Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Arlene Baylen Brandeis 1939-2009

I can't believe I am posting such a painful announcement so soon after sharing the joy of Asher's birth. We found out on Monday that my mother killed herself. We are all still in shock. You can see her here holding Asher for the first time. I'm so grateful to have the sweet weight of this warm baby in my arms now--he's keeping me grounded through all the chaos.

Grief, it turns out, is a lot like labor. It comes in waves, completely involuntary. Sounds come out of your mouth that you didn't know you could create. But of course labor leads to beautiful new life, and this--I'm not sure what this leads to yet. It's still too fresh, too raw. I am not ready to share details, but ask for your good thoughts. Thank you.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Asher Brandeis

Born at home last night at 10:33pm. 7 lbs, 6 oz, 20 inches, and with eyes hungry to take in the world.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

starry night

A couple of nights ago, I woke up to pee (as I do just about every hour) and couldn't get back to sleep, so I decided to go outside with hopes of seeing the meteor shower. I haven't been outside at three in the morning for a long time, and it was a revelation. Redlands is darker than Riverside at night (less streetlights, perhaps) so stars are much more visible here--nothing like being out in the desert or the mountains, of course, but all the major constellations were sharp and bright as I stood with my head tipped back, lots of other stars twinkling inside and around them. The silence and the vastness of the night enveloped me; what a relief to feel connected to something bigger than myself.

The end of pregnancy is such an inward-focused time. Life churns along, but it's hard to focus on much else other than the moment to moment sensations--all the twinges and aches, Asher's sweet movements (and the worry when I haven't felt them for a while)--not to mention all my fears and excitement about impending labor and birth. It's easy to feel so vulnerable during this time; that was only amplified when my 19 year old son was hit by a car last week while he was biking. He's thankfully okay--just banged up--but it was a stark reminder of how quickly life can change, how precious and precarious is our time on this planet. Labor and birth bring us right up against that precariousness. My friend and mentor Alma Luz Villanueva wished me a glorious "trip through the center of the Cosmos" and I thought that was a perfect image for birth--we go into the hot molten center of the earth and out into the vastness all at once.

Standing outside in my rented back yard, looking up at the stars, I started to feel more fortified for that journey. It started to feel less about me, about my own little life, my own little fears (that can feel so big) and more about being connected to the greater cycle of life. I didn't see any meteors that night, but I felt like one, myself--something temporary, just passing through, hopefully blazing a little on the way.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

a tale of two pumpkins

The one I carved

and the one I grew.

Hope you had a great Halloween!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


It was very heartening to read this quote from Edwidge Danticat, on how becoming a mother has changed her as a writer: "When your life is layered in a certain way," she said, "you have more in your soul to go to."

As I worry about juggling everything once the baby comes, it's lovely to think of life's new layers in an expansive way rather than a limiting one. More in the soul to go to--I love that.

I added an unexpected new layer to my life today (or at least an unexpected story to tell): I got smacked in the face! Today is Michael's birthday--happy birthday, love!--and we went out to dinner to celebrate. As I was walking back to the table from the restroom, the manager of the restaurant, happened to gesticulate while facing away from me, and his hand flew back straight against my mouth. It was more startling than painful; I thought I was fine, but as soon as I got to the table, I started to cry and then laugh and couldn't stop alternating between the two for quite a while. I felt a bit unhinged--the whole thing was very absurd, but it brought out weird feelings of vulnerability in me. I find myself feeling deeply protective of my pregnant body, so I suppose any breach in safety strikes some primal chord. Eventually I calmed down and we had a lovely dinner, and the manager was very apologetic--he said in his 30 years of restaurant managing, he's never smacked a woman in the face before (a pregnant woman, at that!) He comped my meal, and Michael's birthday dessert, and now I have more in my soul to go to, so it all worked out.

May 36 be the best year for you ever, sweet Michael. You'll have to wait a few weeks for your real present to arrive. :)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

white hair

My recent posts have been about really lovely things in my life, and while I want to celebrate those things fully, I feel a bit disingenuous because not everything has been rosy around here. I have been having a very difficult time with my 15 year old daughter; I don't want to go into specifics out of respect for her privacy, but needless to say, I have been sprouting a lot of new white hair and have been questioning my parenting a lot lately.

Many of my pregnancy books have sections on preparing your older children for a new baby in the house, but those generally talk about how to deal with toddlers. None of them delve into how to balance a new baby and a defiant teenager. Michael and I are taking a class on parenting teenagers once a week (we're the only people in the group also taking a childbirth preparation class once a week!) and while it's giving us some good tools, I still feel lost and overwhelmed. I trust this phase will pass, but I also know I can't just sit back and wait for that to happen. I tend to be such a go-with-the-flow person, but sometimes the flow is out of whack and decisive action needs to be taken; I keep coming up against my own limitations--I am not a disciplinarian by nature, and am having to stretch myself in ways that are uncomfortable but hopefully will lead to growth for everyone involved. We shall see. Any advice and/or commiseration would be well appreciated--it's always helpful to hear from other people who have been through something similar. Thanks!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Remind me to stay away from Indian trains when I'm about to give birth

See why here (thank goodness those babies survived!)

a tale of two showers

Asher is a lucky boy to be born into such a wonderful circle of family and friends. I know I'm grateful to be part of such a circle.

I've had two baby showers over the last two weeks--both intimate, meaningful events. My friend Nancy organized a shower/mother's blessing at her home on the 4th; she and the other women assembled treated me like such a queen, washing my hands and feet with rosewater, brushing my hair, massaging my neck, singing to me. Each woman presented me with either a poem or story or blessing; each woman also brought a bead which we strung together to make a necklace that I'll wear in labor so I can feel a circle of women supporting me through the experience. My mom chose a bead with a large hole in the center, saying that it would help me visualize dilating "10 meters"--we all had a good laugh imagining that (and hey, it can't hurt to visualize opening that wide. Michael joked later that Asher would come sailing out in a tug boat!) The women also each brought a candle which they'll light when I'm in labor. You can see everyone's hands on my belly here.

This past weekend, a family baby shower was part of a larger weekend celebration for my dad's 90th birthday. Relatives came in from all over the map; it was such a warm, loving weekend, full of connection and laughter and a reminder of how important it is to spend time as a tribe. It's been quite a while since all four of my dad's kids have been in the same place (along with cousins--some of whom showed up as a surprise--and other loved ones) and it felt so good, so right. We made a plan to get together on a yearly basis, just because, even if we don't have any major life events to mark. I want Asher to know all of these wonderful people and am eager to have this yearly gathering to look forward to; it makes me very happy that in the meanwhile, he'll get to enjoy clothes and books and toys and other goodies chosen for him by family members who are so eager to welcome him into the clan.

My dad (who, by the way, is probably the most amazing 90 year old you'll ever meet) talked about how family was a constant presence when he grew up in Chicago--he had tons of relatives within blocks of each other and they spent much of their time together. Now most of those relatives are gone; he is the second oldest of those who remain. I know he aches when he thinks about how scattered we now are geographically--how hard it is to all get together. When it does happen, though, it is such a deep joy. I found myself crying as I drove away from Oceanside last night; my life feels very quiet and small today. I keep reminding myself that the circle is still there--it's just wider, more expansive, than it was when we were all together. And the love at the center is just as strong.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Wild Things

Last night, Michael and the kids and I went to a special pre-release screening of Where the Wild Things Are to benefit 826LA. Dave Eggers, Spike Jonze, Catherine Keener and Max Records (who plays Max in the movie) were all on hand to discuss the film--it's always cool to get a behind the scenes look into how something is created (especially something so many years in the making.) The movie was darker and sadder than I had expected, and I found it deeply moving. I know it wasn't just the film that touched me, however.

As I sat next to my beautiful teenage kids--who I rarely get to see at the same time these days--I couldn't help but think about reading Where the Wild Things to them when they were small. Arin will be 19 next Monday, but I can still hear his little toddler voice reading along with me so clearly--he especially loved the part where the wild things "roar their terrible roars and gnash their terrible teeth and roll their terrible eyes and show their terrible claws", and would always say the last line of the book "and it was still hot!" with great relish. It's so wild how quickly time passes, how Arin is a grown man now, in college, with a life of his own; I am so proud of the person he has become (and the person he has always been) but sometimes I miss those yummy toddler days.

Of course Asher was thumping around in my belly as I was meditating on the passage of time, the cycle beginning anew. Much of the movie was about the complicated, often tender, mother/son relationship, and it makes me wonder who this little person is, what our connection will be like. The film was honest about childhood emotions in a way that few movies are--it explored the loneliness and rage and heartache that children can feel so acutely (all beautifully portrayed through Max Records' expressive face) and I felt a stab of what I can only describe as grief thinking about some of the feelings Asher may have to face in his life. I only hope that he will grow up feeling safe and loved, and that even if he goes into those dark places, he will know that he has a family who is there for him, both for solace, and for the rejuvenation of a good wild rumpus.

Monday, August 31, 2009


This has been such a profound year of change--I suppose it is only fitting that now we're adding moving to the mix. This week, we're packing up our things and Saturday, we're moving to Redlands, about 15 miles away, my old college stomping grounds. There's a bit of a full circle to all of this--I moved away from Redlands when I was 8 months pregnant; 19 years later, I'm moving back to Redlands, 6 months pregnant.

Both moves were financially motivated, in a way--19 years ago, we were evicted from our apartment after Matt was laid off from his construction job and we fell behind on our rent. We moved as much as we could out of the apartment before it was seized and padlocked, leaving things like our vinyl collection (including a Talking Heads album signed by David Byrne) and much of my college work inside, beyond our reach. Michael and I are not facing eviction now, but I have lost my work at UCR due to the economy, and he's received a 10% pay cut, and the rent on our beautiful house in Riverside is more than we can comfortably handle. We found a place that's almost $500 less a month in Redlands--it's not nearly as charming, but it's a sweet little house with a big yard and should be a cozy, affordable place to land. We were actually hoping to buy--Michael's eligible for a no money down VA loan--but the market is so competitive in Redlands right now, everything that's in our price range ends up receiving dozens of bids. There's a chance we'll be able to buy this rental, which would be a wonderful opportunity, but right now, I'm just glad we're going to be in Redlands at all.

Money isn't the only reason we're moving. Hannah goes to school in Redlands, and the commute is half an hour each way, which means that I'm in the car for about 2 hours every day that I drive her. This is not something I wish to continue once the baby arrives. So it will be much much easier for her to get to school after we move--she can even ride her bike--plus, she'll be closer to her friends, which is so important (and will probably be even more so when there's a baby in the house.)

I've been in nesting mode but have resisted nesting here, since we'd been hoping to move before the baby is born. It will be lovely to be able to settle into the new place and start getting ready for the birth and beyond. As we looked at houses, one of my main questions was "Can I imagine giving birth here?" I'm happy that we've found a home that seems like a great place to begin this next phase of our adventure.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

sleep deprivation

I understand now how sleep deprivation can be used as torture.

I have never been a good sleeper, but somehow I have been able to get by on little sleep over the years. Waking up every hour to pee during this pregnancy leaves me pretty exhausted in the morning, but I have been able to push through it and function pretty well. This week, though, I hit a wall. I was up most of Monday night, having strong Braxton-Hicks contractions; I've been having more of them lately, and they were feeling more intense than usual. I got myself into a bit of a tizzy that night, worrying that I was going into preterm labor, so between the anxiety and the contractions and the constant peeing, I got maybe an hour or two of sleep at the most. Tuesday, I was a total wreck. I was pretty much in tears the entire day, aside from moments when I pulled myself together enough to get some work done. I cried when I wasn't able to nap. I cried throughout my prenatal checkup, even though it ended up being reassuring--my cervix was tightly closed, not thinning; the baby's hearbeat sounded good; aside from being a sleepless wretch, I was healthy and not in labor. I cried on the way home, unable to stop the flood, even though I felt deeply relieved. And later that night, when, after a series of miscommunications with my daughter, I had to shop for camping supplies after 10pm, and the only place that was open was a WalMart--which I normally boycott--20 minutes away, I lost it. I was so tired at that point, I could barely keep my eyes open as I drove, plus I was sobbing, and once I stepped into WalMart all red-eyed, I was completely overwhelmed by the florescent lights and the rows of gaudily colored synthetic fabrics and my own moral distaste at being there, and I could barely move.

Fortunately, I was finally able to reach Michael by phone--he had been at a rehearsal--and he drove out to the store to join me. I sat on a bench in a daze while he knocked items off of Hannah's list and did whatever he could to get me to smile. When I got home and saw that Hannah hadn't done what she had promised to do to prepare for her school camping trip, I lost it all over again. Michael gently led me to bed, where I wanted to be able to just fall into oblivion, but instead I kept crying, softly but insistently as Michael tried to comfort me. And just as I thought the tears were subsiding, a giant wail ripped through me. Suddenly, all sort of inhuman sounds flew out of my mouth--I felt like a wild animal as I cackled and squalled and keened, totally out of control. I've never felt anything like it--it was as if some pocket of grief and pain opened up inside me and came rushing out through my throat. I could almost see it leaving my body, like a fire breathing dragon. It felt wonderful and horrible all at once, cathartic and terrifying. Afterwards, I felt much better and was finally able to sleep. I'm still exhausted, but I feel like a human being again; a sense of calm has returned to my center. I'm not really sure what happened that night, but it was clear that something needed to be released.

I'm taking calcium and magnesium now at bedtime, which is supposed to help both quiet the contractions and quiet the mind; hopefully it will do the trick. My mom asked if there was anything she could do to help--I told her she could hit me over the head with a frying pan, but surprisingly she won't take me up on my offer. Last night, I actually had a three hour stretch of sleep--the longest uninterrupted span I've had in a while--and even though I was up for a couple of hours in the middle of the night, I slept another couple of hours after that, so I think I'll be fine for the day. Hopefully whatever demon I unleashed Tuesday night is gone for good (maybe I had been briefly possessed by an evil spirit in the Miley Cyrus section at WalMart; it seems plausible--that store has some nasty energy!) I hope everyone out there is rested and refreshed; I hope one day I will be again, too!

Friday, August 21, 2009


Last night, I dreamed that I was on a plane with Asher, who was in my arms, maybe a month or so old. I was having a bad allergic reaction to something on the plane, so the flight attendants put me on a ledge outside the door, thousands of feet above the earth. I had to hold on to a railing with one hand and Asher with the other, and at some point I wasn't sure I could keep my grip on either one, with the cold wind whipping around us. I started to bang on the airplane door with one of my feet, yelling "Help! Let us in!" thinking that allergies were a much less worse fate than plummeting to our doom, but I was told they couldn't open the door mid-flight. They would, however, make an emergency landing in Finland, where we could get on another plane. The dream is a bit fuzzy from there, but I remember how good it felt to put my feet on solid earth again.

Flying while six months pregnant was much less fraught than the dream, but it had its legs swelled up like water balloons on both flights, even though I drank a lot of water and tried to get up and walk around a fair amount (easy to do, since I had to use the restroom about every 20 minutes, thanks to all the water, and Asher using my bladder as a trampoline.) I've heard women talk about their ankles disappearing during pregnancy but I had never experienced that before, other than on these flights (and a while after landing.) It's a very strange sensation. And Asher either really liked or really hated the sensation of take off and landing, because he kicked like crazy when the pressure changed.

Our honeymoon/familymoon was wonderful, though, full of good food, good theater (from Billy Elliot on Broadway to the most charming and brilliant one man show at the NY Fringe Festival), good people (I wish I could have seen all my New York friends while I was in town, but our time was so packed, it was impossible to fit everything in. I'm grateful for moments with my brother and sis-in-all, as well as my agent and my editor at Ballantine, all of whom were wonderful.) We had our own little apartment in the East Village, one of 20 vacation rentals owned by a non-profit organization that feeds the homeless in the area, so it felt as if we were really living there, not just visiting. I miss being able to walk down the street and pick up Himalayan food or Jewish deli or the most amazing vegetarian Thai food I've ever tasted (spicy watercress "duck", hello! And lychee rice pudding brulee, made with coconut milk...heaven.) We had a chance to explore so many different parts of the city--I feel as if we got a good, thorough taste of the Big Apple (Michael had never been there before, so it was a great introduction for him, and Hannah and I got to see a lot of the city that we had never experienced before.)

We had a couple of scary moments--we got fake mugged after bowling in Harlem (not something we expected to do while we were in town, but my brother was shooting a show for AMC there and used us in the background as extras.) We had just gotten into a cab to head back to our place when a guy flung open the driver's door and shouted "Give me all your money!" Our hearts were pounding like mad until (and for quite a while after) the driver started to laugh and told us the guy was his brother. Not a cool joke. And in another cab ride, a drunk and very belligerent guy started to punch the car as we were stuck in traffic, and then started to assault our driver through the open window. Michael said "Hey, man, there's a pregnant woman in here", and then the guy started to scream at and lunge toward Michael's window (proof that not every one defers to the sanctity of pregnancy--or reason, for that matter.) Aside from these moments, it was a fun, delicious, satisfying trip. I'm glad we were able to get away before the baby comes and travel will be more complicated (although hopefully we won't ever have to cling to the side of an airplane!)

Monday, August 10, 2009

off to the big apple

We're about to head out to the airport (hopefully they'll let me fly with my big belly--I keep thinking about that scene in Away We Go where they don't let Maya Rudloph's character fly, even though she's only six months along--just about where I am now.) I'm not sure if I'll have a chance to blog on the road; if not, see you here when I return!

Since the link I tried to share to the wedding photos didn't work earlier, I'll leave you with a few family shots. The first is my family (my kids, my parents, my sister and her family), the second is Michael's family (his siblings, nephews, parents and stepmother, plus our sweet flower girl, Lily), and the third is everyone together, along with friends who were part of the wedding.

Have a wonderful week!

Monday, August 3, 2009

not swine flu

A couple of days after reading how swine flu is particularly devastating for pregnant women, I got sick. Of course, I imagined it was swine flu, and I was going to end up in a coma and spontaneously abort and experience every other horrendous known complication and some that haven't been recorded yet--ah, the morbid imagination of a pregnant woman! Thankfully, I just have a particularly nasty cold that morphed into an even nastier sinus infection. I haven't been this sick in a long time. Michael was really sick, too, but is a couple of days ahead of me in the infection-cycle and is doing much better now, so I have hope that I'll be feeling fine before our honeymoon (which will really be more of a familymoon, since Hannah is going to join us. We're going to New York from the 11th-16th. Since we first met doing a Broadway musical, albeit a community theater version, it makes sense that we should go to a real Broadway musical--in this case, Billy Elliot--to celebrate!) Part of me is enjoying the illness-imposed downtime--life has been so hectic lately, I think my body was telling me it was time to take it easy for awhile--but I would enjoy it a lot more if my head wasn't throbbing and leaking.

Before I got sick, Hannah and I went to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in LA to see some sketch comedy. I was in line for the bathroom before the show started, and overheard a couple of women in the audience talking. One of them said, "If it's a boy, his name will be Asher", which blew me away. I almost turned to them to tell them that the baby in my belly is named Asher, but didn't want to seem like the creepy eavesdropper that I am, so I just kept it to myself--and then tried not to seem like a creepy eavesdropper when I realized that Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss was standing right in front of me in line. Her sweetie, SNL's Fred Armisen, a featured performer in the show that night, came up and gave her a kiss and looked at her with such love in his eyes, it made me very happy for them both; they seem like such a sweet couple. According to stories online, they're engaged, but it looked like he was wearing a wedding ring. Anyway, that's enough gossip mongering and namedropping for now. Back to good old fashioned names...

Hearing about this other potentially impending Asher, I wonder whether there is going to be a sudden wave of Ashers in the world. When I named Hannah, I never imagined there would be a surge in Hannah popularity (I was very surprised to find three Hannahs at storytime at the library when she was a toddler). According to a baby name website, Asher was the 206th most popular baby boy name last year--not too widely used--but it has been rising in popularity since 1990, so we shall see if our Asher is one of many in the sandbox.

Speaking of which, my eyes feel like they're full of sand, so I should sign off and rest my non-swine-flu-infested body a bit more. Hope everyone is staying healthy and happy!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

wedding poetry

You can see the poems we incorporated into our ceremony over at my other blog, Fruitful.

Monday, July 27, 2009


So much has happened since I last posted. I've been wanting to blog about all of it, but haven't had the time or the energy. I don't really now, either (I should be asleep!) but thought I'd give you the basics.

One big thing: I found out that the person squirming around in my belly is a boy. So lovely to be able to talk about him as "him" now, to be able to call him by name (we're going with Asher, which means happy and blessed in Hebrew. Hope you don't mind having an Asher on the West Coast, Deborah!) He's been very active lately--he often presses against my hand when I touch it to my belly, like a little dolphin surfacing for a treat. My sister was present at the ultrasound, which made it even more special. I didn't find out the sex of my other babies before their births, so this was a very new experience; I sort of expected the big reveal to happen at the end of the appointment, but almost immediately, the technician said "I see outdoor plumbing." You can see that cute little plumbing, along with what I assume is a cute little tuchus and some bright dots of sit bones, here (please forgive me for posting this, Asher!) Asher gave us a good look at his anatomy, since he was folded in half, his feet up by his head. I can't wait to see that sweet little body in person!

Another big thing: I got married on the 19th! It was such a beautiful day--I am still in awe of how everything came together (thanks to the generous, creative help of our family and friends.) We wanted to avoid the whole wedding industrial complex, so the wedding was very personal--almost everything we incorporated into the ceremony, from our clothes to the rings to the wreath on my head, was handmade, mainly purchased from artisans through We supported local businesses whenever possible (the dinner was catered by the Indian place where we have lunch on a regular basis, and the beautiful cake, studded with marzipan pears, was made by a woman who runs a business out of her own kitchen.) My mom made a gorgeous table full of appetizers, my niece Mollie baked most of the Danish wedding cookies, my sister braided the hand-fasting cord, and our friend Nancy really made the space beautiful, through fabrics that she brought from home and ones that she helped us find in the LA garment district (she even made the bag for the glass that Michael stepped on at the end of the ceremony). Her wife Jenn was a fantastic help, as well, taking me to pick up the chuppah with her Jeep, and helping me select and pot the plants for the centerpieces. Our friend Sabrina made my beautiful necklace and the matching ornaments to weave around the stems of our toasting flutes. Michael's family was amazing in helping us both set up and clean up (as well as hosting the rehearsal dinner.) Our friends Kris and Karen provided stunning music for the ceremony (plus Karen and her jazz ensemble rocked the reception) and our friend Susan was a graceful and wise officiant. In my sleepy state, I know I'm neglecting to acknowledge other people who made the event so smooth and joyful, but needless to say, I'm grateful for every single person who put their hearts and hands into making last Sunday such a meaningful day. It was a truly communal celebration. And a sustainable one--we used all biodegradable plates, cups and utensils, and had favors studded with wildflower seeds that guests could plant in their own gardens (we have a few left if any of you would like me to send you one--just let me know.)

Michael and I surprised everyone by doing part of a song from Annie Get Your Gun, the musical where we first met and became friends, during the ceremony. It was fun to give everyone an unexpected show (we didn't give any clue of it during the rehearsal the night before.) I love how the ceremony incorporated music and poetry along with Jewish, Danish and pagan tradition, plus food (my kids and niece and Michael's younger siblings passed around the Danish wedding cookies and sparkling pear cider during the "cakes and ale" ritual). A glorious day altogether (Asher seemed to like it, too--he gave me some serious thumps during the ceremony!)

There is so much more I could write, but I need to stagger off to bed. For now, I'll leave you with a link to a slide show that Nancy put together of pictures from the day. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

breaking open

At the closing conversation of the Antioch residency (which, as always, was so rich--inspiring and energizing even as it was physically exhausting) I mentioned how moved I am by how people at Antioch are so willing to break themselves and their work open again and again. It takes bravery to step outside our creative boxes, to move toward the things that scare us, to be ready to let go of ideas (and often whole drafts) that we've become attached to. I watch my students do all these things, and learn so much from them in the process.

The last couple of years have broken me open in so many ways, and it's been terrifying and destabilizing and exciting and grounding all at once. I find myself doing things I never ever imagined I would do in my lifetime--getting remarried so soon after a divorce (not to mention getting divorced in the first place), having a baby 19 years after my first, etc. It hit me a few days ago that I had seen myself as a mother of two ever since I was a little girl--I had always said I wanted two kids, even when I was very young. It's a bit weird to shift my identity to encompass being a mother of three now. Strangely, over the years, many people have told me they thought I was a mother of three and expressed surprise when I said I just had two kids--I have no idea why; maybe they saw this future baby hovering somewhere around my head. Now that this baby is a reality, I am having to expand my idea of who I am, what the shape of the rest of my life will be. And I hope, like my students at Antioch, I will approach these changes with openness and bravery and curiosity, not to mention a good dose of humor.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

parting shots

I'm about to take off to teach at the 10 day Antioch MFA residency, but thought I'd leave you with some images from our aforementioned garden. Here you'll see one of our green zebra tomatoes. Michael took a bunch of photos of the various fruits and veggies growing in our yard and set up a Flickr site (click here to view all the pics. You'll see that it's labeled as "Michael Brandeis' Photostream"--that's because he's taking my name.) :)

If I can post during the residency, I will. If not, have a wonderful and delicious 10 days!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

full time

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that I don't know how pregnant women can work full time. Michael teased me about this a bit, since I work more than full time--I guess I should have qualified that I meant working full time outside the home. It's hard to gage how many hours I actually do work per day, since it all kind of flows together--right now, I'm teaching at two universities (most of the work is online for Antioch, other than the residencies in June and December), writing for CODEPINK every week, copyediting one novel (my copy edits arrived from my publisher one day after I turned in revisions for another novel to another publisher), trying to get some fresh writing done, plus trying to have a life outside of work (which right now includes planning a wedding.) I often begin working as soon as I get up, and am up working until 1am--of course I'm not working every hour in between, but my day always features a constant weaving in and out of work. It is all stuff that I love and I'm grateful to have every opportunity that's been presented to me, but I don't always do a good job of juggling everything, or keeping clear boundaries between work and life. I'm pretty sure I've blogged about this before, so forgive me if this is repetitive, but it's something I return to again and again; I often have spans of time (such as right now) where I feel like I'm not doing enough in any sphere--I'm not doing enough as a mother, as a partner, as a daughter, as a sister, as a friend, as a writer, as a teacher, as an activist, as a human being, even as a blogger--I feel so stretched thin, as if there's not enough of myself to give to all the people and things I love. But of course even as I'm feeling pulled like taffy, I am growing fuller and rounder every day; I well with joy when I think about meeting this baby, but I worry that if I'm overwhelmed now, what will happen when a newborn is added to the mix?

My plate will be a bit less full when the baby is born--UCR can't bring me back next year because of the budget crisis, and I'm going to take a term off from Antioch after the birth--but money is an issue, so I'll be teaching online for UCLA, promoting new books, etc. The calm pool at the center of me trusts that it will all work out, that my life will expand to hold everything that needs to be taken care of, that support will be available when I need it, but the whirling part around that still center can't help but worry. I worry that I won't be able to give myself over to this baby as fully as I did when my older kids were born. I hear a lot of moms who had kids many years after their firsts say that they were much more patient with the babies they had later in life, but I worry that I'll be the opposite. When Arin and Hannah were little, I completely surrendered to motherhood (to a fault--letting them pull my hair because I figured it must feel really satisfying to them, that it was something they needed to express and experience, and I held back expressing my own discomfort in the process); I wrote, but there wasn't an urgency to it--I mostly just wanted to be available to my kids and was happy to write whenever I found a spare moment or two. I want to be available to this baby, too, of course, but I've grown more protective of my time, and know that I'll have to find ways to carve some for myself and my work (and say no to the hair pulling!) I've never been good at creating boundaries--I have a feeling that it's something I'm really going to have to learn to do this time around. That in itself may become a full time job!

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Every few months for the last 13 or so years, I've had strange bouts of intense abdominal pain and vomiting. I wrote about this on my other blog, Fruitful, after I was hospitalized for a particularly nasty episode last October. We still don't know the cause, although I recently had a negative test for porphyria, a condition I was originally diagnosed with when I was 19. Whatever the root may be, it's a thoroughly sucky experience. But now at least I have a new way of dealing with it.

I was up most of last night with doubled-over pain, cold sweats, etc. I have a couple of medications that can take the edge off, but I found conflicting information online about whether or not they are safe during pregnancy--a bit scary, since I had taken one of them during my last episode, when I was newly pregnant and didn't know yet--so I decided to avoid them for the time being. I tried deep breathing to get through the pain, telling myself it was good practice for labor. I even tried blowing raspberries, which iconic midwife Ina May Gaskin recommends, especially during the pushing stage (I am totally digging her book, Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, by the way--if you are pregnant and only want to read one book, this is a good one!) I finally started to throw up around 5am. After the sound woke Michael, we decided to call our midwife, Karen, and see what she thought about the different medications. She assured us that one of them appeared to be safe during pregnancy, but then she also offered a non-medical option, as well.

We had mentioned to Karen that one doctor had thought these episodes might be the result of abdominal migraines, so she suggested we try an old migraine remedy: super-heating the hands and feet. She said it helps redirect blood flow and can provide relief. So Michael ran hot water in the tub and I sat on a towel on the edge of it, hunched over so both my hands and feet could be immersed. It was a bit uncomfortable, so Michael put an upended drink bucket in the tub and I sat on that instead. At first my belly griped at being folded over, but the hot water on my hands and feet was nicely distracting, and then eventually relaxing, and before too long, I was able to stumble back to bed and sleep for a few welcome hours. I am pretty wiped out now, and have a bit of residual unrest in my belly, but overall I feel so much better, and I didn't even take any medicine.

I was already happy about our choice of midwife, but I feel even more pleased about it now--Karen has such a wonderful mix of compassion and knowledge (plus she's an activist who helped lobby for legalization of midwifery in California.) If she can help me so thoroughly over the phone through one of these episodes, I know she'll be a superstar at the birth.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I am usually on campus at UCR from 10-2 on Tuesdays, but yesterday I stayed a few extra hours so I could attend readings by graduating seniors from the creative writing department (you did a great job, everyone!) Afterwards, I told a couple of my lovely students that I had stayed past my "pregnant lady naptime"--I usually crash after I come home from campus (I honestly don't know how pregnant women can work full time--those four hours at UCR, as enjoyable as they always are, tend to slay me). One student challenged me to blog about napping--I was too tired to write anything when I got home (sorry, Brian!) but I'll try my hand now.

In my normal, non-pregnant life, I am not a napper. I am not much of a sleeper, in general. Sleep and I have always had a complicated relationship. Sometimes I could nap if I was sick, or on the first day of my period, but for the most part, sleep has eluded me during the day. Napping while pregnant, however, is a different story entirely. Especially this time around.

I still have a complicated relationship with sleep--namely, I'm not getting enough of it. I often stay up too late, and when I do fall asleep, I wake up every few hours (sometimes every other hour) to pee. I know this is preparing me for the baby, for all those nighttime nursing sessions, but it's hard to appreciate that when I wake up feeling like a zombie. Napping is often essential.

Just as hunger is different while pregnant--often a sudden, roaring thing--tiredness is different while pregnant, too. It sweeps over me like a sand storm, hitting me with an almost violent force. If I resist it (which I try to do too often) I start to feel as if my whole body is going to shatter. And when I give in and lie down, sleep tends to overtake me quickly. It's like falling into a deep dark hole, one that can be hard to climb out of. I wake up groggy and disoriented, and often wonder whether the nap helped at all, but once I'm up for a few minutes, the fog clears and I feel refreshed (or at least less tired than I had before the nap.)

When Arin and Hannah were babies, I was never good at following the wise "nap when they nap" advice, even though neither of them slept much during the night (hence neither did I.) I have a feeling that when this baby comes, I'll be much better at napping along with it--these older bones need more rest than they used to. Then again, maybe I'll be back to my old resisting sleep tricks--baby naptime is always such a good chance to get stuff done, and I always have so much to do. But if those naps hit me like a locomotive the way they have been lately, well, I won't be able to do anything but give in...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

joke time

I saw this joke on Jennifer Weiner's blog (submitted by her mother's friend and book club member, Lynne Hawkins) and had to share it here:
With all the new technology regarding fertility recently, a 65-year-old friend of mine was able to give birth. When she was discharged from the hospital and went home, I went to visit:

"May I see the new baby?' I asked

"Not yet,' she said 'I'll make coffee and we can visit for a while first."

Thirty minutes had passed, and I asked, 'May I see the new baby now?'

'No, not yet,' she said.

After another few minutes had elapsed, I asked again, 'May I see the baby now?'

"No, not yet,' replied my friend.

Growing very impatient, I asked, 'Well, when can I see the baby?'

"WHEN HE CRIES!' she told me.

"WHEN HE CRIES?' I demanded. 'Why do I have to wait until he CRIES?'

I've gotten more forgetful lately, but hopefully won't ever get that forgetful in my "advanced maternal age"! I have to say, seeing news items about pregnant 66 year olds is making me feel like a spring chicken in comparison (even though technically, I am still considered an "elderly gravida.") I'm feeling less nervous about the pregnancy and forthcoming birth in general now, probably because I've passed the 12 week mark, and also because we finally have found the midwife we want to work with (more on that later, but suffice it to say, she's wonderful.) Now, I really need to get back to work (if only I can remember what I'm supposed to be working on...)

Friday, May 22, 2009


I have always had a black thumb. I love plants, and long dreamed of having a lush garden, but somehow had never been able to translate that into reality. Years ago, when my kids were little, we had a plot in the community garden at Family Student Housing at UCR, but our patch never really took off. I think we grew one anemic watermelon and a couple of stunted cucumbers, but that was about it. Thankfully our neighbors were generous, letting us pluck their candy-sweet cherry tomatoes (especially delicious when warm off the vine), and giving us baskets of squash and eggplant.

This spring, Michael and I decided to try our hands at gardening together. We attended a class on edible landscaping, did a bunch of reading, talked with friends who were also planning gardens. It was exciting to see how many people we knew were making this leap into growing food--we even found out that the people who moved into my last house started a local organization, Growcology, dedicated to educating the public about organic gardening and sustainability. One dear friend used being laid off from her teaching job as an opportunity to follow her dreams and start her own regenerative gardening/permaculture business. I love being part of this upswell.

We planted corn, beans, peas, lettuce, eggplant, peppers, honeydew, cucumber, loofa (which I had always thought was a sea sponge, not a gourd!), pumpkins, sunflowers, onions, and four kinds of tomatoes (like the true writer geek I am, I chose two of the varieties of tomatoes based on my books coming out next year--yellow pear tomatoes for PEARS and Abe Lincoln tomatoes for MY LIFE WITH THE LINCOLNS.) Some we started from seed, others from seedlings from the nursery and the farmers' market. It was right around the time that we were doing all this planting that--unknown to us--the baby was conceived. It feels fitting that the baby began when so much other life was germinating around us.

Not all the seeds took, and some of the plants withered quickly in the sun, but many others have taken root--the stalks of corn are growing tall and sturdy, the peppers and eggplant and peas are blossoming, and we've already been able to harvest some of the lettuce. Onions that we had given up on started to push through the soil weeks after we expected them to--some cucumber plants popped up weeks after their sister seeds, as well. The tomatoes are especially exciting, the vines tall and shaggy and full of green fruit. The green zebra tomatoes were the first to start burgeoning, and it's been so lovely to watch them grow rounder and fuller as my belly starts to get rounder and fuller, too. It makes me feel part of something bigger than myself--part of a deeper cycle. Such abundance!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

egg and cheese

Sometimes I get on laughing jags, totally slap happy, hard-to-stop fits of giggles that make me feel slightly insane, but are also incredibly cathartic. I remember freaking out a classmate in high school when we were having a study session together because I wrote down "weaky" instead of "weak" and I couldn't stop cracking up. It seems to be happening more often lately--perhaps it's hormonal?

Here is the latest thing that has had me laughing for two days, even in the midst of my concern about the spotting (I had trouble falling asleep last night because I couldn't stop convulsing with laughter. I think Michael was quite worried about me, actually--he looked a bit alarmed when I woke up this morning and started giggling afresh.) I doubt it will seem as funny in cold black type, but here goes...

I was talking to my sister a couple of nights ago on the phone; we often talk about food, so I mentioned that I had made latkes for dinner. She asked if I had served them with sour cream and applesauce, and I told her how Michael had been unable to find organic apple sauce at the grocery store, so he had come home with a jar of baby food organic applesauce. Except I didn't say "jar of baby food"--I said "food of baby jar". And I didn't even notice what I had said until my sister and Hannah both pointed it out to me. And then the hysterics began. My sister said that she was sweating, she was laughing so hard, and my stomach was hurting from laughing so hard, but it felt so good--after being so worried about a different part of my belly, it was wonderful to take the focus upwards for a while.

After we started to regain our senses a bit, my sister told me how when she was in town recently, she and our mom were talking about the process of making babies. "All it takes is an egg and cheese," my mom had said by accident. And of course the hysterics bubbled right up again. Now the words "food of baby jar" and "egg and cheese" keep popping into my head and I dissolve into laughter. I'm sure it's one of those "had to be there" things, but if you run into me and I start giggling like a fiend, you'll know why....

Monday, May 18, 2009

baby's first portrait!

It is so amazing to realize there is a face inside my belly. How wild is that?!

I went in for an emergency sonogram today because some spotting started up again yesterday, along with some weird feelings of pressure. My kind family doctor ordered the ultrasound after we weren't able to get an appointment with an OB. As I mentioned before, I never had an ultrasound with my earlier pregnancies, and I wasn't able to see the screen when I had an ultrasound three weeks ago, so this was my first experience actually seeing life move around inside me. I was filled with relief and awe as the heartbeat came into view, as the technician (who was also incredibly kind) pointed out elbow and stomach and chin and foot on the grainy, shifting screen. We got to see the baby stretch its tiny legs, and turn around so we could see its sweet spine.

The technician asked me to pee before she switched from the abdominal ultrasound to the (shudder) transvaginal one. As I walked to the bathroom, I had the strange sensation that I had left the baby in the testing room, that the baby just existed on the screen. It took a moment to remember that the little squirming creature was actually right there, inside of me, coming along for the ride.

Later, the technician showed us an image of the baby's face--you can see it here (as a photo of a photocopy, so not the clearest image, but doesn't it look like the baby is grinning?) Somehow seeing the face made something shift in me. I suddenly let myself be happy. I've been happy about the pregnancy before, but it's been a guarded happiness, a cautious happiness. I've been so nervous about losing the baby, I haven't let myself be fully happy about the baby. But seeing it float around, seeing its heart beat, seeing its little face, filled me with a true, deep happiness that lasted for hours. Of course something could still happen, but I'm grateful that I was able to let myself be taken over with the wonder of this new life and let fear fade away, at least for a while.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bad Mother: an interview with Ayelet Waldman

Mama, Redux is certainly no Fresh Air or Today Show, but we all have something in common: we scored interviews with Ayelet Waldman!

I've known Ayelet for around six years; we met at Readerville, a lively (and at times life saving) online forum for readers and writers, and became friends sharing stories about thrush and purple nipples. The first time I went to her house, she was tethered to a breast pump--a pretty much constant state of being for her those days, as her baby Abe was having trouble nursing due to a malformed palate. Ayelet chronicles this trying period of her mothering life and explores everything from girls' Halloween costumes (sexy witch or cereal box?) to her painful decision to terminate a pregnancy after learning the baby had a rare chromosomal abnormality, in her kick ass new book, Bad Mother.

Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities,and Occasional Moments of Grace, is a swift, nourishing read--funny, honest, moving, galvanizing. Using the controversy involving her infamous New York Times essay about loving her husband, author Michael Chabon, more than her children, as a launching pad, Ayelet delves into why we as mothers can be both so hard on ourselves and hard on each other (when Ayelet was on Oprah, a woman even lunged at her, saying "Let me at her!" Toward the end of the show, though, Ayelet had opened most of the audience's eyes to the true heart of her essay: children will eventually grow up and leave the home, but the relationship with one's partner will ideally last a lifetime and needs to be made a priority). The book raises important issues about feminism and motherhood and ultimately makes it clear that we as mothers need to give ourselves and each other a break.

I'm so thrilled that Ayelet was able to take a moment in her crazy schedule and answer a few questions, especially for a blog with an audience of dozens instead of the millions she's become accustomed to of late. :)

G: It’s been quite a month for you…Fresh Air! Jamming at the White House! I've been so excited to see the attention you and your book have been getting. How are you and your family holding up? What have been the highlights (and lowlights, if any) of the last couple of weeks? And did you get to talk mothering with Michelle Obama?

A: Alas, I got to say about a word and a half to Michelle. Most of which consisted of me blathering on with tears in my eyes about how proud I was to have them in the White House. Very original. She's never heard that before. Oh the Power of Words.

My kids are just about sick to death of me traveling, freaking out about getting my picture taken, etc. My baby (six now) wants me to stop getting my hair blown out, but how the hell am I supposed to trust my curls to behave? Can't frizz out in the East Room.

G: Why do you think mothers can be so hard on ourselves and each other? What do you think it will take for our culture to shift toward being more supportive of mothers, in general?

A: It will take a monstrous change in society. Women are anxious because of the way our society is structured. For things to change we need to basically become Sweden with 16 months paid maternity leave, reliable and inexpensive child care, less of an emphasis on excessive accumulation of wealth. Work needs to be a place you can leave at 5:00 without sacrificing your ambitions. And men need to shoulder half the responsibilities of home life.

Don't hold your breath.

G: I’m curious to know whether you see any parallels between writing and mothering. I know I often feel as if I’m not doing enough in either sphere. As a writer, have you experienced any of the same feelings of guilt, unreasonable expectations, etc., (not to mention outside judgment) that you have as a mother? If so, how do you work through that (and how do you suggest other writers deal with similar feelings?)

A: Wow, I've never thought of that, but it's so true! I beat myself up about my work almost as much as I beat myself up about my mothering! I have no good advice. I NEED good advice.

G: You do a beautiful job of infusing politics into your writing, both your novels and your non-fiction. I’d love to hear your thoughts about how writing and politics (and mothering) intersect in your life.

A: Politics pervade who I am and what I do. I really do believe in that old saw "the personal is political." Who our president is changes my experience of the world, it shapes the lives of my children. How we treat one another in society is reflected in how we treat one another in our families. It's everything and everywhere.

Plus, I have a really really big mouth and I like to air my point of view as loudly as possible.

G: I so admire your honesty in this book. Is there anything that you find yourself shying away from in your work, or have you given yourself total free reign as a writer?

A: I would never say anything ugly about my husband or my children. I've read essays in which the authors blast away at their spouses. I'd never do that.

G: Any final words of advice for mothers out there (especially mothers who write)?

A: Make the time for your work. Even if it's only an hour a day. Carve out a space, force your partner to help you, and if you don't have a partner, beg, borrow or steal the money to pay for a sitter. The biggest threat to a writer's work is her life. Life sucks up all the air and unless you force yourself to find a tiny bit of breathing room, you'll never get anything done.

* * *

Thank you, Ayelet, for your generosity and humor and insight. I know that your book is going to help mothers (and mother writers) relax, to let go of ridiculous expectations we carry around for ourselves and one another so we can remember to take a deep breath and appreciate this wild journey. Enjoy the rest of your own adventure as your book zooms around the world!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mother's Day

Pregnancy brain strikes again! I thought for sure I had already blogged about CODEPINK's Mother's Day plans, but it appears that I have not (perhaps I got confused because I'd written several action alerts and a couple of failed op-eds about the weekend event and must have figured I had written something here, too.)

I really wanted to go to Washington, DC for the Mother's Day weekend to join my CODEPINK sisters for the 24 hour peace vigil in front of the White House--an inspiring schedule full of storytelling and music and poetry, along with education and discussion about how we as women can most effectively say No to war. I was especially excited by the idea of the peace cozy--we set out a call for women to knit pink and green squares that, when stitched together, would ultimately spell out "We will not raise our children to kill another mother's child" at the White House gates. As you can see from the picture above, it came together so beautifully (and epically! I think that it's going to end up in the Guinness book of records!) I love thinking about hundreds of women all over the world sitting at home or with circles of friends, knitting these individual squares; I love thinking about how their hands, their hearts, their voices are now woven together into one gorgeous, powerful, object, one "cozy" that speaks to our desire for a more peaceful future for every single one of our children. Unfortunately, I realized I couldn't afford the time or money to travel this weekend, plus I was a bit wary about flying in the first trimester (thankfully the spotting has stopped, but I still feel vulnerable). Even though I wasn't there, it makes me so happy to know how my CODEPINK co-madres gathered to honor the original intention of Mother's Day and raise awareness about alternatives to war.

Plus, it turns out I had one of the best Mother's Days ever. Certainly better than last year's, much of which I spent crying about my divorce. What a difference a year makes! I went out to brunch with Michael, my kids and my parents, along with Michael's mom and sister and nephews. Afterwards, my parents went home so my dad could continue to recover from his cataract surgery (which, much to my relief, went incredibly well), and the rest of us went on a spontaneous trip to a nearby "family fun" park for mini golf and laser tag and other assorted amusements. It was such a treat to see my kids having so much fun--they spend so little time together these days since my son lives with his dad, and is so busy with college, work, cycling, etc. To watch them play together like they did when they were little was good soul food for me (although I have to admit I got a little queasy when I watched them on the tea cup ride--they made it spin faster than any teacup I've ever seen before! Arin said he felt as if he had entered some vortex to another world. They were a crazy blur. We actually had to pick up Dramamine for Hannah on the way home, but she said it was worth it. ) I had to sit out the go carts and laser tag and teacup because of my "condition", but I had a fabulous time. The kids and Michael and I capped off the holiday with a rousing game of Scrabble once we got home. A truly beautiful day all around. And even though I didn't use the day to work for peace, I felt peace in my family, in my heart, and I know I can tap into that in my future peace work.

I hope all mamas out there had an equally wonderful Mother's Day! So wild to think that if all goes well, I'll have a five month old next Mother's Day...

Saturday, May 9, 2009

preggo shuffle

In a scene in Away We Go, Maya Rudolph (who was wonderful in the movie, by the way, and so funny and lovely in real life) is watching an old Kathy Smith pregnancy video. It cracked me up because that was the tape I worked out to so earnestly during my early-1990s pregnancies. The "Preggo Shuffle" at the center of the tape--Kathy Smith's lame attempt at rapping--was always cringe inducing, but I used to sing along to it anyway (and tried to in the theater, but Hannah shushed me with horror when I gleefully started to chant along with "You get much more from your pelvic floor when you pass on the bagel and do one more kegel!") I have to say that seeing this video makes my first two pregnancies seem much longer ago than anything else has!
I picked up a prenatal yoga dvd recently--I have yet to use it (hopefully soon!)--and wonder if it will look as dated in 19 years. Somehow I think yoga has a longer shelf life than pastel-unitard-ed aerobics, but we shall see...

Friday, May 8, 2009

away we go

Last night, Hannah and Michael and I drove into LA to see a pre-release screening of Sam Mendes' new film, Away We Go, as a benefit for 826LA, the wonderful community writing center inspired by Dave Eggers' 826 Valencia in San Francisco. There are now 826 offshoots around the country, offering free writing workshops and after school tutoring for kids, often fronted by cool, quirky shops--a pirate supply store in SF, a time travel shop in Echo Park, etc. I taught a Writing from the Senses workshop at the original 826LA in Venice a few years ago, and Hannah has taken a couple of classes there, so we've experienced the power of 826 first hand, and were happy to be able to support it through this event.

The movie was written by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, and stars John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph. All of the aforementioned people (plus Catherine O'Hara, who plays John Krasinski's mom) were present for a panel discussion after the film. Michael got to the theater--a great vintage Egyptian-themed movie house--early (we took separate cars so Hannah and I could stop in some vintage stores in LA before Michael had to leave work) and was able to grab a spot near the front of the line, so we ended up with first row seats. Not the most comfortable for movie viewing--we had to slouch with our heads tipped back to be able to see the screen--but amazing for the panel discussion afterward. We were so close to everyone, we could have played footsy with them (and in fact, at some point, much to our amusement, Catherine O'Hara dove off her chair and lunged between Michael's legs! We weren't sure what was going on at first, but then she picked up his 826LA flyer, which had fallen to the ground, and used it as a fan for the remainder of the panel. When the discussion was over, she very sweetly thanked him and returned the flyer. Plus I caught John Krasinski--who seems like a real sweetheart--checking out my daughter, which I admit was a very strange feeling!)

The reason I'm writing about the film on this blog instead of my other more general one is because of the film itself. Away We Go is about a couple expecting their first baby; they travel around the country during their 6th month of pregnancy, trying to find a place to land and raise their child. It is a charming, moving film, full of humor and heart and some of the sweetest, most honest depictions of relationship that I've seen on screen in a long time. The movie explores (and pokes gentle fun at) the parenting spectrum--everything from holier-than-thou continuum parenting to not-so-benign neglect--and beautifully captures the confusion and hope and fear and joy of a couple on a life-changing journey toward parenthood. It felt like the perfect movie to see both as a pregnant mama and mama of a 15 year old girl (Hannah loved it. Plus, she has been reading Dave Eggers' book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, this week, and was excited to be able to get it signed. And the fact that John Krasinski checked her out--well, that's something she said she'll tell her grandchildren about!) Michael loved it, too--it's definitely not just a chick flick. And it delves with open eyes into some painful issues (especially losses such as miscarriage and the death of parents and abandonment) along with the cute stuff.

Away We Go will be released (in just a few cities, I think) on June 5. I highly, highly recommend it. You can watch the trailer here:

Monday, May 4, 2009


I'm a big fan of word games--Scrabble and its off-shoots, especially (even though my son always kicks my butt; I swear, he should enter the Scrabble tournament circuit!) I always have a few Scrabble or Wordscraper games going on Facebook--it's like my non-coffee coffee-break. Moving letters around seems to help me cut through the haze of pregnancy brain (or, as my sister calls it, placenta brain) but sometimes the fog takes over, anyway.

I was recently playing Wordscraper with a friend who is also pregnant. On the chat that goes with the game, she had posted "My rack is like Old McDonald's farm." I thought she meant her breasts were growing barn-animal-like because of the pregnancy, so I posted something like "Mine is more bounteous, too, although I started out small garden variety, so I'm not close to farm proportions." It wasn't until a couple of hours later that I realized she meant her rack of letters held something like EIEIO, and she probably had no idea what I was talking about. I couldn't stop laughing the rest of the day--it makes me wonder what other things my hormone-addled brain has misinterpreted!

Friday, May 1, 2009


It was so wonderful having my sister here--a too short, but deeply sweet, visit.

On her flight to California, she was seated next to a guy who worked in defense sales; she said it was wild to have creation and destruction represented in one row. He was a bit taken aback when she told him what she did for a living; he couldn't seem to understand why anyone would want to have such a job (she's actually wanted it for a long time--when she was little, she said she wanted to be the "doctor who pulls the babies out"!) After a while, he turned to her and asked in hushed tones if it was normal for him to look at his wife differently after witnessing her giving birth.

"Do you mean because it was so awe-inspiring to see your wife do something so powerful?" she asked.

I'm sure that's not what he had in mind, but he said "Um, yeah."

She said "I'm sure you didn't know her body had that kind of power. It's hard to look at someone the same way when you've seen them do something so incredibly awesome."

I love how she reframed his question; I hope that her words helped him see birth and his wife in a brand new light! My sister is so amazing--she definitely helps me see things in fresh, clear ways. I'm so glad she'll be back in July; otherwise, saying goodbye would have been much more difficult.

BTW, Michael and I were supposed to meet with the local midwife yesterday, but he came home from work sick and didn't want to expose her to anything. I'll let you know how the rescheduled visit goes next week...

Monday, April 27, 2009

two videos

It's video day over at Mama, Redux--I just had to share these two YouTube finds.

The first one comes via my sister. It's a mattress commercial from Spain that features a beautiful, powerful home birth. Can you imagine if such commercials were shown in the States? It would revolutionize how birth is viewed in this country--it would help our culture see home birth as something natural, something normal, something safe and loving. Not that I expect that to happen any time soon, but at least we can circulate this through the blogosphere and open a few eyes and minds and hearts:

The second video is a little ditty called "Pregnant Women are Smug" by one of my daughter's favorite bands, Garfunkel and Oates. While I have to say these adorable singers don't speak for me, it's a nice reminder to not take myself too seriously (or smugly!)

Friday, April 24, 2009

heartbeats and drive throughs

I had my first prenatal check up today. It was a very bizarre experience--I had used midwives with my first two pregnancies, but because of my age and because of some concerns based on my previous birth experiences, I (despite my truest inclinations) thought I might need to be more medically monitored this time around. My family doctor, who I trust, suggested a local woman OB, and told me that patients he has sent to her love her.

I did not love her.

When she came into the room, after Michael and I had been waiting for over half an hour in the exam room--me in the broad-shouldered paper get-up they had given me that looked like some sort of Star Wars Empress costume--she shook my hand, but didn't even acknowledge Michael's presence. Her whole visit was curt and impersonal; Michael called it a "drive through exam". She did an ultrasound without telling me that's what she was about to do--I was open to it, even though I've never had one before, but it would have been nice to have been informed first; it took her awhile to find the baby--so nerve wracking--but eventually, she said "There's the heartbeat." This was a huge relief, of course, but she didn't turn up the sound so I could hear it and she was standing between me and the monitor, so I couldn't see anything. When I tried to sit up to get a look at the screen, she said "You can't see it" and turned the machine off. I imagine she meant I wouldn't be able to identify the images, but it sounded as if she meant I wasn't allowed to look.

Another frustrating thing--she told us that the two local hospitals where she has privileges wouldn't let me have a VBAC, even though my second birth was a VBAC (my son was born by emergency C-section). If I want to try for a VBAC, she'd have to refer me to a doctor in Loma Linda. It makes me so upset to think that women have no choice regarding VBACs in local hospitals; I'm not sure who to talk to about this, but I am definitely going to find out.

I'm glad that we went this morning--it was good to know the baby's heart is beating and to hear that the doctor isn't concerned about my spotting--but it was discouraging to know that this is the current standard of care. Michael said that the experience was even worse than the time when he went to an urgent care center with a bad respiratory infection not that long ago, and they gave him a brochure titled "I Have a Cold Just Like Mommy and Daddy"! Today's appointment definitely helped me realize that even though I have concerns, I don't want to medicalize this pregnancy and birth unless it proves to be absolutely necessary. Of course this something I knew intuitively, but I had been listening to my fears instead of that deeper place. I guess this is where the trust I talked about in the last post comes in!

After we got home, I called a local midwife and made an appointment for this coming Thursday. She talked to me over the phone for almost half an hour, and as she spoke about her practice and encouraged me to ask questions, I felt my whole body relax. This is the kind of care I was hoping for--personal, patient, the kind of care that honors a woman's journey toward birth and doesn't just treat her like part of an assembly line. Of course if there are complications, I will turn toward whatever help is needed, but for now, I feel like the right decision is to stay as far away from hospitals as possible.

My midwife sister is coming into town tomorrow (YAY!) and will be returning just about every other month through this pregnancy for various family functions (and hopefully for the birth!), so I know that I'll have the best adjunct care imaginable. I am a lucky mama indeed.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Egg, Nest, Trust

Our friends Nancy and Jenn hosted a beautiful solstice ritual in late March, focusing on birds as the central metaphor for spring. As part of the event, they walked around the circle with a stack of Bird Signs cards; we each drew one and then looked in the companion book to see what our specific card meant. I closed my eyes, let my fingers fall upon a card and pulled it from the deck; when I opened my eyes, I realized I had drawn three cards instead of one. I started to put two back, but Jenn smiled and said, "That means you're supposed to have all three."

It turned out the three cards I had chosen were Egg-Birth, Nest-Grounding, and Quail-Trust. Several people laughed and said "interesting", as if they knew something I didn't. Of course now I know I was pregnant at the time, but I had no clue then; it seemed somehow people were picking up on it, though. A couple of weeks later, when I told Nancy the news, she said she wasn't surprised, based on those cards.

I've been having some light spotting lately--nothing major, and according to everyone I've consulted, perfectly normal, but it's still very scary. I've been so focused on what the Egg-Birth card represents and am realizing now that I need to dig deeper into those other ideas that presented themselves to me. I need to find more grounding to help process the fears swirling around inside, and need to trust that my body knows what it's doing. That whatever happens--positive or negative--the nest of my body will support me through it, as will all the people who have already given so much support and love on this unexpected journey.

Friday, April 17, 2009

reading (breeding) material

When I was pregnant the first time, I couldn't read enough about pregnancy and childbirth. I had stacks and stacks of books, everything from the ubiquitous What to Expect when You're Expecting to Spiritual Midwifery (parts of which were hilariously dated--I remember a caption under a photo of a newborn that read "What a little stoner, so fresh and new"--but I loved the book; it was filled with good, reassuring inspiring information. And I was tickled by how the midwives in the book called labia "flaps.") I lent the books to a pregnant friend years ago; that friend moved away and sadly I never saw her or the books again. I may try to replace a couple of my favorites (I especially miss A Child is Born, a book I grew up with; it's so cool to be able to see the different stages of fetal development. I think I'm at the stage where the baby looks a bit like a tiny frog.)

So far, I've only picked up two belly-related books--one on vegetarian pregnancy, and one about pregnancy and beyond called My Mother Wears Combat Boots: A Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us, by Jessica Mills. My daughter saw me reading the latter, and had a good laugh. "I don't think you're exactly the right demographic for that book, Mom," she said. She definitely doesn't see me as a hip mama.

I felt myself get a little defensive. "The author's a touring musician and activist," I said. "I'm a (sometimes) touring writer and activist. I wanted to see how she balances everything."

"But you've done this all before," she said. "You know how it works."

I'm not sure I do. When Arin and Hannah were born, I had begun to publish in journals, but hadn't established myself as a writer yet. I didn't have to worry about book tours/teaching/etc. I had the luxury of being at home with them full time, writing when I could, not having to worry about any external obligations. This time around, I'll have two books coming out within months of the birth, I'll be teaching online within weeks of the birth, I'll be juggling the needs of a newborn and a teenager, etc. I'm not sure a book has been written about all of that yet. But it does help me to read how other women navigate their own lives as mothers and artists, and I am always grateful to learn from women who can help me understand what's going on in my body and what I can do to nurture the life growing within me (in this regard, it also helps so much to have a midwife in the family who I can call whenever I have an urgent question. And of course, now there is the internet, which didn't exist when I was pregnant before--but that's a whole other post.)

I'd love to hear about your favorite pregnancy books--there are so many new ones out there now. Which have you found most inspiring/informative/relevant?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The green slime is here

This morning, my toast looked like it had snot smeared on it. Or some sort of bilious goo. Toxic slime, perhaps. A little green, a little gray. Not the most appetizing looking breakfast, but it actually turned out to be quite tasty. Enter hemp seed nut butter into my life.

My sister, a midwife in Toronto, recently recommended hemp oil as a good vegetarian source of Omega-3s. She told me to avoid flaxseed oil (the main go-to Omega-3 for vegetarians), since it's been known to cause pre-term labor. I had been feeling good about my decision to drink Omega-3 fortified soymilk, but when I looked at the label, of course it contained flax. So now I have a jar of nutty, oily green-gray goo in my fridge and some little black Omega-3 capsules made of algal oil that create some strange-tasting burps, but hopefully will help build the little one's brain.

I was glad to find this green slime poster (from the year of my birth, no less) but I think its grammar is going to drive me crazy. Shouldn't it be "The Green Slime IS Coming"? Either way, the green slime is here and it turns out to be not so terrifying after all.

Pregnancy Anxiety Dream #5

The actor/comedian Eugene Levy tells me that he impregnated me in my sleep and the baby is actually his. I decide that if this is the case, I can't actually go through with the pregnancy. I don't want a baby that looks like Eugene Levy. Eugene Levy does, however, offer to give me half of his vast pinball earnings.

Needless to say, I am very happy to see Michael when I wake up.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Burrito lust

I had forgotten how hungry a pregnant woman gets. Even when I'm not pregnant, I wake up hungry, but now hunger is a whole new beast--a ravenous, gnawing thing.

When I was pregnant the first time, I craved egg and bean burritos; I made them on a daily basis, sometimes in the middle of the night. When I was pregnant the second time, I craved bean and rice burritos from "In An Out Burrito", a little storefront down the street from us at Family Student Housing at UCR; there was some spice in the burritos that my body desperately seemed to need. I haven't had any consistent cravings with this pregnancy yet--just the insane hunger (which co-exists with a pretty much constant, low grade nausea). Yesterday, though, I craved a bean and cheese burrito from Bakers, a local fast food chain, so intensely, I thought I might die if I didn't get one. In a cool synchronicity, when I picked up Hannah at school, she asked if we could go to Bakers on the way home--I love that my girl and I were on the same wavelength. The burrito was just as satisfying as I knew it would be, in all its cheesy fast food glory. I don't know what it is about pregnancy and burritos with me, and I don't know if this will be an ongoing craving, but man, my body is not shy about asking for what it wants.

Pregnancy Anxiety Dream #4

I am a spectator in this one, not a participant, but that doesn't make it any less horrible:

I am at an ice cream shop in some Latin American country. A woman is there with her husband and a friend and is laughing about a bullet that has ricocheted into the shop and has pierced her spoon. The pink plastic spoon is trickling blood, like a stigmata, and the woman is laughing and laughing at the sight. Then the friend asks about the woman's baby, and the woman begins to look around, frantic. Her baby is nowhere to be seen. And then the ice cream shop keeper tells them that it was the baby who had been shot, not the spoon, and that the baby had died. "They wrote TRANQUILO on his arm before they took him away," he says, and the woman collapses with grief.

Not a great dream to wake up to on my birthday, but I suppose it's always good to remember how fragile life is, how easily it can be taken away. I never had postpartum depression, per se, but I remember being unable to stop crying a few days after Arin was born because I couldn't bear the fact that this beautiful baby I had brought into the world was going to die some day. It broke my heart beyond belief. I kept thinking about Rilke writing about how each pregnant woman carries two fruits inside of her: a birth and a death. I just wanted the one fruit--the juicy new one.

In the midst of my melt down, my ex-husband Matt brought me over to Arin and made me put my hand on his new little body. "This is his arm," he reminded me, "This is his leg. He is here right now." I was so grateful to be brought back into the moment, in all its sweetness.

And that's all we have really, this moment--which is what I want to savor on my birthday. And I want to acknowledge that other scary fruit, the one that is seeping into my dreams, the one that threatens to overwhelm with its scent of ferment, but I don't want to give it power over me; I want its presence to help me appreciate the fresher fruit all the more.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Time travel

One thing that's vastly different in this pregnancy is my sense of time.

When I was pregnant the first time, I couldn't imagine actually having a baby, being a mother. I was so into the experience of pregnancy, it consumed me completely; of course I knew a baby was the end result, but I couldn't visualize it. My body couldn't imagine it. All it knew was being with child, and that was a different experience every day as my body and the baby grew. I was living in the shifting, changing moment, with no idea about what was to come.

Of course we never truly know what is to come, but by the time my daughter was born three years later, I could remember what it was like to hold a newborn, to breastfeed, to watch a baby learn to sit up, crawl, walk, talk (each new stage such a revelation.) But I couldn't see beyond three years old; I had no idea what it would be like to have an older kid.

Now I've been through the whole journey, seen my first baby grow all the way up to a gorgeous mustachioed college man, seen my daughter blossom into a gorgeous young woman. And while each child is different and I know this baby will take me down unexpected paths that I can't begin to fathom now, I know now what it's like to see the journey through to adulthood. I know the baby stage goes by in a blink. I know all of it goes by in a blink. It's kind of terrifying, really, how quickly it all goes. I hope that keeping this long-view in mind will help me appreciate each fleeting moment all the more (and will get me through times that seem interminable while they're happening, like teething and potty training.)

My dad is going to be 90 this year, and was telling me recently how he just can't believe he's as old as he is. His mind just can't seem to process his age. I feel the same way--how is it possible I'm almost 41 when I feel like a 10 year old inside? How is it possible I have such grown up kids? Time is utterly confounding; we are totally at its mercy--it shakes us off so easily, like old clothes--but I find I don't want to fight it. No Botox or plastic surgery, or any of those measures people my age use to stave off its relentless jaws (at least that's how I feel right now; time has taught me that minds sometimes change in surprising ways). Right now, I just want to slow myself down enough to enjoy time's passage. I imagine a baby will help me do that and turn time into even more of a blur all at once.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pregnancy Anxiety Dreams

As a 40-something pregnant woman, I find myself feeling so much more vulnerable than I ever did when pregnant in my 20s; I know there is a higher risk of miscarriage at this age, a higher risk of other complications. I'm trying to not live in fear--my friend Nancy who had her second girl at 42, 19 years after her first daughter was born, tells me how that sense of vulnerability during her pregnancy opened her up so profoundly, and I want to let myself open, too, instead of curling into a tight little ball, worried that every little twinge spells disaster. The fears are definitely manifesting themselves in my dreams, dreams that crack me up when I think about them later, but that terrify me while I'm inside of them...

Pregnancy Anxiety Dream #1

On my way to a frozen yogurt place with my daughter and her friend, somehow I get my arm stuck in a jar of caramel sauce. When I pull my arm out, sweet and sticky, the momentum makes me stumble, and I end up sliding across the entire length of a parking lot on my side, coming to a stop only after hitting my head on a parked car. A woman with a clipboard bends over me and starts talking as if nothing strange has happened; I wake up yelling "I'm pregnant! Call an ambulance!"

Pregnancy Anxiety Dream #2

I am sitting in my car at a gas station when two men, one Russian, one American, walk up to my window. They ask for money because they want to get something monogrammed. When I tell them I have no cash, the Russian man yanks my locked door open and lunges toward my belly. My whole body is fizzy with adrenalin when I wake, gasping.

Pregnancy Anxiety Dream #3

I am performing with an improvisational dance group, and everyone starts slithering around on their bellies like snakes on the stage, then slithering over the lip of the stage into the audience, so I do it, too, but I can feel the ground poke into my belly, and I know that I've hurt my baby irreparably.

I imagine the dreams will get only stranger as the pregnancy progresses--I'll be sure to share the weirdest ones with you here.


This blog marks the start of a brand new adventure. I have two kids with my ex-husband--an 18 year old son and a 15 year old daughter; two weeks ago, much to my amazement, my boyfriend and I found out I am pregnant. I was 21 when I learned I was pregnant with my son; I will be 41 next week. I look forward to sharing the journey here, chronicling the differences between pregnancy in one's 20s and one's 40s, between 20th and a 21st century new motherhood. Some of the differences are pretty clear already--I was in college when I first found out I was pregnant; now I teach college. I still had baby fat on my cheeks when I was pregnant the first time; now (horrors) I find I am developing a wattle along with a baby bump. Another thing is crystal clear: maternity clothes and baby gear are so much cuter than they used to be (and so much more expensive! I hope I'll be as lucky with hand me downs this time around.)

Thanks for joining me on this wild and unexpected ride--I'd love to hear from you if you've done a second round of parenting later in life, yourself...