Motherhood

Stopping and Recognizing

“And yet we know that You have already come, to a forgotten corner of the world, to a people on the verge of losing hope, to a woman no one thought could bear a child, and the world has never been the same.”

At church this morning, I read this portion of the Prayer of Confession with the rest of the congregation. I looked down at Roya drawing in the pew, when I realized something:

On a far more individualized scale, I was the woman no one thought could bear a child. And, since Roya arrived in 2013, my world has never been the same. My life as a 100% parent is vastly different from when I only answered to myself and set up whatever schedule I wanted.

I don’t doubt that any of this is God’s plan. But, I wouldn’t describe the past three-and-a-half years as easy. Rather, they’ve been a blend of eventful and mundane, incomprehensibly joyful and incomprehensibly exhausting. (Come to think of it, that might be how I would define parenting!)

Parenting also has been an exercise in patience for me. (For those of you who didn’t know me pre-Roya, patience wasn’t my strongest virtue.) And, I’m also learning to accept how little I have control over, while still managing to successfully juggle several balls in the air at once.

At church today, Reverend Laura’s sermon focused on stopping and recognizing God when He is with us. Well, thanks to Roya, I was fully present today!

Prior to the start of Sunday School, Reverend Laura brings all the children – and the parents of the younger kids — up to the front of the Sanctuary. Roya was sitting in my lap, but then moved to sit next to one of the older children. Two minutes later, while Reverend Laura was talking about angels, Roya proceeded to move to the floor and spin around and around in front of her.

My first thought was to jump up and grab Roya as quickly as I could and head out of the Sanctuary, but then I looked around. The older kids were giggling, the people in the choir were smiling, and the reverend was calm and unfazed. (In fact, Reverend Laura incorporated a complementary mention of Roya’s acrobatic skills into her sermon!)

No one seemed to mind that a silly toddler was being a silly toddler. It reminded me of a scene from Parenthood, the movie, without anyone claiming that Roya was ruining anything.

As Reverend Laura continued to talk about angels, Roya then began to move her body on the wood floor of the Sanctuary, as though she was making a snow angel.

I began to laugh (as quietly as I could, of course). Before I knew it, I was laughing so hard — while simultaneously trying to stifle my volume — that tears filled my eyes.

When the children’s sermon was finished, I thanked the reverend, retrieved Roya with a smile on my face and took her upstairs to Sunday School.

After church, several people, including the reverend, commented how wonderful it is that Roya feels so comfortable there. I’m thankful for all those in our church family who have welcomed her with open arms and smiles, rather than eye rolls and shushing.

And, yes, God, I get it. Angels are really just messengers. And, today, thanks to Reverend Laura and my little no-snow snow angel, You made it very clear what message I was meant to get.

6th Blog Anniversary

In 6th grade, my English teacher tasked the students in my class with writing their own autobiographies. I couldn’t think of a title for mine and asked my mom for help. She didn’t need more than a second to respond:

Doing It Stef’s Way.

Yes, I marched to the beat of my own drum even as a child. When I started this blog six years ago with a post about whether or not I could date a much younger man, I didn’t know where this online path would lead.

I rarely blog anymore, and yet, I don’t see shutting this site down anytime soon. These are my words…my journey…my successes…and my mistakes. I’m proud of the good and the bad experiences in my life since they led me to where I am today.

A recent comment from a reader noted how much my life and blog have changed since my earlier posts. Yes, it’s true that I no longer write about my sex life and the guys who wronged me. But, if I had never dated the guys I did, I would have never met The Man and Roya wouldn’t be here. And, if I had never had such an eventful dating life, my professional path might have been very different, too.

When I started blogging, I wrote only for me. One year later, I had received enough sexual health and relationship questions from readers that I decided to join the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists as a supporting member. I began to blend more advice posts with my own dating tales and write about sexual health for two websites.

Several students at American University were regularly reading my blog, and I was invited to speak at the Social Learning Summit in 2011. That led to my idea to teach a class on Sexuality and Social Media on that campus. In 2014, after three years as an adjunct professor, American University offered me a full-time contract as an instructor.

In many ways, my life is so different than it was six years ago. 3am texts from whomever I was seeing at the time have been replaced by 3am feedings. My club attire and fancy dresses are in a closet, collecting dust. Date nights now happen at cocktail parties organized by the parents in Roya’s playgroup.

Even though my daily routine has changed profoundly, I’m still the same. I continue to march to the beat of my own drum. My blog tagline is “Educate, Advocate, Titillate.” As a professor, I focus on the first two words in that phrase. I still talk a lot about feminism, branding, sexuality, relationships, health, and double standards in the work force. My discussions just occur in the classroom, rather than on this site.

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Back when I blogged regularly, I didn’t write about my dating life in real time. I enjoyed crafting a story with the benefit of hindsight and doing things differently. As a teacher, I’m thankfully allowed the creativity to develop classes that find academic merit in popular culture. In three years, I’ve created the curriculum for seven courses from scratch. I proud of what I’ve accomplished and know how fortunate I am to love my job!

Shortly after I began blogging, I shared with my readers that I wanted to adopt a little girl. A few comments were highly critical of of that decision, stating that I wasn’t capable of being a mom and that I wouldn’t be able to prioritize motherhood in the midst of such an active social life. I didn’t know that my journey would lead me to have a biological daughter, rather than adopt. But, I knew then that I was ready to be a mom and how much my life would change. I was fully prepared to hang up my stilettos, and I have. I don’t have much of a social life or time to write for pleasure anymore, but that’s not atypical for moms of young toddlers.

Even as a mom, though, I’m still the same me. Roya is the most important and amazing thing in my life, but I know that she’s not perfect. I set boundaries, and I say, “No!” when I need to. I don’t coddle her when she isn’t hurt or sick. I don’t throw fancy parties for her or care if another child does something earlier or better than she does. And, I don’t feel guilty when I say that motherhood is both the best job and the most exhausting job there is.

When I started this blog six years ago, I didn’t know where the journey would lead me. I sit here today in front of my laptop with happy tears in my eyes. Because of my blog, I’m blessed to be where I am today — at American and with Roya. For those who have supported me along the way, thank you from the bottom of my heart. It warms my heart to know that the doors to my home in the blogosphere are always open. xoxo

Isn’t Motherhood Amazing?

Since I’ve had Roya, moms or moms-to-be often ask me the following question:

Isn’t it amazing?

I always respond in the same way:

She’s amazing. It – motherhood – is exhausting.

Motherhood is the toughest job there is. It is 24/7. There are no holidays, vacation days, sick days or snow days.

I teach about feminism in several of my classes, and yet, I find it difficult to inspire when it comes to gender roles within a heterosexual family unit. We continue to live in a culture that assumes that the mom will handle an overwhelming majority of all matters related to children.

When The Man asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I responded:

I want to be the dad for a day.

What did I mean by that?

I don’t want to handle night care for a toddler who is going through yet another sleep regression.

I don’t want to purchase any milk or diapers.

I don’t want to coordinate Roya’s schedule or childcare.

I don’t want to conduct research online about preschool, vaccines or anything developmentally appropriate.

I don’t want to have my ability to work or shower contingent on childcare.

I want to go to the bathroom without Roya attached to my leg the whole time.

I don’t want to have the pediatrician’s number memorized.

I don’t want to be the disciplinarian and enforcer of rules and schedules.

I want to have someone thank me for spending one-on-one time with Roya.

I want to live in a society that values a mom’s work outside of the home as much as a man’s work outside of the home.  (This infuriates me even more so when the woman in a given couple earns more than the man. And, if I can add a dream to this thought, I’d love to live in a country where women’s work inside the home is valued similarly to men’s work outside of the home!)

I wish that mothers felt able to openly vent about the difficulties of motherhood without feeling as though they’re bad mothers, guilty or ungrateful. (I’m the first to acknowledge how blessed I am to have Roya. I’m thankful for our health and having The Man in our lives. I just don’t feel as though complaining about how exhausted or overworked I am is mutually exclusive from any of that!)

So, I never got my birthday wish. That wasn’t in the cards for me. I’m the mom. This is my journey.

But, lucky for me, Roya is amazing!

roya, stef woods, moshe zusman

How do these gender roles impact you?

#ExhaustedMommy

Once Roya turned nine weeks old, her second growth spurt and second round of vaccines were behind her. She settled into a nice mode at bedtime, and we stopped our occasional night care. Each evening, Roya would go down at around 9:00pm. I would feed her a bottle at midnight before going to sleep, and then she would be up again between 4-5:00am to eat. During the night feedings, Roya wouldn’t cry or stay up for long. All she wanted was a bottle, burp and change, and then she would go back to sleep. She woke up in the morning at around 8:00am. That lasted consistently for the month of August.

Several friends had commented over the summer that motherhood was a natural fit for me.

“You’re the same old Stef Woods…just now with a baby!” Roya’s godmother said.

That’s how I felt, yet all that unfortunately changed in September. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we ended up displaced from our apartment.

Thankfully, a neighbor was kind enough to let us stay in her unit. Every night, The Man, my dog, Roya and I slept together in a 12” x 16” room together. That remained the case for almost four months.

(And, yes, I recognize my privilege as I write that. I realize there are many families who can only wish for a room of their own.)

On average, Roya would wake three times a night while we were in the other apartment. I would cough, and she would wake up. Flake would roll over as dogs do, and she would wake up. The Man would snore, and she would wake up.  I’m a light sleeper, and at least during this arrangement, so was Roya!

When we gleefully returned to our own home in December, Roya received her first flu shot the following day. For seven out of the next eight days, low-grade fevers ensued. She felt better over Christmas, but then she contracted her first cold. The cold improved, but then early January-early February found her with two back-to-back viruses.

The combination of flu shot, cold and two viruses meant that neither Roya nor I were sleeping that well. The colds and viruses caused Roya to cough so much that she would wake herself up from throwing up. And, she was often too uncomfortable to drink much during the day so she would feed more at night. Again, there weren’t many nights in which she was up for long, but she definitely was up a lot!

Knock on wood, Roya has been feeling better over the past month. But, now her two bottom teeth are coming in! (As any parent knows, it’s always something with these little nuggets!)

I can count on one hand the number of nights that I’ve slept well in the past six months, and that was because of night care.  I’ve been up an average of three times a night with Roya for six months. I’m so sleep deprived that I’ve almost fallen asleep at the wheel on more than one occasion. I feel like an exhausted shell of my former self, and my doctors are understandably concerned about my health.

All of the usual things that help babies to sleep longer (weighing a certain amount, regular nap times, introducing solids, taking baby Advil for a fever, giving more formula in the evening hours, etc.) haven’t made a difference in Roya’s nighttime sleep.

In November, Roya’s godmother aptly said, “I’ve never seen you like this.” I’ve known for her for 13 years, and I agree!

I’m an exhausted shell of my former self. I have the most amazing daughter, and I’m incomprehensibly tired.

Something needs to change for all of our sakes.

To be continued…

My Health Since Giving Birth

Back in October, I called my internist to ask if he thought I could safely carry to term. (He's cared for me for more than 13 years, and I value his expert opinion.) Dr. P. guessed that my health would improve during pregnancy, but dip after I gave birth. The only question was just what that dip would entail.

Since having Roya, concerned friends and readers have inquired about my health. Quite a few have commented that I'm glowing from the joys of motherhood.

I can’t deny that I do beam when I hold Roya in my arms, and I hope that feeling never stops.

stef woods, city girl, city girl blogs

Our second day together

But, if you saw me at 3am…or 5am…or 7am, I doubt you’d say I look glowing. I look like any exhausted parent of a newborn.

On the health front, there has been a dip, but it thankfully hasn’t been a dive. (That's the best I can hope for given the fact that three of my conditions are genetic.)

So…what's been going on?

  • Within two weeks of giving birth, my migraines returned to their previous pace of twice a week, every week. Luckily, though, I can take my old reliable migraine medicine when they hit.
  • Over the past seven weeks, I’ve had more low-grade fevers and swollen glands than I’ve had in years. (That combination of symptoms typically occurs when my body gets run down.) Yesterday morning, the fever topped 101, and the added chills and body aches made it tough to hold Roya without feeling dizzy. I count my blessings for wonderful babysitters that are willing to drop everything and help us out when we need them!
  • There's evidence of degeneration in six out of seven vertebrae in my neck. Holding Roya for hours on end isn't helping my neck pain and mobility. I'll be back in physical therapy soon to try to strengthen my neck and upper back.
  • I met with my radiation oncologist back in April. During a clinical breast exam, she didn't feel anything abnormal. I'll go for a breast MRI in a few months to confirm that all is still well.
  • The only thing that has improved since I gave birth is that I’m no longer vomiting incessantly. That means that I haven’t gotten dehydrated or needed to return to the ER since April. I’ll take it!

At the end of the day, though, Roya is (knock on wood) healthy, and my medical conditions are manageable. I’ll continue to do what's in my control to stay as strong as I can, but my health taking a dip is far less important to me than her being here!

“Priorities,” I think to myself, smiling and typing with Roya asleep by my side.

The Big 4-0

I’m 40. The big 4-0.

 

Some view this milestone as one to be dreaded and feel the need to justify that 40 isn't that old.

“Forty is the new thirty,” they say to reassure themselves.

Others bemoan reaching this year.

"This is middle age! It's all downhill from here!" they exclaim.

When I hear those comments, I always respond the same way:

"Every birthday is one to celebrate!"

Losing my mom at a relatively young age and beating ascending paralysis, a botched neurosurgery and cancer have that effect on a person. I don't take the fact that life is a gift for granted!

Ten years ago, I was practicing immigration for a large law firm. Now, I couldn't imagine stepping away from teaching to return to the law. At 30, I had recently started dating Lawyer Boy and was still spending time with Baseball Boy. Now, I have neither the time nor the inclination for relationship drama or ambiguity. In 2003, I used my AOL email account on occasion. In the current age of social media, my active participation on several sites has surprisingly enriched my life. Ten years ago, I wasn't sure that I wanted to be a mom. Now, with motherhood seven weeks away, I can't wait! I'm thankful for where life has taken me, even the difficult parts, but I'm even more thankful for what lies ahead.

My wishes on this day are few, but significant:

  • I hope that I continue to enjoy my life to the fullest.
  • I hope that I learn from my mistakes more often than not and grow as a person. 
  • And, most importantly, I hope to be here and healthy so I can be the best mom, partner, teacher, advocate and friend that I can be.

Philosopher WB Pitkin claims, “Life begins at forty.” I'm counting on it!

As always, thanks for following my journey. When I think of my many blessings, the people that I have met online and offline through this blog are among them. xoxo

A Little (or a Lot of) Respect

According to the US Census, 44.6% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 are childless. Nearly half of those women who earn $100,000 or more do not have children. When I think of my five closest friends, 80% are childfree.

I’d like to believe that we live in an age in which all women’s choices can be respected, yet I realize that viewpoint is rather idealistic. There is still the presumption that heterosexual women should get married and have children – in that order. For some women, that is the path of their choosing, while for others, it isn’t.  I hope for the day when being single after 35 or married without a child doesn’t evoke confusion or judgment.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about women’s choices and the need to respect the spectrum of options regarding relationships and family. As excited as I am to be expecting, I approach pregnancy with more pragmatism than sentimentality.  I attribute that approach to a combination of my age and health experiences.

How have I approached pregnancy thus far?

"+1:" When friends ask how the three of us are doing, I respond as follows:

The Man, Flake [my dog] and I are great! Thanks!

I smile when friends refer to their babies-to-be as their “+1s” or any fraction thereof. But, I feel more comfortable saving the use of the term, “+1,” until she’s here. I’m thankful that she’s growing as she should be, but if she doesn’t keep growing inside of me, she can’t survive outside of me.

Sonogram Photographs: If you’re a regular reader, you know a lot about me. (At times, you might have found out far more than you’d like to know!) However, I won’t be sharing any sonogram photographs or as I refer to them, “placenta pics.” In the early stages of pregnancy, I think that the baby-to-be looks like a tadpole. In the latter stages, 3-D and 4-D technology creates some images that I find to be off putting.

“Mommy” and the Baby’s Name: I look forward to being a mom in four-and-a-half months, but I don’t feel comfortable when people call me “Mommy.” Likewise, although we’ve picked out a name, we’re not sharing that with anyone until after she’s born. (I appreciate that this pregnancy is a miracle, but I don’t want to tempt fate!)

Shopping for the Baby: I’m halfway through my pregnancy this week and haven’t bought one piece of baby clothing or any items for the nursery yet. I’ve said that I won’t begin to shop until she’s 24 weeks since that’s the stage at which she’s potentially viable. (Again, I’m not tempting fate!) In addition, there’s such excess when it comes to baby products. The world will go on if I don’t have a Diaper Genie or the perfect wallpaper trim when we come home from the hospital. I can’t get overwhelmed about the small stuff.

Online Resources: Once a week, I go onto one pregnancy website for a few minutes to read what's going on with my body and the fetus. Beyond that, I have neither the time nor the inclination to be inundated with information about my pregnancy. If my doctor says that all is going well and I feel good, I say a prayer of thanks and hope for more of the same at my next appointment.

I appreciate that I’m in the minority as to how I view being pregnant, and I would never tell someone else how to react to the experience. I’ll continue to respect whatever choices my friends make, regardless of which boxes they check off on a census form or how they view pregnancy and motherhood. At the end of the day, I  hope and pray that my friends are happy and healthy, and I'm thankful that they hope the same for me.

A Turquoise Giveaway

The dog days of summer mean that it’s the perfect time for a great beach read…and giveaway!

In her newly released book, Turquoise – A Love Story, Ayshe Talay-Ongan digs deep into her own life experiences to pen this high-impact novel which spans two decades, three continents and two marriages. She says the novel is written to entertain and inspire both women and men in quest of genuine love who struggle with the roles and expectations heaped on them by societal context or circumstance.

Released earlier this year, Turquoise is the story of an enduring and passionate love affair between a Turkish woman and psychologist Yasmin, and Renan, who is the husband of Yasmin’s school friend, Ani, both of whom are of Armenian origin. Upon laying eyes on Renan for the first time, Yasmin is inundated with the knowledge that she has come upon her destiny, and falls deeply in love. The challenges ahead of her loom, not the least of which is loyalty to her friend, the ethnic divide, political and socioeconomic turmoil, or immigrating from the country of their birth when the going gets tough.

Dot Whittington, the reviewer for The Weekender says, “Turquoise is not a simple romance but a tale of passion and love – the love of a child, a job, two countries and a man.”

Yasmin moves through the years with professional achievements, entrepreneurial ventures and travels, friendships, relationships and a quest for motherhood in a love-starved marriage. Turquoise also explores the violent consequence of historical and cultural contempt, which impacts Yasmin and her family above and beyond the story of unrequited love and family loyalty. According to Wendy O’Hanlon of Acres Australia, “This novel is a strong comment on the evil of how all humans have such traits and some countries are more openly prejudiced than others.” She continues, “This is a big, powerful novel of love, angst, political unrest and ethnic hatred. The author has skillfully penned these pages so that the characters are raw and real, their emotions searing, their plight palpable.”

Dr. Ayshe Talay-Ongan is a psychologist and an emeritus academic. She is the author of three textbooks in developmental psychology. Turquoise is her first novel. Its sequel Emerald is currently under way. More information about the novel and author are available here.

I have to smile that I’m posting about this giveaway today, as there’s a reunion tonight in DC for all those who attended my high school in Turkey. For those of you interested in gemology or etymology, InternetStones.com indicates that the word, “turquoise,” is probably derived from Turkey because the Turkish merchants and dealers took these gemstones to Venice for sale.

If you’d like to enter for a chance to win the book, Turquoise, just include your favorite gemstone in your comment.

You must enter by Friday, July 20th for a chance to win a hard copy or e-version of the book. Hard copies may only be shipped within the continental United States. The winner will be chosen via Random.org. Good luck!

* Pursuant to FTC Guidelines, this promotion is being conducted without compensation.