Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Planting Seeds and Giving Back

I'm happy to say that today was an incredibly productive day. In the span of a few short hours I was able to paint the fence (or part of it anyway), sow some seeds, and give back to the community. Ah summer.

Sofie and I sweated through the morning as I struggled to slap a coat of primer on the beautiful new fence that Francisco built me this month. I only managed to cover one side of about 8 feet, but it felt like progress nonetheless for this one-woman painting show. Sofie was tolerant enough of this production, (if you call stirring the 5 gallon bucket of primer with sticks from our yard and then trying to make soup out of it tolerant) but she quickly insisted we move on to other ventures as the sun blazed overhead.

After a dip in the ice cold chill of the kiddie pool (also made into "hamburger soup" with handfuls of mud) we managed to put down enough grass seed to hopefully make our scruffy dirt in the backyard into a lawn for lounging, and planted a few lovely plants that I hope to see again next year. I have not ever been known for my gardening skills but I'm trying this year, I'm trying.

After a mandatory scrub down we headed to Greenfield for some charitable giving. My dad's beloved GoNOMAD Cafe has closed down this week and he approached me with the question of what to do with so much perishable food that could not be returned to the vendors. Having just cared for a patient in the hospital who did not have enough to eat, I had coincidentally just researched what to do in just this situation.

I packed up the van with gallons of milk and cream, six dozen eggs, pounds of cheese, and the like and stopped in to the Salvation Army on Chapman Street. These lovely folks make breakfast and lunch for the needy every day of the week and serve it up right there in the basement of their building.

It is always a good feeling to know that you are helping others, and the look of genuine gratitude on the faces of the people serving the community just made my day. I realized instantly that I do not do enough giving back. I have been feeling it for a while, this nagging notion that I am not doing what I should be for those who need it. Today this feeling was a scream inside my heart, it's time to give back! What are you waiting for?!?!

OK, so let today be the first day of the rest of my charitable life. I will start making a difference, starting right now. Nothing motivates me more than the line of women with their young children lined up to eat at the little basement operation today. There is no reason why not and the time is now, so please remind me of this if life gets in my way.

Friday, May 27, 2011

I Will Remember You

Today is the anniversary of an event that I usually don't try to think too hard about. I don't often think about anniversaries at all. Generally May 27th passes me over in a haze of summertime picnics, digging in the dirt, and the overall chaos of a busy household. The past couple weeks however, I have not been home. I have been plowing through my nights at work on the maternity ward and each night haunted by memories and emotion that have not surfaced often in the past several years. These memories are with me today.

Seven years ago today Francisco and I were expecting our first child. I was 17 weeks pregnant and expecting a girl. I was going to name her Josie. He and I had met not long before, and were still getting to know each other, this unplanned growing life inside of me speeding up the process lightyears ahead of the traditional route. I was terrified by the abyss of unknown that accompanies first time motherhod, and at the same time I had never been so excited about anything in my life.

I went in for a routine check up at the OB office, accompanied by my mother, as Francisco was living in Miami, awaiting my arrival in just a few weeks. All had been well with the pregnancy until that point, and I felt healthier than ever. My closet was quickly filling with tiny onesies and I had read every baby book I could get my hands on.

The news of our baby's fate was dropped like a bomb, the words that every expectant parent dreads: "There's something wrong with the baby". We were sent to a high risk hospital in the area where our baby's fate was determined; congenital anomalies, chromosomal abnormality, incompatible with life, physician speak for the worst fate imaginable. The stoic doctor delivered the news as though he were reporting the weather, spewing forth long, complicated words to describe the loss of something so great that in four short months it had overtaken me. In minutes my world was shattered.

My body was hollow after it was over. My soul still holds an empty spot for my baby who was never to be. In the time she was with me I loved her with all of my being, and I can't help but think about who she might have become if she had lived.

The days and weeks that followed were the darkest of my life. I drove aimlessly around town and seriously contemplated crashing into buildings to put out the fire of pain that seared through my heart. I couldn't work, couldn't focus, and lost valuable friendships that I later longed for and regretted letting slip away.

The good that came of losing my baby was gaining my relationship with Francisco, who anchored himself to my side at this time and let me know that he wasn't going anywhere. We moved in together and a few months later I was pregnant with my beautiful Nathan, whose life I would choose over no other.

I am usally relieved to have another May pass by without being reminded of our loss, but this year I feel complelled to honor her spirit. I am grateful for all that I have, but my first baby comes back to me every so often and reminds me of what we can never forget.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Miss My Mamas

I have a problem. For the past two weeks I have been deprived of an essential nutrient to my otherwise healthy existence, something I need as much as my morning coffee, or lunch. I have been missing my mom-time.

I am fortunate enough to have found a nice collection of mom friends to spend time with in my community. We get together to talk, laugh, share horror stories, solicit advice, and let our kids play. Coming together with these women gives me the sense that I am not completely screwing things up for my children, that maybe I even have it a little bit together.

Last week my kids were sick and we were quarantined to the house. This week I have done nothing but work, with the goal of not bouncing any more checks. The end result? Sheer isolation with my loving (but energetic) two year old, whose conversation skills are impressive but just not cutting it. Tomorrow the mothers are getting together for our weekly playgroup. I will be sending Sofie with her babysitter as I will have worked all night and must spend the morning buried in my pillow. By the time I get up and join the land of the living it will be too late, the kids will become cranky and ready for naps themselves.

It's amazing how this time with other moms can give me the added rejuvenation to make it through the day, and even enjoy myself while doing it. I can't imagine trying to parent without having supportive friends around to help steer me in the right direction. We give each other the courage to help our children overcome new challenges, and help one another forget that sometimes being home with kids can be rather lonely. I am so lucky to have these women in my life, and if I ever see them again (probably not this week, boo hiss) I will be sure to tell them so.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Best Job in the World?

This is what people often say when I tell them I am an OB nurse. "You must have the best job in the world!" "Yes", I tell them, "99 percent of the time".

We deal with many challenges and complications in our specialty, along with some of the most joyful moments life has to offer. Birth is a marvelous thing to behold, and bearing witness to it is never short of a miracle. There are the challenges that accompany these miracles and as nurses we all know that it is par for the course. Some days there will be good and some days will be horrendous, but holding this knowledge never truly prepares you for when a baby dies.

Driving to work last night I had a wave of suspicion. A premonition that we were going to have the unthinkable happen, a fetal demise. I am unfortunately graced with the ability to often predict when emergencies are going to arise, it's happened as long as I've worked on the unit. I will get a feeling right before going in to work, or have a dream in my nap before my shift, something to let on that a challenging incident is about to occur. Last night I was sorry to be right.

The floor was busy with nurses bustling around caring for laboring women and postpartum mothers and babies. The news of the woman in labor whose baby had no heartbeat spread quickly from one of us to the other, looming overhead like a storm cloud. Those of us not caring for the patient sat idly outside her door when we could, desperately wishing there was something we could do to help, praying for some sort of miracle.

The baby was stillborn in the early hours of the morning. The mother's wail was audible from every corner of the unit, a deafening innate sound erupting from the bottom of her soul letting us know that her child's life had left his body. Rendered powerless by our inability to make this better, we wept silently as we wrapped the baby in warm blankets, dried his eyes that would never open. He was a beautiful baby, each delicate feature of his face a reminder of what could have been, what should have been.

In the aftermath of tragedy, as we soldier on to provide care to our patients, we always remember those who have suffered the tremendous loss of a baby. It shapes who we are as nurses and deepens the well of compassion that we bring to others in their time of need, all the while leaving us with a small sense of distrust in the universe for letting someone so innocent slip away.

I returned home this morning to the smiling faces of my beautiful children and was overcome with emotion for the many blessings in my life. After witnessing this kind of sadness all else seems remarkably trivial. This family helped me to remember that life is short, unpredictable, and above all precious.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rude Awakenings

For several months now I have been thinking that my six year old son has been sleeping in. I don't hear the (generally quite loud) little guy until I open my eyes at around 7:30 and stumble downstairs. There I find him engrossed in some inappropriate television show that he has somehow figured out how to request from our on-demand cable service in the "kids" section. I have yet to decipher how to parental control these programs so I guess it's not surprising that he has technologically surpassed me. Nonetheless, it's a blow to my maternal ego each morning when I hear the Super Ninjas whacking each other with batons and ray guns.

Hence why yesterday I decided that Nathan needed a few days off from television, and while we're at it, let's throw in computers and iphones too (the kid can find video game-like entertainment with any type of screened device). Great, why not?

I soon found out why not. Apparently Nathan now wakes up at 5am, as he made very clear to me this morning by sausaging himself into my bed next to me at the crack of dawn and letting me know in no uncertain terms that he had no intention of going back to sleep. Good Lord.

So I did what every other sleep-worshiping parent does at 5am, and shuttled him back to his bed, nestling myself under his covers and trying desperately to form a cozy cocoon of warmth to lull him back to sleep. Surprise surprise, it started to work! His eyes started to close in unison with mine as we drifted back into that glorious pre-dawn slumber.

Unfortunately I had forgotten one tiny (but crucial) detail. Sofie. When I leapt from my bed trying to prevent Nathan from waking her up (because at age 2 where else could she possibly be other than wedged firmly in the bed in between her parents?) I didn't think to bolster up my empty space in the bed with pillows. My eyes sprung open as I heard the loud THUD followed by the long wail as she sailed out of the bed face first onto the hardwood floor.

One bloody split lip later we were all downstairs reading stories on the couch at 5:30, leaving the glory of slumber to my imagination. Sofie sniffled in the mirror every so often to examine her wounded face, the occasional sob shooting out of her as a guilty reminder that it is impossible to be in two places at once.

The joys of motherhood don't come easily to me before the sun comes up. I'm giving up on productivity today, tomorrow is another day to live out the dream of sleep.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Vampires on Mountain Road

Last night I was just drifting off to sleep when my husband, a native of the Dominican Republic, shook me awake in a loud whisper: "Kate, Kate, there's a vampire in the house!" My eyes darted open as I tried with all my might to imagine what he might possibly be talking about.

"Un musielago", he then told me. Oh, I mentally translated, a bat. A bat? In our house?

Suddenly I was transported back years to an almost nightly occurence at my house growing up as a kid. Bats would enter our upstairs bathroom through a crack in an old chimney and swoop in to terrorize us as we lay trembling in our beds. After my dad left, my mom (more frightened than either of us children) would crack a window and pull us under the blankets with her and whisper "Just go to sleep, it'll be gone by morning".

Fearless leader, indeed.

The first time my new best friend stayed the night at age 14 we had a winged intruder, and Jane was stuck upstairs, bewildered, as my mom and brother and I refused to leave a downstairs bedroom. We spent the night squashed into a twin bed and urinating in the closet as the bat snoozed on the windowsill in the living room. Needless to say, Jane did not hurry back for another sleepover, although she has hung on as my best friend.

A couple of years ago another bat made it into our upstairs and I sent Francisco and my dad up to do their manly duties of critter removal. I shook with laughter as my dad dove around with a tennis racquet shrieking like an 8 year old girl each time the bat flew by his head.

I certainly made no move to leap out of bed and capture the bat as it circled our darkened hallways last night, although my fear of the flying nighttime friends has subsided somewhat. Instead I closed my eyes, and my door, and channeled my mother as I happily let Francisco swat the towel around and stumble over laundry baskets to the nearest window. I'll be the fearless leader next time.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dawn of creativity

I keep telling myself "today is the day!"

Today is the day that I am going to unleash my creative energy and send it flying out into the world. Today I am going to start taking art classes, do some yoga, ride a horse, spin pottery. Really, this is the moment. Today I will paint, draw, sing, learn guitar, write a novel. Yeah.

Then the collective pull of all of the ambitions and creative desires I have been harboring inside for so long start to feel overwhelming and soon I can't do anything fast enough. So I do nothing. Wake up the next day, repeat cycle.

The first thing I'm doing to combat this creative slump is write this down, so that maybe someone else will call me on it the next time I complain that there is nothing left for me. Please feel free to do that. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for me, it is likely that no one will ever see this, so I don't have too much to worry about. But on the off chance that you are reading this, remind me to unharness some creativity today, because this stifled feeling is getting really old.

I realize that this is a pretty common problem among mothers of young children. Somewhere along the way through the jungle of diapers and sippy cups you lose your artistic self, and with each passing year it becomes harder and harder to find her again. Soon you just feel trapped, without being really sure of what's holding you down. I get great joy out of raising my kids and spending time with them each day, but there is a chasm that divides my former self and the current me, and I haven't yet figured out how to bridge that divide. Until I do I will continue to run in circles trying to find my way over.