parenting

Enjoying Every Moment

I recently wrote the following as a Facebook status update:

Many tell me to “enjoy every moment with Roya.” I assume they mean, “enjoy every moment that’s not sleep deprived, covered in spit up, or involving you cleaning poop off of places poop shouldn’t be.” (I’m thankful to have a very good baby, but she’s still a baby!)

Several of my friends responded in agreement. Quite a few others tried to assuage my guilt or feelings that I wasn’t a good parent.

From a sociological perspective, the latter reaction both fascinated and disappointed me. Parenting is simultaneously joyous and exhausting. Most people with children wouldn’t deny that being a parent is the most rewarding role they’ve ever had and also the toughest role. Why is it a bad thing to admit that the joys and the difficulties of parenting aren’t mutually exclusive? Why is this yet another occasion when women are expected to feel guilty because every minute of every day isn’t perfect? Is a female less of a mother if she acknowledges that parenting is the hardest work out there? Isn’t it time that we – as mothers and as a society – stop making women feel guilty for how they parent or how they feel about parenting?

I don’t feel like a bad mother for admitting that cleaning poop off of the wall at 6 a.m. isn’t a moment to be savored. In fact, it’s the antithesis of fun! That’s just the reality. It doesn’t need to be sugarcoated or packaged up in a nice gender-normative pink bow.

In the overwhelming majority of households, mothers are expected to perform most of the childcare duties. It’s time that we didn’t add the need to feel guilty to our already overflowing plates! Having a healthy and happy child is all that matters! We owe it to ourselves to not give into the pressure to feel bad about whether we work outside of the home or not. whether every item on our to-do list has been completed, and how we measure up to any other mother we know. There is much in life as a parent that we can’t control, but we do have control over whether or not we feel guilty about making the right choices for ourselves and our families.

When it comes to parenting, all that matters is that we do the best we can. If we’re on the receiving end of a well-intentioned comment to enjoy every moment, just remember that nostalgia is a powerful elixir complete with rose-colored glasses. Then, just smile and say, “Yes, as much as I can.” At the end of the day, we shouldn’t be expected to do more, and our children deserve nothing less.

I Can’t Breastfeed…Nor Would I Want To

“I wish I had gotten a double mastectomy so I would have had an excuse for not breastfeeding. I was in tears when Emily couldn’t latch, and the nurse kept forcing me to try.”

“Well,” I told my friend with an odd look in my eyes, “I’m very thankful that you didn’t have breast cancer or a double mastectomy. I just wish that there wasn’t such societal pressure to breastfeed and you hadn’t felt as though you were an inferior mother when it didn’t work.”

Since I announced that I was pregnant, I’ve received a lot of questions about whether I could breastfeed. I typically answer with a version of the following:

No nipples. No milk ducts. No desire.

If someone probes further, I let them know that even if I could have breastfed, it's far from ideal to pass more of my immunities onto my daughter. (I fully appreciate that there are proven health benefits to breastfeeding, but I don’t think women with my health issues were the subjects of any of these studies!)

Other factors that contribute to my views that the breast isn't always best:

  • Several of my friends who breastfed were exceptionally sleep deprived. That, in turn, played a contributory role in them suffering from Post-Partum Depression;
  • Since breastfeeding is the mother’s responsibility, I've noticed that the father often feels excluded or disconnected from parenting in the early stages. For numerous couples, that has led to resentments and relationship problems in the first months after having a baby;
  • Breastfeeding is linked to significantly lower libido in women; and
  • Quite a few friends found breastfeeding problematic because their children needed more milk than their breasts produced and/or their babies had trouble latching. They thus needed to introduce formula to supplement their breastfeeding while they were in the hospital. A desire to breast feed doesn't necessarily translate into the ability to do so.

(The above list is a collection of my observations from a dozen friends who have struggled with breastfeeding.)

Pediatricians recommend breastfeeding as the preferred option, but it concerns me that it's viewed societally as the only option. I don’t regard such absolutes as healthy, as they exacerbate the pressures of caring for a newborn in the midst of dramatic hormonal changes. A woman is not less of a mother if she doesn't breastfeed, and no one has the right to make her feel that way.

Throughout my pregnancy and since giving birth to Roya, I was never asked the simple question, “Are you breastfeeding, bottle feeding, or both?” Everyone assumed that I was breastfeeding. Telling people, even health care professionals, that I’ve had a double mastectomy tended not to resonate either. A double mastectomy isn’t a boob job! During a double mastectomy, everything under the skin is removed. Everything. I also didn’t have the luxury of having nipple-sparing surgery since I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. Despite the biological impediments to me breastfeeding, I still find it fascinating that people automatically presume that I would want to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding like so many other parenting decisions is a choice. Choosing to bottle feed should not be met with judgment regardless of the reason for doing so.  I’ll respect your choices as to what’s best for your family. All I ask in return is that you respect mine.

Pregnant After Cancer

I’m not a fan of pregnancy websites.

I haven’t bought a single book about pregnancy or parenting.

I have little interest in receiving well-intentioned advice from my friends who are moms. Likewise, I'm not one for rejoicing or commiserating much with my friends who are pregnant.

With only three months left to my pregnancy, I only just started a registry.

People who don't realize how much experience I have with infant and child care misperceive my actions – or lack thereof – as denial or uncertainty. I don’t think it’s either.

I’m pregnant after cancer.

More accurately, I’m pregnant:

I’m charting my own unique path yet again. In doing so, I’m trying to navigate the joys and fears of expecting a baby after cancer.

The joys are numerous, and I recognize what a blessing and miracle this is! My body defied the odds to conceive naturally at my age following chemotherapy-induced menopause. And, I’ve thankfully had a great pregnancy thus far. The doctors couldn’t be happier with how she’s developing and how my health is faring. For the first time in my life, I'm hearing words like, "perfect" and "better than normal," in reference to my health!

I also find myself far less stressed than the overwhelming majority of my pregnant friends. I’m used to changes with my health, my weight, my activity level, and my sleep. Doctors’ appointments were already a part of my weekly routine, and I’m actually taking fewer vitamins now than before I was pregnant. Listening to my body, heeding my doctors’ advice, and restricting my schedule as needed have been my default modes.

The concerns that accompany being pregnant after cancer also seem more pronounced.  A cancer patient’s risk of recurrence drops noticeably after five years in remission, and I’m not even halfway to that milestone. I’ve had health issues since I was a baby, and three of my conditions have a genetic component. The doctors also believe that my mom and I carried a genetic predisposition for breast cancer with a gene that has yet to be discovered.

To add another layer to the mix, I am an only child. My daughter will be an only child. I lost my mom to cancer when I was 24 years old. I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 37. (I could have easily titled this post, “Pregnant After Losing Your Mom To Cancer and Then Having Cancer.”)

I know that I will raise my daughter to be aware and proactive about her health. But, I pray that she doesn’t have my genes, as I simultaneously hope that medicine continues to advance with each passing year.

Those concerns exist, but they’re on my mind far less than the larger fear:

That my cancer will return and I won’t be around to watch my daughter grow up.

There, I said it. It doesn’t make the fear any less scary. It doesn’t mean that I have any more control over the situation. But, it’s one explanation for why I’m going to view pregnancy differently from most.

Yes, I’m grateful to be in remission. But, 30% of breast cancers return in a metastatic form. The women who must face a Stage IV recurrence have just as much fight and faith (if not more!) as those whose cancer doesn’t return.

After reading a post from Lisa Adams in which she describes talking to her teenage daughter about her metastatic breast cancer, I sat in front of my laptop and sobbed. I have the same reaction when I read Facebook posts from my friend with a Stage IV recurrence. She just wants to be with her children as much as she can for as long as she can.

I feel my fear when it hits me. I cry for a few minutes. I say a prayer and trust in God's plan. And then, I move on. There’s only so much emotional energy I can devote to the unknown…or a registry…or a pregnancy side effect. I don’t know any other way to be.

It’s a…?

November 19, 2012

I had chosen to have CVS testing at 11 weeks to determine whether the fetus had any chromosomal abnormalities. Since the test results analyze all 46 chromosomes, the genetic counselor asked if I wanted to know my baby's gender.

There are varying opinions about finding out the gender before giving birth. I’m of the mindset that I’d like to know as much as I can as soon as possible. I also have never been one for surprises, let alone big surprises! I told the counselor that I wanted to know the gender, provided that the fetus didn't test positive for Down’s syndrome or another chromosomal abnormality.

Several friends had asked me if I thought I knew the gender. I guessed that it was a boy because of the old wives’ tales that women who don’t have morning sickness and crave more salt than sugar are having boys.

The genetic counselor indicated that she would call me with the results on Monday, November 19th in the late afternoon.

On Monday at 3:30pm, my cell phone vibrated, while I was driving home. I recognized the Georgetown extension and pulled over into a parking lot so I could safely answer the phone.

“Hi Stef,” the counselor said. “I’m calling with some good news.”

“Really?” I responded hopefully, but with a touch of nervousness.

“The initial results came back, and there are no abnormalities. The results are 99.96% accurate. It will take another week to get the full 100% results, but you can breathe easy now.”

Tears filled my eyes as I exclaimed, “That’s great news!”

The counselor then asked, “Do you still want to know the gender?”

“Yes.”

“It’s a girl.”

“Would you mind saying that again?” I inquired as tears streamed down my cheeks.

“It’s a girl.”

I began to cry so hard that I was shaking in my car.

“Wow. This is real now. Really real. Thank you,” I said before we discussed the next steps.

When I hung up the phone a few minutes later, I sat in my car with a huge smile on my face as I continued to sob.

I had always imagined that I would adopt a little girl. In August 2010, shortly before I headed into my first surgery to remove my tumor, one of my best friends recommended that I picture my dog for peace and motivation. As I was going under, my subconscious didn’t just visualize Flake. I also pictured a little girl. I couldn’t see her face, but I could see her short ponytail, white cardigan and pink dress.

I had thought I knew how this little girl would come into my life, but God had a different plan. I spent the rest of the night with a huge smile on my face and tears in my eyes as I counted my blessings.

Did knowing the gender make me more sentimental about my pregnancy? How did I feel about other people’s excitement about my news?

To be continued… 

PS What are your thoughts about finding out the gender?

Getting More Information

October 19-22, 2012

I headed off to North Carolina to relax with several girlfriends at lake house. I didn’t think much about being pregnant while I was away since I assumed that the odds of the doctors letting me try to carry to term were so miniscule.

When I returned to DC from the lake, I couldn’t avoid reality for any longer. As I spoke with my gynecologist, she indicated that I didn’t seem 100% comfortable with terminating the pregnancy.

“I guess that’s because I’m not,” I responded. “There are so many health concerns that I bring to the table! But…there’s this part of me that feels as though this is a miracle…that so many odds had to be beaten for me to even get pregnant…what if this is part of God’s plan?”

“Well, what do your oncologist and neurologist say about this?” the doctor inquired.

“I haven’t called them,” I admitted. “I just didn’t want to hear that this wasn’t possible from all these doctors since that would make this even tougher.”

“I think you need to get more information so you truly know what your options are.”

“You’re right. Thanks!”

On Monday, October 22nd, I spoke with six of my doctors.

I wish that I had video of their reactions at the news that I was pregnant at the age of 39 after chemotherapy-induced menopause. One of them cursed. One started to stutter. One of them was silent. And, not surprisingly, all of them were shocked!

It was my turn to be shocked, though, as my entire medical team ranged between neutral and excited about me trying to have a baby.

My oncologist informed me that previous research had discouraged breast cancer survivors from getting pregnant within several years of finishing treatment. However, a recent study indicated that pregnancy would slightly reduce my risk of recurrence.

“The researchers couldn’t say why that was the case in the women who were studied,” my oncologist continued. “It might be psychological, but no one really knows.”

My neurologist said that even though my migraines weren’t hormonal, pregnant women typically experience fewer migraines than when they’re not pregnant.

“Pregnancy could actually be good for you!” she surmised.

My internist has known me longer than any other doctor. He explained, "I think you could safely carry to term, but I’m more worried about how your health will be after you give birth. You would need a lot of extra support to ensure that your other conditions don’t get worse or that if they do, your baby would be well taken care of."

“I had figured that much. We know how my health is when I don’t get enough sleep, and newborns are the antithesis of a good night’s sleep!”

I hung up with my internist and felt both positive and pensive. The medical obstacles that I had thought would impede me from trying to carry to term were no longer.

Could this actually be possible? And, if it was, did I want this to be possible?

I had always planned to adopt because I never envisioned myself pregnant or parenting a newborn. The expression, “If you want to make God laugh, make a plan,” kept going through my head.

I had an appointment with a high-risk obstetrician in two days.  I had some time to formulate my thoughts, and I knew that I needed to hear hers.

To be continued…

As a PS, I won’t be exclusively writing about my pregnancy from hereon forward. I’m just trying to catch everyone up to the present day so that you know how I’m doing and how the pregnancy is going.

The Science of Love

I rarely write about my dating life anymore, but suffice it to say that I'm happy. Really happy.

I'm with a man who is kind, communicative and loyal. I haven't always (often?) been able to say that I'm dating a good man, but I can now. And, that's perfect for this stage in my life.

My heart races a bit when I see him, and I feel this rush when he hugs me. When we're not together, I find myself daydreaming a lot and having trouble concentrating.

One of my Sexuality and Social Media students, Gabrielle, might tell me that it's the dopamine talking. For her class research project, Gabrielle is:

Comparing and contrasting the chemical processes that occur within the human body during online dating and face-to-face relationships.  There is a rise in the chemical Oxytocin when social media users meet a love interest online as well as during a physical relationship.  However, Pheromones are chemicals physically given off by the body and spark attraction within a romantic partner.  Does dating through social media hinder the chemical processes of love or have our brains adapted to this modern way of life?

This post that Gabrielle wrote about the chemistry of love had me thinking about my own life:

Dopamine is first released (Newman 9).  It is what makes a person want to spend more time with his or her love interest and gives them the initial “butterflies” (9).  This neurotransmitter is also released when someone drinks or does drugs like caffeine, cocaine and crystal methamphetamine (Tomlinson).  The chemical process of love actually induces addictive like behavior, “which explains the feeling of being addicted to your partner” (Newman, 9).  A dopamine release also increases a person’s heart rate and energy, as well as restlessness (Tomlinson).

Dopamine is also the high a person feels when she or he takes a risk like skydiving or snowboarding down a half-pipe (Park).  The unknown of a new relationship also has the same effect within the brain and this is why he or she often feels so exciting.  The high in a relationship caused by dopamine may diminish over time (2).  This can be caused by parenting and couples often find it difficult to hold on to romance (Blum, 3).  All is not lost however.  Dopamine has been shown to return and add a new spark to a long term relationship (3).  Dopamine also comes back to influence attraction for people who have lost a partner, “Among the couples that Fisher is studying are newly met partners in nursing homes, people in their 70s and 80s, whose infatuation is just as intense as that shared by 20-year-old lovers” (3).

Years ago, one of my friends claimed that the best feeling in the world is falling in love.

Maybe she's right. Or, is it just the dopamine talking again? Read more about the chemical processes of love here.

What do you think about the science behind attraction and love?

Facebook and Relationships

If your relationship isn’t “Facebook official,” is it real in this day and age of social media? Read on to learn about my thoughts on several different types of relationship modes on Facebook:

1. The Play-by-Play: They’re on. They’re off. Oh, wait, they’re back on. Friend this person so you can find out when they’re “in a relationship” or she’s “single” again. Tune in for the occasional status update in which all the specifics about what’s not working are shared with every friend she has! Also note related status updates in which a guy checks in with the boys at a sporting event or locations in Vegas, Miami or New York, or a female writes about how much she loves her girlfriends and that she’s in desperate need of a spa day or Girls’ Night Out!

2. The Photo Barometer: Are they on or off? They don’t include their relationship status in their Facebook profiles, but a simple glance at which profile picture they’re using should tell you all you want to know. A couple’s shot means that they’re on, but a photograph without the other person speaks a thousand words.

3. Peeing on the Wall: You didn’t even know that those two people knew each other, and yet, he’s writing on her wall, checking in at places with her, and commenting on her photos as though he’s getting paid to do so! It’s like The Animal Kingdom, Facebook Edition. The man wants to mark his turf and let you know that he’s staking his claim to this woman and her…I’ll go with heart. Just click “like” to encourage this behavior.

For those of you who notice a lot of comments on your wall after only one date, view this as a bright yellow flag! If you're in a relationship and don’t write on your girlfriend’s wall, while she writes a lot on yours, realize that she still feels the need to proclaim that you’re her man.

4. The Masquerade: A couple hasn’t indicated that they’re in a relationship. The two people don’t write on each others' walls. They don’t post their own pictures of themselves, and yet, they’re tagged together in photos at every event. Are they together? Yes. Are they doing their best to keep their relationship off of social media? Yes. Tag sparingly if you’re a good friend of either party.

5. The Passive-Aggressive: He doesn’t confront his significant other about a problem directly, but he’ll start a conversation about the issue on Facebook. Parenting, money, shopping, PMS and pregnancy are often the prime topics to be highlighted. Maybe relationship therapy from the Facebook peanut gallery can help smooth things over? [Insert eye roll here.] Isn’t it easier to keep certain matters private and off relatively public forums like Facebook and blogs?

6. The Glory of Love: She can’t describe her partner in a status update without the use of a minimum of three adjectives. And, there are numerous status updates a season, espousing her undying love and appreciation for her wonderful, fabulous, amazingly sweet husband. I’m all for letting others know that you love and appreciate them. And, there's nothing wrong with the occasional loving status update or wall comment. But, unless you're in the beginning stages of a relationship, me thinks thou doth praise too much.

So, readers, what did I miss? What have you seen on Facebook with respect to relationships that's worth noting? What modes do you personally use?

All the single (and proud of it) ladies…now put your hands up!

When I meet someone for the first time, I'm often asked, "Are you single, City Girl?"

"Yes."

I gaze into the person's eyes and notice his or her surprise and concern on my behalf. Any of the following questions might be uttered next:

"How old are you?"

"Why?"

"A girl like you? You're a catch!"

"Isn't your biological clock ticking?"

"Aww. The right guy is out there. You'll find him."

"You're not getting any younger. Don't you want to get married?"

If I actually answer the follow-up questions honestly, it would catch most people off-guard. Yes, I'm single, but I'm not necessarily looking to get married. It amazes me that in 2009, that's not a choice that garners as much respect as the other options out there.

My friend, Ash, and I got into a discussion about this recently. She and I are the same age, have made smart career choices, would be deemed "a catch" by conventional standards, and aren't sure if we see marriage in our future.

We weren't raised with marriage as the end goal or even a major life goal. We are both only children and value our independence. Our families emphasized our education and doing well in whatever profession we chose. We happily take trips, go to restaurants, and head to the movies on our own. We have an active social life with wonderful girlfriends. We don't go to sleep at night, feeling that our lives are incomplete because there's an empty pillow in the bed next to us.

"We don't need a man," Ash said, summing it up perfectly!

"And, a lot of the time, we don't even want one," I replied, as we both laughed.

I've admitted to being commitment-phobic in the past, but that's very different from where I am now. To provide some clarification, here's the back-story:

At 16, I broke up with my high school boyfriend, Boston Christian. My Mom thought that was a smart move, and told me that I shouldn't have a boyfriend in college. She also informed me that she didn't want me to bring any guy home unless we were getting engaged. (Keep in mind that this was coming from a woman who defied Irish-Catholic norms by focusing on her career and not getting married until she was 34 years old.)

The "no-boyfriend" mode worked for me since I viewed my family and girlfriends as the most important things in my life. School and work came in at the second tier. And, guys were "other" — for sex. Granted, I had a lot of sex so I won't devalue one of my favorite hobbies. But, it was just that to me… a hobby!

At around 25, shortly after my Mom died and my relationship with my Dad changed significantly, I entered a phase of being fearful of commitment. That lasted for quite a while, and I'm sure was a huge reason why I ended up in serious relationships with married men (Married Matt and Lawyer Boy) and fellow commitment-phobes (Basketball Boy).

Now, though, I'm in a new phase. I'm open to finding someone in my life to spend time with, but I realize that I LOVE my life as it is. I don't know that I want to share it with someone. The thought of coming home to the same person every night is just not that appealing to me. The only child in me craves her alone time, the Type A girl in me wants to keep my place immaculate, and the independent woman in me doesn't need help with her bills nor anyone to question how much time she spends with her girlfriends.

On the sex front, I used a line in college that "I like pizza, but I wouldn't want it everyday." There's a large part of me that still feels that way. Only sleeping with one person for the rest of my life? I might not perish the thought, but monogamy doesn't exactly have me jumping up and down.

Am I adverse to love or marriage? Not at all! I do have a sappy, Hallmark side to my personality. And, I respect the idea of marriage, but I'm not going to get married for the sake of it. If I can look into a guy's eyes and know that I'm going to be faithful to him forever, then yes, I'd consider getting married. But, the thought of "'til death do us part" seems like quite a stretch for me at a time when I don't really care to spend more than one or two nights a week with any guy.

And, since marriage and children are related subjects (pun intended), I'll address the question of kids. I see myself adopting one of the millions of children in the world who is in need of love, a home and a family. I don't need a man to do that biologically or financially.

In addition, when it comes to child-rearing, I worked as a nanny or babysitter during high school, college and law school. I have very definitive ideas about raising a child, and am disappointed at the fact that the majority of my girlfriends with children work outside of the home, yet are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the workload inside the home. I would much rather pay for a nanny who has experience with child care and will follow my instructions than have a man who is supposed to be my partner in parenting not doing his share.

I also have quite a few friends my age who don't care to have children…ever. Some are married, some are in relationships, and some are single. And, I've met a couple of women in their 30s who are starting to use men the way that men have traditionally used women. These women want some male companionship for dates and sex, but don't want to be in a relationship. Women's choices might not fit neatly into little boxes like they used to, but that doesn't have to be regarded as a bad thing!

Why did I write this post? I wanted to explain where I was coming from at this point of my life and show respect for the many choices out there that women in their 30s are making.

I'm 36, single and happy! If I want to get married someday, I will. And, if I don't, I won't be sitting at home crying about it. I define my life, not a man or my marital status.

Oh, and the next time you meet a 30-something single woman, try to leave the judgment and "aww, that's too bad" remarks out of the conversation. Some of us actually are single and proud of that fact!