Musings on language, images and life

Category: Life

Forever Young

Last weekend, we celebrated my daughter’s first birthday. Between the domestic work of hosting a party (a pleasure, but work nonetheless) and the parenting work of making sure the birthday girl was rested, fed, bathed, and clothed in a relatively saliva-free dress, somehow the actual event of her turning one had slipped through the proverbial cracks.

There had been emotion, yes. I reminisced about her birth—the moment I felt her leave my body, the first time I looked into those dark, curious eyes— the night before, while rocking her to sleep and planting kisses on her silky mess of auburn hair. My heart filled with gratitude for a healthy, beautiful child. While cleaning the bathroom on the morning of her birthday, I shed tears of sadness over the fact that her great-grandmother didn’t live long enough to see her turn one, and tears of joy that she was able to spend seven months watching her “doll baby” grow. However, I hadn’t allowed myself to feel the swell of pride, to experience the sheer profoundness of my child turning one. Not yet, at least.

When it came time to open gifts, I was somewhat surprised to see a present from my parents— they had delivered a scooter the night before, and I knew they planned on putting money into her college savings fund. As my husband helped the birthday girl rip into the package, my dad reached for his guitar. The wrapping paper was torn away to reveal a gorgeous hardcover copy of Forever Young, by Bob Dylan, with Paul Rogers’ vivid illustrations. My dad started softly strumming and singing “Forever Young” in his warm, resonant voice— the voice of my childhood.

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you…

My joyful one-year-old teetered over to her grandpa and helped him strum. Across the room, my mom’s beaming face shed 32 years. As a family, we traveled back in time—as young, idealistic parents, they sang this song to me when I was one, and in the years to follow.

May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

The birthday girl made her way around the coffee table, grinning widely at those who had come to celebrate her, and my heart opened. Completely. Her happiness became my happiness.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

As these lyrics—at once simple and profound—filled the room, I felt whole, confident in my parenting for the first time since she entered the world. This is what I want for my daughter. To be righteous. To be true. To be courageous. To be strong. We live in a world filled with benchmarks, titles, and external rewards. Yet, at the end of the day, none of this matters without a strong sense of self, a strong sense of justice and community.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

Maria Montessori, a renowned Italian educator and humanitarian, writes in Childhood and Adolescence: “The human personality needs to be prepared for the unforeseen. The power of adapting is essential.” My hope for my daughter is that she will be able to adapt to the “shifting winds” just as her father and I have— just as her grandfather and grandmother have shown me how to do for many years.

As my dad finished the song, I realized the extent to which these lyrics shaped the way my parents raised me and how, in turn, they impact my own ideals for my child. My job is to help her develop this strong foundation, to help her become who she will be to the world. What an indescribable privilege it is to be entrusted with guiding and loving this luminous person.

Anyone looking in our window last Saturday would have seen a grandpa playing a guitar, a grandma smiling proudly, a one-year-old bouncing to the music, a papa singing along, and a mama with wet eyes. Gifts were being exchanged—the most important kind of gifts, those you feel with your whole heart and soul— music, legacies, promises and love, boundless love.


Finding Ballast

For my mother, as she honors the memory of her mother this Mother’s Day.

I am incredibly fortunate to have lived 33 years without losing one of my favorite people in the world. That means when it happened, I was woefully unprepared when it came to understanding how it all works— how to deal with the waves of emotions that become stingingly intense at their peak, before washing out into a state of calm, of acceptance.

My heart has always gone out to those who are grieving. I like to think that I’ve offered them support, remaining open and available when it came to what they needed and when. However, the grieving process itself was never something I understood. Not that I completely understand it now—given the intensely personal nature of grief, the topic as a whole remains elusive—but at least I feel capable of starting to write about my own experience. Perhaps it will resonate with you, too.

Processing the death of a loved one is a delicate balance between hurting, healing, and preserving the memory of that person. Sometimes these elements converge messily, and feelings well up without warning. Sometimes the emotional tasks involved with each stage are crystal clear, leaving us wondering why we couldn’t view them this way mere moments ago.

This is our challenge as the ones left behind: to get to a point where the memory outshines the grief—where we live in a state of cherishing instead of a state of sadness. For those of us who admit we don’t fully understand the afterlife, this project can be even more daunting. We trust that our memories—both the ones we have of those who have left us, and the ones we are in the process of making with those who remain—will get us there, one day at a time.

When milestones approach that leave us bobbing in the expanse between pain and the desire to honor our loved one, we find ballast in the form of a favorite saying, a familiar scent, or a luminous photo. We continue on our journey, living the lives our loved ones would want for us—in doing so, we honor them, and they are never far from our hearts.


Clutching. That’s what we’ve been doing for the past month. Clutching to anything that reminds us of her. This is the reason I walked out of her apartment yesterday with a box of tchotchkes I never would have wanted a mere month ago, when she was still here, when I still had her in my life. But wanting to see, hear, smell and touch someone, yet knowing you can’t, produces unexpected reactions to “stuff” — the stuff she saw, heard, touched and smelled every day for many, many years. The stuff that reminds me of her.

“What the hell am I doing?” I laugh as I maneuver a wall hanging into my trunk. “You’re grieving,” my sister responds, grabbing one end of the frame. “You’re moving through it. This is all part of it.” She’s right. The wall hanging is big, it’s not especially attractive, the frame is broken, and pieces of metal are falling off of it. But it seeing it transports me to when I was a kid, when I would visit Grandma and Grandpa’s house, this idyllic place. I can’t bear to think of it getting dusty on a shelf at the local Goodwill. So I rescue it. For a brief moment, I have the illusion of control.

The last hand-written note Grandma gave me has been sitting on my buffet for a couple of months. I hand it to Mom. A tangible reminder. Something recent. Something to help her— maybe to help me, too. Her eyes well up as she reads it and hands it back to me. “Nice,” she murmurs. “So nice, Jenno.” I place it back on the buffet. After Mom leaves that night, I open it.

My dear Jenny —- Thank you for your time, talent, but most of all, love in writing my memories. The book is beautiful and proof positive I’ve been blessed abundantly!

The “stuff” will come and go. Some of the really meaningful things, the family heirlooms, will belong to my daughter someday. As Grandma always used to say, “You can’t take it with you.” But her words—these heartfelt and hopefully prophetic words—will remain with me forever.

I pray you continue to use your writing talent for the enjoyment of others…

With love and gratitude,



I was honored to give the eulogy at my dear grandmother’s funeral last month. Friends and family who were unable to make it to the funeral have requested to read it, so I’ve decided to share it here. I will never forget the cathartic, healing process of writing this in the days following her passing, and sharing these thoughts with those who loved her so deeply. I am incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity.

February 16, 2012

Since our beloved Pat passed away last Sunday, the concept of legacy has been on my mind. A legacy is something that is passed on from an ancestor or predecessor. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that Pat would quickly deny she set out to leave any sort of legacy. With genuine modesty, she would insist that “legacy” was too grand a word.

But I ask Grandma Pat and all of you to bear with me for a moment. After all, the longest lasting legacies aren’t always planned or premeditated; instead, they are built slowly and steadily… day by day, act by act.

Pat’s legacy is right here, in this room. It resides deep inside our hearts and souls. If you are here today, it is because Pat touched your life in some way. At last night’s memorial, we heard stories about Pat’s powerful presence as a person— a combination of Doris Day and Lucille Ball as my aunt so aptly put it— the way she walked into a room and just lit it up.  We recalled of some of her unforgettable sayings like “a cat from every alley” and “everything needs salt.”  We were reminded of how Pat’s competitive streak revealed itself during shuffleboard and croquet matches. We each have our own stories about Pat. Likewise, the impact she made on each of our lives is unique.

In talking with Pat’s family and friends over the past few days, a resounding theme emerged: love. Pat was such a loving person.  And she translated this love into action. Each time she made soup for a sick friend or family member, each time she offered her mass for someone special, each time she brought a bud vase with a beautiful flower to a friend, each time she tutored a young student, each time she stood up for what was right, she modeled how to live a life of love. For many, Pat was a refuge, a trusted confidant, known for her keen listening skills and her readiness to offer a pearl of insight when it was needed.

Pat was gifted with the ability to cut through superficial boundaries and find common ground, to accept and to truly understand those around her. What’s even more impressive is that she regularly took the time to do this, while bringing communion to friends in nursing homes, chatting over coffee after daily mass with her dear friends, calling and visiting with family members, and serving her church community in numerous ways. Pat knew how to connect with people and how to connect people with one another, and she used this gift throughout her life, most recently at The Glenn, where she introduced long time friends to people who were new to the area, facilitating friendships and fostering a sense of community.

These seemingly simple day-to-day actions have engendered something so profound, so meaningful, that we were all compelled to gather here today to celebrate this admirable woman’s life.

The English term legacy finds its roots in the Latin legatus meaning “ambassador or envoy.” How fitting. While Pat was living her life and building her legacy, she was also creating ambassadors in each of us, calling us to live lives of love.

Over the past year, I had the privilege of helping Grandma Pat write her memoir. A vibrant woman who grew up in Wadena, Minnesota, moved to the Twin Cities to study nursing and then work as a nurse, married one of the first neurosurgeons in Minnesota, raised 5 wonderful children, traveled the world, and maintained many great and lasting friendships, Grandma had her fair share of fascinating tales.

As I recorded our interview sessions over the past year, I learned many things about Grandma Pat. It will come as no surprise that her memoir is completely focused on her wonderful relationships, the relationships she had with all of you. Toward the end of the project, I asked her to describe her life in a single paragraph. This is not an easy task, but Pat approached it with grace and honesty, just as she lived her life. I want to share with you what she said. As we celebrate the life of Patricia Breher Blake, I hope her own words bring you both peace and joy.

“I have truly enjoyed every phase of my life and I consider myself to be a happy person. As I look back on my life, I am grateful for many things. Raising my family, going on trips with Paul, spending time with my friends and enjoying our reciprocal love. I’ve enjoyed my volunteer work at all stages. I am enjoying retirement and my life now. I love spending time with my children, grandchildren and great-grandchild, watching them all progress so beautifully in their lives. My heart is filled with gratitude for life’s many blessings.”

Rising to Fatherhood

Michael’s first “father moment” happened five years ago, even though he probably doesn’t realize this. We were at Bloomingdale’s, registering for wedding gifts. The saleswoman brought us a variety of wine glasses. As she touted the quality of the dazzling collection of lead crystal before us, Michael interrupted her suddenly, dare I say harshly. “Did you say lead crystal? NO. No way. Take these away.” My mom stared at him wide-eyed, still trying to figure out her son-in-law-to-be.

“You didn’t like any of those?” I ventured.

“Lead crystal? No. Drinking from those could screw with your reproductive system. Why chance it?”

I was dumbstruck. At that point, kids were a definite “maybe,” but here he was, concerned with the wellbeing of my reproductive organs (granted, his approach was a little rough around the edges, but the mark of a good father was clearly there).

Michael and I weren’t sure we wanted to be parents. We knew we had the resources (emotional, intellectual, material, etc.) to be good parents, we just didn’t know if we wanted to. When we remind each other of that now, our past ambivalence seems ludicrous. But that’s the place we were in— for years. Our decision to get pregnant was based on that nebulous concept of “readiness.” We both wanted it, but the nature of our desires and our thought processes were very different.

I called him at work on September 23rd, 2010, unable to wait until he got home to tell him I was pregnant.  “Congratulations!” he exclaimed. Congratulations? He came home that afternoon with a 9-month supply of prenatal vitamins, embraced me in the kitchen, buried his head in the crook of my neck and we swayed, just like we did the day Lyla came into the world.

It was a long ten months between our kitchen embrace and our labor room embrace. And our journeys during those ten months couldn’t have been more different. While I completely trusted my intuition and body’s innate knowledge (for the first time in my life), he downloaded any NPR report on pregnancy and childbirth he could get his hands on, intellectualizing everything. While I let tears roll down my cheeks at each ultrasound, falling more and more in love with my child with each flip and flicker, he stood inches away from the screen, sending a barrage of questions toward the ultrasound tech. Whereas I became a mother the moment I saw the coveted two lines on the pregnancy test, he spent ten months rising to fatherhood, one step at a time.

I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for a partner to watch his or her loved one’s belly swell, feeling that little force of nature rise to the surface and kick from time to time. Likewise, I have no idea what it must be like to watch the person you love most in the world enter into the “birthing zone,” grunting, squatting, pushing, refusing your help, bringing your child into the world.

A good friend of mine once said, “A real man is one who can watch his child come into this world.” As I delivered Lyla, Michael’s face was as close as it could possibly to her entryway. I remember feeling extremely proud of him in that moment. I remember falling even deeper in love with him the first time I saw him hold his daughter, seeing him completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of what had just happened.

A few days ago, Michael and Lyla were snuggling in the living room. When I came in to ask if she needed to be fed, he was cradling her head in his hands, singing “I’ve Got the Whole World in My Hands,” sotto voce. I watched them. I cried. My heart swelled. A real man rises to fatherhood. And he has.

35 Years: Musings on the Power of Love

For Barb and Dan Westmoreland on their 35th wedding anniversary.

My parents are a power couple. No, not the kind with his and hers BMWs, inflated egos and power suits— the kind that lovingly changes lives, one person at a time. Tomorrow they will celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary. For those who know them well, this milestone of love and commitment comes as no surprise. After all, Barb and Dan’s marriage is a microcosm of how they live their lives— with gusto, compassion, and devotion.

A few weeks ago, I came across a photo of my parents on their second date (to the Renaissance Festival) in 1972. My second comment (after mocking whatever mismatched…er…”fashion-forward?” polyester apparel my dad was sporting—you know, obligatory daughter stuff) upon seeing it was “Wow. It’s amazing to think that you had a life before us.” I was only half-kidding. It blows my mind to think of my parents meeting, dating and falling in love. I can’t fathom the fact that, just like the rest of us who have made commitments to partners, they went through that heady period of truly getting know each other—the good comes first, of course, followed by the not so good—the exhilaration, the vulnerabilities, the anxieties, the desires, the setbacks, the personality flaws that you finally decide you can work with, the love that you can’t imagine living without. Even though I’ve seen the photos and heard the recording of my dad’s emotion-filled voice singing to his bride, it’s hard for me to imagine them taking this major step in their lives together— committing to be there for each other, to have and to hold, from that day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do they part.

That’s because, when it comes to the Barb and Dan I’ve known my entire life, this sense of love and commitment has always been a given. Their relationship is not perfect; I’ve never seen one that is. However, the bedrock is solid. I’ve seen them withstand some intense challenges over the years— dying parents, struggling friends, and I know there have been periods when Annie or I stressed them to the max. They’ve always rolled up their sleeves, dug right in, and dealt with the problem at its root. As I look back on those times, the thing that strikes me most is their partnership. Whatever challenge Mom was facing became Dad’s challenge, too, and vice versa.

It’s been wonderful to watch my parents grow as individuals (taking on new projects, becoming interested in new things, refining their skills) and as partners, especially over the past few years. Their relationship has never stopped evolving. I am inspired by their ability to pour themselves into their work, passion projects, friendships and families. I am even more inspired by the way they support each other, making it possible for each of them to achieve greatness in so many ways.

Not a day goes by that I don’t recognize how fortunate I am to have grown up with such loving, engaged parents. I know that 99% of why I am happy and fulfilled today has to do with my parents’ influence. I also realize that this process started the moment I was born, and I was reminded of this fact a few months ago.

Several weeks after I gave birth to Lyla, we were over at Mom and Dad’s. I gave Lyla to Dad while I went to use the restroom. When I came back out to the living room, Dad and Lyla were nowhere to be found. As I was looking for them, I heard muffled giggling coming from Mom and Dad’s bedroom. I opened the door slowly and saw that Dad had snuggled Lyla up next to Mom as she was waking up from her nap. Mom was sleepily playing with Lyla’s little toes and cooing loving words in her ear. Dad was lying on the other side of Lyla, stroking her head. When he saw me at the door, he jokingly said “Go away! This is our baby!” and turned back to his granddaughter. I disobeyed his “order,” and as I watched them with her, it dawned on me that this is what my first days on earth must have looked like. It was like staring into a time capsule. My eyes filled as I thought of my parents sharing all of the love they had as a couple with their first child, then a second child, and friends, and family and eventually the communities they both serve.

Indeed, something powerful was happening in that photo from 1972. Perhaps unbeknownst to them at the time, my parents were laying the foundation for a beautiful life. Not just for themselves, but for so many others.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.

On Writing and Parenthood: Thèmes du Jour

I have something to confess. Each time I sit down to write a blog post on pregnancy (don’t worry, you won’t be seeing any of those for a while), birth, or motherhood in general, I feel a pang of dread. Dread that I’ll be labeled a “mommy blogger” (you know, the kind that reviews strollers or dedicates full blog posts to spit-up) or be viewed as a monothematic writer (let’s face it, I’ve been called worse). Not that there is anything inherently wrong with either of those labels, they’re just not what I aspire to be.

I’ve always written what I know (standard advice in the field), and this blog serves as a receptacle for all of those thoughts that are either too personal or too obscure for the venues in which I typically publish. The very personal lessons I’ve learned from my daughter are what have caught my attention the past three months. In the days I’ve spent with her, I’ve not only learned who she is, she’s also revealed to me various facets of humanity. She’s reminded me of beliefs I’ve always held that had become buried under years of quotidian concerns. Life has become a celebration, and my creativity has flourished thanks to her innocent revelations and reminders.

A dear friend of mine (who also happens to be a world-class writer and editor) recently introduced me to an organization called Pen Parentis. The members of this diverse group don’t necessarily write on parenthood (in fact, most of them don’t). Their commonality lies in the fact that they are all parents and writers— a powerful combination. Powerful because, in my experience, parenthood informs my writing (on a variety of topics) and the perspective required to be a writer helps me to better understand the world(s) of parenting, these intimate microcosms we build and exist in each day.

I’ve decided to cast off the yoke of dread I feel when I sit down to write about the creative fodder—gifts, really— sourced from this awe-inspiring journey called motherhood. I will forge ahead shamelessly, unabashedly, as a writer-mother/mother-writer, since I know that someday I will crave anything that reminds me of these intense, beautiful days. I’ll return to writing about some of my other favorite topics soon, but for now, I’ve decided to dedicate the slim spaces in my schedule to writing about what I am living, feeling and learning today. Art, feminism, literature, politics and education will have to wait for the time being. Or will they? As I’m learning, each of these realms informs the views I bring to parenting.

As I reflect on my first three months of being a mother to a babe outside the womb—the strange smells, new sleep schedule, lack of personal time and my painful, shifting postpartum body fade into a nebulous, low-level hum and a select set of crystalline moments remains in the foreground. These are thèmes du jour that captivate me and compel me to write. I will continue to put pen to paper (or fingers to laptop, as it were) and get them out into the world.

On Vulnerability

I tip-toe over to my daughter’s cradle and furtively place my hand on her belly to feel the rise and fall of healthy breathing (a common new mom compulsion, or so I’m told), a gesture that elicits what sounds like an exasperated sigh from my already very independent 2-month-old. I breathe my own sigh— one of relief, that is— and curl back into bed next to my husband. I watch Lyla squirm a few times, furrow her brow, and sigh again before settling back into a comfortable position. Each squirm makes my heart ache in the best possible way, and I close my eyes and sink back into this new state of being— one I can only describe as a state of vulnerability imbued with incredible strength.

I rarely think of myself as a vulnerable person. I will admit that I’ve been vulnerable at times during my life, but it isn’t a term I frequently use to describe myself. I’ve always associated vulnerability with weakness, something one (especially women) must fight against in order to be successful in life. This philosophy had served me well for many years— at least I thought it had until I discovered the beauty that lies in allowing oneself to become completely vulnerable.

The events surrounding Lyla’s birth taught me exactly what I had been missing all these years. With each movement felt or heartbeat heard during my pregnancy, I fell deeper in love with the powerful little being growing inside me. As I labored to bring her into the world, I felt both my body and soul open to the possibility of loving more than I had ever thought possible. This opening, this complete surrendering, left me more vulnerable than I have ever been in my life. In the first days at home with her, I kept her on my chest constantly (unless her dad was holding her), needing to feel her near, needing to show her how much I loved her.

As the days passed, out of this feeling of vulnerability came the knowledge that I was a capable mother. As my physical strength improved, so did my mental clarity and emotional energy. Combining instinct with research, I continued to care for my child, a process I had begun ten months earlier. As I nursed her, bathed her, and took her out into the world, I felt both invincible and completely exposed. This vulnerability/strength dichotomy is inherent to my experience as a parent. Each day is trial by fire, and I come through it feeling more confident, more aware of my daughter’s needs. I fall even deeper in love with my child, which leaves me feeling vulnerable… and the cycle starts all over again.

Before I became pregnant, I had a conversation with a good friend who described parenthood as being completely willing to sacrifice everything for one’s child, even one’s own life. I didn’t doubt this was true, it was just that I had no context for this type of emotion at the time. I understand it now. I understand it on a visceral level, and I know that this desire to protect and ensure the survival of one’s  child is in and of itself and act of strength.

When Lyla was two weeks old, I was invited to sing back-up on one of my dad’s songs at the Compassionate Friends International Conference. This organization exists as a support network for parents who have lost children at any age, due to any circumstances. This year’s conference was organized by my beloved aunt, who lost her daughter (our dear cousin) in a tragic car wreck sixteen years ago. Dad and his musicians were asked to kick off the morning walk to remember with his song “Walk in the Light.” As the song began, I looked out into the sea of parents who had gathered to remember their sons and daughters. Many of them had pictures of their children on their t-shirts. I ached for them. I also admired them more than words can express. In their eyes I saw the utmost pride and love for their children—these souls who continue to live on in the hearts and minds of their loved ones. I saw incredible strength, strength that I cannot even begin to imagine. Just as it was difficult for me to understand parental love before I became a mother, it is nearly impossible for me to fully understand the type of strength it takes to carry on in the memory of a child who has left this world.

What I do know is this: It is only through allowing ourselves to be open and vulnerable that we experience true and deep love. Of course, this state of heart-wrenching, exhilarating, all-consuming love is not just reserved for parents. It is accessible to anyone who dares allow him or herself to enter into this precarious and sublime state of vulnerability. From what I’ve witnessed so far in my very new journey as a mother, out of this vulnerability comes unimaginable strength, the strength to care, to act, to love unconditionally every day of our lives, whether our loved ones are still with us or not.

We will walk in the light of their memory,

Run with hope in our hearts,

Fly on the wings of love all our days…

All our days.

(Excerpted from “Walk in the Light” by Dan Westmoreland)

Breast Interests

“Mama Jen?” Dad said quietly from the hallway. “I think she’s still hungry.”

I was already headed in her direction. She had been crying for two minutes or so and, as any breastfeeding mother can tell you, my milk ducts had already responded en force.

“I’m sorry. I know you need to work. She ate the two bottles you brought, but I think she needs more.” My parents had kindly offered to watch my 5-week-old daughter so I could carve out a couple of hours to spend in front of my laptop finishing up a project for a client. In anticipation of my work night, I had pumped two bottles, the only “liquid gold” I could manage extract between Lyla’s nearly constant feedings.

I sped over to the chair where Mom was holding Lyla, rocking her and soothing her with a voice I hadn’t heard since I was a child. “She needs her mama right now,” Mom said with knowing eyes. Bending down to scoop up my red-faced babe, I briefly cursed myself for thinking I could maintain a vital career and be the type of mother I wanted to be. Clearly I was failing on both counts.

Lyla and I retreated to my parents’ living room and her hungry little lips latched onto my heavy breast. I tried typing with one hand while cradling her in the opposite arm. When that proved too tedious, I began making a mental list of all of the things I needed to accomplish before the week was out— maternal, personal and professional tasks. I felt my blood pressure rise.

When I was only 3 or 4 months pregnant, Mom asked me if I was planning to breastfeed. She beamed when I responded with a resounding “of course!” “You’ll love it,” she cooed, slipping into a dreamy, nostalgic state.

I do love it. I love that my body can produce everything that my quickly growing daughter needs. I love that I can give her something that no one else can. I love that we have moments throughout the day (and night) that are reserved for just the two of us.

But some days I’m just a human couch with milk spigots (my sister’s apt description). On those days, each time I try to perform basic hygiene or get out of my mismatched pajamas, each time I try to respond to an email, each time I try to go to the bathroom, pleading little sounds and eyes draw me back and we nurse…and nurse…aaaaand nurse.

I am grateful for the ability and desire to breastfeed my daughter. I am also grateful for a lifestyle that allows me to do so. I work primarily from home, and most days I am able to complete that work and have plenty of time to spend with my darling “nugget.” Both my husband and I have worked hard to be in a position where I can work part-time from home in a fulfilling career and mother Lyla in the best way I know how.

What’s more, I have an incredibly supportive husband who cooks, cleans and never misses a chance to interact with his daughter. Even though I know we have worked hard to get here, I still can’t help but feel like I won the lifestyle lottery. Most days I don’t feel like a woman “oppressed by motherhood” (French writer Elizabeth Badinter’s theme de préférence), nor do I feel like I’m somehow less of a mother for maintaining a career (a common American maternal anxiety). I feel like a pretty great mother, actually.

Then why have I felt so “off” these past few days? So torn? Searching for the answer, my mind traveled back to the conversations about breastfeeding I’d had with my mom before Lyla was born. Well, she didn’t work while she was breastfeeding me, I reasoned, so there you go. All she had to do was concentrate on me and my needs. She must have been happy with that. But I knew deep down that wasn’t true. My mom has never been the “housewife” type. She’s a woman of action, a woman of vision. I know there were times when she felt cooped up when she was at home with us. I also know that she loved that time in her life more than words.

How did she do it? The answer came to me as soon as I asked the question: she has always been wonderful at living in the moment. For better or for worse, I have always excelled at speeding ahead into the future, relying on multitasking and overloading my schedule to get to the next step, the next level— either personally or professionally.

That was it. In the best interest of my daughter, and in my best interest, I would have to swap out my lens, to adjust my perspective.

So, I’m taking a page out of my wise mother’s book and trying my darndest to stay in the moment. Yep… easier said than done, but this truth reminds me of the importance of trying: If there’s anything lovelier than my beautiful daughter nursing merrily while never breaking eye contact with me, I have yet to experience it. I know these days will pass too quickly and someday, like my mom, I’ll speak of breastfeeding in rhapsodic terms.

I also know that I have a great support system. When Michael gets home from work he’ll be there to play with Lyla while I do my work, or bathe, or have a glass of wine—whatever I feel is the top priority at that moment. When I greet him with un-brushed teeth, tangled hair and tired eyes, he’ll immediately know what kind of day I’ve had: a human couch day.

Today was one of those days. “She only sees me as a food source,” I lamented. “She doesn’t play with me like she does with you. She doesn’t smile at me as much.”

“Yes,” he replied. “But you’re the reason she’s so happy and healthy. You’re the reason she’s growing so well. Plus, I saw her crack a few smiles while you were talking to her in French this morning.”

“You’re right, she did like that,” I remembered as I stepped into the shower.



Cascading Over the Precipice

Your birth was a series of moments that accumulated, stacking one on top of another, leading me up, up, up until I found myself cascading over the precipice, thrust into an exhilarating free fall before landing peacefully in another reality.

Saturday, June 25, 2:30pm

Your induction is scheduled for Monday. I will be nearly 42 weeks pregnant at that point (or 43 weeks, depending on which due date you go by), which, in terms of gestational timeline, is on the far end of the medical community’s comfort level. My OB has been wonderful, doing everything possible to give me the chance to go into labor naturally. Being induced was the last thing I wanted for us, but my thoughts are with you and getting you into this world in the healthiest way possible. I also know that I am exhausted and in pain. I’m not sure how many more sleepless nights I can endure and still be an effective laborer. I lean on your papa’s shoulder and say “I think I just need a little more time. Lyla and I can do this. I know we can do this.” I call my OB and she agrees to push back my induction until Friday, provided I come in each day for a biophysical profile. I agree, relieved. I make it my mission for the next few days to stay rested and nourished. I meditate and talk to you.

Wednesday, June 29, 12:03pm

I lumber upstairs to get dressed as your grandma is on her way to pick me up for lunch. For the past three weeks we have been calling you our mermaid, so content you seem to stay in your underwater world. I bend over to pull on the one pair of pants that fits (sort of) and notice a small stream of liquid trickling down my leg. Then a gush. Then a deluge. I squeal and burst into tears. You are coming, naturally, on your own. Your papa races back home to find me perched on the front steps with a drenched towel between my legs, beaming.

Wednesday, June 29, 3:08pm

I’ve been walking through the birth center for an hour, trying to get contractions started. The on-call doctor (not mine) started me on the dreaded “Pitocin timeline”—I have until 4:00 to show some cervical change before the cascade of interventions that I had wanted so badly to avoid will kick in. My cervix is only dilated to 1cm. I’m starting to have some contractions—not strong, but regular. I tell your auntie that I need a break. She lovingly tells me I need to keep walking. I do.

Wednesday, June 29, 4:11pm

My cervix is dilated to 3cm. I go to the bathroom and feel your head drop like a bocce ball into my pelvis. I immediately start cramping— hard. “Thank you,” I whisper.

Wednesday, June 29, 6:15pm

After walking for another 2 hours I’m having strong contractions. With each one I slip deeper into a place of concentration, a place of connection to you. I roll back and forth on the birth ball, flanked by your papa and auntie. Papa plays Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluia” and I feel hot tears stream down my cheeks. We’re there. We’re in active labor. You and I are doing this.

Wednesday, June 29, 8:05pm

I’m laboring hard in the tub. My body adjusts to the intensity of each contraction just in time to prepare itself for the strength of the next one. I breath, grunt, hum, vocalize. The vibrations of my voice feel soothing and give me more power to stay on top of each surge. (Little did I know they soothed you, too. I would hum in the same way to put you to sleep weeks after your birth.) I ask for your papa to come in. He sits on the edge of the tub, tentatively putting a hand on my shoulder, then quickly retracting it, unsure of what to do. His touch brings me out of my place of concentration, so I ask him not to make physical contact. I tell him that I just need him there. He doesn’t have to say or do anything. I feel his gaze on me as I work through each contraction.

Wednesday, June 29, 10:15pm

After a series of contractions that leave my thighs trembling, I abandon my current position (on my knees, draped over the end of the birthing bed) and sit for a moment with my legs dangling off the side. A wave of hormones and adrenaline hit and I start convulsing. Auntie and Doula Robyn hold my shoulders so that I don’t fall. The shaking takes me by surprise, but after it ends I feel more focused and energized. A contraction comes and I surge forward. I’m spontaneously pushing. The nurse checks me and I’m fully dilated. You are kicking more forcefully than ever. I’m not surprised when the nurse tells me that your heartbeat is strong and regular— you are tolerating labor well. We are both thriving in this moment.

Thursday, June 30, 12:15am

I’ve been laboring down for two hours, letting each contraction guide my pushing. The spontaneous urge to push is the most powerful sensation I’ve ever experienced. I feel strong, in control, totally connected to you and my body. This is the hardest I’ve ever worked— at anything. You continue to kick as you glide down the birth canal. Auntie, Papa and Doula Robyn are taking shifts holding my legs and encouraging me. I know you are coming. There is no need to rush your arrival.

Thursday, June 30, 12:40am

The pace of my pushing changes. I hear someone say “I see hair!” and the tone in the room shifts. The nurse calls for back up and I realize that doctor has not arrived yet. The nurse asks me to resist the urge to push, to “puff” for the next few contractions. I “puff”, but the next contraction pushes your head through the opening. You are fully crowning. Everything in my being— in my universe– at that moment is telling me to deliver you into the world. The sensation is primal, it’s out of my control— I have become the pushing. With the next contraction I give a strong push and you come sliding out onto the bed— head, shoulders, body. We cascade over the precipice together.

Thursday, June 30, 12:49am

In the moment between delivering you and feeling your glorious little body on my chest, I’m in an exhilarating free fall. As you land in my arms, I feel myself land in this new reality. “Lyla! I’m your mom!” I exclaim through tears of joy.

Thursday June 30, 12:55am

I peel my gaze away from your lovely eyes for a moment to see Papa cut your cord without hesitation. He has a glow of pride I’ve never seen before. Your long fingers wrap around one of mine and we are both completely drawn into you.

Thursday, June 30, 2:20am

We’re back in our recovery suite. As I share the good news with your grandpa by phone, you stare at me through the side of your clear bassinet with those big, curious eyes. You are magical. Every fiber of my being wants to jump out of bed and hold you to me, but I don’t trust my exhausted legs and the pain from my birth injuries has begun to take hold. Your papa gets back from fetching our things from the delivery suite, gently removes you from your bassinet, kisses you on the forehead and hands you to me. The three of us embrace and I understand the meaning of perfection.

Monday, July 4, 6:50pm

You’ve been in the outside world for four, almost five days now. I’ve spent most of my time those first days holding you, learning your ways, taking you in. We are celebrating 4th of July at your grandma and grandpa’s. You’re sleeping through your first raucous Blake/Westmoreland/Bouchard card game, snuggled in your grandma’s arms. I pick up a stack of photos your grandma took the day you were born. As I flip through them, my heart fills. I feel your grandma watching me from across the table. When I look up, our wet eyes meet. In that moment, I understand what it means to be a mother.