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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

my anniversary

It’s true—I’ve been a blogger now for one whole year!

In a recent post I mentioned that I never really planned on being a blogger—blogging seemed like one more thing I’d have to add to my forever-expanding to-do list. But then I got lonely—writing can be so lonely and isolating—and I yearned for a sense of community, a group of other people concerned with reading, writing, and parenthood, so I started this blog.

I never dreamed how huge my community would become or the ways in which I would be nurtured by it—by all of you. So I just want to take a moment to thank you for reading and commenting and entering into a dialogue with me about writing and teaching and motherhood. Sitting down to write no longer feels like such a solitary endeavor. Thank you!!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

quick update

I just got home from seeing my doctor, and everything is still looking good with the pregnancy. My blood pressure is great. No extreme swelling yet. No protein my urine. Yee-haw! The baby actually feels enormous inside me, and every night after dinner she has taken to shifting or rolling, which makes my abdomen look alive. (I imagine this kind of thing doesn't interest most second-time mothers, but this is all a first for me. Crazy.)

I kind of hoped that my doctor would come down hard on one side of the VBAC/C-section question, but she didn't, and told me, instead, that she felt comfortable with whatever decision I decided to make. She really is a great doctor, and of course, this is all reassuring, but it means that I still have to make the decision and be able to live with the decision I make. My doc thinks I'll wake up one morning knowing what's right for me. I'm not so sure it's going to happen that way, but I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

losing kei

Thank you all for your comments on my last post. I still haven’t made up my mind about the C-section, but your stories and experiences have helped me relax a little about the decision. Thank you! I’ll see my doctor tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to talking through the options with her, as well.

But now, back to books. I had the pleasure of talking with Suzanne Kamata on the phone when she was in the U.S. a few weeks ago for the holidays and the release of her debut novel, Losing Kei. If you read this blog regularly, you know that I’m a fan of her writing and have used her essays in my Mother Words class.

Losing Kei is the story of Jill Parker, an American painter who settles in a small Japanese seaside village. Parker soon meets Yusuke, an art gallery owner, who takes an interest in her and her art. They fall in love and marry, but marriage to an eldest son proves difficult and their marriage is full of conflict.

Below is an interview with Suzanne:

Kate: Can you talk a little bit about how your process changes depending on whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction?

Suzanne: My process is basically the same regardless of genre. I write randomly, not beginning to end. I write scenes and memories that I find compelling and then figure out how to put them together. I do usually have a scheme or narrative arc in mind when I write, though I try to leave myself open to surprises. I actually had a different ending in mind for Losing Kei, but I realized it wouldn’t be realistic.

Kate: Because I’ve read a number of your essays, I can see some of your life experiences in the novel even though it’s clearly fiction. Do you ever run into people who read your fiction as nonfiction?

Suzanne: I think all fiction is autobiographical to some degree, and my fiction is no different. The scene in the first chapter of Losing Kei takes place at a real park near my home. In earlier drafts of the book I thought about giving Jill fertility problems, which I also experienced, but then I realized her marriage wasn’t strong enough to go through that. I was able to distance myself more in later drafts.

Kate: What kind of writing community do you have in Japan?

Suzanne: I’m in an odd position because I’m not known in Tokushima. Mostly I’m published in English-language magazines, so Japanese readers don’t really care about my work, and I’ve been gone from the U.S. so long that I don’t have a local community here either. I have a number of expatriate friends in Japan who read and write, however, and I have an online writing group with other expatriate writers there. I live on an island, which can be isolating, but I connect with people, and other writers, everyday via the internet.

Kate: Has motherhood changed you as a writer?

Suzanne: My subject matter certainly has changed. Motherhood provides great material, as you know. My writing time is also much more precious. I used to have evenings and whole weekends to write, but I actually got very little done. After I had kids, I realized there was no time to procrastinate. I became much more disciplined and learned to write in ten or twenty minute increments. This shortage of time also helped me turn off my inner editor. Before, I felt every word I put on the page needed to be publishable, but I stopped worrying about that, and I discovered that writing is much more fun when you’re not always worrying about publishing.

Kate: How do you balance writing and all the other roles you play—the life stuff?

Suzanne: Now that my kids are in school, I write during the day. I think my husband dreams that I would be a better housewife and a better cook—Japanese women seem to be cleaning from the time they get up until night—but I decided I wasn’t going to do that. So this regard, I’m sort of a failure in Japan. But I’m doing what’s important to me, and I remind myself that the day after I die, the dust will collect in corners anyway, so I might as well not worry about it.

You can read my full review of Losing Kei on mamazine. Order this book!!!

Friday, January 18, 2008

33 weeks and counting

This week, I passed the gestational point with this pregnancy—32 weeks and 4 days—at which Stella was born. Throughout the day on Monday, I thought: this is the point that day when they started the Pitocin; this is the point when Stella became distressed; this is when they said I’d need a C-section; this is when they put me on oxygen; this is when she was born; this is when I lay in bed, alone, without her inside me.

Often in September, the details of my pregnancy with Stella and her traumatic birth pop unexpectedly into my mind. The heat or the light or the leaves beginning to turn yellow will suddenly remind me of those days of fear and the trying months that followed. But it was different to live the whole day of 32 weeks and 4 days over again this week. I alternated between feeling weepy and anxious and feeling utterly relieved. It was as if I was in two time zones, living two lives, at once.

Tuesday morning I woke up more pregnant than I have ever been. How many people did I say that to throughout the day? More than were actually interested, I’m sure.

Now, I am 33 weeks pregnant. I didn’t really think I’d make it this far, but I told myself that if I did, I would start thinking about birth options—a VBAC versus another C-section. So here I am, worrying about something new.

I know there are plenty of people out there who are militantly pro-VBAC, and I understand why. I understand that the U.S. has obscenely high Cesarean rates. I understand the benefits to a baby’s respiratory system when it is born vaginally. But I also understand the 1-2% chance of uterine rupture with VBACs, and though I could read this as 98-99% success rate, I just can’t. There is a 1-2% chance of catastrophic results. And if I insisted on a VBAC, and then the baby died or was injured, could I live with myself? I couldn’t.

On the other side: I don’t want to be sliced open again. Spinal anesthesia scares me, even though I had it when Stella was born. (There is always that slight chance of paralysis, looming.) And I hate the thought of a long recovery period.

Maybe the question I need to answer is how important is to me that I have a vaginal birth. Do I feel I need to experience this? I’m not sure that I do.

The truth is that I still have post-traumatic stress surrounding Stella’s birth. I haven’t even let myself think of the actual birth of this baby, and now that I am thinking about it, I can’t stop the flood of images from my labor and ultimate C-section with Stella. I can’t stop the images of the NICU, of my baby with tubes and wires snaking from her body. I can’t stop the image of me, rubbing antiseptic foam in my hands under bright light, the numbers on the monitor up and down, up and down.

So here I am, going back and forth, worrying again, still. Here I am with a decision to make. But making a decision means owning the results, and I’m too scared to own anything. I don’t have enough energy left to own anything.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

good news

First, I want to thank all of you for your support and kind words (about this pregnancy and more generally about what I post here).

It's funny. I never really wanted to be a blogger, but I thought it would be "good for me," so almost a year ago, I started this blog. Because of it, I've discovered such a wonderful community of writers and readers and mothers, pondering the same issues, raising important and often difficult questions. I feel less alone in my endeavors as a parent and teacher and writer. So it indeed has been good for me, but I also really love it. Thank you for that.

And I have good news about the pregnancy: my blood pressure is still great and there is no protein in my urine. I had a non-stress test yesterday and Baby seems just fine. My doctor agreed that I should come in every week now, and this is also a huge relief. I feel I can worry a little less if I know they are keeping a close eye on me. So, I'm going to do as you suggest: worry then let it go, and begin practicing a little denial (or positive thinking): this will be a full-term baby)!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

pregnancy update

I'm 31.5 weeks pregnant now and seem to be healthy, though I am beginning to swell a little. This could be normal pregnancy swelling, of course, but it could also be the beginning of preeclampsia. I've begun weighing myself every morning, and D. checks my ankles and wrists every night for signs of serious edema. (I know, aren't we fun?)

I'm going in today to have my blood pressure and urine checked. If my blood pressure is fine and my urine is clear of protein, I'll breathe a sigh of relief. At this point with Stella, I weighed 15 pounds more than I do now (mostly water weight, though I didn't realize it at the time), and I had begun to leak significant protein into my urine, indicating damage to the small blood vessels in my kidneys. (My blood pressure was normal with her until the last minute, when it skyrocketed.)

A good report today would be a huge relief, but frankly, I'm tired of all of this. I work myself into a frenzy of worry, am relieved when I get a good report, but then I begin worrying again almost immediately. I tell myself I'm just being vigilant--I know how fast you can get sick from preeclampsia--but maybe I'm simply justifying my worrying.

I wish I were more laid-back. I can't stop the preeclampsia from happening, so why worry? But doesn't the worrying make me more vigilant? Is there a way to be vigilant without worrying? I've been anxious for um, 7 months, and I'm exhausted.

Friday, January 4, 2008

anti-mommy: more than a phase

Stella has always preferred D. to me. I’m not being modest or anything. She was born a daddy’s girl. Even in those early, horrible months when she refused to nurse, and I’d be pumping and try to get her to calm down, I couldn’t. I would coo and rock and sing until finally D. showed up and would rock her for a minute. She’d calm immediately. (Or that’s how it seemed to me. There were, of course, those weeks when she’d been crying all day and he would get home from work and she would continue to cry for a couple of hours as he paced our small living room, exhausted and irritated.)

Oh, I’m so glad we’re doing this again.

At three years old, Stella would say, regularly: “No mommy, you can’t come. I’m going with daddy.” She’d say: “Mommy, you can’t play. I’m playing with Daddy.” She’d say: “I love you, but I love Daddy the best.”

Stella is now almost 4 ½, and things haven’t changed much.

The truth is I’m jealous. Why can’t it be me she loves most of all? Why can’t I be the one she chooses?

I tick off reasons that she prefers D.: he’s not home as much as I am; he’s more fun, throws her five feet into the air on the front lawn, lets her jump into his arms from the high climber at the park; he lets her chew gum every time she rides in the car with him. (I impose more limitations, and certainly now I’m not much fun at all: I can’t run or jump or go sledding or participate for more than a minute in a dance party. I have to take naps regularly.)

But though I try to justify her daddy preference, sometimes it makes me so frustrated I want to scream and cry. A couple of times, on days I was spent and tired, I actually did cry.

I’ve talked to friends about it. One of my closest friends, a psychologist who doesn’t have children yet, offers support. “That would really hurt my feelings,” she says. “How do you deal with it?” She gives me permission to feel bad, which I do. But I usually feel as though it shouldn’t bother me. This is just part of parenthood right? The whole Electra thing? This is normal.

I try a combination of cajoling and guilt with Stella: That hurts mommy’s feelings. Do I talk to you that way? How would you feel if I said that to you? I guilt her into loving me, and this makes me feel like a horrible parent. Toughen up, I tell myself. This is how it’s going to be when she’s a teenager. But this thought simply heightens my dread.

The holidays have been horrible in terms of her daddy-love. D. was around for almost two weeks straight and I was told to go play in the other room. I was subjected to screaming tantrums on my nights to put her to sleep. Her favorite, repeated, line was: “I’m going ice-skating with my daddy, but you can’t come.” Then she would pause and smile slightly. “You can’t come because you don’t have skates and because of the baby.” Tricky little shit. She was right on both counts—I don’t have ice-skates and I’m not about to get on the ice at 7 months pregnant.

I actually found myself being bratty and petulant right back at her—an example of my fabulous mothering skills.

But then something happened. On Wednesday, D. had to go back to work, and I had the whole day with Stella. I had agreed to buy her some special stickers because she has begun falling asleep without one of us lying down with her. (I know, this should have happened um, two years ago. Whatever.) So we went out to run some errands for my grandpa, and I let her pick two sheets of Barbie stickers. (What, does this sound like a bribe to get her to love me? Nonsense.)

We took the groceries to Grandpa, chatted and ate doughnuts with him, then headed home, where we discovered that if we pressed the stickers together, they made sparkly Barbie coins. (If you want to try this at home, note that you need, as Stella says, “stickers that are both puffy and hard.”)

We proceeded to play (for two hours) a very intricate trading game in which Stella ended up with the most sparkly of the sticker coins, and I ended up with the small square and rectangle ones. When D. got home, he played one round with her, but then she said, “You know, I think I want to play with mommy. It’s more fun.” Hallefuckingluiah!

I gloated. I preened. I’m totally immature.