Taking the full measure of life

Being Loud and Demanding

March 6th, 2013 · 12 Comments

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I grew up where young ladies were taught to be polite and quiet and not too needy.  The expectations of the culture hung in the very air around us. We inhaled it until it permeated our beings.

I grew up in a family that didn’t understand or value high sensitivity. My grandmother once said that my father was her most sensitive child and that she knew she had to beat it out of him so that he could cope with life. That wasn’t an unusual concept. The tools for ridding sensitivity in my childhood weren’t fists but frequent dismissal and shame in response to my ‘too extreme’ emotions. I never stopped being sensitive, but for most of my life I struggled to value that aspect of myself. It wasn’t until I found Elaine Aron’s work on Highly Sensitive People that I began to see high sensitivity as a gift as well as a burden. People often tell me, for example, that I’ve written a blog post that speaks exactly to them, and I think that ability I sometimes possess comes out of a combination of a deep inner awareness and lengthy emotional processing combined with immense empathy.

I still struggle with a nasty voice in my core telling me not to have such strong feelings and needs.

A few days ago, I was shopping in Whole Foods, buying liquid soap in bulk from a squirting dispenser at face level, into a bottle.  I felt like the soap (Dr. Bronner’s, which often dries in its spigot in my bottle at home) wasn’t coming out in the volume that I expected.  I think I leaned forward slightly–I’m not even sure what happened.  But as I pressed the handle for the next squirt of soap, the soap shot forward, into my face, rather than into the bottle.  For maybe a second, I was amused at doing something so embarrassing to myself. The acrid taste of the soap filled my mouth.  I turned to find someone to ask for help.

Then searing pain gripped my eyes, and I could no longer see.  I realized that I had gotten ounces of soap in my eyes, and there was no way for me to get it out on my own.  “Help, help!” I called out. There were several people shopping within a few feet of me. Couldn’t they see what happened? Why weren’t they responding? Somehow, despite my pain, a voice in my head told me, Stop making such a big deal about this. You’re making a scene. It’s just a little soap in your eyes. Just deal with it. I thought in response, You don’t understand–I can’t see.  So instead of piping down, I got louder, much louder. “Someone help me! Someone, please help me! Get someone to help me! I sprayed soap on my face!” I was gesturing to my eyes. I was in so much pain. For a moment, I thought of the scenarios when desperate people call for help and no one comes. There was no way to move without sight. It felt like forever, but it must have been seconds, until an employee and a shopper came to help. I managed to communicate that the soap was in my eyes. “Just walk over here,” they said. “I can’t see! I can’t see!” I cried out. Were my eyes open? How could they not know? I don’t know. They took my arms and guided me to a large sink in the center of the body care section, and I began flushing my eyes with water.  I continued flushing them for over ten minutes.  When I would stop, my left eye would burn harder, and I would feel like I couldn’t keep it open. I flushed and flushed it.  Finally, I felt like it was no longer doing any further good, and I stopped. I felt so worried about my left eye, so embarrassed about the situation, so upset overall.  At this point someone whom I think was the store manager was standing beside me. I asked to go somewhere and sit down. I felt like I couldn’t see well out of my left eye.  I started crying when I called my husband.  The manager brought me a bottle of water and some Kleenex . . . and a mirror I asked for so that I could see my eye.

I decided I was worried enough that I wanted to go see my eye doctor. Dan suggested I had probably just irritated my eye a bit, and I heard that voice in my head again, telling me to stop making such a big damn deal.  But I told Dan I was actually worried, so Dan called and got me an appointment right away.  I didn’t feel great about driving myself, but Dan had been out sick the whole last week and had important meetings, so I didn’t want him to leave work, and in the moment, still overwhelmed, I couldn’t think of anyone else to call. I finally got up the nerve to get in the car and carefully drive myself to the doctor.

He checked my eyes thoroughly, and my right one didn’t have much damage.  But my left eye had a pretty impressive chemical burn abrading the cornea.  “You did just the right thing,” the doctor said. “Thank God you got to water so quickly. If you  had waited much longer to flush your eyes out, we could be looking at permanent damage right now.” He gave me a topical antibiotic and drops to use for the next week, and he warned me not to use contacts for a while.

I had some spotty vision weirdness through the rest of that day, but it seems to be gone now. My eye still hurts, but it isn’t terrible now, and it doesn’t look bad.  I was, and am, so relieved that the soap didn’t damage my eye worse than it did. It was a really scary experience that could have been worse in several ways. . . . I won’t be testing fate by buying bulk soap at face level again–that’s for sure.

But I keep thinking about that inner voice, that turned on me when I was trying to take care of myself in a desperate situation. I had to call for help, and there was a part of me that felt that making a scene for the help I needed was a fate worse than burning my eyes.  That’s really saying something.

I wonder how much of that voice was because I’m a woman, how much was because I’m a Southern woman, and how much was because I grew up hearing that I just needed to take all my reactions down ‘about ten notches.’ I wonder if women I’ve known who’ve been raped or assaulted or abused have heard voices like that in those situations. I wonder how often Highly Sensitive People don’t demand what they need because of that same voice.  I don’t know. I wish that voice just weren’t there; it’s a disturbing memory. But I’m glad my response after a moment was to yell louder. I don’t think I can rid myself entirely of that voice, but I can choose not to let it lead me. There’s a self-care part of myself, too, and I’m giving her the reigns as much as I can.


→ 12 CommentsTags: sturm and drang

Feeling What Is

January 24th, 2013 · 10 Comments

I’m meeting with a surgeon next week.

On bad days, it feels like I have spent my adulthood having surgeries and suffering between surgeries.  I’ve averaged one pelvic surgery every two years since my senior year of college, and this latest one, should it take place, will be right on track with that, as my last one was in January of 2011.

I’m weary of it. I’m worn out by it. I’m also just weary and worn out in general right now. I’m in moderate pain daily, and I wake up in pain multiple times a night on top of waking up to care for our son (which my husband does as well, to be clear). And while I have an amazing time with my awesome little son, it hit me a while back that I just can’t be fully present with him all day long like I want to be when I’m hurting at this level. (The pain has gotten worse since we adopted him.) So as scary as surgery is–and it is scary; it may mean giving up more organs and any hope of fertility–I’ll take the hope it may offer over this state, if the surgeon thinks there is hope to be had.

There’s such a strong strain of thought running through our culture right now that says that you must always think positively if you want positive things to happen.  I think hope is one of the most important words in our language. I think it is so important that I asked for a friend to give me a necklace with a tiny ‘hope’ charm before my very first surgery, and I wear it every time I am going through a day that I know will be scary–like the day of this upcoming appointment.

But I also think that when we think that we can only think positively about the future, we’re not really eliminating the negative or more difficult emotions. Instead, what we’re often doing is stuffing down those harder emotions so that we don’t have to feel them head-on.  But they’re still there in our bodies, in our hearts.  They may come out through addictive behaviors–anything from drinking too much to overeating or compulsively controlling our eating. They may come out through physical suffering. They may come out through lashing out at people around us for unrelated things.  But they’re present whether we want to recognize them or not. Anyone who says he has only positive emotional experiences is lying and probably also selling something.

I’m trying to accept those emotions and give them space in my life.  I’m crying a lot right now, and while that is hard to admit for some reason, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Some days, I’m feeling a good bit of hope, and some days, I’m feeling so upset that this is my body at the age of 32, despite everything I’ve tried (and I have spent an enormous amount of energy, time, and money trying to change this situation, always hoping the next idea would be the thing that would work).

Lately I have worked to give up the idea that my diet will cure me. I’ve tried everything from macrobiotic to vegetarianism to Paleo eating. (Paleo-ish eating does suit my health best in other ways, but it hasn’t cured me.) And I’ve been working to give up the idea that holistic treatments (though, again, they’re good for me) will cure me: I’ve spent over $15,000 in the last three years going that route, probably over $20,000 in the last five years. I’m not sure Western medicine can cure me, either–I’m not sure I can be cured–and there is something both terrifying and freeing in the idea of giving up the idea that there will be any one thing that will suddenly make me okay.

I’m not always doing great at feeling these emotions. They take up a lot of space in my head, and at some times they add to the ache in my body, like while I’m typing this. Letting myself feel it all instead of hiding from it isn’t easy. I made gluten-free, vegan cupcakes yesterday, and I ate more of them that I would care to admit before I sent the rest to work with my husband, for his co-workers. But moment by moment, I’m working to let the feelings be without trying too hard to turn away. I think it’s an important skill to have as a whole-hearted adult.

→ 10 CommentsTags: on the soapbox · sturm and drang

Start Where You Are

December 29th, 2012 · 11 Comments

You know what I hate? I hate the idea that if we’re overweight, we’re ugly slobs with terrible lives.  In the ‘before’ advertising shots of people who have lost weight, they’re so often slouching miserably, or looking embarrassedly away, or hunched over a plate of food or even a whole cake (Miss South Carolina) as if it’s their only joy. Then in their after shots, they’re standing up straight, smiling, looking straight at the camera with whitened teeth that gleam of a better life.

Losing weight means that you fit into clothes you could not wear before, and that you likely think those clothes look much better on you than they would have in a larger size.  If you lose weight as part of a needed life overhaul, the weight loss can be one sign that you are dealing with some emotional issues, feeding yourself more nurturing food, and overall demonstrating a better sense of self-care than you did previously.

But being overweight, even being at the heaviest weight of your life if that’s where you are, doesn’t mean that your life lacks meaning or joy or health, or that you aren’t a beautiful person just as you are.  In my life, I find it much easier to demonstrate long-term self-care (as opposed to self-control, which for me is temporary) when I am celebrating the good things about where I am as well as recognizing that some things in my life need to shift.

I need to make some shifts right now, and I’m working toward it.  But I was thinking about all this at the salon yesterday.  When I’m at the salon, I honestly hate seeing myself in the mirror during a haircut, because somehow the combination of mirror, lighting, smock, and neck protector strip make me look chubbier in the mirror than I am. I always think, Good Lord, I look awful!  But when my hair stylist is done fixing my hair, and she takes the neck protector and smock off, I always look in the mirror and go, Oh, there I am. That’s me, too. Not just the chubby girl–the chubby girl who has some beauty in her, as well, and whose life is wonderful in many ways. So yesterday, when I got home from a haircut, I put on a littlemakeup (rare for this mom-of-a-three-month-old) and asked my husband to take a few pictures of me outside.  I’m starting where I am. There are changes coming, but there are many good things now, too.

Where are you now in your life? What is there to appreciate?

→ 11 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

Liam’s First Christmas Tree

December 3rd, 2012 · 2 Comments

This weekend, we went to an organic tree farm in Los Gatos, about twenty minutes away from our home.  I’ve been to Christmas tree farms, but none as gorgeous as that place! Going to the farm was a wonderful break from our daily lives.

I’ll add more pictures when we finish getting it decorated.  It is a beautiful, huge tree! Just 7′ tall or so, but it has a large circumference.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Uncategorized

Back Up Five Steps

December 1st, 2012 · 3 Comments

About two months ago, we had a one-week visit from my mother, and then a short break, and then a two-week visit by my mother-in-law.  Oh, it was amazing.  For the first time since Liam was born, Dan and I were both(!) able to go back to sleep in the mornings.  We’d get up with the baby in the night, of course, but in the early mornings, we’d come out with a wiggly, beaming Liam and find a similarly beaming grandparent with open arms.  We’d pass him off and shuffle back to bed, sleep a bit longer, and wake up feeling more like the lively people we used to be.

Not only that, but I sometimes took naps during the day, as well, to catch up on my sleep deficit, or I would retreat to my room for a bit in the afternoon to read a book or surf the web a bit. So much about caring for a little infant isn’t the interrupted sleep, but the endless attention he requires. And the grandmas were perfectly willing to lavish him with attention while I took some for myself.

During their visits, Dan went back to work full-time (he had been on part-time paternity leave before), but our lives got so much easier during their visits that we moved from thrilled-but-just-surviving mode into goal-setting mode.  In the rush of getting Liam, I had eaten very poorly since his birth.  Dan’s kryptonite (in more than one way) is sugar, and he had poured it down his gullet. We were both looking at ourselves in the mirror and saying to the other, “I have got to lose . . .” Just before Dan’s mom left, I put a set of goals to check off daily on the fridge: Eat six servings of vegetables! Limit sugar to four teaspoons a day! Walk five miles a day! Etc. I checked off all my goals three days in a row.

You might be able to guess what happened.

Dan’s mom went home, and it was just us again.  Only this time, it was just us with Dan back at work full-time, in a particularly crazy time at his office.

I valiantly tried to keep up my list.  I managed to check everything off on my goal sheet one more time, a few days later.  Then after a while, I stopped even looking at the goal sheet. It mocked me.  I was having a mostly great time with my baby boy, but everything else was falling off my to-do list.

About a week ago, while I grocery-shopped, I intensively mulled the various ways that I might get myself under control–that’s literally how I thought about it, ‘get myself under control.’ Problem was, I couldn’t figure out where to get the energy or time to do any of the available options right now. When I got home, I stripped down, weighed myself on our bathroom scale, pulled my clothes back on, and came into the living room.  I sat down on the couch next to my husband and son, and I burst into tears.  I had seen the highest number on the scale that I had seen in three or four years.

I felt panicky. I sobbed as I told my husband that I couldn’t keep going on this way, but that I also didn’t know what to do.  For the past few years, I’ve fallen somewhere in a 1o-pound range.  The lowest part of that 10-pound range is 10-15 pounds higher than where I’d like to be, but it’s not a horrible range. But lately, I usually really hate myself in photos.  To get on the scale and see that I’d bumped myself out of the upper end of that range . . . it really hurt. It scared me. I’ve been really overweight before. When you’ve been really overweight before, I think that spectre of your former self always haunts you a bit.

Dan pulled me to him and held me and Liam together.  He reminded me that he thinks I am lovely and delicious at any size. And then he pointed out, very gently, that the times I have been best at weight management are the times when I have been best able to manage my stress.  Perhaps, he suggested, I should

a) tear up my strict list on the fridge,

b) stop thinking all the time about what I’m eating and what I’m weighing, and

c) start focusing on the things I know how to do to make life feel more manageable overall?

Well, I knew I married this man for a reason.

You remember that whole self-care thing? It’s not about self-control. It’s about my whole life, about being gentle and loving and generous with myself and seeing where that gets me. And in the past, it’s gotten me below a worrisome weight into a happily middling one, as well as having lots of other, probably (okay definitely) way more important life benefits.

So that is what I’m working to do right now.  I started blogging here, originally, because I knew there had to be a better way than the self-control-attempting self-hatred I spewed at myself, silently, in my head, a way instead to live joyfully within certain restrictions as a way of practicing loving self-care.

I can’t say I’m not feeling the weight panic come shooting up my throat, regularly, or that I don’t occasionally look at online diet articles that pop up, trying to find the magic bullet that we all know doesn’t really exist. But I’m spending more of that time and energy thinking about what makes me happy, fulfilled, calm, rested—and how to get those things in my life in the midst of raising our sweet baby boy . . . who just woke up from his nap.  Well, I got this post out, anyway!

→ 3 CommentsTags: sturm and drang · weight loss

Wonder and Thanksgiving

November 27th, 2012 · 3 Comments

A few days ago, Liam and I took Lily (our dog) for a walk in the afternoon.  I was wearing Liam on my chest.  It was our first afternoon (instead of morning nap time) walk in a long time, so it was the first time in a while that Liam was significantly awake on a walk.  I was trying to wrangle Lily and obsessing over some minor detail of life, when I realized that Liam had tipped his head back so that he could look straight up at the trees.

Do you wear glasses or contacts? I remember when I first got glasses, in the fourth grade.  After I put them on, I couldn’t believe the clarity I had been missing in life, all around me.  I remember thinking, The trees have such gorgeous individual leaves!  On the way home, I believe I read every billboard aloud to my mother, simply because I could read them.

That was Liam on our walk.  I think for the first time on a walk, he was both old enough, and awake enough, to be able to look around and see things clearly.  As we continued our walk, he would look up, and then crane his neck to the right, and then to the left. The fall leaves! The bare branches! A flock of birds! Occasionally, he would stop looking around, look into my eyes instead, and give me a huge gummy grin.

In response, I got out of my own head and looked around.  Liam had chosen a great day to be awake.  The trees were absolutely on fire with their fall foliage.  It’s one of my favorite times of year, and I had been missing it until my baby boy reminded me to just pay attention.


→ 3 CommentsTags: autumn · gratitude

Little & Big Things, Over and Over

November 16th, 2012 · 1 Comment

Yesterday, I stood with Liam at our front door and watched a man stand on the roof of the house across the street to pluck all the ripe persimmons from the neighbors’ persimmon tree. The bright persimmons are a visual reminder of why we hang ball ornaments on Christmas trees: they evoke the lushness of the time of year of ripe fruit.  It’s a way, along with the lights on the trees, to drive back the darkness of winter a bit and remind ourselves that bright times of plenty will return. (Of course, in California, that time of plenty pretty much continues year-round. But these traditions started far from California.)

I also stood and watched, fascinated, a year ago. The man uses some sort of simple implement to pick the fruit.  He moves nimbly around the roof as if he has no fear of falling.  This simple, assured act is very compelling to me.

As Liam and I watched yesterday, I was overcome by a sense of peace at having this annual ritual repeated while I watched.

I grew up in one small Southern town my whole childhood, a place part of my father’s family had lived for centuries. I spent most of that childhood in one house. There were many things about that environment that grew to feel constricting, but since I was raised there, it was also a place that felt very safe, where my life had order and made sense.  I grew up and changed, but things mostly seemed to stay the same from year to year.  The year I left for college, my parents got divorced in a very messy divorce, and in a few months, I lost most of what had felt familiar in my life.  On the outside, I had a number of successes over the following years, but inside, I floundered for a very long time, and having illness after illness didn’t help.  After college, after I met my husband and settled in Atlanta and developed a group of close friends, my life felt more whole again.  Finding out that I had to make major changes because of gluten intolerance and food allergies was hard, but my friends were generally really supportive and went out of their way to help me adjust.  Overall, it was a fulfilling time in my life in many ways.

I suppose I should have seen it coming that moving to LA, which was entirely unfamiliar and where we knew no one, would knock me over like one of those large Pacific waves, but I honestly didn’t.  I went into the move with a bit of trepidation but a lot of anticipation.  My husband was finally finished with his PhD, and he was going to have a real income for the first time; that was incredibly exciting.  I didn’t want to live in LA, but that was where he got a great job, so off we went.  I struggled mightily there, in part because that was when my chronic medical issues were awful. I started a business, too, and compounded changes with change and a bit more change–too much change.  But mainly, I finally understood the idea of being a stranger in a strange land.  I didn’t fit LA, and LA made little sense to me.  Dan’s office was a small and pretty close-knit place, and that helped some. We did find a gym, CrossFit La, which was way more of a community than just a gym, and over time, that helped a lot.  Then, eighteen months after our arrival, just as my business started going well and I finally felt a bit at home, Dan’s company shut down his lab in LA, and we needed to move again, this time to Silicon Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area. I didn’t want to move again. I cried quite a lot for several days. I knew we were much better off than so many people who’ve lost jobs and not found new ones, but it was still a huge loss to face.  Then I began to accept the reality, and several weeks later, we were off.

We’ve been in Silicon Valley for a little over a year now.  Silicon Valley has its drawbacks, but it is a much better fit for me than LA was. And here, we are stable; when most of my husband’s co-workers were laid off, I really didn’t worry much about whether Dan would be, because I knew he could find another good job in a few days.  We recently signed a two-year extension of our lease in the house that we’re renting.  Watching the man pluck the persimmons from the neighbors’ tree was a reminder that we have started to settle here long-term.

As the holiday season approaches, our first year of having a child, I find myself thinking a lot about the importance of rituals in my life, and thinking a lot about the ones that I want Liam to grow up with.  I’ve realized that intentionally building rituals, small and large, is a primary way of helping myself feel at home. As we say in the church, it is ‘a good and right and joyful thing’ to focus on making this my home.  When I got up in the dark a.m. hours with a hungry Liam this morning, I was thinking about how we had a gluten-free gingerbread house and cookie-decorating party in LA, inviting both friends’ kids and the adults to come over and play.  It is one of my favorite LA memories.  I think I need to figure out the time and energy to make one of those parties happen again this year, in the place we call home now.

→ 1 CommentTags: autumn · celebrations & holidays · winter

Me and Jesus, Weeping

November 11th, 2012 · 3 Comments

Last week we attended a new church. It was our first appearance at church in nearly a year.  I was satisfied with the first church we visited when we moved here, but my husband wasn’t. There aren’t that many Episcopal churches, and because of its progressive focus on inclusion as well as the beauty and power of the liturgies, it was and is important to me that our church be an Episcopal one. But a desire for sleep and free time kept winning over trying out new churches on Sunday mornings.

What got me moving was the fact that my mother-in-law was visiting us and could care for Liam while we went to a church for the first time.  Visiting for the first time with a tiny Liam had felt overwhelming, so I was excited about taking advantage of the opportunity to go without having to split my focus between Liam’s care and the new church.

We attended the children-focused service, since I figured that would be the best place for us to (possibly) fit in with our little boy.  We had an amazing experience!  During the kiss of peace (when parishioners greet each other) in the service and after the service, at least 3/4 of the congregation in attendance made their way to talk to us, learn who we were, and figure out how we wanted to be involved.  It was incredibly heart-warming.  We also loved that it was a joyous and informal service where kids were involved in all aspects of it.  During the last hymn, kids danced in the aisles to the music.  For the first time in a long time, I felt like I could find a home in a church.

The sermon was on a passage from the book of John where Jesus’ friends Mary and Martha run to get Jesus’ help when their brother Lazarus is ill.  Jesus is busy preaching and healing people elsewhere, and he cannot go to Lazarus.  By the time he makes it to Lazarus, Lazarus has been dead for four days.  Mary says to Jesus, “I know my brother wouldn’t have died if you were here,” and Jesus weeps.

The sermon wasn’t about that part of the passage; it was about how Jesus then raises Lazarus from the dead. Maybe it was the fact that I’ve been reading a lot of Anne Lamott’s reflections on a very personal faith lately, or maybe it was the reflections on community-building that I was having during our church visit, but I found it hard to focus on the sermon because I was so busy focusing on the part about Jesus weeping. It seemed like the passage was meant just for me.

For the past three years, I’ve lived in California while most of my friends and family live in Georgia and almost all the rest live elsewhere on the East Coast.  While we have been here, people’s lives have gone on without us, as lives do.  People close to us have married, divorced, moved, had children, had seriously ill family members, won awards, produced plays, gotten and lost jobs–in short, have experienced the immense joys and struggles that come with life over time. I can only fly home so often, so I have missed most of these events.  I have been able to be present for people somewhat through phone and email, but I have often despaired at the distance between me and the people I care about so deeply.

I’ve pondered various ways of moving us back to the South. The South has many issues, don’t get me wrong, but it turns out that place is rooted deeply in my bones.  And my roots there run deep in part because of these long-term, often decades-long and sometimes nearly life-long, relationships that I have with people there. I never understood the phrase ‘uprooting their lives’ until I was in California and could feel each of my tender roots, raw and exposed, waving in the wind from our move from Atlanta.  I have struggled for three years to grow new roots in new soil, in two cities in California.

But I married a man who has gotten a PhD in computer science, a PhD specializing in human-computer interaction in mobile devices.  In other words, my husband belongs in Silicon Valley, where he can work doing research in developing on-body technologies. There weren’t many lab locations to do his work eight years ago when we met, and after the financial meltdown of 2007-2008, there are even fewer places for him to do that work now. It’s nearly all concentrated here, in the Bay Area. In Silicon Valley, he has a great job that he loves that supports our little family.  He has a number of companies where he can work if he chooses to leave his current job. There is a lot of security here, and there is a lot of excitement for him here in what he is able to explore.  I am grateful for all of that, and that is why we stay here. I love my husband more than words can say, and that is why I’m working so hard to develop an ability to be at home and content here.

Yet sometimes I feel awfully alone in what I lost leaving Atlanta, watching from a distance as so many people’s lives go along and I’m over here, far off to the side.  So when I read that Jesus wept, it struck a chord. You do what you have to do in life. But even Jesus was overcome by not being present when his friends needed him.

→ 3 CommentsTags: building community · sturm and drang

That Village Hillary Mentioned

November 10th, 2012 · 1 Comment

When Dan and I made a firm decision to adopt our first child, we started the home study process immediately, in May.  Over the summer, during the crazy home study process, I began to make a mental to-do list for before our baby’s arrival.  Since we’d been in Silicon Valley only about eight months at that point, key on that list was developing a support system to have in place when our child came home: building existing friendships, making new friendships, developing a path to much greater community. I was actually tempted to suggest putting off adoption for a year to give us more time to do that, but I was also excited to get going on bringing our child home.

When we finished our home study the last week in August, we signed up with the facilitation service that our adoption attorney offered.  We knew that our attorney had a quicker than average match-and-birth rate than most agencies, but that we were likely looking at six months to one year before our child came home.  My to-do list moved from a mental one to a written one.  I planned to have many of the practical items checked off by October 15th–very early, given the estimated match times, but I am a planner at heart.

Less than two weeks after we finished our home study, in early September, we got the call that Liam’s birth mom had given birth that day and then, if we would accept, had chosen us from our attorney’s website to become the parents to her son.

In many ways, it was an ideal situation for us.  Less than an hour later, we said yes. Four hours later, we went to the airport to fly to Liam and his birth mom.

I had had this vision of us having a fall baby, but I had told myself over and over how unlikely it was that we would match that quickly.

Liam’s adoption is, and always will be, one of the key stories of my life.  In many ways, it is miraculous to me. I would never go so far as to say that it was meant to be, as I think that minimizes the experiences that Liam’s birth mom had to go through (and must still be going through, as she grieves), but I could (and may later) enumerate a whole series of serendipities that led to his successful birth and our match with him.  And he is a chill and happy little boy, which fills me with awe, as I am naturally neither very chill nor particularly easily happy.  I wake up bleary-eyed in the morning when he begins to make noise, I carry him to change his diaper, and he inevitably looks at me calmly and then gives a huge grin. . . . Over and over, I can’t believe my good fortune of having this amazing son, so quickly and easily when the adoption processes are rarely quick or easy.

Yet there was that whole to-do list of ways that I wanted to get ready for his arrival.  Some of it was pretty easy to accomplish at the last minute: one expensive trip to BabiesRUs and one mind-blowingly expensive Amazon order accomplished a lot of what we needed.  Friends helped in many ways by offering items their babies had used. (Over time, gifts also poured in.) We weren’t finished saving for the later adoption expenses, so very large sums for adoption costs went on two credit cards. (We’ll have half paid off by the end of this year, and then we’ll have to pay off the rest next year.) I had been diligently working on inducing lactation to breastfeed our future child, but my breasts weren’t close to ready with this early match, so instead Dan and I picked up breast milk donations from a bunch of awesome moms all over the Bay Area. We just dealt with a lot of what had to be done.

But there’s no shortcut to building community.  It takes time and energy and commitment.  It also takes a sense of self-worth that I have sometimes lacked in the last two years.  At times, it has been easier to rely heavily on my husband for my social outlet than to reach out over and over (which is what it takes) to new people, often in new situations. Yet it is essential, to me, to raise a child within the interconnectedness of a support system–not least because it is essential for me to have that community for my own wellness.

We’re now faced with needing to build community while raising an infant: an amazing little boy who consumes most of my time and energy and will-power right now.  I have a great list of ways to find and create relationships at this stage of life.  I just have to find it in me to follow through day by day.

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New Inspiration

November 8th, 2012 · 7 Comments

Lately I have this crazy urge to write again . . . to be open and vulnerable.  Being open and vulnerable is an essential part of good first-person narrative.  It’s also one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.  Whenever I’ve written a particularly vulnerable blog post, it’s usually been at night, and I’ve usually woken up in a near-panic the next day.  What did I just do, sharing myself like that? Then, generally, people have responded well, pretty quickly, and I’m buoyed by that. When people respond critically, or–worse–hatefully, I ruminate on it for far too long.

I had created this space, Aprovechar, because I wanted to explore getting the most out of life while recognizing its complexities and difficulties and limitations. For a long time, that felt incredibly freeing.  I grew up in a family that was all about keeping secrets, whether or not they needed to be kept, to keep up the appearance of everything being perfect. And escaping that by coming here and being really honest, but also mostly positive–it felt amazing.  Then things changed in my life, felt out of control, due to me developing a chronic medical condition that ended up changing my life drastically and affecting me down to my core.  Interestingly, it wasn’t actually as bad (objectively) as things I’ve gone through before–nothing life-threatening.  But chronic illness compounded by other life changes, including two moves in two years, has created in me a struggle over my purpose and my very identity. For the last couple of years, I have felt too raw and tumultuous to write here, in this space where I wanted honesty.

Now I have a son.  My husband and I adopted him eight weeks ago, the day of his birth. While we were in the adoption process, I thought so much about how I wanted to raise my child.  When we got him, and I fell in love with him, I started thinking not so much about how to raise him (which matters, but he’s awfully small right now) but instead about how he’ll see me as he grows older.  That has led to a series of epiphanies that have been a catalyst for me to return to some of the things that matter most to me . . . the things that it’s scary to want, in case life doesn’t work out.  And it has returned me to a positive emphasis on self-care, which is essential to my son’s well-being as he grows, and is essential to my own life, as well.

So lately I’ve mentally explored at least a dozen topics that I’ve wanted to also explore in writing, in a blog, with the possibility of community feedback. Of course, I’ve usually thought about them while I’ve been pacing the hall, gently bouncing my son up and down to soothe him to sleep.  I have little time to write right now. But I’m very happy to have the will back.

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