January 30, 2018

How to choose a paint color: marital tragicomedy in three scenes


husband: I don't want any blue or gray colors. Our entire house is blue-gray. How about purple?
wife: Purple wouldn't go with anything in our house. How about turquoise, like in our hallway?
husband: Hmm, let's consider it.


Husband comes home from a paint store with paint swatches: shades of blue-gray-purple.


wife: But... what about turquoise?
husband: You ALWAYS say NO to EVERYTHING!
wife: <temporarily loses her mind>

Bedroom remains unpainted for three more years.

May 25, 2017

Two Years

Two years ago, on the night of Monday, May 25th, 2015, I had a dream. I was driving from Boston to Bangkok to see my dear friend. I was following another car, which my friend's sister-in-law and twin brother were driving. Many people were coming to the same place in Bangkok to see my friend. By the time I got there, there was already quite a crowd. I was in the back of the crowd, and I saw my friend standing in the front with his wife, facing the people who came. It was hard for me to see him, as if he was a little bit out of focus. Then I saw a little boy, about 2 years old, standing next to me. He looked just like my friend.

I woke up at 3 am, with intense pain on the left side of my neck, and all the muscles in my body were very tense and stiff.

The next evening, I found out that my dear friend had died in a horrific rock climbing accident on May 25th. It turned out that he fell, head first and slightly to the left, and sustained fatal injuries. Much later, I also found out that his wife was pregnant. My dream was entirely too prescient.

I miss him every day. I will remember him always.

February 17, 2015

Birth Story

It only took me 1.5 years to write this birth story...

Good thing I didn’t have time to write down my birth plan because it would have gone out the window from the start.

I woke up on Wednesday morning when D kissed me goodbye. As soon as he left for work, I realized that my underwear felt wet. We were in the middle of an August heat wave, so I assumed that I had sweated through my underwear. But then it occurred to me that maybe my water had broken. There was no gush, and I felt no contractions, so I was not convinced.

Making the decision to keep going about my day, I took a shower and got dressed to go to work. Then, I made the mistake of consulting Dr. Google. The internet attacked me with scary factoids about the risk of infection, and I decided to call my doctor JUST IN CASE.

After describing my symptoms, I was told to come in to check for amniotic fluid. Still clueless, I asked if I could go to work. “No,” said the nurse. Completely convinced that this was a false alarm, I called D. “So, don’t freak out, but it’s possible that my water broke, and I have to go to the doctor’s office to confirm. It’s probably nothing, so no need to come home at this point.” He quietly pretended not to freak out.

I called my boss and told her that my water may have broken, I wasn’t coming in that day, and I would keep her posted. Little did I know that my coworkers were planning a surprise baby shower for the following day. Surprise! My baby was too impatient to wait another month until her due date.

Off to the doctor’s office I went, completely convinced that they would tell me to go home and wait for contractions to start. The nurse did three tests to confirm the presence of amniotic fluid. Two tests came back positive and one was inconclusive. I held on to that inconclusive result as my last hope that this wasn’t actually happening. So I was surprised to hear the nurse tell me to head to the hospital, where they would be expecting me.

Going to the hospital seemed ridiculous to me as I was having no contractions at all. Nevertheless, I called D and told him to get home because we had to leave for the hospital. He drove home in record time and immediately proceeded to freak out. He insisted on packing a bag and throwing our as-yet uninstalled car seat in the trunk, while I protested that we would just be sent home from the hospital to wait for contractions. Still, I agreed to take some things with us JUST IN CASE.

D had memorized three different routes to the hospital, but the one he chose that day was blocked by construction, and he had to improvise. Good thing I wasn’t riding over bumpy roads during a contraction! We got to the hospital by 2 pm and made our way to the triage room on the labor and delivery floor. As the nurses checked me in, we found out that the baby was head down (I suspected as much from all the kicks to the rib cage), sunny-side up, and I was 80% effaced and 1 cm dilated.

Then, we were told that we were assigned a room and we should get set up there. Um, WHAT? What happened to the whole concept of waiting until contractions were five minutes apart and one minute long before calling the hospital, as we were taught in our childbirth class? As I remained in denial, I told the nurses about the inconclusive amniotic fluid test. They were confused but agreed to do another test that was going to be 100% definitive. My hopes of going home were crushed when that test came back positive.

We checked into our room, a room with a gorgeous view of the Charles river. While we were admiring the view, more surprises came our way. The doctors gave me 12 hours from the time my water broke to wait until the start of contractions. If labor didn’t start by then, I would be induced via a pitocin drip. I was already expecting that, but what came as a surprise was that I wouldn’t be “allowed” to eat after starting pitocin. Um, hell no. I had done my research and concluded that the reasons for not allowing a laboring woman to eat were completely bogus. Also, denying a woman in labor nourishment must be some sort of medieval torture – if anyone needs the energy to keep going, it’s a woman in labor!

It was almost 2 pm by then, and I had only eaten breakfast. Pitocin drip was scheduled to start by 7 pm, and I was ready to eat a cow by then. We technically weren’t supposed to leave the hospital, but our wonderful nurse said “You didn’t hear it from me, but…” She recommended a good sandwich place down the street. Before we could leave, though, the nurses had to put the IV needle with a heparin lock into my arm. Later, it would be used for the pitocin drip, but meanwhile, I was to be administered antibiotics for Group B strep, JUST IN CASE I had it (my test for it was scheduled for the following day, so we didn’t know my GB strep status, which turned out to be negative).

I’d never had an IV before (except maybe during my two major surgeries in childhood, but I was knocked out for those), but I knew that phlebotomists always had a hard time finding my veins for blood draw. What I didn’t know, however, is that apparently I have “bumpy veins.” That means that the nurses blew up three of my veins before finally calling in an IV specialist. Her name was Joan, and she was a little old lady who was all business. I warned her about my “bumpy veins” and she replied that she had been doing this for thirty years, and I should lie down and give her my arm. Two seconds later, she was done.

Four new holes later, I was ready to blow that joint and get some lunch. We called it our jailbreak. It was a sight to behold: a hugely pregnant woman, with a highly conspicuous white sleeve over the heparin lock and hospital tags on the wrists, walking around the city. We made our way to the deli, ordered our food, and ate our delicious sandwiches in the park by the river. We were in no rush to get back to the hospital since I wasn’t feeling any contractions, so we decided to keep walking along the river to try to get things moving.

The temperature was in the 90s, so despite the beautiful view, it wasn’t the most pleasant walk. Still, it was better than being stuck in a hospital room. We were out for so long, that the doctors started calling our cell phones and suggesting that maybe we should get back to the hospital. It was around 5 pm, and I was in no mood for pitocin. As a last-minute stalling tactic, I suggested that we install the car seat “while the car is parked in a nice, level hospital parking lot.” D agreed, and we proceeded to install the car seat. By “we” I mean that D was doing all the installing, and I was standing around looking hugely pregnant and providing useless suggestions.

With the car seat installed, and no contractions in sight, I was all out of stalling tactics, so we headed back to our room. By 7 pm, the pitocin drip was started. The initial dose was very low, and the nurse was to increase it every half an hour or so, depending on progression. Nothing was happening for a while, and we were getting bored. So, we decided to start a salsa party. D turned on the salsa station on Pandora, and we began to dance. It was a bit cumbersome (you try doing the right turn with an IV drip in your arm and two fetal monitors on your round belly), but it definitely cheered us up. Despite the excellent soundproofing of the labor rooms, we must have been making a lot of noise because our nurse came to check on us and wondered what on earth we were doing. I said that we were having a salsa party, to which she replied that I was clearly not in labor and she upped the pitocin.

There was a change of nurses at some point as our nurse’s shift came to an end. The new nurse was not nearly as friendly, but she knew what she was doing and mostly left us alone, which was fine by me. Sometime around 11 pm (still no contractions), the nurse became concerned because one of the fetal monitors was indicating some fetal distress. She turned off the pitocin and monitored the situation. The real situation wasn’t fetal distress, though. It was maternal distress. More specifically, I was getting hungry and the hospital cafeteria wasn’t allowed to give me food. We did sneak in some granola bars into the hospital during our jailbreak, but they didn’t seem appealing to me. In the greatest irony of the hospital rules, my husband was allowed to order food for himself (this was included in our stay). I told him to order enough for two, and when the nurse left our room, I snuck some of his dinner into my hungry belly. The fetal monitor went back to normal.

The pitocin was restarted around midnight, and this time, the contractions kicked in almost immediately. D fell asleep on the “partner” chair while I dealt with the waves of contractions. Immediately, it became clear to me that lying on my back was uncomfortable. I was having back labor and the only tolerable position was being on all-fours, or some variation of bending forward. The nurse came in, saw me breathing through a contraction, and told me to get some rest. She said that this was the easier part, and I would need energy for when the contractions would get more intense. But I couldn’t rest at all. Perhaps it was due to the pitocin, but my contractions were intense from the beginning. Yes, they got stronger and longer and more painful and closer together as the labor continued, but there was no way I could rest or sleep through any of it. Particularly because I hadn’t learned how to sleep on all-fours in my childbirth class.

The contractions were growing more intense, and more than anything, I wanted to get in the tub. But I was told that I couldn’t labor in the tub because my water had broken (turns out, that’s a bogus reason). Finally, my nurse suggested that I could stand in the shower as long as I kept the fetal monitors on my belly and did not get my heparin lock wet. I was happy to get in the shower to run water on my lower back, which provided a tiny bit of relief from my awful back labor. However, I still had to keep bending forward because any other position was intolerable, and this was causing the fetal monitors to slip off my giant, wet belly. D had to hold both monitors in place from outside the shower. To say that we were both stuck in awkward positions would be an understatement.

Meanwhile, the contractions were becoming REALLY intense and painful. And I couldn’t stand in the forward-bend position any more, my thighs were shaking by that point. It was probably around 3:45 am, which meant that I had spent almost four hours exercising my thigh muscles in that forward-bend position. I decided to get out of the shower.

In intense pain, I asked the nurse how much longer this was going to go on. What could she say? She replied that she didn’t know, and it’s possible that I’m only half-way there. I was crushed and doubted my ability to keep going without an epidural if this was the level of pain that I was experiencing only half-way through labor. I was very set on having as intervention-free birth as possible, and the pitocin was already undermining my plan. D reminded me of my epidural-free plan (as I had asked him to do in advance). The nurse offered the epidural, and I said no. However, we decided to have her check on my progress. The nurses weren’t checking on my dilation progress because my water had broken and they didn’t want to risk an infection. But it was time for me to know how far I had advanced.

I got onto the bed, on my back (ouch!), and the nurse checked my cervix. Surprised and delighted, she said: “You are nine centimeters dilated! You’ve been working hard, kiddo.” Nine centimeters! That was the best news I got all night. I wasn’t halfway through labor, I was getting close to the end! That little bit of information gave me the extra jolt of energy to keep going.

It was around 4 am, and the nurse paged the OB on call to come in. The OB arrived, and suddenly I felt the unmistakable urge to push. In preparation for labor, I had read books and birth stories, and I was always frustrated to hear that one would just KNOW when it was time to push. How would I know? What if I didn’t know? But, now I get it. It wasn’t that I consciously made the decision to push. My body NEEDED to push, and I couldn’t stop it if I wanted to.

The concept of time became hazy. I was almost completely unaware of the people present in the room. It was dark, my glasses were off, and I had only one purpose in mind at that moment. I became vaguely aware of a small crowd of people near the entrance of the room, but I didn’t care about them in the least. (Turns out, they were residents and a pediatrician, and maybe some other people whose function I never learned.) I pushed with all my strength, but turned out my pushing wasn’t very effective. The nurse and the doctor guided me to direct my energy toward my belly, and spend less energy grunting. Somehow, I understood what they meant, and my pushes became more productive.

Suddenly, I felt enormous pressure, and blurted out: “I feel like this baby is going to come out of my ass!” Very ladylike, I know. The nurse replied: “Sounds about right.” A few more pushes (which had to go slow to avoid tearing), a burning sensation, and the head was out. Then the doctor told me I had to stop pushing, and she unwrapped two loops of the umbilical cord from around the baby's neck. One more big push, and at 4:26 am, after 35 weeks and 6 days of gestation, my daughter was born into the world.

June 4, 2014

That time when I was clueless

The story in my family goes that I did not sleep through the night until I was three years old. Whenever that story would come up, I would chuckle and comment on how I must have been a difficult baby. That was before I became a mother. Now that I have a baby of my own, I wonder how my mother survived those three years (answer: she had lots of help from her parents as three generations lived under one roof).

The point is, before I had my baby, I was completely clueless about what it's like to be a mother. This was true even despite all the stories I'd heard about my own childhood, despite the stories my own friends shared with me. In the world of science, we talk about the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. I thought I had prepared myself somewhat for the known unknowns by reading a ton about pregnancy and childbirth, by taking childbirth and breastfeeding classes, and by mostly avoiding extreme parenting books.

But then, there were the unknown unknowns. Which really could have been known to me if only I had paused to consider them. Why hadn't I educated myself about infant sleep, knowing that as a baby, I didn't sleep for longer than 40 minutes at a time? Why didn't I bother to read even a single book about breastfeeding when I knew that my mom had so much trouble with it, she couldn't do it for longer than three months?

I was so stupidly confident that breastfeeding would just work out that I was caught completely off-guard by those first few months. I have to preface this by saying that breastfeeding DID work out for us in the end, and I am so grateful for it, especially knowing what I know now about how difficult of an experience it could be and often is for many moms. But when my preemie daughter couldn't latch on in those first several crucial days, I didn't know that she would lose too much weight and then take a month to get back to her birth weight. When she finally did latch on, she showed strong preference for one breast over the other, and I had no idea that this would permanently make my milk supply lopsided, something that could have been prevented if I had known to pump the unfavorable side until the baby figured out how to nurse equilaterally. And when she suddenly started nursing for one hour at a time, eight times a day, at the age of one month, I almost lost my mind as I was unprepared for nursing being a full time job. If only I had educated myself about how common acid reflux is in premies, maybe we could have gotten treatment for my baby sooner, and both of us could have been less miserable.

When it comes to sleep, I was always playing catchup. It wasn't until I became a mother that I understood what continuous sleep deprivation is really like. When my daughter was six weeks old, I had a breakdown. In the haze of complete exhaustion, I mustered up enough determination to strap her into the carrier (the only way she would fall asleep) and leave the house. I walked to our neighborhood bookstore and headed for the parenting section. There I discovered a number of books about babies and sleep, all of them telling me that babies reach their peak fussiness at six weeks of age. A glimmer of hope appeared on the horizon... until I read that this only applies to full-term infants, and the peak fussiness for preemies occurs at six weeks after due date. I had four more weeks to go. Then I found a book that promised a fool-proof method of getting your fussy baby to sleep. (You can all laugh at with me now.) Apparently, I was supposed to be putting my baby on a strict nursing/napping schedule from day one, and then by six weeks, my baby would be sleeping through the night. The dictatorial tone of the book annoyed me, but in my desperation I decided that I had nothing to lose by trying to put my baby on a schedule as soon as possible. I marched home and didn't waste a second writing out a detailed schedule on the whiteboard on our refrigerator. I announced to anyone who would listen that from now on, we will be instituting a strict schedule for the baby, and no deviations were allowed under any circumstances.

There was a flaw in the plan, though. Turned out my daughter didn't think she needed to be on my made-up schedule, and she was going to be not sleeping on her own schedule, thankyouverymuch. I've learned since then to watch for my baby's cues and respect her internal clock that wires her to sleep at certain hours of the day, which have nothing to do with my desires. I've also learned a ton about infants and sleep and what I can expect in the coming months (the main thing being that once you think you have it figured out, it changes). So you could say that my two original big unknowns, sleep and breastfeeding, have since become "known" variables. But I can't help but wonder what unknown unknowns are not even on my radar as we approach toddlerhood and beyond.

May 3, 2014

Compartmentalized time

Parenthood has redefined the concept of time for me in so many ways. In those early sleep-deprived, hazy weeks, the days seemed so long. Getting through the day was so challenging, that I could not fathom being able to get through weeks, months of caring for an infant. Eight months later, the days are still long (though much more manageable). But the months are very, very short. I cannot believe that my baby is approaching the one-year mark, and her first birthday will be here before we know it. She is closer to toddlerhood than to her newborn days, she is starting to wean (a whole other blog post), and she is growing up so quickly that I find myself scrambling to pause and commit to memory the wonderful, fleeting moments we share together now.

So, the cliche that the days are long but the years are short turned out to be true. But time has been altered for me in other ways as well. There are so many every day things that need to be done, items that need to be checked off the to-do list before I go to sleep, and freelance work to be completed before the deadline. In my pre-baby life, my time was structured. An eight-hour work day allowed me to focus on my work long enough to get into the groove of the project and get into the flow that led to an efficient completion of the task at hand. In other words, I had the luxury (yes, I think of an eight-hour work day as a luxury now) to allocate a significant amount of time to a project.

I miss being able to get into that rhythm, the "flow" mindset. My time has become compartmentalized by naps, nursing sessions, playtime, outdoors time, meals, and diaper changes. As a result, even things that I enjoy doing around the house, like organizing a closet, have been put on the backburner indefinitely. I never feel like I have enough time to complete a task in one go, and I don't give myself the freedom to leave a project half undone (the thought of having the closet innards spread out on the floor for 24 hours gives me the hives). And so, I end up not even starting on my to-do list because I am paralyzed by the thought of being unable to finish it.

This is not a unique problem. I have read plenty of advice (and there is SO much advice out there for new mothers, solicited or not) on being efficient and getting as much done as possible during nap time, etc. On a rare occasion, I do feel efficient, like I've accomplished something. But most of the time, shit just doesn't get done. Closets remain messy, blog posts remain unwritten, the pantry remains unpainted, and exercise remains a wishful thought. This is why I can only get my freelance work done at night, after everybody else goes to sleep. I know that I would have a couple of uninterrupted, quality hours to get my work done, and I am able to get in the flow. This is also why I continue to be sleep-deprived.

I haven't come up with a brilliant solution to this problem. If you are a parent, how do you manage to use your time efficiently? How do you get all the things done? Or, do you?