Impressive Has No Value

“There is no value in being impressive,” I said to her while gazing at the baby in my arms. “I used to care about impressing people, about being the person that people would take a second look at. But, people don’t care about impressive. They care about themselves.”I punctuated the last thought by starting right into her eyes. I have never said something more true in front of her. It was the first time I said it aloud; the first time I actually believed it to be a real truth.

“You’re right.” She smiled back at me.  

I looked back at my baby, who was holding my hands while tentatively attempting to explore the world around her. El had been to every appointment in this office since she was born. I sat on this very couch while I was pregnant, agonizing over how a third baby was going to fit into my already hectic and hard to manage lifestyle. And before that, I sat on this same couch weighing the pros and cons about the decision to even have a third pregnancy. Over the years, these conversations with my therapist have been plentiful, yet none have been more revealing to me than this one.

My gaze became out of focus as I explored this new truth that spilled from my lips. I thought back over the past few years and over the decisions I made that brought me to where I am today. I felt a sense of sadness and anger come over me. The desire to impress had taken over my whole life. It had distracted me from the aspects of my life that were most important to me. I lost track of what I should have cared most about, and instead, I moved to impress other people. I never, however, impressed myself.  

The past few years of my life have been a whirlwind of stress, anxiety, unhappiness, and discontent. And, I can’t take that back. Maybe people were impressed with me at some point: “I really don’t know how you do it all…” they’d say. But that moment only lasts for a second before they go back to caring about their own lives.

Caring about their own life: Something I should have been doing this whole time. I looked at baby El and realized that she and her brothers are the only ones who deserve my efforts to impress. And ironically, they don’t need to be impressed by me to love me and want me, and for me to the he most important person in their world. 

I regret the years I’ve wasted trying to impress other people. I know where the desire came from and that it was something engrained early and deep in my childhood insecurities. This epiphany – the sudden absence of my desire to impress – is a sign that those longstanding, deeply seeded issues are slowly being resolved. I walked away from the appointment with a renewed sense of clarity and purpose about how to move forward in my life. I stepped over the threshold from treatment room to a new world with a completely different approach to living my life. 

That simple sentence. One simple thought. An enormous truth that has remained hidden from my reality for far too long. My acceptance and belief in that one thing has already affected change in my life that I never thought would happen. I already feel happier. 

In My Absence

It’s been weeks since I’ve been here… and three weeks have passed since I’ve been back at work.

It’s been months since I’ve been at work… and it’s taken 3 weeks to get back to some kind of normal. 

I’m happy to be back at work, but I miss my baby. I also miss my “free time” and I miss everything else that is important to me. 

The last three weeks have been a whirlind of breastfeeding in the night, pumping milk between surgeries and baby deliveries, leaking breasts, making bottles, sleeping, cuddling with baby El, and maybe some sleep somewhere in there.

I still have mixed emotions about my decision to return to work early. I love my job and it feels great to be back, but I miss my baby – even more than I imagined I would. 

In my absence she seems to be doing well. So far I have been able to continue breastfeeding. Although, I can sense her getting impatient at the breast when the milk doesn’t come as quickly as the bottle. My milk supply is having a hard time keeping up and I’ve had to start some supplements. Hopefully it will pick up in the next little while. 

She is excited to see me when I finally get to her after a long day of work. Even at 5.5 months, she had begun to give little hugs and bury her face into my shoulder. Then she opens her mouth wide and dives into my face – her idea of a kiss. It doesn’t take more than 5 minuets before she is suddenly pushing to lean back and rooting for her comfort. She still loves her special mommy and El time, and for that I’m so thankful. 

A Different Decision

We face decisions everyday.  Some are those types of decisions that are made without even thinking: Starbucks coffee? Pants or shorts? Dinner in or dinner out?

But what about those decisions that feel impossible to make?  Those decisions that seem to have no right and no wrong choice? Each choice is equally good and equally bad… So the decision becomes an impossible one to make.

Or maybe there is a clear right and a clear wrong to the decision, but you are just unable to elucidate which is which.  There are those times when the wrong decision feels like the right decision and you get fooled into making the wrong choice.

Has this happened to you?

My maternity leave is coming to an end.  I specifically chose to only take 5 months of my full year leave because I didn’t want to put myself too far behind in my training.  I don’t want my surgical skills to wane, I want to write my exam on time, I want to stay with my cohort of colleagues, and part of me misses work.

The trade-off: I could spend a whole 7 more months at home with my kids.

I don’t feel ready to go back.  The time I have had off feels like it has been stolen from me because I’ve had to deal with work problems while I’ve been off.  We are losing our nanny and my husband doesn’t want a new one; therefore, our childcare situation going forward is rather precarious.  I feel, deep down inside of my soul, that going back to work in two weeks is going to cause my home/family life to spin out of control.

Lately I have been thinking more about extending my leave and taking off my full year.  The reasons I made the initial decision haven’t changed, but I feel like priorities have shifted.  Despite this shift, I find this decision is still impossible to make.  There is no clear right or wrong, and the advice I get from everyone I talk to is the same: Do what’s best for you and your family.

Unfortunately, I feel like what’s best for me and my family is not very clear right now.

Wednesday Morning Cappuccino 

Here before me sits a perfect cappuccino…  Made with espresso from my Nespresso coffee machine, hot whipped cream frothed with my milk frother, and poured into my beautiful Le Creuset cappuccino cups.

My blogging absence can only be explained by the simple fact that I have been engaging in my life more wholeheartedly.  I’ve come to realize that my time at home is limited and quickly coming to an end.  I’ve been taking the time to notice and appreciate the small things – like this delicious cappuccino that has become a regular part of my morning, or the beautiful, emphatic smiles I receive from baby El when she sees me for the first time in the morning, or even just reading a book or working on my puzzle.

My last blog post was about how my life felt like it was falling apart; how I felt that I lacked clarity and understanding about what I was doing and direction I was taking in life.  Circumstances haven’t changed, but I feel that my efforts to slow down, live in the moment, and experience life wholeheartedly have made me step back and accept life for what it is.  My career is demanding and unyielding at the moment; but I can do it.  My kids are a handful and they pose some difficult challenges; but they love me unconditionally and loving them back is the best gift I can give them.

If anything, I have realized the need to temper my expectations.  I need to slow down and accept my life and the situations I am presented with as they are.  So far this has been working.  Hopefully it will continue to work well as live moves forward

MEternity Leave? Really?

Over a week ago, on June 1, I sat down to start writing a blog post.  I wrote one sentence of that post and I have not been back to WordPress since then.  It’s not because I haven’t wanted to blog, and it’s not because I have nothing to blog about… it’s because I’ve quite literally had no time to myself – at all.

This phenomenon of having no time to myself, despite being home from my 80-100hr+ work week, reminded me of the MEternity fiasco from a few months back.  For anyone to think that a maternity leave is a “sabbatical” or “vacation” or anything that resembles an opportunity for “me time” has got something seriously wrong.  If I’m going to be completely honest, I would say that I haven’t really been enjoying my maternity leave that much.  Before I divulge all the reasons I’m not enjoying it, I’ll state the few things that I do enjoy about maternity leave (just so I don’t seem to be complaining all the time):

  1. I love baby El and I love to spend time watching her grow and change.  I want her to stay small forever, but I know she won’t.  I’m cherishing the time I get to spend with her now.
  2. I get to see my other kids more often than I did when I was working.

Yes, I think that’s about it.  Here are all the things I dislike about my maternity leave:

  1. I am always tired – I am lucky to get 6 hours of broken sleep a night, and the sleep I do get is far from quality as I am paranoid about my baby and her ridiculously low risk of SIDS (this is where I say that, contrary to all advice on how to reduce SIDS, I can’t abide by t all.  Baby El refuses to sleep unless she is right next to me, with easy access to her precious boobie – All. The. Time.)
  2. I almost always have a little human being attached to my body.  This is either in the form of breastfeeding or babywearing.  Baby El usually needs to be nursed to sleep.  And, she doesn’t really like to stay asleep unless someone is carrying her.
  3. I am always yelling at the boys: Either they aren’t listening to the Nanny, so I get mad at them for that.  Or, they aren’t listening to me, so I get mad at them for that.  Or they are too loud and running around every part of the house and waking up the delicate baby that I just FINALLY GOT TO SLEEP.  I feel like all the time I spend with my kids involves yelling.
  4. I miss adult human interaction.  You can only text message people so much before you get bored.  Plus, everyone is working while I am home, so there is no one to go out with during the day.
  5. I have fleeting thoughts of finishing that book I started weeks ago, or working on the cross stitch birth announcements (for E first, before I can start El’s), or blogging, or even getting some exercise.  However, those thoughts are vanquished by one of the three kids that are demanding my attention at any given time of the day.  If I’m lucky, I can get outside for a walk with the baby in a carrier (she won’t even stay settled in a stroller)… but not before getting the 10th degree from A, who wants to know where I’m going, when I’ll be back, why he can’t come, am I sure he can’t come, and what kind of punishment I will get if I’m not home when I say I’ll be home.
  6. I miss my job… dearly.  If it wasn’t for my baby, I would go back tomorrow.
  7. I’m sure there is something I’m missing.

So there you have it… My maternity leave is far from relaxing, enjoyable, or a life changing revolution.

And, I’ve gotta go… baby El is awake!

I AM The Milk

“Why are you so worried about your milk? He asked, after I broke into tears.

It was 7am and I couldn’t help but let the pooling tears run down my cheeks.  I had been awake most of the night feeding El, who just never seemed to be satisfied.  The day before had seemed a pointless day to wear a shirt and bra, because my breasts were out all day, on demand to her.  She was finally asleep, my breasts were empty and deflated, like they had been all night, yet the mere thought of feeding her left me leaking more than just tears.

Maybe I have been obsessed lately.  I know El has a small tongue tie, and I know what that could mean for our breastfeeding relationship.  I have mentioned it to everyone from the postpartum nurse in the hospital, to the pediatrician who looked after her there, to the home care nurses drawing her bilirubin, to my own family doctor.  Everyone just keeps telling me not to worry about it because she’s feeding and growing well.  But her latch is shallow.  I know it could be a lot better, and I fear that while she gets enough milk now, she might not get enough in the future.  I love breastfeeding my babies, and she is the last one.  I want to breastfeed her for a long time.

So, why shouldn’t I obsess?  This beautiful baby was part of me – she came from my own body and flesh.  Now that she is born, she is still part of me; everything that provides for her, nourishes her, and keeps her happy and alive is from me.  She knows my voice and she knows it means comfort, fulfillment, closeness, and love.  I am the only person in her world who can give her all of that by simply holding her in my arms and offering her my body.

It is not just milk.  That milk is me.  I AM the milk.
My beautiful baby drinks me in and for those minutes – those hours – we are one again.
I am not ready for that to end, so I can’t help but worry about my milk.

A Good Tree Cannot Bear Bad Fruit

A few weeks ago, I was in the midst of “the perfect storm.”

I was still pregnant and close to giving birth to my (first) daughter.  I had just received yet another insulting form of rejection from a person whom I have kept in my life for far too long.  I spent that week’s therapy session discussing the role of this person in my life, the emotional importance her relationship served, and how welcoming my daughter into the world would likely change how I felt about that relationship.  Then, at the end of that week I attended our new church where the message of the sermon was about Matthew 7:18 – “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.”

I listened closely to the pastor that Sunday.  He said, “When things aren’t what they used to be, you have to change what you’re used to doing.” 

People love truth, and people love authenticity.  There is a low tolerance for the inauthentic in our society.  The tree that bears fruit is the perfect example of the difference between the authentic and the inauthentic.  Just as a tree grows and develops fruit over time, we as people grow and develop our habits and behaviours.  Just as a person would stop picking and eating rotten fruit from a bad tree, they would also stop dealing with or interacting with a person who routinely showed poor or inauthentic behaviours.

I used to think that I was the person with the poor our inauthentic behaviours: Why would someone be so hurtful towards me and make such an effort to exclude me from their life?  I have worked hard over the years to overcome this thought, attributing it to my low self-esteem that developed from my difficult childhood and poor relationships with my parents.  It may have taken years to believe this truth, but I am not a bad tree – I am a good tree that bears good fruit.  I really am.

However, even good trees have branches that are heavy and burdensome – branches that are overgrown and don’t produce any fruit.  These branches take up the resources and energy of the tree and prevent it from producing abundant fruit.  This idea reminded me of the advice I received from a fellow gardener last summer when I asked her about her fruitful tomato plants.  She told me to trim off all of the branches on my tomato plants that were not growing tomatoes.  This way the plant would stop wasting energy on the branches that weren’t growing fruit and instead would use that energy to grow bigger, more healthy tomatoes.  I used her advice and sure enough, my tomatoes grew bigger and faster.

If a tree is a metaphor for my life, it is only natural that I would have these heavy, burdensome branches that are weighing me down.  It is only natural, then, that I should need to prune my own boughs with the hopes of removing those parts of my life that are only causing me grief, so that I can concentrate more on the best parts of my life.  The pastor continues on in his sermon, addressing the need for pruning in our lives.  Like the gardener’s advice for my tomato plants, he quoted another part of the scripture: “The farmer cuts off branches that bear no fruit and prunes the ones that do bear fruit so that they will be more fruitful.”  He continued on, addressing all of us and saying rather matter-of-factly: “Most of us know exactly what areas of our lives need to be pruned.”

Despite all this advice, pruning is not easy; It is the targeted removal of something from our lives.  It isn’t fun – it cuts to the core, it is invasive, painful, and it is cutting something out of your life that needs to be removed.

For 18 months I have let myself hold onto the idea or illusion that Kay would come back into my life and that we would, gain, have some kind of friendship.  The timing of this sermon immediately after the mix-up/rejection from Kay was nothing more than perfect.  And, what better time to prune something so heavy and fruitless from my life than right before I prepare to welcome my daughter into my life.

My relationship with Kay initially sprouted from a need to fill in the missing mother-daughter relationship in my life.  It may have worked for a small while.  But there is never a replacement for the real thing – and now I am at the beginning of the best most real opportunity to develop this type of relationship… With my very own daughter.

 

 

Identity Crisis

For almost 6 years, I have been a mother.  For almost 6 years minus 13 weeks, I have been pursuing a career in medicine.  Neither of these tasks are particularly easy on their own, let alone together.  No one gives out medals and prizes to the Mom who “accomplishes” the most with her kids, or who “does it all right,*” or who raises the best kids.  It’s different in medicine, though.  In medical school there are awards for many aspects of study.  There is a constant, hidden agenda, enticing students to be better than their peers, to be the best student they can be, and at the end of it all, to compete with each other for the best residency positions.

*What does “doing it right” mean as a mother, anyway?

For 6 years I have struggled to be the best mom I can be, despite the overwhelming time and energy commitment that goes along with medical training.  Along the way I have received little recognition for my hard work (like every mother out there).  For 6 years minus 13 weeks, I have struggled to be the best medical student and then resident that I can be.  Fortunately, that role always came with significant recognition: Scholarships and Bursaries, conferences, accolades from my peers and preceptors, and the all too often phrase: “I don’t know how you do it.”

We all thrive on positive re-enforcement and recognition for our accomplishments.  As a result, I felt more reward from excelling in my work life because the rewards were tangible.  Even as recently as being pregnant at work, I had people telling me that they couldn’t believe how hard I was working, or how dedicated I was to be working so late into my pregnancy.  It made me feel good to know that other people noticed my effort, how much I loved my job, and how well I performed.  But now that I am off work, at home and being a full-time mom, all of that is missing.

I’ve been home for 2.5 weeks and I really miss work.  I feel guilty because I should be happy to be home spending time with my kids – I never get this opportunity.  I would argue that staying home with three kids (while one if a newborn) is tough work – tougher than my actual job.  The worst part of it is that I feel like I don’t know how to be this person… the mother who gives all of her love, attention, and effort to her kids all the time.  It makes me sad to realize that for the entire time I’ve been a mother (minus 13 weeks), I don’t know how to fully identify as a mother.

I have, somehow, let my life as “medical trainee” define my identity to a greater extent than my life as “mother.”  I feel like this is so wrong – like I have it all backwards.  I mourn for my children, who have never completely had a mother who knows what it means to be their mother.  They have always been competing with my other identity – an identity where they have merely been accessories to my apparent success.  And now I am home all the time and I feel lost.  I am having an identity crisis, and I only have 5 months to sort it all out.

The Birth of Baby El

I shouldn’t be surprised that El came into the world with a relative fury – she is my third baby, after all… and my first girl.

She came early on a Tuesday morning, but her decision on when to arrive seemed to be a few days in the making.  For the entire weekend preceding her birthday, I experienced contractions that would start and stop every few hours.  Sometimes they would get worse, but they would always just stop.  When Sunday night came, I was anxious about whether or not to work the next day – or even for the rest of the week, given that my maternity leave was scheduled to start the following Monday.  After weighing the options, I opted to listen to my body and I sent an email to the necessary people advising that I would not be in the next day.

I spent Monday feeling guilty about my decision to stay home from work.  I moved my prenatal appointment to the morning with the hopes that talking with my Doctor would make me feel a little better about my decision.  She didn’t seem phased by my decision to take  the day, or even the rest of the week, off work.  I was, for goodness sake, 38+ weeks pregnant.

She checked my cervix and told me it was 3cm and 50% effaced.  “Do you want me to strip your membranes? ” She asked.  I gave her permission (I preemptively took  two extra strength tylenol before my appointment, in anticipation of this possibility).  It was more painful than I remembered and I made more noise than I expected myself to make.  Then, I left her office with hopeful anticipation that labour wouldn’t be too far away.

The day passed uneventfully, with nary a contraction to bring up my hopes.  I went about the usual business of taking the kids to their activities, and given the beautiful weather, we even walked the short distance to get where we were going.  I took the boys for frozen yogurt after taekwondo, and if I could go back now knowing that would be the last thing we would do together without the baby in our lives, I would have been kinder and more patient with them.  We went home, prepared for bed and I tucked them in as usual.

I was getting ready for bed around 10:00 and the same contractions that had plagued my weekend showed up again.  They were mild and not even painful.  I shrugged them off as more of the same, non-productive, braxton hicks.  Thirty minutes later I went to the washroom and noticed a significant amount of “show,” and for a second I though that maybe these contractions were different.  Regardless, I made an effort to go to sleep.

Sleep didn’t work for me that night.  By midnight the contractions were still coming regularly and they were starting to get painful.  I suggested to my husband that, “maybe it’s time.”  He groaned in his sleep and rolled over.  By 1:00, things didn’t seem to be improving, so I made the decision that we needed to go into the hospital.  I called my nanny and woke up my husband, who begrudgingly had to go and pick her up.  By the time she arrived at our house and we drove across the city to the hospital where I was checked in, it was 2:30.  Somehow, Baby El got the memo that we were at the hospital because contractions started getting a whole lot worse!

The nurse I had was kind enough.  She didn’t immediately recognize me, and I was okay with that… until she presented a rather inappropriate plan to observe the progress of my labour before admitting me: “You’re only 4cm, so maybe we’ll get you to walk around for an hour and then we’ll re-assess. Do you want anything for pain?”
I turned down the morphine and said I would wait for my epidural.  She tried not to raise her eyebrows at me, but she didn’t do a good job.  When she disappeared behind the curtain, I expressed my frustration to my husband:
She obviously doesn’t recognize me… This is a stupid plan. She didn’t even look at my prenatal sheets.  I would never send a para 3 woman who is obviously contracting and uncomfortable away to walk, especially when her last labour was only 5 hours.”

The nurse came back after a few more contractions had come and gone.  The contraction pattern on my NST was impressive, to say the least.  Thankfully, one of the other nurses must have told her who I was, and maybe also discussed a better plan with her.  The new plan was to admit me right away and get me an epidural… Oh, and she also mentioned that she “realized how she knew me…”

I walked down the hallway to my labour room, stopping twice for contractions.  I placed out my arm eagerly in anticipation of my IV start… step one to my epidural acquisition.  The nurse missed.   She couldn’t find another good vein, so she decided to wait for the anesthetist.  He couldn’t find a good vein either and it felt like an eternity before he finally decided to retry the hand where the original attempt failed.  My contractions were close now, and more intense than I could tolerate.  I asked for the gas – I needed something and I didn’t even have an IV yet – I began to fear the possibility that I would be delivering this baby without any pain medications on board.  Breathing was barely working. I may have swore.  That moment reaffirmed for me that women who gracefully deliver their babies without pain medication are my silent heroes.

The IV was finally in and we wasted no time in positioning for my epidural.  I was starting to feel pressure and the sounds I made with the contractions were the audible evidence of that.  Whatever was going on behind me didn’t matter, but I had seen so many of them done before that I could picture the steps as he was doing them.  I knew when he was threading the catheter into my back, and despite the pain of a contraction, I was relieved to know that the medication would come soon.

It took a few contractions to feel the effects of the epidural, but once it was effective enough, my nurse checked my cervix again.  9cm.  It was 4:15 and it was time to call my doctor.  I didn’t know who would arrive first: my doctor, my baby, or my mom – who was driving frantically from 3 hours away.  Baby El held out- I could feel the pressure of the contractions and waited for my water to break with each one.  My wonderful doctor arrived after 15 min, and my mom was 15 minutes away.  I asked her if we could wait to push until my mom arrived – and as wonderful as she is, she obliged.

Baby still held on and by 4:50 the party was ready to start.  My epidural was fantastic – maybe too fantastic – because I couldn’t feel a single thing, not even the urge to push.  But with great coaching and some determination, baby El came into the world at 5:15 Tuesday morning. With her tiny little peanut body, her head full of black hair, and her tight double nuchal cord (which we would have never guessed from her heart rate strip, but explained my need to push for 20 minutes), she was placed on my flattened belly for me to see.

There is no way to put into words that moment when you see your new baby for the first time.  She was beautiful and I loved her immediately.  Her cord was cut and I slid her up onto my chest, where she stayed for the first hour of her life.  We took many pictures while my placenta delivered, and I received the final piece of wonderful news: no tearing at all.  I could finally sit up in my bed and I cradled my beautiful baby El up against my breast.  She was eager to suckle and I helped her latch.  It was so surreal to be nursing my baby only 10 minutes after she was born.  After only 4 hours of strong, active labour.  Just barely longer than a day after I decided to listen to my body tell me that it was time to take care of myself and my baby.

Tomorrow Baby El will be a week old and my mind is mixed with one paradoxical feeling: it has only been a week of having her in our lives… but how has it only been a week?

 

Best Mother’s Day Gift

Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful Mothers out there!  I feel privileged to blog amongst all you amazing women!

My Mother’s Day this year will be one of the most memorable of my life.  Baby El was born quickly and without fuss early in the morning May 3. I don’t usually post pictures of my kids online, but today I will make my one and only exception. 

Happy Mother’s Day from both baby El and I!