self-portrait in towel

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I’m changing every day. My body, my mind. I have muscles in my arms from holding Giles as he gets bigger and bigger. I weigh almost the same amount as I did six weeks postpartum, but I feel strong and good most of the time. My periods are heavy and painful (no one told me before that postpartum menstruation is its own monster), but I’m used to them now. My milk production is slowing down. I cry at the slightest provocation by commercials or songs or how every night at dinner Giles seems just a little more grown up.

We’ve started formula. Giles drank it up without hesitation. I cried during the first feeding, but also felt a little bit free. I can see the finish line of having my body back, of my breasts getting smaller, of no more nursing bras, of no more pumping…of letting go of breastfeeding. It’s a freedom, and it’s sad too. It’s our special connection, our thing that no one else is part of. But we’ll find other things.

My hair is longer. I am less tired than I was a few months ago (still tired, just not as overwhelmingly so). It’s amazing how it really does get “easier,” although “easier” is the wrong word. It gets “different,” just like with anything. It changes. I know Giles better, and he knows me better. He starts to become a functional person– sitting up, crawling, kneeling next to the box of toys and picking out what he wants, pulling up to standing. He says “Mama” and “Dada” and other increasingly complex talking sounds. He and my dad have their own language– staring and smiling and making funny sounds at each other.

My grief continues to get “different,” and not at all easier. Missing my mom is part of my day, part of everything I do. Giles’ eyes have taken on a quality that her eyes had. It strikes me sometimes. He will look at a photo of her hanging on the wall and smile with recognition. He stares at her paintings and pumps his arms with excitement. I cry and cry. Sometimes I feel lost. Sometimes I am okay.

 

 

 

formula

a-plan

Why is there such pressure on mothers to exclusively breastfeed? I would never judge another mom for how she feeds her baby. It wouldn’t even cross my mind to do so. But somehow, feelings of guilt get into my brain about transitioning from nursing to formula. Most of the time I feel fine about it, and I know it’s the right decision for us. But then there are moments when emotion overwhelms me and I start crying in the shower, or while making dinner. I feel guilty. Guilty for what?

Guilt is a familiar feeling. Am I a good daughter? Sister? Friend? Wife? Mother? Am I taking care of everyone enough? Doing enough? Working hard enough? Do I eat enough vegetables? Watch too much tv? Am I too demanding? Too bossy? Was my mom mad at me when she died? Am I too selfish, wanting time to myself? Am I ignoring all my friends while I figure out how to be a mom? Did I pass on this mutated gene to Giles? Will having more kids be bad, because I might pass the gene on to them? Do I call my grandma enough? Is it awful that I still haven’t mailed our holiday gifts? And I’m really late on those thank you notes…Do I do enough housework? When was the last time I cleaned the litter box? Was that thing I said yesterday too bitchy? Am I not bitchy enough? UUUGGGHHHHH

How do we let go of guilt? How do we know that we are enough? How do we help others know that they are enough?

 

 

 

art as life

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Today I was interviewed on the community radio station in North Adams for a show called Creative City. I got to talk about my art and my life, how they inspire each other, and promote my upcoming comics class (is183.org for more info and to register).

It felt really good to talk about what I do. I’m proud of my life, and it’s validating to be interviewed on a radio show and have someone besides me refer to me as an Artist. It’s important to remember that I work, and it’s good work, even if it’s not a “regular” job. It’s a “real” job and I love it.

My mom and I used to discuss our lives as artists all the time– how we balance time/money/desires and manage the business side of art. I loved talking about that stuff with her. I don’t get to talk about it that much anymore. Not the way she and I would talk about it. I’ve never found another art friend like my mom, and I don’t expect to.

I miss her.

I wish she could’ve been with me on the radio today, talking about her art life. I can’t really talk about mine without talking about hers too.

My dad and Giles listened to the show from the lobby of the station while we were broadcasting. Julia played a couple of my song recordings, one of which was the “Giles Fox” song. My dad held Giles up so he could stand on the floor in front of the radio, and he danced.

 

mammo versus breastfeeding

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I know it’s my choice. To start weaning now and get the mammo and MRI as soon as possible (which will be about a year or so from now) or nurse Giles as long as he needs/wants and delay the screenings? I hadn’t realized how long it takes to wean a baby. It’s a slow, gradual process. If I start now it may take months until he is completely weaned. And it’s at that point that the nine month clock starts. So much waiting.

There’s emotions. And hormones. Breastfeeding is such a hormonal thing. At the very thought of stopping I start to cry, and I run over to Greg and Giles on the couch, where Giles is happily taking a bottle. I cuddle against them, my eyes big puddles of tears, Giles looks up at me.

And then there are moments when I feel ready, and know that everything will be fine.

Except everything isn’t fine. I’m afraid of what will happen to healthcare, to women’s healthcare specifically, to the idea of pre-existing conditions. I’m worried for my body, for my mind, for my future second pregnancy that will happen sometime during the Trump administration.

So many things to worry about– both big picture and very personal. I don’t really know what I’m going to do. But I am going to do things, one tiny thing at a time. Ask for help, seek out other moms who can reassure me or give me mother-led-weaning tips. Get back into some kind of therapy. Talk to my husband a LOT. Walk. Do yoga. Snuggle my baby. Cook something new. Buy local produce/meat/cheese. Get my son his first library card. Read to him. Dance with him. Sing. Draw. Write. Take a hot shower. Say “I love you” a lot. Keep my own medical records. Slowly shorten nursing sessions. Check my breasts for lumps. Call my doctors and ask questions. Pay attention to my body.

And after a lot of months, after a year, after an undetermined amount of time, get a mammogram and a breast MRI and get prescribed Lorazapam for these procedures to help calm me down.

 

human milk machine

Image

pumping

Because I have health insurance, I was able to get a free electric breast pump at the hospital after giving birth. Because I have a breast pump I am able to pump milk into a bottle so someone besides me can feed the baby. Because someone else can feed the baby I have a small amount of freedom to not be tied to an every-two-hours schedule of latching a baby to my boobs so he can suck nourishment out of my body.

Because I have health insurance I have mental health coverage. Which means I can go to therapy. Which means I don’t have to suffer alone and quietly while my hormones rage around and cause crazy feelings and exhaustion settles over my whole self and who am I now anyway besides a mom and human milk machine?

Because I have choice over what happens to my own body I was able to grow a baby and give birth to him at a time when I was ready to do this, and wanted to do this. Because of that I am a good mom, and my baby has a healthy, happy, safe home to grow up in.

 

i have a lot of feelings

feelings

Ever since being pregnant, and birthing a baby, and being a mom, there’s a lot of extra hormones raging around inside my body. I cry a lot. I’ve always cried– like at the movies or on the NYC Subway. But now I cry more, and from the faintest hint of any commercial involving babies (the first time Giles successfully put Cheerios in his mouth I cried retroactively at every Cheerios commercial I’ve ever seen). When we first brought Giles home I cried every evening at 5:00 sharp. For two months.

Sometimes I am crying about more than what it appears I am crying about.

Luckily, Greg often seems to understand exactly what it is I’m really upset about. Sometimes he doesn’t know, so he asks. Sometimes he puts a bowl of cereal in front of me because he knows I am actually just hungry.

bananas

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The top photo is me as a baby, and the bottom one is Giles.

“It’s crazy how much you still look exactly the same,” my sister wrote on Gchat when I sent her this picture combo.

The older Giles gets, the more I see myself in him. Of course, yes, he looks so much like Greg. But those eyes. He has my eyes. And my hair. And are those my ears? I can see pieces of both Greg and I, and other family members, but there is also something that is just Giles. He is already himself and that’s incredibly special to watch.

I was talking to my sister yesterday, and saying how excited I am for her to see Giles’ daily life when she visits next: waking up, eating with him, doing bedtime. And she said, “It’s really good you are a mom.” It’s true. I get a lot of joy out of these small daily things. Because really they are not small. This tiny human is growing and changing and learning every single minute. Our little family of three is the most important thing in my life, the best thing. Creating it brings me deep joy. I’m reminded constantly of my family when I was little– growing up with “four wheels on the car” as we called it. Playing games together, cooking, eating, hiking, camping, dancing in the living room. As I read to Giles favorite books from my childhood, I can hear my mom’s voice and cadence reading the same words.

There are moments when I don’t love it. Or, I still love it, but I am exhausted or sad or lonely or the hours are dragging by and I haven’t had a minute to myself or its’ too cold to leave the house and I’m going crazy. There are moments when I miss my perky D cup breasts (they seem so small and so long ago!), and my strong flat stomach, and my pretty dresses that hang in the closet but I can’t wear and may never wear again. There are moments when I am heavy with the weight of responsibility for this lovely young life, hoping I am doing all the right things. There are moments when my own small self feels lost or neglected or gone completely.

Being a mom is hard. If you know a mom, especially a new one, please be really nice to her.

Parenting articles are always popping up on my Facebook news feed. “15 Scary Things Evert New Parent Does That Will Destroy Their Baby” or “10 Foods You Should Have Never Eaten In Your Life Or Your Breastmilk Will Be Forever Tainted.” I used to read them, thinking there was information there that I had a responsibility to learn. Maybe there are things I am doing that I don’t know are bad! But I don’t read them anymore. They are terrible. And dumb. And stupid. They make me feel guilty and worried and I’m already worried/guilty/tired/stressed ALL THE TIME. It’s enough.

I’m enough. Keep repeating that. I’m enough. 

 

getting the call

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I expected to test positive, but the news still felt emotional. Knowing for sure that my mom had the gene mutation, wishing we could have found out sooner, not knowing if it would have made any difference. The idea that I may have passed this on to Giles. My future babies.

Now I can get early screenings and do all the things I need to do. If I ever get cancer it will be diagnosed as early as possible, and that’s what saves lives (not any kind of “cure”). But I will always be waiting. I’ll get tested and tested and hopefully I will always be fine. But. But. But.

Next come the appointments. A High Risk Breast Clinic and the Dana Farber Li Fraumeni Clinic. Attempting breast self-exams while full of milk and tender. Mammograms. Breast MRIs. Other screenings. I’ve filled out my family history so many times already, can’t they just send it to each other? Faxing, scanning, calling. Holding a baby and talking on the phone: his gurgles and “ba ba ba” sounds in one ear, the nurses and receptionists in the other.

I’ll probably be fine. I am fine.

LFS mutant ninja turtles.