Saturday, December 30, 2006

The real me

I 'am' a mother. I 'am' a wife. I 'am' a university professor. I am many things it would seem in addition to these three major definitions, in particular if you take into account my interests and passions.
Lucky for me, one of my major passions is my children, so that one meshes well with what I would consider an important defnition of me. But when I look at my other passions (I'll skip those involving identity #2, this is a family-orientated blog after all), I realize that they define me, but they don't identify me. Why is that?
I love to sew. During this holiday break, I have been sewing like a crazy woman. It is like a bulimic fit of sewing. I am finishing a quilt I started for dd#2, and as she watches the progress of her zoo animal quilt, she gurgles and murmers her approval (I have witnesses that also saw her say 'wow' yesterday!). I ruefully realized yesterday that perhaps my zealousness is rooted in the ability to label the quilt '2006', but that isn't it. As Daniel Goleman says about leisure time passions, sewing (for me) allows me to 'go into a flow' and just be. So why can't I just 'be' when I am 'being' the things that define me?
I realize this is normal, and most people need some sort of 'outer' place to go to when they aren't being what they actually are (how is that for an unclear sentence?!). But still, I find it odd that I need to go to this other place, and that the identities that I have (and most people would associate with me) have nothing to do with what I feel is the real me.
Christiane Northrup links the creative need to ovarian function. Well, good! I guess I am contributing to positive ovarian function by picking up needle and thread and clicking away on my knitting needles during vacation.
The only tough part about this wild and crazy fit of creativity is that it creates guilt: on one side, that I am not addressing the huge pile of work, both personal and professional; on the other side that I literally live for this and it will soon be over. Well, perhaps that last bit isn't so much guilt as mourning.
I know, rationally, that responding to my wild creative urges actually feeds me in ways that are too myriad to describe, and paradoxically, allow me to work better when I return to the work at hand, but the guilt often remains. It remains that often I deny this urge and continue to plod on, aimlessly, in my work, fulfilling my identities and ignoring the real me.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Christmas Spit

I know that the holiday season means a lot of things to a lot of people. I am not sure I know what it means for me and my family, but we are developing it. It is an ongoing process.

When we moved to France 14 years ago, it was a lark. We thought it was temporary. And Christmas was fun -- no stressful family get-togethers, no disgusting meals, no overeating... although it is all about food in France when it comes down to it. It was fun, being in a foreign land, for a few years. The glow wore off when our first child was born.

So many people say, "Christmas is about children." And in many ways it is true. It is way more fun to get a gift for a child who thinks it came from some amazing place far away in their dreams than it is to search and search for just the right thing for a distant relative, who probably won't like it anyway. But for us, it has become more about family than gifts. More about finding ways to celebrate and create traditions than ways of spending money.

I said earlier that in France, Christmas is all about food. And that is mostly right. Food, and families. The French are fiercely family-orientated when it comes to celebrating the major holidays, and well, more power to them. In the best sense, this is good and wonderful and creates cohesion and strength in families. But if you are not part of France (by that I mean FRENCH citizen and not some strange color which most people won't equate with true French citizenship -- yes they are racist here too!) then you are not part of the festivities. People in France, shopkeepers, bus drivers, the daily people, can be relatively unfriendly. At Christmas time, they are downright mean. Christmas spit.

So dh, in his infinite wisdom based on excessive amounts of international travel, has been saying for years that we should take a trip to a neighboring European country for the Christmas season, even if it isn't to celebrate the actual holiday, at least to bathe in another culture for a few days.

Being the chief suitcase-packer and organizer of trips, I have never been too fond of the idea. But I am now a convert. Two weeks ago, dh left on a trip to Austria, where we (me and dds 1 and 2) were to meet him and then we would travel as a family to Munich, Germany, to soak in this amazing season he has always found so lovely.

He was right. It is a culture that lives to celebrate dark, short days with as many means possible to put a smile on anyone's face, especially a child's. Yes, there is commercialism. Yes, people shop there and buy many things. But even that part of the crass spirit was unusual: lines were straight, went quickly, and no one snapped at anyone else. It was just a simple exercise, not a sport or an obsession to buy loads of things.

The best part was the street fair: stand after stand of simple festive food, 'glug-wein' (hot mulled wine that actually tasted good), and a few Christmas ornaments and candles to make things jolly. It was as though several thousand people said, "We don't want to hang around stores or get bummed at home, let's just go out in the street and be friendly and celebrate". So we joined them.

The girls thought it was lovely. We found it relaxing. And the return to France was a bit anti-climactic. But then, at least we have 2 whole weeks with our oldest daughter and our youngest, to enjoy as we please.

We still miss extended family, at least most of them. Sometimes they venture here for a holiday, but not often, which is understandable. Last year my amazing mother-in-law did come, and we had a lovely celebration, but being of German origin she noted that the French celebration was a bit 'dull'. She wasn't complaining, she was observing. She was right. Ah, the wisdom of the elders. And then... being from that culture, she knows how to put the 'ir' in spirit.

Friday, December 15, 2006

It doesn't work

OK, I knew when I started this blog I was kidding myself. I mean, I have a journal that I write in semi-regularly for my daughters, and I can't do that consistently. It is a journal I created so they would have an idea of my thoughts and our experiences during their young lives. I have gone easy on myself, writing every week or so, or less at times. And then I created a blog? Who am I kidding?
Well, then, the worst happened. The evil beast reared her head. Someone else wanted to read my blog! Vanity! Flattery! Of course I'll update it!
So it doesn't work. My blog, and perhaps many other things as well. At least not in the way I would like.
So many people I know are sure that their bodies don't work either. Most of these people are women, of childbearing age who, usually through no fault of their own, experienced heinous treatment at the hands of medical professionals. Not only were they treated badly in a physiological sense (painful birth interventions, iatrogenic interventions, inappropriate treatments), they were either explicitely told, or at least led to believe that their bodies don't work.
I am one of those women. At times, my body hasn't seemed to work. My first child was born after a somewhat wild pregnancy, the last two months of which I spent believing I was having too many contractions (turns out that's how my body WORKS). Then I was forced into a cesarean section after several stupid interventions which only further served to convince me my body didn't work. (It didn't occur to me that it was the interventions that didn't work, mind you! Nor did it occur to me that maybe I worked but the whole birth context I was in didn't work...)
Then my amazing marvelous super duper daughter was there, and breastfeeding worked, so it all went a bit underground. Underground, that is, until I wanted her to have a sister or brother. To make a long story short (well, as short as this kind of long story can be) I had four miscarriages in a row. They occured at varying times in the pregnancy -- 10 weeks, 13 weeks, 11 weeks, and 7 weeks. Yikes. It looked bad for the sister/brother plan.
I can't even begin to paint the bleak picture that was my life during these miscarriages. They happened over 2 years, and I can honestly say those were probably the most depressed years of my life. The only way I can be sure of this is that now, having come through this fire, I am truly happy (anger and frustration notwithstanding, cf previous blog of November 9!). I am happy. I have two daughters now.
After my 4th m/c, I was blessed by the help of my midwife to leave France and get a consultation at a very reliable and solid research center in London. It took 3 months between the appointments and tests, and although I knew the odds were slim and none that I would get an 'answer' as to why I was having what is referred to as 'recurrent miscarriages', I figured it was part of the process of healing. (Only 2% of women who have m/c have them for recurrent reasons. M/c are a shockingly normal part of reproductive life, but that is probably the theme of a future post.)
I remember the day I went to London for my diagnosis. It was December 16th, 2004. The plan was buffeted by winds and rain. It was not a fun flight. I walked into my doctor's office and expected to hear, "Well, it turns out that those m/c were just bad luck. You have no problems." I was prepared for that.
What I heard was, "Well, it turns out that the test show some strange clotting problems, and it is likely that these clotting anomalies are what are causing your m/c." What followed was a detailed description of what these researchers knew about antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), and the treatment which had proved quite favorable. It involved taking low-dose aspirin and heparin shots for 34 weeks of the pregnancy; starting with a positive pregnancy test.
Despite my anticipation to find out the contrary, I was quite happy to know that there was a reason. And I was incredibly fortunate.
On December 18th, or therabouts (perhaps 24 hours later, these things are hard to gauge accurately), daughter #2 was conceived. I thought she would be. My body worked after all. And I realize now, after all this time, I never really thought it didn't work, even with this diagnosis of APS, it worked. I consulted with my ob in France who was willing to follow up with the appropriate prescriptions, and he gave me these so I could start treatment immediately if need arose (which it did 2 weeks later!).
And it worked.
I won't say it was easy. That pregnancy was not the end of my mental disaster area. It was part of the process, though. I had more ultrasounds than I care to mention. I did it fully conscious of my choice. I agreed to some prenatal testing and not others. Again, fully aware of my choices.
I stumbled at 24 weeks when my ob tried to cajole me into scheduling a cesearean, and I nearly did (who knows what odd cognitive processes lurk in the minds of vulnerable pregnant women)! Thankfully I had many IRL support people to remind me that I didn't want to plan my child's birth this way.
I literally freaked my midwife out at 41 weeks when I had a dream that I returned to France without my baby. (Ah, the crazy dreams of pregnancy!) I fretted until 42 weeks 5 days when baby #2 magically chose her own birthdate.
The birth of this child did end in a cesarean, for reasons this time that did make more sense to me. Her head 'engaged' quite early, and as near as my midwife and I can figure, she put herself in an occiput posterior (face up) position at that point, 'fooled' us by having her bum front and center on palpation (yes, they are freakishly supple little creatures!) for the following weeks. And if the OP position wasn't enough, she had engaged in a 'brow' presentation, the full circumference of her head descending into my pelvis. It was hard for her to extricate herself from this odd position as it turns out. And we tried many, many things to do it! An irony not lost on me since my first cesarean was supposedly for a 'too small' pelvis, this cesarean occured because my roomy pelvis allowed this nutty child to position herself anyway she wanted.
C'est la vie.
But my body works. I can guarentee you that. Yes, I had 2 ceseareans, both times for reasons that were beyond my control. Yes, I have APS, and I can't promise you that it isn't remarkably indogenous to me (well... I conceive easily... perhaps this is a way to limit pregnancy in a person like myself???) or perhaps due to external meddling (I am also rhesus negative an no one can tell me that the rhogam shots I agreed to were completely innocuous!). Who knows. But I have two daughters.
What didn't work were my plans. (siblings 3, perhaps 4, years apart... a beautiful vaginal birth for both... stay at home with them indefinitely...) No, my plans were not to be. But my body worked.
And I'll tell you that I unconditionally (well almost!) accept my body. It frustrates me at times (I hate getting the flu!). It angers me at times (quit getting bruises for brushing by soft furnishings!). And it disappoints me at times (hey! is that another patch of celluite???). It scares me even (my, those labor pains were remarkably strong... hmmm... another lost baby due to a m/c... that is frightening!).
But the rest of the time it works. I breathe, eat, sleep and physically function pretty well. I conceive children ridiculously easily. I breastfeed in a way that suggest my true calling may have been wetnursing. And I take all of that for granted most of the time.
I'd like my body to do many other things. Some of them we will accomplish together, others we won't. But I still maintain, that it works. What doesn't work is me imposing my absurd plans and timing on my body.
And therein is a lesson for all of us women.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Confessions of a closet conservative

I have to admit it. I used to be liberal. Now I am, contextually speaking, conservative.

I used to live in the United States (oh... how I miss that!) and by a series of weird events and coincidences, I find myself in France, with my life (husband, two children, two dogs, job...) here too.

After living abroad over 14 years, I find myself often having 'bad France' days, like some people have 'bad hair' days. It seems like it is 'bad France' month. Or even year, who knows. My own little personal life is fine and dandy, but whenever I venture into my environement, especially recently, I feel more foreign than I possibly could ever imagine feeling. And then it challenges the beliefs I have about my identity. Like this morning.

I walked onto the university campus this morning. And I saw this sign saying that one of the student syndicats (they are like unions) are fed up with having to work while studying. WTF???

OK, working and going to college isn't easy. I did it, most of the people I know did it. Does it seem fair? Well, I don't believe in 'fair', so I don't know if it is or not. All I know is, I was thinking, "What do these kids want"? They want extra time to party (who doesn't!)? They want what? Hours and hours to study (most of them wouldn't... I know I wouldn't have!)? What? They don't want to work?

So what is that about... I guess at some level no one wants to work, but on another level we know the consequences of that. So maybe that is what really angers me, they just don't want to deal with the consequences. Not yet, at least.

I wondered, "Am I becoming a conservative"? Does this make me a nut? Why don't I empathize with students who need to take part-time jobs during their studies? I understand not wanting to do something... but... isn't this part of life? I don't want to generalize, either. There are nuances, there are shades of grey, perhaps working part-time isn't indeed for everyone, but golly, I just don't remember it severely or negatively affecting anyone I went to college with.

I know I don't belong here. And maybe that is part of the problem.

The context has made me conservative. I wonder how liberal I would be if I ever returned to the US...