for those you care about. Those are things I value so highly, and he and I were very close. I later lost the file of him speaking, along with many other photos and videos. I was so angry with myself. I went through weeks of self-hatred, working tirelessly toward the goal of forgiving myself. And I finally did. And that was the week I got pregnant. It was the miracle my grandfather had just told me of, in a way. While I still wallow more often than I’d like to, this experience gave me the perspective to be a little bit gentler to myself in regard to blame. I feel that that has been an amazing asset in motherhood. The growth I worked toward has allowed me to be more calm and forgiving toward myself, in all my terrible mothering moments, and toward my daughter as well.  My incredible grandfather passed away when I was 5 months pregnant, with his hand on my growing belly. My daughter has a form of his name. That legacy and spirit, that true miracle, carried into the next generation, automatically fulfilled my expectations.

Just after Mother’s Day 2016, I made a video for my daughter about what her life meant to me. It was the middle of the night as I held her while she slept. To this day, I usually write and put my deepest thoughts about her and about life in general into words while she sleeps on me, off and on sucking her boobie.  I hope for more connection, and I hope that, like in the womb, she can sense some good loving vibes from me. There are enough not as good vibes at times so we need lots of positive physical and emotional contact.  She helped me put my thoughts into words, and she helped me put my very life into a new, perfectly formed human. It’s pretty not-disappointing if you ask me.

This Mother’s Day is the first without my maternal grandmother. She passed when my daughter was 6 months old.  I know it will be difficult for my mother.  Despite my grandmother’s dementia, she and my daughter were the best of friends; you could see it in the way they looked at one another with awe and admiration. My Nonna’s selflessness, hard work, and the values she instilled in my mother are so admirable. They make me feel inadequate. Yet it is the way both of these women flourished in motherhood that inspired me. I hope I’ve made them proud. In that hope, I find no disappointment.

I think part of being content in motherhood is to make sure you balance your needs with your child’s. I have to say I’m lucky.  I don’t feel like there are too many things that I can’t do with her. It’s about doing everything to make them happy, but still living your life — just altered and amended it to fit their needs in first. I try to do everything that I want to do — anything that she will enjoy. I tweak it to make it work for her, and we are both happy. I’m still living my own life, accompanied by a new little best friend, and she is having cool new enriching experiences. Examples include museums, music performances, cultural festivals, and nature outings. You can still do fun things! You can still go out to eat! You can still do adult things! Plus you can do kid things too!  I know not every baby is amenable to all this; I am very lucky to have had a fairly calm baby.  You can’t get your hopes up too high, but it is important to keep it as something to work at.

In difficulty, my daughter has been a loyal person to cling to. I use as much of my energy as I can to focus on reciprocating and giving her all the abundance that she has given me.  Even when my thoughts are elsewhere, lost in myself or something or someone else, I try. I never realized how much that little spirit would save me. I cannot express my gratitude. She is incredible and that feeling at certain tough times has been beyond what I expected.  Her company and companionship are just superb. Though, sometimes a tantrum during tough times is certainly not fun! Balance!

Motherhood has further hammered in a valuable lesson: being aware that happiness isn’t always immediate.  Your relationship with your child is unique and needs to be developed before you can really have more fun and enjoy it and also feel comfortable with how you are with one another. This realization is immense.  You fall more and more in love and feel more and more confident despite any initial feelings of fear or uncertainty.  I think I’ve finally understood this more recently.  In knowing that, I don’t feel as guilty or ‘bad’ for feelings or mistakes that aren’t up to what I think I should be as a mother.

I think realizing the reality versus the expectation has been a huge factor.  It is the BS of modern society and certain more mainstream baby book wisdom versus the more miraculous discovery of reality — feeling the feelings and experiences, following the latest fascinating research, looking to instinct to guide, and watching a helpless creature grow, thrive, and, in turn, teach you. The biology and emotion are overwhelmingly moving throughout pregnancy and the first year.

Motherhood has given me even more time and perspective to contemplate my favorite topics — the meaning (and lack thereof) of our lives and the developments we go through. I’m not ‘The Existential Mommy’ for nothin.  I am so grateful for this. Even the year that led up to my pregnancy taught me a lot.  It is a full-body, full-mind, full-life burst of amazingly meaningful processing. It fills me like nothing else when I think of her, and my mind is flooded with love and ideas.  That has far exceeded my expectations.

The camaraderie, companionship, and coming together that occur after you have a child is incredible and heartwarming. The gifts, the visits, the messages from fellow moms, the love and support from near and far, the tangible help, and the way the ones you love look at that new little one that is loved by all.  It’s great. People reach out and reconnect.

Attachment-y parenting. Breastfeeding on-demand. Bed-sharing. Cuddling. Near-constant contact.  That intimate physical connection surprisingly soothes you so much in the months after birth. I did not realize how much it would mean to me to see me adapt to her needs. I’ve fallen in love with her and fallen in love with the way she wanted me to parent her. I’ve fallen in love with the way I can do this for her, make her happy, and become who I am meant to be. I am proud and in love with the way I have accepted it, cast off doubt, and embraced it. And that has exceeded all my expectations more than I can say. I am so proud of her, and so happy she is who she is.

There is so much appreciation and awe, and pride in accomplishment. The more I learn about motherhood the more magical it seems to be. Things in development are so timely.  I feel like if you moderate expectations and go with it, there’s so much you can enjoy.  It’s not going to be perfect.  You will mess up. There are moments you won’t enjoy and wish you could get out of.  But knowing those things are normal, and that attachment is different for everyone and grows and changes, I think helps to keep it in perspective so that motherhood as a whole remains something positive and something you don’t feel disappointed about.  I think for all the build up I gave motherhood in my mind, I still kept that idea to keep me grounded.

You grew a new life in your body. It’s a person now! They develop slowly but they move!  First you get excited just for them to look at you, then before you know it they are walking and talking. It’s a miracle to experience.  And they are SO CUTE. From cute faces and expressions to cute feet, everything is cute.  I could not have expected any more out of my first almost 15 months of motherhood.

To conclude, I just wanted to say a couple things about my second Mother’s Day.  I spent the day itself with my mother and sister and the baby.  We lovingly refer to ourselves as my daughter’s ‘3 Mamas’ because the two of them have been so involved with her upbringing.  The next day I went out with my husband. I got some Korean food to go and we sat outside in a pedestrian plaza.  My daughter was being her fun, wild little self. She drank her milk and had a few pieces of my food, and then my husband took her for a walk.  First they just walked around the pedestrian area while I stuffed my face and snapped some pictures of them. Then, he put her in her carrier and took off down the block so he could get a slice of pizza. I sat there and ate. Alone. Happily eating my japchae noodles and Korean chicken wings, I just people-watched. It was absolutely GLORIOUS. He came back, and I told him how nice it was. So he went to circle the block a few more times. For a good 15 minutes or so I enjoyed just looking around and not reigning in and trying to feed a small toddler.  I’m not the kind of mom who likes to be away from my daughter very often. I know she’s a clingy baby and nurses so much she doesn’t like it either. I generally really don’t mind spending 24 hours a day with her; I want to.  We’re on the same schedule.  My ideal breaks from her are being nearby with someone else just kinda taking responsibility while I message with friends or take care of an errand. But we all need a break, from lots of things!  I was sitting there, looking around, loving being outdoors in a bustling area, as if it were just ME again.  But I gazed each way looking for them. I thought I heard a baby crying in the distance; was it her? My heart was beating just a little faster in anticipation. And I was all of a sudden back in Italy, in a piazza in Genoa. I was eating a very small gelato, very slowly. It was August 2015 and I was ending my first trimester soon.  Eating sweets had made me feel like I was going to pass out. But it was getting a little better, so I wanted to try a little gelato.  I knew that every time something I ate made me feel lightheaded, made my heart race, made me feel like I might faint, that my growing child was still alive inside of me causing me to have those sensations.  Even though that child was not THERE, he or she was still there with me, affecting me on such a deep level. That feeling came back to me on this Mother’s Day Monday celebration. My daughter was not right there with me, but she was, once again, still there with me, affecting me again, both physically and mentally.  It was an absolutely beautiful feeling to be brought back to. Both times, people-watching alone in a bustling square; both times, my body and mind governed by thoughts of my child. It made me realize again how what I have written here is true; her influence has not disappointed.

I hope everyone and their mothers and children, all the important women of this world, mothers or not, and those with mothering hearts who are waiting, had a lovely Mother’s Day 2017.  🙂

How do we lose our happiness?

Sometimes I wonder when it all went wrong.  When did the child inside of me die?  When did I lose my first spark of innocence?  When did my eyes not only look outward and see darkness, but realize it reflected a pervasive darkness on the inside?  I have long privately and publicly pondered and discussed the heavy weight of pain, and great joy, in life.  In this blog, I wanted to connect all of that to motherhood in some way.  Shortly after I concluded watching a show about teen suicide, I made another connection.  The nightmare to come, a circle of hell I had not anticipated, was to watch it happen — to watch that loss of innocence firsthand.  I would see my child grow, and I’d be able to note when her life changed. This time from the outside. I would see when she grew out of her constant joy and wonderment.  I would notice it fade, slowly with time or piecemeal by event, the way I now so wholeheartedly love to watch it grow. The smiles that light up her face and the room around her are as bright and exuberant as the sun. Do I have to look into the eyes of a girl without that spark? Will I know her darkness?  Maybe I would have my answer to the question of how it all goes wrong in a person’s life.  That would be my punishment.  That would be my price to pay in motherhood, for my mistakes.  It would be an answer I never really wanted to know.

My worst fear is losing her. Even worse is that she would take away a life I’d dreamed of giving her and the love and love and love I poured into her creation and formation and growth.  That she came into this world so perfect.  That her heartbeat was the most beautiful and perfect thing I could imagine on such a deep level. That we all come into this world with someone thinking we are perfect and beautiful. You are just as worthy and loved as anyone else and you were loved even before your first single cell existed. What happens to us? Where do we become lost? I didn’t fully realize until now that the punishment didn’t have to be actually losing my child, or even unbearably witnessing her feel as if her precious life was not worthwhile, but that even watching her lose her faith in the fascinating world around her could be heartbreaking.  Her cries of uncertainty or fear or want have always hurt me and jostled my senses because I don’t want her to feel lost.  Someday though, she will cry. She will be struck realizing that she is crying because she doesn’t know why. She won’t know why life is the way it is.  I sympathize because I vividly saw my mother suffer when I suffered.  I’ve always dreaded that feeling, especially when the degree is extreme, when you fear losing the life of the person you live for. I suppose what I’m thinking of now is the difficult stages of life that we all face — the loss of innocence, the tears that reach beyond just wanting a toy that was taken away.  How do we as parents watch and react to those future cries? All cries, even baby ones, are about big things — what we feel can always be big in our minds and our hearts — but what happens as they develop, as they evolve into deeper pain.  What can we do about those tears? What can we do except look and see how it happens, how we become our flawed, beautiful human selves, and reassure them that we don’t lose all our battles, that life means just as much and as little for anyone else, and not falter in empowering them with our age and experience.  How, I don’t know exactly. We all get emotional in good ways and bad ways watching our babies grow up. I just needed to articulate one way I know I don’t anticipate, because I don’t want her to have to give me the answers to the questions that opened my entry.  We don’t want to lose our joyous, happy babies. Good luck, mommies.