Monday, February 24, 2014

The Week in Books

I finished listening to the unabridged version of The Pirate Coast, Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805 about the Barbary Pirates.  Apparently, early on in our nation's story, the Barbary Pirates would extract tribute from nations in exchange for not attacking their ships.  We actually fought a war with them over this.  

While all this was going on, the US engaged in a covert campaign to replace the current leader of Tripoli with his brother, Hamet.  The person Jefferson put in charge of this operation was a guy by the name of Captain William Eaton.  He was headstrong, opinionated, and never seemed to ever compromise, ever.  

He was also an alcoholic and gambling addict.

The story of his trek through the desert with Hamet alone is worth reading the book.

It's a long slog and (dare I say it) fairly boring much of the time, but if you're into this kind of thing, it's worth pressing onwards and getting through it.  I found the story of the US's first covert campaign to replace a head of state pretty much fascinating.  I'm not a huge fan of Eaton, but if nothing else, the story shows how our government managed to play both sides of an issue even within the first generation of its founding.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A night in the life... (aka Analyze This, Freud)

Last night was a weird night of sleeping.  Well, every night is pretty much a weird night of sleeping these days, but last night really topped the list of Weirdest Sleeping Experiences Since Having A Child.

Hannah went to sleep around 10.  Woke up at 12:45 and 4.  I took the 12:45am feed, Jonathan took the 4.  He turned the heater on high, which made me quite warm, so even though I wasn't feeding Hannah, I woke up and was all hot.  Then, since he always winds up staying awake for a little while after each feeding, he looked at his computer, and the glow kept me awake.  Also, I had my alarm set for 6:45 because I had a 10:30am meeting in Carlsbad, and needed to leave the house around 8.


10pm: down.  This first stint of sleep was uneventful (which is good in my book).
12:45am: up.  Feed Hannah.
Try to go back down.
Have the following Weird Dreams:
- My choir was singing in a viking ship that kept moving around and we were all getting jostled and falling overboard.
- Jonathan became an actor and got a part in a movie filming in NYC and we lived there.  For some reason, our mugs and teas were already in the apartment when we moved in.  He decided the movie wasn't actually good, so he quit, and some big burly man came to move us out.
- In that same dream, my mom was the star of the movie, and I didn't even know she acted until I saw her on the plane.

4am: Hannah up.
I feign sleeping so Jonathan gets her first (a sneaky trick I use sometimes)
Heater starts blasting.  I kick off covers.
4:15 Hannah back down.
Jonathan opens computer.  Glow permeates my eyelids.
Heater still blasting.
I kick off socks.
Glow still glowing.
5am: I get up all stroppily and half asleep and insist that the heater goes off, and turn it off.
Back to bed.
Have the following dreams:
- I was at a pool party with Matt Damon and Tom Cruise, who were romantically involved.  With each other.
- Hannah suddenly had a mouth full of teeth and wanted to eat pad thai.
- A volcano started erupting outside my house, but for some reason I was really chill about it, and built a moat to keep the lava from coming into our living room.
- Back at the Gay Tom Cruise and Matt Damon pool party I started sliding down the sliding board and suddenly the pool was filled with cupcakes, which became very messy.

5:45: reset alarm for 7:15 so I get an extra half an hour of sleep.  I don't need a shower, I figure.  I can stink.  Special allowances for stinking should be made for people with infants and small children.

6:15: Jonathan wakes me, worried that I've overslept.  I have a brief moment of panic while checking the clock.  This seriously pisses me off at the time, but I know he was just looking out for me (still a little bitter).

6:45: Hannah starts talking, so I wake up.  Decide to take a bath.  Start to fill the tub up, but for some reason I don't turn it all the way to hot, so lukewarm water is going in.  Go out to make coffee, unaware of this.  Go back to turn off water, and tub is not hot.  Let out a little bit of water (and feel guilty because we are in a drought) and put more hot in, but the hot is running out, so my bath is destined to be chilly.  This reminds me of the flats I lived in in England where you had to remember to turn the hot water heaters on in time for the water to heat up before your bath, and I was always forgetting and taking cold baths.

Go back out to the kitchen to get coffee.  Spill it on the way back to the bathroom.  Of course.

I'm seriously surprised I made it to my meeting in time with the way my morning started out.  On the way I stopped at Starbucks for more coffee and realized my shirt was on inside out.  But at least I realized it before I had to be "on."

On the upside, since my meeting was in Carlsbad, 4 miles from the beach, I had a lovely lunchtime walk in bare feet along the shore before heading back home.  And for what it's worth, I highly recommend the beach in Carlsbad for taking walks.  And there's still sand in my shoes, which is a Dido song, and is more proof that everything in my life always seems to come back to Dido.

And now it's 8:15, and I'm going to try to have a less eventful night of sleep tonight.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Unanswerable Questions

Last night J and I had a Date Night since we have this awesome nanny/sitter now.  We do things classy - a fast food dinner from Wienerschnitzel (they have pretzel buns now - I'm a sucker for pretzel buns - and anyway, I'm going to go back to being a vegetarian now that I'm no longer breastfeeding...soon...) and a movie.  J snuck his hot dogs into the theater in his pockets because he's skinny and wears loose jeans.  So I could really say, "is that a hot dog in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me," and the answer would be that it was a hot dog.  I find that amusing.

Anyway, we saw Winter's Tale, which it seems critics hate, but I loved.  I won't do a boring recap of the plot here - there are tons of snide reviewers and critics out there already doing that.  But the part I really liked was how it crosses time and dimensions, and how magic surrounds us.

I'm starting to get to that place in life where you start to get glimpses of What Might Have Been.  When you're in your 20's and just starting out, you don't see those places.  You just see this big life, 60 years or whatever, stretching out before you and waiting to be filled up.  And I suppose that once you get older, you don't really think about those Coulda Shoulda Woulda's that much because there's not really much point.  You're happy with the life you've made, and that's that.  But I feel like here, in my mid-(almost late)-30's, I'm still close enough to those decisions that I can see the other lives that other decisions would have led to, and I can wonder about them.  It's like wagon spokes that stretch out from the center indefinitely.  I'm on my spoke, but I can still see the other ones on either side of me.  Eventually it'll get to a point where I can't see the other ones because we'll all be so far apart.

I think about things like:
- What if we hadn't bought our house when we did?
- What if I had never got married?
- What if we never adopted that first stray cat that showed up on the deck (pregnant, unbeknownst to us)?
- What if I had stayed in London by marrying one of my gay friends?
- What if I would have taken that job in Hong Kong in 2003?

I think about the other people I could have been.  There's Career Girl, the girl I always thought I'd become, who modeled herself after Samantha on Sex and the City, who never got attached and always looked out for herself first.  And had fabulous shoes and was always on the list to get into any club she wanted.  Then there's New Agey Hippie Girl, who maybe lives in a commune in Santa Cruz, reads tarot cards on the beach and eats a lot of organic soy.

Then there are versions of who I am that are only slightly different than who I am now.  Like if I'd have stayed in London.  I'm sure I'd still be me, only just a bit different.  Maybe a little better put together.  I always seem to try harder in London.  London brings out my inner fashionista.  Or, at least my inner-person-who-cares-about-good-grooming.  I imagine who I'd have become if I'd stayed in NYC, and I think I'd be a bitter version of myself now.  Life was harder there, and I don't think I'm cut out for the obstacle course that living in Manhattan was.  If I'd have stayed in Nashville I think I would have gouged my eyes out with a spoon.  I really hated Nashville.

Anyway, the point of this exercise isn't to wallow in the me-who-could-have-had-better-shoes.  But to recognize how life is made up of these decisions we make every day.  Choose one road over another, and that's the road you're on.  We realize this with the big things.  Like, if I marry this person, then I give up my Life of Singledom (and I really loved being Single).

But it's the little things that really make up the bulk of our decisions each day.  If I eat that spoonful of icing that is really *really* calling to me right now, then I'm not going to ever fit back into my prepregnancy jeans properly.  Alternatively, if I go to yoga each week, I will get stronger and more flexible, and quite possibly be able to contort my body into my jeans sooner.

So I'm looking at the decisions and choices I make today and trying to imagine how I can incorporate some of these other Heather's that are still tantalizingly close, without having to jump over into that life.

And I also wonder whether there isn't some other dimension where all of the different choices got played out fully, and there's not some other Seinfeldian Bizarro Heather who has managed to grow her hair out so it's long and shiny.

This is where my brain starts to play tricks on me and I feel like I'm watching an episode of Through the Wormhole, one of my favorite shows where Morgan Freeman explains trippy scientific concepts, like What is Time.  Is time finite?  Is time fixed?  What if, right now, all these other Heather's were running around with fabulous hair, doing all kinds of different things, in relationships with different people, married, not married, kids, no kids, yada yada.  I'd like to talk to some of these other Heather's, and see what they think about life.
But then we'd probably all explode, and that wouldn't be any fun.

And this is the point where my head starts to explode.  And I'm late for yoga.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


(Press Play and Listen While Reading.  See how I do Sound Effects with my blog entries?)

 So I'm in kind of a weird place right now.  Yeah, I know, what else is new.  But I've been thinking about it, and I think I've come to a conclusion about the PPD and all of the messiness of new motherhood, etc.  The receptionist at my acupuncturist's office was pregnant at the same time as I was (she gave birth the day before I did) and she said something when we were pregnant that I only just remembered.  She said, "I can't wait to not be pregnant any longer so that I can get back to myself."  And at the time I smiled and nodded, agreeing.  But now I'm thinking about it.  I don't even remember who myself is any longer.

For four years I have been obsessed with my cycles.  With my basal body temperature.  I have taken my temperature upon waking every morning.  I have found sperm-friendly lubricants.  I have logged everything.  I have entire notebooks filled with the stats on my cycles.  I have done tests.  I have done more tests.  I got pregnant.  I had a life-changing heart-wrenching loss.  I delivered a son.  I signed a death certificate.  I got pregnant again.  I had another loss.  I had a D&C.  I couldn't get pregnant again.  I bought books.  I saw doctors.  I got acupuncture.  I took drugs.  I took different drugs.  I did artificial insemination.  Again.  And again.  I took more drugs.  I got pregnant.  I freaked out through 38 weeks of pregnancy.  And now I have Hannah.

There is a lot of space and energy available to me now that I'm done with all of that.  But the me of mid 2009, when this whole "let's have a family" thing started is very different than the me of now.  Not only am I almost five years older.  But having been through all that, I'm a different person.

So which "me" do I go back to, now that I can sleep on my tummy, can throw away the progesterone, and can donate the Taking Charge of Your Fertility book?

I have a lot of creative projects that are hanging and need to be finished up.  My book, which is begging me to finish it, is one.  My Renaissance History podcast, which has something like 3500 downloads/day is another.  Getting fit and healthy, while not something that would normally be seen as a creative project is something I see as creative because it's literally creating a new/healthier me.

I've been listening to Eric Whitacre a lot lately, and in the Spotify version of his album Water Night he introduces each piece. In the introduction to Alleluia he mentions how he isn't into the dogma of religion, but he loves the idea of simply praising, Alleluia.  I got to thinking that that's what "religion" really should be - not a bunch of dogma and rules and shunning if people aren't obeying, but simply people getting together to praise.  That's what I imagine John Lennon must have meant when he was imagining no religions.  Just the awesomeness of people praising.  Who cares what they're praising.  That's between them and whatever/whomever it is that they're praising.  But just to have people come together and praise something bigger than themselves, the mystery of life; that would be awesome.

And if you take it a step further, wouldn't it be amazing if we all lived life in praise?  In praise of what?  Who cares!  In praise of cats.  In praise of books.  In praise of nature.  In praise of the moon.  It really doesn't matter to me.  And I like to think that since my God is everywhere and everything, it doesn't matter to him/her either.

So I'm going to start living life like an Alleluia.  For four years I've lived life like a question that was waiting to be answered.  Now that the question mark (when/if I will have a baby) has an exclamation point (she's here!) I want to live my life like that big exclamation point.  She's here, and she's glorious!  And the world is glorious.  Praise praise praise!  The flowers are blooming!  Praise!  The cat is purring!  Praise!  Praise for the sleepless nights.  Praise for the challenges.  Praise for discovering and rediscovering people I love.  Praise for all of it.  Praise who?  Praise what?  It doesn't matter, that's the point!  It's a praise just for the sake of praising.  Because it feels good.

I'm going to do this experiment where I live life in praise of everything.  And hopefully out of the praising I will figure out who this new me is, and who is way different than the me I had assumed I knew.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Week in Books

As yet another example of why libraries are awesome (and why publishers shouldn't be afraid of them) I found Rhys Bowen while browsing the shelves of my local library three years ago.  Since then I've become a fan, and have bought many more of her books.  Now that I've finished watching Downton Abbey on Amazon Instant Video, I'm stuck in a lurch missing the goings on in my favorite family of minor royals.

Enter the Royal Spyness series featuring Lady Georgianna Rannoch, 34th in line to the throne but penniless after the Great Depression (it's 1933) has left her family broke, and with the huge expenses of an estate to keep up.  She's not married, and her brother has a difficult time supporting her on the estate, so she heads to their home in London and tries to either find a husband or find some way to make money.  She starts off opening her own cleaning service, but finds herself involved in mystery after mystery.  Plus, the Queen keeps giving her secret assignments, some of which wind up being life-threatening.

I'm not a huge mystery fan, but I really enjoy the Royal Spyness series, and find Bowen's descriptions of 1930's London vivid.  They are fun entertaining fluff books that fill the spaces when I need a break between more challenging books (like Thomas Penn's The Winter King about Henry VII, which I'm on now...laborious, but oh so worth it!).  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Childbirth, Epidurals, and Feminism

A colleague I know through work told me today that she's pregnant.  This has set me off into a tizzy of thinking about birth again.  She's going to try to be natural without an epidural, so I sent her the information on hypnobabies, which is what I used, and we chatted about why on earth we would ever want to not have the pain medication that would make suffering unnecessary.

I spent a lot of time reading about childbirth before my own experience.  I knew I was going to be in a hospital (being high risk from advanced maternal age, previous losses, etc) but I also knew that I could have a natural experience even in a hospital, and I was led to a doctor in a hospital that supported doulas, being natural, and avoiding interventions.  My doctor didn't think Ina May was crazy.  He encouraged me to have a doula, and even went over to her and thanked her when it was all over.

I've been thinking about epidurals, and why so many people have them.  It seems like it's just a given, that you'll have an epidural when you have birth now.  A friend of mine said that an epidural was modern medicine's gift to women.  She saw it as a feminist issue in that women finally didn't need to feel pain to give birth.

Yeah, but...

I never wanted an epidural.  I never gave it much thought either way, but in the same way that I don't give much thought to breathing, I didn't give much thought to having a natural birth experience.  For me it was about being in the moment.  Being present for the most miraculous thing that I would ever experience.  Experiencing the pain and working through it.

I heard a midwife talk once about epidurals, and she said that there are so few times we ever get in our lives to experience pushing ourselves to the very edge of what we think is possible, and working through it.  Whenever we do that (ie in life-threatening situations, or even something like running a marathon) we become so much stronger by pushing through our boundaries.  Having an epidural takes those boundaries away; it makes us not need to push ourselves as much, and consequently we lose the confidence that comes from going somewhere deep and primal in ourselves, finding strength we didn't know we had, and literally pushing through it.

When I was in second stage labor and pushing for six hours, I had to call on reserves of energy and strength that I didn't know I had in me.  If you had asked me the day before whether I could handle the pain of having a baby stuck behind my pubic bone for that amount of time, feeling horrible pain every two minutes that lasted for 90 seconds, I would have said No Effing Way.  There's no way.  I fainted getting my eyebrows waxed, for pete's sake.  When I got my nose pierced it was like major surgery.  Sign me up for an emergency C-Section at that point.  No way.  I'm all about med-free childbirth, but there are limits...

And yet, I did that.  I had some Nubain that lasted about half an hour.  And at the very end I had a saddle block for the forceps.  I had meds for about 2 hours in my 25 hour labor.  And I was in some pretty awful pain.  The kind of pain where, when I had my 30 second rest in between contractions and they tried to give me water to drink, I wondered how on earth they thought I had the energy to take a sip of water through a straw.

Just thinking about it now makes me queasy.

But I did it.  I made it through that.

And I needed to make it through that, and show myself that I could.  Things are hard right now.  Having an infant is hard freaking work.  I'm tired.  Screw that, I'm exhausted.  I spend most of my waking hours wishing I was asleep.  But I know I can get through it.  Because I already got through something so much harder.  It's almost like you need that initiation to give you strength to make it through the rest.

There are smaller examples - like my yoga class, which is 75 minutes.  After 25 minutes, I want to quit.  I'm sweating and breathing heavy and my feet hurt and my legs hurt, and the whole thing seems like an awful idea.  But fuck, I made it through 25 hours of childbirth without an epidural!  I can make it through a tree pose.

There are lots of other feminist arguments.  Like having an epidural robs you of that moment when you get to feel a new life coming out of you.  That natural childbirth is unpredictable and messy and scary, and requires constant care, and that when we finally get to experience the power of our bodies, it's frightening; anesthetizing that makes it all easy and clean, but it also keeps us from feeling that power.

I suppose I'm turning into a crunchy granola person, but I'm not a fan of someone anesthetizing my power away, even if it means that it hurts me more in the short term.

So I'm happy that my friend is checking out her options for a natural childbirth.  I've recommended my doula to her.  I hope she can do it.  I registered for a 10k the other day, and one of the questions was asking what my proudest accomplishment was.  I didn't even have to think about it.  It used to be moving by myself to another country.  That took some guts and overcoming fear.  Now I confidently wrote, "giving birth to my daughter without an epidural" and I think it will take a lot to top that.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Adventures in Sleep Rewiring and Babysitters

On Monday night I had a Whole Night Alone to myself.  In a hotel, at that.  I had an early meeting in Ventura, and it would have been silly to have left at 5am to beat traffic to get there in time.  So after choir rehearsal on Monday night, I headed west to Woodland Hills, and thus cut my drive time by something like 75% (because there was no traffic).

So here's how I expected it to go:
11pm - arrive at hotel and check in
11:15pm - fall asleep
8:15pm - wake up
9am - leave for meeting

Here's how it went
11pm - arrive at hotel and check in
11:15pm - try to go to sleep
11:30 - watch an episode of Downton Abbey on my laptop
12:30 - go to sleep
2am - wake up
4am - wake up
6:30 - wake up
6:45 - give up on getting sleep
7am - go down and get coffee
7:15 - sit in a bubblebath watching more Downton on laptop drinking coffee
9:15 - leave for meeting

This was not what I expected, and left me very frustrated.  Then I realized that I should never have expectations of resting again for at least five years.  I will be much less disappointed if I just never expect to feel rested.  I suppose I am just wired to wake up all the time now.

That said, a friend did recommend using sleeping pills when I get a night off, and I shall be taking my Ativan with me on my next work trip, that's for sure.  And that trip will probably be in March.  Not like I'm counting down already or anything...

In other Baby News, we left Hannah with a sitter for the first time yesterday.  We found her through an ad she put up in the post office, but she had also sent me a note on, so it was meant to be.  She's just a little younger than us, has two kids, and Hannah loves her, and lights up and smiles whenever she comes in.  Last night we went out to dinner, and were going to go bowling, but we realized after dinner that we were just too tired, so we went home and took a nap.  Not the most romantic way to enjoy a first date using a sitter, but it was needed.

Today she came over again, and we used the time to clean up around the house and yard, and just do some random stuff that we wouldn't have had time to do otherwise.  I heard Hannah fussing and fighting sleep at one point, and was going to go out and try to soothe her until I realized that this is what I was paying the sitter for.  I heard her reading stories, playing peek a boo, and singing songs until Hannah finally fell asleep, and which point the sitter left, her work done.  It was so nice to just continue putting laundry away and not have to worry about trying to get Hannah to go down for a nap.  I think we're going to use her about 10-15 hours a week now - one or two nights during the week to give us a break, and then some time on the weekends.  It's a luxury, but one that is worth every penny to our mental states.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Week From Hell (aka Major Travel Fail)

I remember when I was in college, they used to call Finals Hell Week.  At the time it seemed appropriate, but after the 10 days I just had, the idea that college finals could be Hell is just funny to me.

So I had this genius idea that I should mix a business trip to Philadelphia for a 3 day long conference with a family visit in Lancaster, 60 miles west of Philadelphia.  Hannah would get grandparent time, I could commute on the train, and all would work out just peachy. Great idea, right?

Ok, so the train rides was fun.

But other than that, it was one of those things that are a good idea in theory, but not so much in practice.

Hannah was uncomfortable in a new place with new smells and new people and a new pack and play, so she was waking up every 90 minutes or so through the night and refusing to go back to sleep.

The polar vortex came back and I was freezing my ass off waiting for the train and trudging around Philadelphia when I could have just stayed in the nice warm Marriott attached to the convention center, and never have had to go outside.

All the stress of being with family was mixed with the stress of trying to be professional throughout the day after my commute and trudge through the snow.

And then Hannah got croup.  I took her to urgent care, they scared the shit out of me telling me her oxygen levels were low and I needed to go to the ER, and we couldn't travel on our planned day, and were stuck in Lancaster for a few extra days.  Oh, and they took her temp rectally and gave her a steroid shot, so she was a real joy that evening.  Poor baby.

All of this while I was trying to work on a huge IMLS grant (Institute of Museum and Library Services) that was due this past Monday at 2pm.

When I finally did fly back I was in one of Dante's outer circles of hell.  The way out I had Hannah in her own seat which was great.  But because of all the changing of flights and the last minute cancellations, that was a little pricey to do for the two of us, so she sat on my lap.

Rather, she squirmed on my lap.  And cried on my lap.  And threw fits on my lap.  And pooped on my lap.  And threw up on my lap.  And on my shirt.  And in my hair.  And of course she wouldn't eat when we were sitting in our seats doing nothing.  Nooooo, she had to eat when we had 45 minutes to change planes in Chicago so that mom (me) couldn't get any food.  Clever girl, she is.

Meanwhile my husband was at home getting Alone Guy Time and doing all the things he can't do when we're here.  Like sleeping all night.  Interrupted night sleep.  God, how I do miss you, uninterrupted sleep.  Not like I'm bitter or anything.

So I'm officially owed several nights of Alone Time now, and I'm planning how to best spend them.  So far the top two ideas are going on a spiritual retreat at a monastery by the ocean, and just getting a hotel room on the beach for a weekend.  Mama needs Alone Time to recover after that!

And I'm NEVER trying to mix family time with work time again.  Ever.  Never.  Never ever.

Oh, and in positive news, for those following the torture that my boobs have been going through, I'm officially not pumping any longer.  Hannah is on formula and that's all there is to it.  She'll be starting solids soon, we still have about 150 ounces of breast milk frozen, and other than that she's on Enfamil Gentlease and I've returned the pump to the rental store (though I had some sort of Stockholm Syndrome with it - I hated that damn Medela Symphony.  But I couldn't part with it without tears.)  Yay for no more pumping!!