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Friday, May 30, 2008

who's the sucker?

Last night, Stella cried out in the middle of the night. When I went in to check on her, she was kicking around and couldn’t get comfortable. This didn’t surprise me. How could she possibly be comfortable when her bed was filled with baby dolls and stuffed animals? There was hardly any room left for her.

I shoved the offending creatures to the floor and tucked Stella back into bed, and that’s when I heard it: a distinct scritching sound above us. I waited until Stella fell back to sleep, then I stood up on her bed and tapped on the ceiling.

The reply: scritch, scritch, scritch.

Oh no. Squirrels. In our attic? In the eaves?

For months this winter, I watched as a very fat squirrel made his (or her) home in the eaves of my neighbor’s house. From where I stood at our kitchen window, washing dishing, I could see him come and go with twigs and nuts and all sorts of nest-making materials. My neighbors, who were well aware of his activities, set up a trap in front of the hole he had chewed in their house, but they never caught him. I watched is he scooted around the trap, finally pushing it to the side, and I thought: how sad that this fat squirrel is making suckers of my nice neighbors.

And as I watched that crafty squirrel, I thought of Jo Ann Beard’s amazing essay, “The Fourth State of Matter.” This is one of my favorite essays of all time. If you haven’ read it, you must. It was originally published in The New Yorker and was later featured in The Best American Essays of 1997. It’s also at the heart of Beard’s collection of essays titled The Boys of My Youth.

The events of the essay took place in Iowa City at the same time I was attending Grinnell College (located a mere hundred cornfields west of Iowa City), and I distinctly remember walking into one of the dorm lounges and being stunned by the news coverage of the events that Beard describes in her essay. (I know I’m being vague here; I don’t want to ruin the essay for you if you haven’t read it.) I can say, however, that one of the essay’s main narrative threads has to do with a family of squirrels that made a home in one of Beard’s upstairs bedrooms. Her friend, a very tough former beauty-queen, comes and catches them for her.

I wish I had a very tough former beauty queen friend who could come and get rid of my squirrels.

This morning, I went out to investigate and sure enough, the little sh*ts chewed a hole in an eave, just as they’d done to our neighbors’ house. Who's the sucker now?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

don't be afraid of a haiku

You can be afraid of mastitis, but don't be afraid of a little haiku. Post your entry for the mastitis haiku contest here. The contest closes tomorrow (Friday) at 5 p.m. The winner receives a $10 gift card to This is big-time, people. How can you not enter for a chance to win?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

daddy bonding

I never worried about D bonding with Stella. He was with her in those moments after she was pulled from me, when the neonatologists were checking her vitals. He was with her after they placed her in an isolette and wheeled her up to the Special Care Nursery, where he sat and spoke to her softly through plastic.

Thirty-six hours later, after the call to my room saying that she was in respiratory distress, D was the one who walked next to her through the long tunnel connecting Abbott Northwestern and Children’s Hospitals. He was the one who read to her in the middle of the night and who changed her diaper when the nurses said it was time.

All the while, I was nauseous, spinning in and out of sleep.

Much later, when we finally brought Stella home, D was the one who could calm her. I was often at a loss. Nursing was frustrating on good days and left me in tears on bad days. Since the moment she received bottles in the hospital, she preferred them to breastfeeding. I ended up pumping and pumping, and D gave her bottles at 11 pm and 5 am each day. There was no question that D and Stella bonded—they bonded immediately.

With Zoe, everything has been different. I missed out on an hour with her as I was being sewn up after my C-section, but we have been together almost constantly since then. She would love nothing more than to spend the day nursing and snoozing in my arms. And since she refuses to take a bottle, D hasn’t been able to feed her, to connect with her the way he connected with Stella. Much of the time we are together as a family is divided—he is playing with Stella and I’m nursing Zoe. I imagine that this is the way it is for many families when the mother is breastfeeding: the other partner feels a little left out.

I’m not really worried about D and Zoe bonding—they will find there way just as Stella and I have found ours—but it is a challenge to find time for the two of them to be alone together.

With all of this in mind, it was so interesting to read Jennifer Margulis’ new book, The Baby Bonding Book for Dads, which she co-authored with her husband, James de Properzio. It’s a lovely coffee-table book filled with photos of babies and fathers and tips for dads on how to bond with their new infants. (They also have a blog--check it out!)

Many of the things they list as ways for dads to bond—kangaroo care, diapering, face time, and feeding—were things D did with Stella immediately because of her prematurity and her stay in the hospital. But if Zoe had been our first, would he have felt left out? Would he have felt at a loss to connect with her? I think he would have, and this book would have been a perfect gift for him.

There are so many books out there for expectant mothers—dare I say too many? But there are few that celebrate fatherhood and the special connection a dad can have with his new baby. I think this book helps fill that gap, and it would be a perfect gift for the expectant dads you know. I even found in it some good reminders for me: don’t feel stuck at home with an infant, take the baby with you and get out of the house! I also had forgotten this: that when a baby “turns her face to the side, she’s probably telling you she’s had enough…” Zoe loves to be on the changing table, kicking her feet and smiling, but I forgot this cue and think I’ve been keeping her “playing” long after she’s grown tired. Oops.

How have your partners bonded with your children? Has the way your partners bond changed with subsequent children?

Friday, May 23, 2008

mastitis haiku contest

In deference to the breastfeeding gods, I am hosting the FIRST EVER mastitis haiku contest right here at Mother Words.

How to enter: Think hard about mastitis. Write a haiku about it. Type your haiku in the comments field of this post.

Note: You need not have experienced mastitis to write a haiku or to win. I am enlisting my two sisters as judges. One has had mastitis, the other has not. Both love a funny haiku. The winner will be chosen Friday, May 30th and will receive a $10 gift card to Only one entry per person.

To get you started, I’ll leave you with this:

kate’s mastitis haiku

Breast and body ache
Plugged ducts, oh how I hate thee
Calgon take me now

I clearly expect to be outdone.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


On Saturday morning my dad came over to give me a hand with the little ones, and my choice was either to take a nap (which I desperately needed) or go for a run (which I also desperately needed). D was out of town again, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to run for almost a week, so I pressed myself into my two sports bras, and headed out the door. It was sunny and cool—the perfect weather for running, and as I plodded along the river road, I felt so calm. I thought about how glad I was that breastfeeding was so much easier with Zoe than it had been with Stella, and I thought about how I was finally getting the hang of two kids—how two now felt normal to me.

Well, a mere two hours later, on the way to Stella’s dance class, I started to feel some pain in my right breast. A plugged duct? Hmm. I wasn’t too worried about it, but when we got home, I soaked myself in the tub and tried to unplug it. No luck.

By 5 p.m. I had the chills and was shaking so much that my lips turned purple and I could hardly change Zoe’s diaper. (I kid you not.) By 5:30, I had a throbbing headache and a temperature of 102. I had heard how fast and furious mastitis was, but it seemed impossible to get that sick that fast. It felt like I had the worst flu of my life. I felt like I was going to die. I called my mom and burst into tears. (What if this interferes with nursing? Did it happen because of my tight sports bras? Why didn’t I take a nap instead of going for a run? Why did D have to be out of town?)

She said she’d be over as soon as possible.

I called my doctors, and the on-call physician agreed that it was mastitis and prescribed antibiotics for me. Luckily, a friend was coming over with dinner, and after making me some food (which I was too sick to eat) she went and picked up the pills for me. But then other worries set in: what if Zoe has a reaction to the medication? What if it makes her even gassier? What if I don’t really need them?

I was clearly very ill, though, and I remembered my sister’s horrible bout of mastitis, so I ended up taking the antibiotics (which I now need to take four times a day for two weeks). Another friend, who is a doctor, told me that the two main things I needed now were fluids and rest. “Kate,” she said, “you just started back to work and just started running again and you’re not getting enough sleep and Zoe isn’t even three months old yet.”

Oh right. I’ve been doing what I always do—too much. And even though I’m back to work only five hours a week, I’ve also been working on a freelance assignment, and there is my own writing—an essay with which I’m struggling—and then the details of keeping up the house, which now that D is traveling so much, fall primarily to me. Indeed, I’m doing too much.

So Sunday, I canceled everything, sent Stella to her grandparents’ house, and spent the day in bed. Warm breeze blew the curtains into the room as I lay next to Zoe on the bed, nursing her. I drifted in and out of sleep to the chirping of birds and the sounds of our neighborhood—lawn mowers and neighbors’ voices and the ice-cream truck tooling up and down the streets. And I realized I wanted to do this every day, all summer—lie in bed next to my baby, resting.

This won’t happen, of course. Stella will be out of pre-school in July and August, which translates into very little napping for me. And I do need to work—whether at this job or by picking up freelance projects—because we need the money. But I must find a way to balance it all without so much stress because I don’t want to end up here again—in mastitis hell.

What to do? What to do?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Road Map to Holland

I’m always on the look-out for good motherhood memoirs, but I was recently lamenting the fact that there aren’t that many out there. Some would have us believe that the market is positively flooded with them, that there exists a glut of so-called “momoir,” but it’s not true. There are, certainly, a number of fine anthologies available, but really good book-length memoirs by women writing about motherhood? There aren’t that many. (And this, you understand, is not because I don’t think they’ve been written, but rather because they haven’t been published.)

So imagine my joy when I picked up Jennifer Graf Groneberg’s Road Map to Holland, which details Jennifer’s journey as a mother after one of her twin boys is diagnosed with Down syndrome.

I had read Jennifer’s writing—she blogs regularly at pinwheels and ParentDish, has a column at mamazine, and was the editor of the wonderful anthology My Heart’s First Steps. I had forgotten, however, that her twins were born prematurely, so I was startled to find myself diving into the NICU in the first part of her book. She writes it well. I kept thinking, yes, that’s how I experienced it as well. It’s full of the disorientation and confusion and the trying-to-make-sense-of-it-all to which most NICU parents will relate. And as Jennifer learns about Down syndrome, I learn about it, as well. I learned it is not Down’s or Down Syndrome, but “a baby with Down syndrome.” She writes: “I understand the desire to find language that honors the spirit of the child, and that also includes the medical diagnosis…”

All good memoirs are about an author’s relationship with the subject at hand. Thus Road Map is not about Avery’s Down syndrome as much as it is about Jennifer’s experience accepting the diagnosis and moving past it.

Road Map to Holland is certainly is a must-read for all parents whose children have Down syndrome, but parents who have lived through the NICU, parents of twins, and I believe all parents will find something in these pages that will resonate with them. It’s about more than coming to terms with a Down syndrome diagnosis; it’s about adjusting a worldview, breaking stereotypes, and opening oneself to the possibility of finding love in unexpected ways.

I had a chance to correspond with Jennifer about Road Map, and what follows is our e-mail interview:

Kate: One of the things I strive for in my writing and admire in yours is your honesty. Was it difficult for you to get to an emotional place where you could lay it all out there?

Jennifer: Perhaps oddly, no. Part of my experience with Avery had been sorting through the mistruths, and the half-truths, to find what was real. It never occurred to me to offer anything but my very most honest thoughts about it all, because to do less would just add to the problem, as I saw it.

Kate: Now that Road Map is published, how does it feel to see your lives in print and have people react to your experiences?

Jennifer: It feels very raw and vulnerable; really, a lot like it felt when the diagnosis was still brand new.

Kate: The book is chronological, except for the very beginning where you begin the story, and go back and begin again, repeating the events that lead up to Avery’s diagnosis. For me, this disjointedness so clearly reflects what it feels like to have a child in the NICU (and what I imagine it would feel like to first hear your child has DS), and it increases the narrative urgency of the book. Can you tell me a little about this? Did you always know the book would begin this way or did this opening come later in your process?

Jennifer: It always felt like the way to begin. Telling the story in a straightforward way would make it seem as if things were more clear than they were: in the beginning, I felt very lost, very confused. So the story begins with that confusion, and circles in and around itself, sometimes going over old ground, then new, then back over old territory again, as I tried to find a foothold. That's what it felt like to me as I was experiencing it, and I wanted the writing to reflect these emotions. As I find my way, so too does the story, and it eventually lines out in a more traditional manner.

Kate: Who are some of your literary influences? Why?

Jennifer: I love strong women's voices, and for a long while now, I've been obsessed with literary nonfiction. But recently, at the recommendation of my mother-in-law Joyce, I read Lisa See's Peony in Love. Her lyricism captivated me, and I so enjoyed reading a story set in the afterlife, which is something only fiction can do. Maybe I'm switching loyalties?

Kate: Are you working on another book?

At the moment, I'm still working on Road Map. I know that it's almost cliché to speak about writing a book in comparison to having a baby, but to me, it really feels that way. And right now, I'm in the fourth trimester. I'm not writing this story any longer, but I haven't quite let go of it yet, either.

One thought that keeps flitting through my mind relates to education. As Avery grows, and we approach school-age, I'm finding more confusion and misinformation and even discrimination. I'm not sure that these experiences will gel into a complete book, but they are much on my mind.

Thanks, Jennifer, for taking the time to answer my questions and for writing this lovely book.

Monday, May 12, 2008

happy mother's day

It was beautiful here. D and Stella woke me up with a vanilla latte and a bowl of strawberries. Stella was very silly, dancing around the bed, singing, “My boootis, my boootis” as she shook her little tush. Then she collapsed, laughing. (Zoe was sleeping in her car seat and missed all the fun.) After the silliness, we went out for breakfast and to the garden store, where we bought a few plants for the front garden. Then I went for run, which, well, hurt because I’m really out of shape. But after the first ½ mile, it was as if my body remembered how to run, as if the rhythm of my gate had been there all fall and winter, waiting. I didn’t go much more three miles (probably less), but I felt completely high. Running is one of those things that I do alone, and I felt a little more myself with each step—it was the perfect gift for me on mother’s day.

I hope you all had a lovely day, as well, and that your darlings hugged you a ton.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

there is always something

Zoe’s hair and eyelashes are coming in. Her hair, a lovely auburn red, stands on end after a bath, and there are five or six long strands (each about an inch and half long) sprouting from the crown of her head. I admire their tenacity, hanging on they way do.

It’s odd to think back to the pregnancy and recall how worried I was—about her being full-term and healthy, and about the birth and whether I should have another C-section. It all seems so far away now—she is here, and I’m counting her lovely hairs.

But there is always something to worry about, isn’t there? Yesterday I took her in for her two-month check up and I felt so stressed out about immunizations. I’m not against immunizing, but I don’t trust pharmaceutical companies, and I recently read “The Needle and the Studies Done,” an article by Sari Weston in Brain, Child. It raised some concerns for me about the levels of aluminum in immunization shots. (I’m already paranoid about thimerosal in flu shots.)

The article, which I thought was very helpful, quotes Dr. Robert Sears and sites his new book, The Vaccine Book. He suggests that vaccines are spaced out, so an infant doesn’t receive, say, six shots in one day. Since no one has studied the effects of large doses of aluminum on infants, and many of the shots do contain aluminum, it makes sense to space them out, so your baby isn’t getting mega doses in one day.

I was a little worried about what our pediatrician would say. Would he think I didn’t trust him because I wanted to do things a little differently? But he was wonderful, as always, and agreed to space the shots out for us. It means we have to go in every month for three, but that feels so much safer than giving them all to Zoe at once.

That said, I still hate to give my kids shots. And the nurse yesterday seemed to man-handle Zoe, pressing her weight against Zoe’s legs to keep them still. It’s a problem if your kid is crying before the shot, no? But it all happened so fast, the pressing of her legs to the table, the shots, little Zoe wailing. I wish I had told the nurse to stop. I could have held Zoe’s arms and legs (she’s only 12 pounds—I think I can handle it), but I didn’t act quickly enough. And she just wailed and wailed.

I felt bad for the rest of the day, and kept checking on her as she slept, just to make sure she wasn’t having some weird reaction to the vaccines.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

8 weeks old

It's hard to believe that Zoe is already 8 weeks old. I'm not sure exactly how big she is, but it's somewhere around 11 pounds. She seems huge, wearing clothes that Stella wore when she was five months old! As hard as these infants months are for me, I feel myself grasping, trying to hold on to certain moments. How can I want time to move faster and slower all at once? How can I want to hold her forever in my arms at the same time I want her to learn to take a bottle, to give me a little breathing room?

I know these conflicting emotions have something to do with the fact that this is it for us, our last baby. And knowing this makes me want to somehow preserve the moments I love: holding Zoe to my chest as she sleeps, staring into her smiling eyes, pressing my lips to her so-soft temple.

This makes me think of Deborah Garrison's poem "Square and Round" from The Second Child.

It begins:

You moments I court --

Back of the head settled
in arm's crook,
rump in my palm,
the whole half of a body
just the length of my forearm,
small face twitching toward
repose. From the window
lamplight or moonlight slides
on the creamy forehead,
the new-bulb smoothness
at the temples both squared
and rounding, the flickering play
of shapes suggesting, mysteriously,
intelligence within...

It ends:

What was it, just
then, I swore to myself
I'd keep?

As though I could hold
a magnifying glass
to time

and slow its shaping

I love this poem. I love the whole collection.