A new home

This past December, we moved.

It wasn’t intentionally, which I recognize seems an odd thing to say about buying a home. We had been looking at Open Houses for over a year, after all, getting a sense of what we wanted. Every Sunday after church in the warm months we would don jogging clothes and plan a route in a new neighborhood, stopping at each Open House to poke around. So we had a good sense of what we wanted, and this past November we were on just such a tour (though walking; we aren’t as ambitious when it’s cold out) when we walked into the home of our dreams.

“It’s too bad we’re not prepared,” we said to each other. “This home would be perfect.” So that we wouldn’t miss another opportunity, we contacted a realtor that evening and applied for a loan. Our realtor heard our story. “There’s no reason why this house can’t be yours,” she told us. Long story short, within a week our offer had been accepted; within a month, we had moved in.

What does this all have to do with baby loss, you may ask?

We moved to Chicago 2.5 years ago, into a lovely apartment in Little Italy with a rooftop deck and grand view of the city. That apartment was intentionally two bedrooms, one for us and one for the nursery we desperately hoped we’d need very soon. It became the apartment I got pregnant in (sort of), carried Ander for 24 weeks in, bled in, rushed to the hospital from, came home from the hospital empty handed to. It was the apartment that was filled with shelves of Ander’s blanket, hospital bracelet, pictures, his ashes. Out of my bedroom window, I could see the hospital where he spent his whole life.

We are now only 15 minutes away from there, and we return to that same hospital on a semi-regular basis for all of our family doctor appointments. We walk through our old neighborhood at times, but it’s not the same. Ander is with us; of course. His presence fills our new home, pictures of him grace the hallway, the office, our bedroom. His candle, his ashes, they are of course still with us. Yet moving felt like a small, new grief-hole all the same. We have literally moved on.

 

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And my absence is due to…. *trigger warning: rainbow*

As some of you know from following me either here or at Autostraddle, I was expecting Anderson’s little brother in August 2015. Well, he has arrived, and boy, it’s hard to get to a computer when you have a newborn. So, a very belated post from his first six weeks of life is below. At times in the future, I may update you all on new baby Z, but this is still Ander’s blog, so there will be warnings if baby GZ is mentioned.

I have learned, already, that it takes about six weeks to come up for air. Well, to be fair, we’ve been on several outings; my internet presence has more taken a hit because these are the nicest months in Chicago and therefore spending my now extremely limited free time in front of a computer seems sacrilegious. But let me start at the beginning, or his beginning anyway.

I slept remarkably well the night before the scheduled c-section – better even than my wife. We had to be at the hospital to check in at 6 a.m. for an 8:45 surgery, and that’s when the waiting became pretty unbearable. They took me to the prep area, I was hooked up to monitors, got asked lots of questions, talked to the anesthesiologists, nurses, doctor, and the surgeon. I was really anxious for the surgery and in retrospect, in some ways being under general anesthesia (as I was last time) was preferable to the waiting and the expectations.

I was most apprehensive for the epidural/spinal block as I’ve heard some nightmare stories of reactions, and I must admit, it wasn’t pleasant and I would have liked to avoid it if it were possible. One, the initial numbing shot was painful, despite the two kind nurses holding my hands (K wasn’t allowed in until the last moment). A student placed the catheter, which was fine, he did perfectly (according to his supervising doctor, who was very reassuring for me as she kept saying things like “wonderful placement, excellent job.”) Despite the attempts to ward off nausea prior, I did have to turn my head and puke into a cup the student held for me, but it all worked as it should, and I was numb soon enough and the show began.

My friend described the sensation like “rummaging around in a purse,” and it totally felt like that. No pain, but you can feel where they are in your body. I kept thinking they were taking the baby out, but it was just my organs (talk about disconcerting). The surgeon was going to do a transverse incision this time, but he discovered that my previous classical scar was thinning dangerously, so decided to repeat that cut so that when they closed me up they could add sutures and try to make it stronger so that subsequent pregnancies would be possible. It’s still hard for me to reconcile the thought that one freak condition in my first pregnancy has threatened all subsequent chances at having children. Some things aren’t fair.

But then – he was born! And crying! I had asked for very few things in my birth plan – delayed cord clamping, and skin-to-skin and breastfeeding as soon as possible. Now, our hospital is wonderfully militant about the latter two things anyway, so I wasn’t surprised when the nurse first opened my gown, then laid him on my chest for a bit, then held him upside down over my shoulder as that was the easiest position for him to nurse in with me so covered up. It wasn’t quite what I envisioned, but I can’t complain at all – I had my baby nursing while I was in the OR getting sewn up. Not for long, but enough for me to feel like I got everything I could possibly get considering the circumstances. Then my wife got to hold him as they stitched me up and we rolled into recovery.

All the mother-baby rooms were full; a lot of people were checking out at and then the rooms needed cleaning, so we were in recovery for a while (ironically, when I checked out not even half the rooms were occupied – I guess “feast or famine” is typical in an L&D unit). I wouldn’t have been able to go anywhere anyway, since my body temperature was hovering around 95.0 and I wasn’t allowed to leave until it was 97. So I was piled with warming blankets (I didn’t feel cold at all, but I guess being in a cold OR and having your innards exposed tends to cool you down). Our chaplain friend from Ander’s stay in the NICU stopped by because she knew we were going to be there, and we just relaxed and cuddled the baby. The good part about being in recovery so long was that by the time I left, I was feeling really well – all the epidural effects had worn off.

We named him Graeson Robert (the “son” is a nod to his older brother Anderson). He was in the average range for head circumference and length, but was considered small for gestational age, so he had to undergo a battery of tests, including sitting for 90 minutes in a car seat strapped up to sensors to ensure he could maintain an open airway and circulate oxygenated blood. They had to do that test while he was sleeping, so they started at midnight on our second night, which was traumatic for me – it was the same oxygen saturation monitor that Ander was on that kept plummeting for him. Graeson passed with flying colors, but that beeping machine had me on edge for the whole time, despite our attempts to distract ourselves by watching HGTV. He passed all his tests, actually – including GAINING weight even in the hospital, which our pediatrician called “unprecedented.”

So here we are! Settling into life with a newborn, which is still rather surreal. I can’t believe I can just pick him up and cuddle him whenever I want. I’m so accustomed to asking permission to hold other peoples’ babies. I’m glad I overprepared to be incapacitated, because now that I’m actually pretty functional it feels remarkable.. The only bummer at first was his smallness on outings – he was too small for all the carriers to be safe, so we could just do stroller outings. We were a little surprised that our pediatrician said we could take him out whenever we wanted, as long as we avoided crowds and made anyone holding him wash their hands. For some reason I think we both thought newborns were more fragile and needed to be inside for the first few weeks, but apparently not, which is also good for our own sanity.

So far, we’ve made it to the Chicago Botanic Gardens (including the butterfly exhibit and our first nursing-in-public in a gazebo in the English walled garden), to three different beaches, for several walks in the neighborhood (including lunch and dinner in the park), to the Art Institute and to the Arboretum. I’m just as surprised as anyone that we have managed all these things, though we did have ample help from both my parents and in-laws. Having them here really forced me out of my comfort zone, which was probably good for me, since I was really crippled by anxiety at first.

I’ll never know if my anxiety is normal new-mom jitters or a consequence of having already lost a child and knowing from my doctors that I shouldn’t try to get pregnant again for another two years at a minimum. The exhaustion set in around week three, and that’s when I had a few grief meltdowns too. You see, we wanted another boy, and Graeson looks just the right amount like Ander – basically identical except Ander had distinctive golden blond hair, while Graeson’s is a red-brown like mine. I think in a lot of ways it’s better that way. There are already too many moments where I’m startled by how much he looks like Ander – and unfortunately, the moments all bring me back to Ander dying, because that’s the only time we saw him without any tubes or tape on his face. So Graeson living sometimes reminds me of Ander dying, which is a bit of a jolt. Mostly, I am taken back there when I have G asleep cradled in my arms, head thrown back and mouth open. Once, my wife sang a song to Graeson to get him to sleep that happens to be one that we sang to Ander as he was dying (“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”) and that made me cry and just feel really sad for a while.

There were some happy “Ander moments” too. On Ander’s last night, our wonderful NICU nurse brought in her Nikon and took hundreds of photos of his last day, many of which we have hanging in our house and which we will cherish forever. The same nurse excitedly came to our house after Graeson was born to take a photoshoot of him, too. We haven’t seen the final photos yet, but her compassion, love and talent ensure they will be just as cherished as those of his brother.

To end on a lighter note, here are the top six things I have learned in the first six weeks of parenting a living child. Hopefully, some of this will help all you other invisible mamas with rainbows on the way!

  1. You can’t really have too many swaddles or burp cloths. You will never use either more than once, or twice if you’re lucky, before it’s covered in breastmilk/poo/pee/spit up. Same goes with your own bed sheets.
  1. Relatedly, it is true that you will do laundry every day. I didn’t actually believe that one, but then we had to change our sheets nearly every night for a week due to baby vomit. (Note: he doesn’t even sleep in our bed, and yet this managed to happen.).
  1. Navigating “helpful” parents and in-laws is harder than parenting your newborn. Example: when you are strapping your child in his car seat (perfectly competently) and suddenly have two extra pairs of hands trying to “help” you, which really just makes the baby irritated and makes it impossible for you to actually buckle the straps.
  1. I would love to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” Could someone please get my child to sleep for longer than 30 minutes at a time? He’s one of those babies who needs help falling asleep on his own, which means we must either strap on the Boba (a Moby-like wrap) and go for a walk, or practice the Karp method of soothing (swaddle, sway, shush, side/stomach, suck) or some other active thing to get him to take a nap, particularly from 8-11 a.m. and 8-11 p.m. Usually we manage to get him to sleep right about the time he is ready to wake up to feed again.

​​5. I get why people would have baby wipe warmers, particularly at night. I have solved this problem but just letting him stew in his dirty diaper for most of the night. I know. Not ideal, but you try getting a screaming baby to nurse happily and fall back asleep at 3 a.m. and let me know if you’d do anything differently! 🙂

6. Despite being somewhat constrained in my daily activities, this parenting thing in the first few weeks isn’t a bad gig. In fact, I watch so much daytime TV that maternity leave feels like a bit of a racket. But don’t tell my boss!

And… pictures.

Baby feet

Sleeping on MamaC

Kisses

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Choosing a sperm donor

K actually requested this post, so I wanted to oblige! We get this question a lot from well-meaning friends (many of whom are also going through the same process), so it does help to have it written down here for posterity. Or something. In any case, I present: How We Chose our Sperm Donor (for Anderson and Baby Z #2, who have the same donor dad):

1. We first chose our bank. Our doctor gave us a list of accredited sperm banks with whom they work; there were approximately 10-15. We went to each site to compare ease of site use, price, storage options, donor availability, etc. There are both benefits and drawbacks to using a local bank: the sperm can be delivered the same day, but there are often limits to how many times a donor may be used in a particular geography. We ended up choosing a non-local bank for two main reasons: one, the website was very easy to use and had a lot of information available on the donors. Two, they didn’t tier prices. Some banks had premium fees for their “Nordic line” (true phrase) or donors with MDs and PhDs – sometimes double the less desirable donors. We were not interested in that kind of racism/classism so we chose a bank that had a flat fee no matter which donor you chose. These guys spend a LOT of time getting to and through the donation process. It sucks that some are treated like second-class sperm citizens :).

2. It was important to us to have a baby who looked like us. It’s not important to everyone, but with two moms we figured baby would face some natural stigmas (even in our liberal city) so we wanted to pave the way for him to the best of our ability. Additionally, we wanted it to be visually obvious – to the extent possible – that he belonged to both of us, for those times when we were traveling to less friendly locales, or just walking down the street. So, as I would be carrying, we looked for a donor who looked like K’s brother in height, build, and coloring. For us, that meant around 6’1″, blond, blue eyed, slender. It wasn’t terribly hard to narrow it down based on those criteria – we got around 6-8 hits in that general look. It’s much harder for multiracial families, who might only have one option per bank :(.

3. We browsed the donors’ medical histories, which are free. We eliminated those who had conditions that ran in my family (alcoholism, for instance, is in my family – we didn’t want it to also be in our donor’s family). We looked a little at ethnicity; K is German and English (though as a spoiler, our donor was Polish and Irish, so close enough?). Upon our doctor’s advice, we eliminated those who had not yet had a successful pregnancy.

4. We started getting superficial. I eliminated everyone with terribly poor grammar/spelling (it just drives me crazy, and we had to narrow it down somehow). We paid surprisingly little attention to education other than that, primarily because so much of one’s education is based on one’s own family upbringing and where they grew up. K and I both have advanced degrees, so we are fairly confident that our child will feel supported in learning and will have the opportunity to get a college education if he/she chooses. It’s one of those nature/nurture things – and honestly, while we want our child to enjoy learning and school, college isn’t the most important thing in the world.

5. When we had it down to two, we ordered the full profiles which included baby pictures, essays, and a more complete history. We loved both donors. One reminded me of my dad (he even had the same niche career as my grandfather), and the other was very athletic (a plus in our sports obsessed, competitive family!) and kept emphasizing his strong relationship with his family. A positive and loving relationship with parents and siblings was important, especially to K, as that’s something that is harder to “teach” – more nature than nurture. Ultimately, we would have gone with either, but one was Anonymous and one was Open, meaning our child could contact him when he/she turned 18. After some debate and chatting with friends, we went with the Open donor. It just felt right to know that at least we hadn’t taken the choice away from our child. Plus, while some banks charge a lot more for Open donors (meaning we would have had to tell our child that we couldn’t afford it), ours was the same fee. It seems almost cruel, then, not to.

So there you have it. Our five basic steps in the sperm donor choosing process. If you went through this process, how did you choose? How do you think we did? 🙂 Note: we think Ander was pretty cute!

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It is 2015, right?

It is 2015, right?

I ask this because, in the world of trying to conceive (TTC) and pregnancy, I have read a LOT of books and websites since we started trying to have a baby three (wow, three) years ago. What to Expect When You’re Expecting. AmericanPregnancy. BabyCenter. The Bump. Happiest Baby on the Block. And you know what they all have in common?

They assume that mom has a partner. And that the partner is her husband and the baby’s father. It goes without saying that the partner is male. In fact, nearly every website has “tips for Dad” or “what Dad should expect when Mom is expecting” or “how to help your partner” or “tell Dad to do X so that he feels involved.” Of course, the things these sites and books recommend Dad do are also very sexist. (“He’ll be excited to get out those power tools to set up the nursery furniture!”)

Now, I get that for most expectant mothers, there’s a Dad in the picture. But again: it is 2015, right? Can not one of these sites/books consistently use the word partner instead of husband? Often they start out using partner, but then it’s like the author regresses to Dad when their attention drifts. (Note: when we went to our baby classes (birth, bringing baby home, etc.) it was also hard for the instructors to remember this. They addressed “Dads” a lot, even though I had introduced K as my wife and she was sitting right there. In one class they even segregated the Dads and Moms for certain sections, which was awkward).

Partner helps the single mom feel less isolated, as she likely has some help from a birthing partner, be it a sister, friend, or mother. It’s more inclusive to women who are not married to their children’s father, even if he is very active and in the picture. It’s of course more relevant to the many, many gay couples who are now having children. While we’re at it, could we get rid of the sexism too? My wife and I worked together to set up things.

It’s like this with grief books too, but I’m pretty sure I already wrote about those. C’mon authors, catch up with the times!

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Jewelry, grief and a poem

When Ander died, I was given three lovely, wonderful necklaces. One has his footprints stamped into it (his actual footprints, from a picture!) and his name and birthdate on the back; my mom got K and I each one from a lovely woman on Etsy who was moved by our story and made an extra one for my mother, too. One has a mandala and the word “sacred” that I bought myself for being brave enough to participate in the Sacred Project.  One is an Origami Owl locket with his initials, a snowflake charm, angel wings, a heart with the word “son,” and blue stones, also from my mom.

I wear one of these three necklaces every day. The problem is that I have many other lovely necklaces, and yet even on special occasions, if I do not wear an Ander necklace, I feel guilty. For example, if I’m going to a wedding and want to wear my turquoise drop earrings that happen to match a turquoise necklace, I hem and haw about wearing the necklace instead of one of my Ander ones. I’m not sure how to feel about this. My rational brain reminds me that I do not need to wear a necklace to ensure Ander is remembered; I doubt Ander cares. My emotional heart wonders if people will notice if I wear a different necklace and thus think I’ve gotten over him or moved on or even if I’m callous and indifferent. I feel like I should be able to wear another necklace, guilt-free, though I have yet to get to that point. I’ve done it once or twice… but it was guiltily.

Anyway, just something I’m struggling with.

More importantly, today is the anniversary of Robyna’s son Xavier’s death, and she wrote this touching poem that resonated with me, and may also move you, so I share it here (for the full post on Xavier’s anniversary, click here).

Forgive Me

Forgive me if I’m not myself today,
I don’t mean to be unpleasant,
Forgive me if I seem far away,
I’m not all together present.

Forgive me if I’m not myself today,
If my smile and eyes seemed pained,
If I don’t know what to say,
and our conversation’s strained.

Forgive me if I’m not myself today,
if I’m hesitant to smile,
It means a great deal that you stay,
And just sit with me for a while.

Forgive me if I’m not myself today,
if I seem a little slow or dim,
most times I keep the grief at bay,
but today belongs to him.

Forgive me if I’m not myself today,
You know it’s not an easy one,
Three years ago, to the day,
is when last I held my son.

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Grief, 18 months on

Grief, 18 months after my son’s death, is so much less sharp than it was before that at times I feel guilty. I still think of him every day, and likely always will, but the edges have blunted tremendously. I both hate that, and am grateful for it. I miss my little boy. I will always wonder what he’d look like as he grew. He looked so much like me, and I mourn that I may never have such a lookalike child again.

But – I am back to not remembering when was the last time I cried (oh yeah! It was when we went to see the movie “Inside Out” last weekend. Total sob fest even though it’s technically a children’s movie. But the wife is a child psychologist and researches emotional development so of course we had to see it). To clarify: the last time I cried about losing him, or one of the tangential losses (never having the opportunity for a vaginal birth, for example).

Ironically, I’m now more grateful: that I could get pregnant at all, that we have the financial resources to ensure some sort of child-filled family, that I will always be a mother, that I always had a son. I have been too involved in babyloss websites and social groups to take those things for granted. I am grateful that I have family and friends who talk about my son and remember him with us. I look at his adorable picture every day, and while I am sad, it’s not the choking ache.

To all you mamas out there still hurting: it can get better. Hang in there.

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Not-so-humble brag

So, ChicagoNow is challenging their bloggers to write a post within an hour of their daiy blogapalooza prompt. Now, I’m not a ChicagoNow blogger, and I didn’t see this prompt until this morning, but I’m always looking for inspiration, so here is the topic plus a link to one of my favorite ChicagoNow bloggers answering the prompt.

“Without trying to be humble, write about something you’re really good at.”

The first things that came to mind – after all, this blog is meant to be written within the hour of receiving the prompt – are all related.

First: I am good at academic writing. While I’ve always dreamed of writing fiction and publishing the next great American novel, the creativity it demands is really not my forte. I can’t even think of a plot, and until Ander died there was not even any conflict or heartbreak in my life to provide fodder. But the research, critical thinking, persuasion of academic papers – now THAT I am good at. Unfortunately, outside of academia, there isn’t much of a market for an analysis of the evolution of gender roles in Native American literature (my Master’s thesis) or how the novels of Ian Rankin are informed by Jekyll & Hyde (undergraduate thesis), or a religious reimagining of Toni Morrison’s Beloved (my favorite grad school paper) or issues of colonialism in Disney’s “The Lion King” (my favorite undergrad paper). I suppose I could have become a technical writer of sorts, but doesn’t that sound awfully boring? I prefer to channel my persuasive writing talents into arguing with people on Facebook and ghostwriting academic blog posts for someone who shall not be named. Thanks for the Masters degree in English, Georgetown! (No really: I loved that program).

Second, I am good at proofreading and editing. This is validated professionally; I used to work at the Writing Center at GU and have worked on many dissertations. I was also a high school English teacher for six years, which requires a speed and fluency of grammatical correction to get through all those dang term papers. Please note that I rarely proof my own work. I’m not sure why this is, but you’ll find typos in my blog posts. You won’t, however, find them in my wife’s published papers, all of which I have proofed. I am good at catching little things (misplaced modifiers, improperly used commas, etc.) but also at seeing the big picture and making sweeping organizational changes. Again, I nearly always work on academic papers, which can be stultifying when it’s a topic about which I care not even remotely. But I’m still good at catching those little errors.

Finally, I am a good public speaker. I was going to say a good teacher, which I was, but I’m also still a good facilitator, moderator and presenter, so I think it’s more comprehensive to say “public speaker.” I love speaking in public, ever since I was a child and asked to do the readings in church in front of the entire congregation. I’m sure it helped that I was always a confident, fluent reader. I speak with expression. I read aloud to K almost every night from whatever book we’re in the middle of, and I do accents and character voices. I did this as a teacher, too, and it helped to show my students how much I loved the text. I can speak well off the cuff; I write extensive speaker notes in preparation, but I never use them when I’m actually teaching or presenting. I make eye contact; I work the room. I LOVE being the one commanding a room, and that’s probably due in some part to narcissism, but the prompt did tell me not to be humble, so there you go.

The prompt also said to write about something, not somethings, so as Mary Tyler Mom said, “Do me a solid and help me feel less like a narcissistic jerk about posting this by telling me something you are good at in the comments.”

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