12 Jun 2019

Summer Reading 2019

It’s the middle of June, and my family is about to experience something that will likely never happen again: my husband, myself, and my children all have the summer off from school and work. It will be fun, but will probably not be relaxing: there will be much travel and my barely-solvent unpaid maternity leave budget doesn’t include a full-time nanny. Which means I will be responsible for minding my two small children, one of whom is a 22 pound breastfed six-month-old who is going to be crawling soon… and the other of whom just broke his toe and will be in a cast/toddler-sized walking boot until at least mid July.

 

Alas, there will be very little time for that summertime fantasy of sitting by various bodies of water and reading. Who can sit down by a body of water anyway? Isn’t standing on guard, waiting to grab any errant child lest they wander too far or too deep, a mandatory summer posture? Assuming you aren’t immersed in said water,  supporting the massive bodyweight of your huge children while you “swim” together?

If I do get a few minutes to rub together, here’s my summer To-Read List. I attempted to keep it slightly more trim than previous years but pretty much failed. There’s a good mix of fiction here: perennial recommendations from friends, family, and smart people, books I started but never finished, books intended to fill the Game of Thrones shaped hole in my heart, an award-winner, a graphic novel, and a new Dessen! I hope I hope I get to read at least a few before this crazy once-in-a-lifetime summer is over.

(And I hope hope hope all of my family’s collective bones remain intact. And that nobody drowns. And that there are no sharks in North Carolina this summer. And that my baby starts sleeping through the night tomorrow without any effort, assistance, or tears. And that I write more than one blog post before I go back to work!)

(Okay, I need to go so I can start reading. Just kidding, I’m going to bed because: babies.)

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

05 Apr 2019

what i read – 2019: Q1

Hello! It’s April! So far this year, I have read seventeen books.

Seventeen books is somewhat below my average; I am eight books behind pace if I want to meet my usual goal of 100 a year. I’m not concerned: it’s early in the year and I’m not up to pace with my book reviewing yet. I’m actually rather impressed with the amount of reading I am doing! Keeping my reading pace with one child wasn’t too hard; reading with two children is something else entirely. Twice as many schedules to manage, three times the mess, eight times the laundry (why is there so much laundry!?), and the same number of parents. Lounging on the couch with a good book while my husband plays with the baby? Sounds like a fun weekend! With two children, I can lounge on the couch reading while my husband plays with the baby, as long as I can do it while an almost-three-year-old pokes me in the eyeballs and tries to “flush mama’s head” with a hairbrush and sings “The Three Little Kittens” at the top of his lungs. I can’t even read ebooks while I’m nursing, since the almost-three-year-old has taken possession of my Kindle: he types words into whatever search bar he can find and only occasionally orders piano instruction books using my linked Amazon account. Thanks, progeny!

How to Read Less: Live with an Almost-Three-Year-Old

When I started 2019, I had full-time childcare for our pre-preschool tyrant and was still sitting around the house nursing or cuddling a sleeping one -month-old baby. I was feeling somewhat accomplished by grabbing some of the perpetually unread books that sit on my living room bookshelves, and also finishing a few ebooks before they were returned to the library. Now, I have less childcare, and feel somewhat accomplished when I can read 25 or so pages of a book while sitting on the floor of the living room and building towers out of blocks, or squeezing an audiobook into my cleaning/cooking/Stardew Valley time.

I’ve been trying to write these quarterly reading updates for actual years now, but – surprise surprise – I end up writing WAY too much about each book and never finishing. So allow me to take advantage of this smaller-than-usual reading quarter and tell you about what I’ve been reading!

In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph M. Marshall III 

I selected this ebook off my robust Overdrive Wish List, hoping for a short middle grade read to feel good about finishing. It was a short middle grade, but a little too historical for me to read it quickly. While I can’t say I’m terribly interested in the retelling of famous battles, I will say I was startled by how little I knew about this era of history! Just nothing at all, really.

Smarter Better Faster: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Another selection from my Overdrive Wish List, to be read on my phone while nursing/hanging out with a little babe. Very fascinating stories – reminded me of Freakonomics or Malcolm Gladwell. I did wish there was more content about personal productivity as opposed to business productivity.

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Ever since I read a.l.l. of Jacqueline Woodson’s books for a grad class, I have prided myself on keeping up the streak… until for some reason I didn’t read her exceedingly slim and well-reviewed adult novel for a number of year?! It’s for adults, but still feels very Woodson: adult mostly in perspective rather than content or point of view. Very satisfying to finally read a book that’s been mocking me from my bookshelf for years.

Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward by Gemma Hartley

Hartley wrote that article about Emotional Labor that everyone read back in 2017. After hearing her on the podcast circuit, I decided to read her new book on the topic. On one hand, Hartley is talking about important, under-discussed manifestations of systemic sexism that affect us all in some way or another. I am on board and interested. On the other hand… this kind of book makes me want to get into a fight with my husband. Which is not something I have time/energy for right now. A Conundrum. (One that Hartley does, actually, talk about in her book, of course…)

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior

My first postpartum audiobook! A nice uplifting, postpartum read! Funny story: I listened to this whole book, put it on my Goodreads, only to discover I had already read and reviewed it. I had no recollection of this. Parenting is fun and definitely does not fry your brain at all! Thumbs up!

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling

My second postpartum audiobook, and a continuation on the Parenting Is Not For Mere Mortals theme. I heard Kiesling on the Mom Rage podcast: this her debut novel, and while the story isn’t strictly *about* parenting, the main character is actively solo-parenting a toddler throughout. This provides a sort of never-ending thrum of mundane activities always buzzing behind the narrative… which, you know, is pretty much exactly what parenting young kids is like.

Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear by Kim Brooks

Another galley I’ve had on my shelf forever. It’s part memoir, part sociological nonfiction, written by a woman who was arrested for leaving her kid in the car while she ran into a store.  behind the click-bait-y topic is a really thought-provoking look at how and why our culture has shifted so profoundly. It wasn’t that long ago, historically speaking, that parents used to send their kids off to work full time in factories! This reminded me a lot of Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, both in content and form.

To Night Owl, From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer

Just picking up those galleys and knocking them back, guys. This one is realistic middle grade fiction. Stories told in email are a hard sell for me, but the two characters were voice-y enough to keep me interested. Plus, I liked the Parent Trap/summer camp vibes.

My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan

An audiobook choice. A little too rom-com-y for my usual tastes, but I enjoyed it

Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos by Lucy Knisley

I have recently promoted Lucy Knisley to a Must Buy author. I have been looking forward to reading her graphic-memoir on pregnancy and childbirth since I learned she was pregnant… which was when I was pregnant with Baby #1! We had our babies within days of one another, this author who has no idea I exist and I. After reading the whole, traumatic story, I am 100% thankful that my labor and delivery, while a bit excessive, was otherwise drama-free.

Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

I aspire to be the kind of person who picks up the latest Newbery winner after the awards are announced. Instead, I am typically the kind of person who puts the latest Newbery winner on hold and never reads it. EXCEPT FOR THIS YEAR! This year’s winner was a classic-feeling realistic middle grade novel – a sixth grade novel, as so many of my favorite MG books are – with a distinct cultural and geographical setting.

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Another middle school story, this time in graphic novel format. Like Merci Suarez, Jordan is a minority scholarship kid at a fancy-dancy private school; while Merci has been at her school for awhile, New Kid focuses on Jordan’s transition into this new environment dealing with feeling “othered” at every turn.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink

Like Smarter Better Faster, this is another pop-social-science book with a premise that was RIGHT up my alley… but the content really couldn’t live up to my expectations. Or maybe I’ve just read all of the time management/productivity literature that exists in the world and there’s nothing left for me to learn. Nonetheless, this was a quick, interesting read – although somewhat laughable to be reading about how to perfectly time… anything while performing full-time parenting duties.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee

My first five star book of the year! I listened to this collection of personal essays about Chee’s life and writing on audio and although I had no real investment in the author/subject matter, his narrative voice just h.o.o.k.e.d. me and I wanted to listen for ever. My dishes were very well washed and my kitchen counters and floors quite clean for the few days I listened.

P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy

Another audiobook. Another realistic sixth-grade-ish book. I won’t post any spoilers, but I read this weeks ago and am still occasionally reeling over the parents’ hand in the book’s Big Reveal. I don’t think the book wanted me to vilify them, but as an adult human/parent? Horror.

Juliet’s School of Possibilities by Laura Vanderkam

A business-focused “fable” isn’t exactly the kind of book I usually seek out….  but I read Vanderkam’s blog and listen to her podcast often enough that I felt like buying her book was a small way to support the creator of content I enjoy. If you’re familiar with Vanderkam’s perpetual 168 Hours “you have enough time” thesis, Riley’s life-changing transformation won’t be anything new to you, but it was a pleasant – and quick – read.

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land

A memoir that lays plain how nearly impossible it is to escape systemic poverty. How little support our society provides to single mothers is really sickening.

10 Mar 2019

34

It’s hard to believe that it’s my birthday.

It’s not hard to believe I am getting older. The amount of time I’ve spent Googling retinols and facial serums this year has been…well… steadily increasing. It’s also not hard to believe that time is passing. I happen live with two small Physical Manifestations of Passing Time. One has likely doubled her weight in less than four months. The other can spell “macaroni penguin” and has me thinking about preschools… which has me  thinking about kindergarten… which seems impossible, but is actually only two years away!

What’s hard to believe is that birthdays still exist. Or holidays in general. Any activities that occur regularly according to a date on the calendar, actually. Life with two children under 3 has me feeling significantly adrift from the scheduled world. I bought a planner for 2019 – a handsome Get to Work Book – but my days and weeks are entirely interchangeable. Take a Tuesday’s activities and move them to Thursday? Okay. Need to cancel Monday altogether? Sure.

It’s even harder to believe that a day that is special just because of… me. Me? Jessica? You mean, Mom, right? Mama? Mommy? I honestly don’t know if I exist right now. I want to. I wish I did. But I’m finding amount of physical and emotional labor required to care for two very little children (while also performing the bare minimum of household maintenance) too intense for something so frivolous as Independent Thought and A Stable Sense of Self. Sometimes this feels okay – like I’m taking a (probably much needed) break from being Jessica. Sometimes it feels obliterating. Most of the time it just feels… tiring. I feel tired. Fatigued. Sleep deprived. Sore and achy ready to sit down. Fed up and out of patience. Emotionally depleted. Groggy. Bleary-eyed. Gently exhausted. I’ve become closely acquainted with all flavors of tired.

Something magical is happening, though, right now in my house, as I turn 34. My second baby is three months old now and she is changing. She is bright-eyed and holds her head up. She smiles and laughs and can grab onto some objects. Her sleep is growing more predictable and she goes to bed at a normal baby bedtime. She has big eyes and a big bald-ish head and she just hangs out on a blanket on the floor while her big brother plays and I am repeatedly struck by something I had forgotten or maybe just couldn’t conceptualize yet – that she is part of the family now. She’s one of the pack, here for good, part of our sloppy, noisy, nonsense life.

She certainly won’t remember this dramatic, obliterating winter; her brother probably won’t either. It’s likely they will not remember anything at all but life with each other – brother and sister. And now that my hormones are stabilizing and my tired isn’t the up-all-night variety, I can occasionally look at these two little people in my house, take a few mental steps back, and see what we – my husband and I – are creating.

Today I am 34 years old. I am three months postpartum and nursing – day and night. I have two children under the age of three in my care most of the time; I am very blessed to have a supportive, involved husband who truly shares childcare responsibilities with me, and also part-time childcare for our almost-three-year-old. I am still on maternity leave at a time when many women are required to return to work or lose their jobs. I’ve read twelve books so far this year: not a ton, but not nothing! The days are getting longer, and the sun is coming out more often. This time next year there will still be a special day for me, and if I’m lucky I will spend it with a one-year-old and an almost four-year-old and my husband who I will have loved for sixteen years.

(And if I’m extra lucky, it won’t be sleeting *or* snowing and my postpartum balding will have subsided so my hair will look GREAT)

 

33|32| 31 |30 | 29 | 28 | 27 | 26 | 25 | 24

02 Mar 2019

a first birth story, part iv

Part IV: The Aftermath

My son was born just before midnight – two full weeks early, but tipping the scales at 8 lbs, 2 oz.

This picture is a screenshot, grabbed from a short video my husband took after my baby was born. I look pretty much how I felt: completely shell-shocked, possessing only unconscious instincts – hold baby close, rub his back, don’t drop him – and more tired than I have ever been in my entire existence.

I requested delayed cord clamping, but the little guy came out too quiet. Breathing, yes, and making a slight whimper, but they called in a NICU doctor to look him over anyway. He was fine – he started crying without much drama – and they returned him to me while we all waited for the placenta. Like its in utero companion, my placenta also took its time. Wet Noodle Jessica had agreed to more Pitocin at some point during the pushing process, so they sent even more down my IV to encourage my uterus to cooperate. It didn’t work in whatever window of time they prefer, so an OB arrived. She did something acutely uncomfortable but effective. I’d rather not know exactly what went down… down there. Then, there were stitches. Nobody offered much in the way of detail, and I didn’t ask, but the process was also… unpleasant.

Here’s something they don’t tell you about that “Golden Hour” of skin-to-skin bonding with your newest newborn: when you are in a hospital, it starts at some debatable point in time while you are still getting medically worked-up. There are bustling medical professionals cleaning up your bodily fluids and looking for lost washcloths with a metal detector. You might have been awake for over 48 hours so instead of smiling and posing for photos and bonding… you just fall asleep, or fall into a similarly catatonic state.

It felt like about 2 minutes passed between the delivery and when the L&D nurse came to my side and said “Okay, let’s try nursing!” I was hoping my baby would be one of those crazy “breast-crawling” infants who could paw his way up to his first meal, but it seemed like my child was just as out of it as I was. Wet Noodle Jessica followed the nurse’s suggestions and offered him a nipple. My little sleepy guy (A baby! A boy!) latched on like a champ.

We were eventually relocated to the postpartum floor, and as soon as it was convenient, we let our new nurse push our fresh little guy’s rolling bassinet right on over to the nursery and immediately fell into the most needed sleep that any two humans have ever received.

Don’t birth stories usually end about now? They certainly don’t usually stretch on for over 6,000 words. But I’m on a roll, and so many amusing things happened while we stayed at hospital!

We spent our first night and day in a lactation room. “You got the last room!” they told me, cheerily. “Everyone else is going to have to spend the night in the hallway!” I’m still not entirely sure what a lactation room at a hospital *is*, to be honest, but I will tell you what it is not: an actual, functioning hospital room. There was room for my bed and a cot for my husband, but not much else. There was a sink for hand-washing, but no soap. There was no private bathroom.

No. Private. Bathroom.

If you have given birth, you will understand how disconcerting this is. I was offered, instead, the use of the public bathroom down the hall. The bathroom used primarily by dads and visiting family members. My nurse, that first night, helped me hobble down the hallway in my gown. She toted a plastic bag filled with the myriad devices and supplies necessary for a newly postpartum mom to… well.. pee. I repeated the process on my own the next morning –  I tried to be tidy, out of courtesy for those dads and visiting families. And by “be tidy” I mean “avoid leaving bathroom looking like a crime scene.”

The first night, however, at 3 in the morning, I did not care much about my bathroom situation. I cared about food. Where was the food. Why was it not in my mouth? My husband had optimistically ordered a meal during the dinner hour and as far as I know, nobody had eaten it. Where was it?

“Oh. I just told the nurses to throw it away,” he said. “I didn’t think you’d be hungry.”

I might have cried. I shoved more Cheez-its in my mouth – they were pretty much the only food product I’d eaten all day, but I was desperate for calories. My husband foraged a cup of ice cream and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for me from the kitchenette – I left half the sandwich, knowing that I would wake up even hungrier than I was now.

Four hours later, I woke up in the pitch dark of our windowless lactation room. My cell phone alarm was going off. I was hot – hormones, probably, but also this room seemed to lack air conditioning?! – and still hungry and wanted my baby.

Also, the Comcast man was going to arrive at our new apartment in less than an hour to finally install our Internet.

“You need to go meet him,” I told my husband. We had been living without Internet for two weeks! Who knew how long it would take to get another appointment! “And you need to bring back bagels from the good bagel place. And bring me my baby.”

I had assumed the nurses would have woken me at some point to nurse a crying, hungry infant. However, it seemed the previous day’s events had taken just as much out of him as it had me – he hadn’t woken up once. My bleary-eyed husband wheeled the bassinet into my room and then left to get us some internet.

In between cuddling, taking exhausted-selfies, and trying futilely to order breakfast in between the seemingly endless amount of sudden visitors (Nurses! Student nurses! Breast pump guy! Photographer! More nurses!), I had to spread the good news to my family.

First I called my mother, of course.

Me: “Mom, I had a baby!”

Mom: “Congratulations! We are in upstate New York right now and we will be in Boston by noon.”

Me: Uhhhhhhhh… okay!

Mom: Your sister will probably beat us. Her plane should be landing any time now.

Me: Uhhhhhhh… okay!

I had no idea anyone was planning on visiting us so soon. I mean, 48 hours before I had no idea I was going to be having a baby! Conveniently enough, my husband was able to meet my sister and her boyfriend (now husband!) at our apartment. And the Comcast guy. Who gave us Internet, bless the Lord.

Just a few hours after I woke up, my tiny, windowless lactation room now contained me, my husband, my baby, my mother, my father, my sister, her boyfriend, and a bag of good bagels. Then: the postpartum midwife and I think some other random medical professionals.

“Hi! Everyone is talking about you! We wanted to meet you! The woman who delivered without pain medication! And look, you’re breastfeeding! This is rare. We just don’t see this. Congratulations!”

At this point I recognized the real reason to have an unmedicated delivery: if you achieve it, some people will treat you like you are a rare, exquisite creature and shower you with empowering compliments. I honestly hope this is how all newly postpartum moms are treated, no matter what happened during their birth, because heaven knows the outcomes of a birth are about 90% out of even the most determined mother’s hands. The words of those women meant so much to me; I recalled their message many times over the next weeks, when I was exhausted and emotional and unsure of everything. Bringing a child into the world was something hard but also something worthy of praise.

“And what is your baby’s name?”

Oh yeah. Speaking of rare birthing experiences rarely seen within the walls of a hospital.. we had no name for our child. During labor and delivery this was just part of the novelty of not finding out the gender. Afterwards, it was just confusing.

What I wanted to say:

“Well, I am really picky about names and all traditionally male-gender-associated names are pretty terrible, and also I had a baby 12 hours ago and my entire family and I have been in a tiny room with no air conditioning or bathroom since I woke up from 4 hours of sleep, so I haven’t really had a moment to think about what to call this child.”

What I did say:

“No name yet! We are still deciding.”

What the delightful postpartum midwife said:

“We have got to get you and your entire extended family out of this room.”

We were moved to a standard postpartum room before the day was over (“You should really call and complain about this,” the midwife said. “This is unacceptable!”) That night we roomed in together. I kept a light on – how could you possibly parent in the dark? – and set my phone alarm to go off every two hours so I could nurse. My husband stayed up finishing grad school homework – oh, did I mention my husband had started his first session of summer grad school… oh… 4 days before our child was born? My due date was his first day of on-campus orientation, but online classes started right away. Apparently part of that bagel+sister+Internet acquiring trip also involved recording himself singing? I never really caught the details, but while my mind and body were wracked with the aftermath of labor and the shocking reality of our new baby, my husband was dealing with the shocking reality of our new baby and also reading articles and commenting on Blackboard posts. How awful.

Our little guy? He slept. I woke him to eat; he ate; he slept some more. A perfect, sleepy, poorly-swaddled angel in his little rolling bassinet bed. He passed all of his newborn exams, save for a touch of jaundice. The next day, I not-so-subtly suggested my many family members treat themselves to walk into Fenway to find some lunch; with a few minutes to ourselves, finally, we gave our child a name. We had another relatively peaceful night in the hospital; the next day, we finally installed our carseat base and then carried our little boy out the door, across busy Brookline Ave, through the weird alleyway between the Winsor School and the Simmons gym where I used to run extremely tiny laps on an elevated track, and to the “secret” place where you can street park for free in Fenway.

And then, after we drove to Allston to pick up our no-longer-cracked-screen iMac (that’s another story entirely) and picked up some take out Thai,

we brought him home.

 

Thirty-three months after that…

  • he weighs over 30 pounds and is 36 inches tall
  • he’s sleeping well in a toddler bed
  • he’d eat three almond butter and jelly sandwiches a day if we’d let him
  • he’s mostly potty-trained
  • he sings all the time
  • he asks to go to the library every day
  • he can write all of his letters and numbers
  • he can spell… at least two dozen words
  • and read many of them when he sees them
  • the other day he told me what 1 minus 11 was
  • he has a three-month-old little sister
  • his mother finally wrote the final words of his epic(ally, unnecessarily long) and overdue birth story

The End!

11 Feb 2019

a first birth story, part iii

Part III: The Action… and the Baby

It was almost 7 p.m. I’d been at the hospital since 9 the previous night, on Pitocin since 8 in the morning. Some point during that time, I stopped fussing with the monitors and talking about musicals and started… well… laboring.

I tried some different labor positions throughout the afternoon and into the evening, but nothing beat just plain standing up. I probably spent 75% of my active labor on my feet, with my arms draped over my dear husband’s shoulders. I was so tired – I wanted so badly to sit down and rest – but I couldn’t, because I wouldn’t have enough time to heft myself back up to standing before the next contraction hit.

Aside from standing, my main method of pain management was a little psychological trick I read about on some random website: supposedly, contractions “peak” at about 30 seconds and then slowly subside. I tried counting to 30 on my own but it felt horrific – the distance between the numbers stretching further and further apart as I counted. But I asked my husband to count without telling me, and just inform me when 30 seconds had passed. It was surprisingly effective – his words were a cue that the pain would soon be over, so I could calm down.

At the evening shift change, two midwives popped in. My labor was probably still boring according to my medical professionals, but to me, it was starting to get miserable. Contractions were less than a minute apart. I was so, so tired. I was crying. Not that long ago, a tiny, slithering voice had whispered in my ear. You could always ask for an epidural, it said as I stood, swaying exhaustedly. It’s a thing you could do. Now the midwives were there, standing with me, and I asked if I could be taken off the Pitocin. It had clearly done its job. I was definitely successfully induced.

They looked at me sympathetically. “Your labor is progressing,” the daytime midwife said. “Contractions more intense and closer together. This is what is supposed to happen.”

I’m sure I responded by having a contraction, maybe moaning unintelligibly, maybe weeping. Time may have passed. I have no memory. I do, however, remember the new nighttime midwife asking me a kind, kind question: “If you could have one thing to make this easier on you, what would you want?”

The answer: “I want to be off these monitors so I can get in the motherf@#$ing shower!”

Although I was situated in one of the most hospital-dense cities in the world, it hadn’t occurred to this First Time Mom-to-be to do any  “hospital shopping.” When I got a positive test, I called my primary care physician, who transferred my call to the OB/GYN department. I asked if they had midwives. They did – most of their patients alternated seeing an OB and a midwife at appointments and could choose which group to deliver with. Their home base was Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center – a large teaching hospital in Fenway, right down the street from my alma mater – so, sure, I would deliver there. Why not. My Internet research revealed that this was definitely a hospital environment, but what seemed like a nice one. No swanky birth center vibe, but private rooms throughout. No tubs, but showers! I could handle a shower. Plus, I’d planned on doing a majority of my laboring at home and arriving 9 cm dilated, so who really cares about amenities?

The bad news: my stupid water broke and I was GBS positive and now I was on Pitocin so I had to have stupid pink and blue monitors strapped to my belly and attached to a rolling cart of electricity so no, I couldn’t get into any showers.

And by the way, your room doesn’t have a shower, it’s a shared shower that is actually down the hall.

I mean, nobody is in it because everyone is lying in bed with their epidurals except for you idiot. But you still can’t get in.

Or so daytime midwife had insisted. Nighttime midwife, it seemed, was a little more game.

“Maybe we can make that happen,” she said. “Let’s check you and see just how far along you are.”

My second cervical check. It was probably 7-8 p.m – a full 12 hours since my morning check had gotten me hooked up to Pitocin in the first place. This was it: the cervical check delivered at the peak of desperation that would be so disappointing, so demoralizing, that I’d lose what little grasp I had on my pain and succumb to that little voice. I knew the narrative. This is how birth stories went. I’d be anesthetized within the hour, a C-sectioned before midnight.

I, however, didn’t care about any last thing except a remote chance I could get into the shower. Or, really, get anywhere that wasn’t in this exact room, standing in my terrible, pain-wracked body, where I had been for 100 years and seemed doomed to remain forever.

“You’re at 8 cm!” nighttime midwife said. “That’s great news. I think we can let you off the IV and monitors for and let you in the shower for a while. We’ll monitor you intermittently and I’ll check back in an hour to see if things keep rolling. If they slow down, you’ll have to come out, but we’ll see.”

Rejoicing! Tears of relief! Excitement! Somebody unhooked me from my various medical paraphernalia. I wanted to barrel out the door immediately, in the tiny window before I had another effing contraction.

“Oh, but you need something to wear on your feet,” nighttime midwife said. “Fungus prevention, you know.”

A contraction hit. I couldn’t believe what these people were talking about. Fungus!? I don’t care about fungus! Give me a fungus, PLEASE, if that’s the price I have to pay I will gladly pay it!

“Maybe we can hunt down some paper slippers?”

Seriously. I will take a fungus over wearing PAPER SLIPPERS IN THE SHOWER that sounds DISGUSTING what is wrong with you people?

The contraction passed. “I have flip-flops?” I said.

Those were the magic words. Finally, finally, I was allowed to strip down and enter the shower, and it was as glorious as any experience I’ve had since. So hot. So wonderful. And did I mention hot? Hospital hot-water heaters are magical.

My husband joined me, wearing swim trunks and flip-flops of his own; while he was mainly on Spray-Wife-Down-With-Movable-Shower-Head duty, I also recall that he opted to hang halfway out of the shower curtain every so often to continue monitoring my contractions on the timer app… on my brand new iPhone. Questionable decision; good intentions.

I quickly realized that it wasn’t just the magic of the hot shower that brought me such relief – it was the sudden absence of Pitocin. While I hadn’t had any pre-Pitocin contractions to provide a frame of reference at that point, laboring without the drug was just so… mellow. I’d have a contraction. It would end. Then, there would be… a break? A pause? The electronic data did show that my contractions were somewhat further apart; on Pitocin, they could be as close as 30-45 seconds, off was more like a minute or a minute an and a half. Maybe that extra 30 seconds between was more valuable than it seems? Or maybe the contractions were just less intense, so I didn’t spend my between-contraction time recovering or dreading the next onslaught. Either way, I was suddenly nearly having a good time. I’d spent all day in a hospital room experiencing more and more pain. Now I was in a private, steamy room with my husband, hanging out. I distinctly remember making a joke and feeling like it was the first time I laughed all day.

My nurse came in a few times to check the baby’s heartbeat with a Doppler, and everything was fine. I must have been in there a good long time because I think I also remember the midwife arriving and doing another cervical check. (Can you even envision the contortions required to check a hugely pregnant woman’s cervix while she’s fully naked in the shower? It was weird…) I was 9 cm! Huzzah! Things were still moving forward. I could stay in the blessed shower. (TMI for seasoned birth junkies only: besides timing contractions, my grand overachieving plan for keeping my labor progressing? Nipple stimulation. This paragraph is full of appealing visuals. You are welcome.)

The magical shower of unparalleled glory featured a metal bench. At some point, I finally sat my exhausted ass right down. When a contraction hit, I slid off the bench and into a squat; when it was over, my husband – still diligently spraying me and risking the life of my beautiful new phone – hoisted me back up again. It was totally manageable. Wonderful. Great. Maybe I even started to feel like I wanted to push when I was down in that squatting position? Just maybe. I wanted to keep the urge to myself, to just push silently. Stealthily deliver my baby into the magical shower room, alone. But it got too freaky, the feeling of your body taking over without your consent, so I uttered the magic words.

“I think I’m pushing?”

The midwife was back. She checked my cervix again. I was fully dilated. Go time! And since shower deliveries are not approved hospital practice, I was headed back across the hall to my room.

“You need a hospital gown,” the midwife said.

A contraction subsided. “No, I don’t,” I said. What I needed, clearly, was to get any sort of ambulation done before I had another contraction. “It’s fine. It’s right across the hall!” And I’m wearing flip-flops, for goodness sake. Who knew medical professionals would be so concerned with my wardrobe…

I did make it, eventually. I was hooked up to the monitors, again and cleared to push during contractions, if I felt like it. I wanted to try the whole sit on the edge of the bed + slide off the bed maneuver, but after one or two contractions it was clear my belly bands just wouldn’t stay put that way, so it was vetoed.

“Maybe side-lying,” I said, hoisting myself back on to the bed.

“Yeah!” my husband said. “Just like they suggested at birth class!”

I lay on my side. I had a few contractions and “pushed.” And then I fell asleep. Life without Pitocin, man. It was wonderful.

In my mind, I was resting between contractions, just like everyone recommends! My midwife-to-be sister says I was “laboring down.” According to my husband – who was standing there with the nurse and midwife – I was just plain asleep for like, a half hour.

“Maybe we should try a more active pushing position,” the midwife said, kindly. I acquiesced, and my legs were then hoisted up to my ears and it was time to do this thing, lithotomy-style. I cared about nothing except getting this baby out of me. Actually, that’s a lie. I was so exhausted, I didn’t even care about that. I was a tired, wet noodle of a human being. Throw my legs where you want, I don’t care.

In case you have somehow made it 5,000 words deep into this adventure and not yet found it too revealing, here’s a big fat T. M. I. for you. Turn back now or be forever scarred by the horrors of vaginal childbirth!

I was also terrible at pushing, surprise, surprise. “Push like you are taking a big poop!” the midwife said. I tried, but has anyone on this planet ever taken a big poop while lying on their back in front of their husband and two medical professionals with their legs up in the air? On purpose, anyway… This seemed like a musculo-skeletally-unreasonable recommendation. But I was an impressionable noodle-human. I tried, but it didn’t work. Nothing I tried worked for an interminable amount of time.

The weirdest thing about pushing was how much pain I wasn’t in. I could barely tell when I was having a contraction, which was annoying because I was only supposed to be pushing when I had contractions. In between, there was just… silence. At first, I started drifting off again. “That’s great,” my midwife said. “Really relax between contractions. It’s fine to fall asleep.” But I totally did not want to fall asleep again – I did that for like, an hour and nothing happened! I would never wake up! This would never be over! I needed to keep my head in the motherfuc%#$ng game! So I started making awkward small talk with the nurse and the midwife in between contractions to keep myself alert, and  because yes, it was really awkward to be standing around in silence in the middle of the night while everyone was waiting for you to suddenly get good at a task you were clearly sucking at. I also solicited my husband to play DJ, but like many laboring woman, I was incredibly exacting. Carole King, but not the Carole King musical, what are you thinking?? Tom Waits, but not the creepy Tom Waits. The nice, singer-songwriter Tom Waits.

While Tom Waits hoped his pony knew the way back home, we tried the squat bar. When a contraction hit, my team of hoisters hoisted me up to grab onto the bar. I hated it. It was the scariest thing I had ever felt in my life. My midwife cheered as I was lowered back down to a supine position – “You made more progress with that one push than you’ve made in an hour!” she said. Looking back as a labor post-strategist, it seems obvious that everyone should have hoisted my ass back up to that bar despite my protestations. I didn’t like it because I was exhausted and didn’t like being hoisted, and also because it was working. I was too afraid to push for real. Nobody called me out on it… so I ended up pushing for more than three hours.

Regardless, my baby was, in fact, coming out, albeit at a snail’s pace. The head was visible. Did I want a mirror? Mirrors can be motivating. I had thought probably not – who needs to see the carnage up close? – but Wet Noodle Jessica would say yes to anything if there was the tiniest sliver of a chance it would get this baby out of her uterus so she could go to bed. There it was: the tiniest, TINIEST sliver of a head, covered in hair. I didn’t find it disturbing OR motivating. I did feel somewhat tickled to see the reason for my truly excessive amount of heartburn, though.

Speaking of heartburn, despite becoming reliant on OTC heartburn meds late in my pregnancy, I had somehow forgotten to bring with me anything stronger than a Tum. I became convinced, mid-pushing, that if only I had a Zantac, I would be a better at this. I have a bit of a vomit phobia and when you have a gross acid reflux-y feeling at the back of your throat and then you start using every muscle in your body to facilitate the ejection reflex of a foreign object? That feels kind of like throwing up. So maybe I wasn’t giving it my all, because of that. Because I was scared. Because I was scared, because I was scared, because I was scared. A Zantac seemed like a reasonable request to me, but the nurse and midwife looked at me like I’d requested a Ketamine shot. “Did you bring any with you?” they asked. I remembered the Saga of the Cough Drop from so many hours ago. I gave up hope.

Here is the point of the story where a baby’s head entered my vagina. It stayed there for what felt like an entire hour. I asked my husband later – it was actually almost an entire hour. This was incredibly unnerving, uncomfortable, unbelievable, unpleasant, uncomfortable, undesirable, uncomfortable and all sorts of other un-words. It was there when I was pushing. It was there when I wasn’t pushing. This did not feel like a ring of fire. This felt like a baby’s head inside of my vagina. I wanted it out. There were probably tears. I remember saying “ow ow ow ow ow ow ow” a lot. The sliver of hairy head in the mirror was getting larger, but not large enough. I asked if there was anything that could be done to just… you know… pull the baby out of me. No. No there was not. I thought it would never end – this day, this labor, this head in my vagina. This was my life now. I tried to push when I had a contraction. I tried to push when I didn’t have a contraction. I tried screaming, I tried being quiet, I tried tucking my chin, I tried everything.

And then, all of a sudden, what ever I tried worked, and there was a baby.

It felt like his whole head and body came out in just one push. An entire human, with arms and legs and skin. Skin! A baby that had been there all along with me, for hours and hours and hours of labor, for months and months of pregnancy. Skin inside of my skin! A real person!

Sure, I’d had a long day, but how had I forgotten that there was a person inside of me? Maybe I hadn’t ever really known. Maybe I couldn’t know, but now it was undeniable.

He was undeniable.

It was a boy!

It was Leo.

 

07 Feb 2019

a first birth story, part ii

 

Part II: The Mostly Boring Labor

In my limited, single-birth experience, I can see some benefits to labor beginning with your water breaking.

1) It makes for a good story! “And then my water broke!” Sploosh!

2) It’s a pretty hard to argue with. There’s none of that “hmmm, was that a contraction? Am I in labor? Should I call the doctor?” stuff. You are leaking mysterious fluids, therefore it’s time to have a baby

3) Supposedly your contractions are more intense once your water breaks. I wasn’t allowed that particular frame of reference, so I was spared one mental setback during what would become a long and fairly arduous process.

Regardless of all that, I – in my nightgown, leaking pink liquid at 38 weeks pregnant when e.v.e.r.y.b.o.d.y. told me I would go until 41 – was extremely pissed.

Because I wanted a low-intervention, epidural and C-section free birth… and I was GBS positive.

I had just received the test results a few days before. My OB was so chill about it. GBS is very common! So not a big deal. You’ll need a round of IV antibiotics at least four hours before you deliver. Don’t worry!

The only thing else you need to know, she said, is that if your water breaks when you are at home, you’ll have to come into the hospital right away. Since you and the baby will be at a higher risk of infection.

“But that really rarely happens.” she says.

I started stomping around the house. I also put regular clothes back on, did my best to pack a hospital bag (which, up until that point, was empty except for a box of Cheez-its and some granola bars), and considered not calling anyone at all for even just a few hours. But my Upholder nature got the best of me. I called the nurse line (“Oh, you’re GBS positive? Then yes, come in right away. Well, you don’t have to drop everything and run to the hospital, but yes, come now”) I called my annoying husband a half dozen times before he picked up. My supervisor had her first baby the year before and she was 10 days early and I was horrified. Now I was even earlier?? How was this even possible??!

My husband barged into the apartment maybe 20 minutes later, sweaty and panting.

“Did you just run all the way here?”

“Yeah!” he said.

“Please calm down and go take a shower,” I said. I very distinctly remember using my nicest, most polite tone of voice.

I gathered up more stuff – how convenient that surly Jessica brought over ALL of the baby clothes from our other apartment! – washed the dishes in the sink, and left our cat a small mountain of food. I helped my husband pack his bag. I grabbed a half-full pint of Ben & Jerry’s from the freezer and my giant, tall-person sized birth ball and we got in the car.

I sat on a bath towel and ate ice cream while we drove through completely reasonable Boston traffic. It was a Thursday night after 9 p.m. We remembered where to park our car in the garage and which elevator to take up to labor and delivery. We had a short wait in reception, where I proceeded to leak amniotic fluid under my dress and down my leg. The receptionist asked if I was wearing a pad. Yes. Yes I was. No, it clearly isn’t doing the job. She reached into her desk drawer and pulled out one of those notorious industrial strength, mini-diaper sized pads and pointed me toward the bathroom.

In triage, a midwife interrogated and swabbed me to confirm that yes, my water had indeed broken. How was I feeling? “I don’t want to be here,” I said. I wanted to be at home, laboring for hours in my own space. I wanted to be sitting in triage moaning and dilated, not kicking my heels and chatting casually about what birth classes I had taken.

At one point, the midwife asked me what my plans for pain medication were. “I was hoping not to use any,” I said. There’s really not a casual, polite way to say, “Coming through! Watch out! Crunchy, Ina-May-reading ‘natural birth’ lady here at your Large Urban House of Cascading Interventions!”

The midwife’s response? “Okay. Sure. You certainly can try laboring for a while and see how it goes.”

While I silently seethed over my medical professional’s subtle but blatant dismissal of my deeply held birthing desires (“you can tryyyy laboring,” she said, like she’d met so many women who thought they might just give it a whirl but, oh, ow, it hurts! Where’s my epidural? She’d clearly never met me!)  baby passed the mandatory intake monitoring (Thanks Ben! Thanks Jerry!), and – with some concerning delay – the “are you still head down in there?” ultrasound. At one point, the ultrasound-wand-wielder uttered the sentence “I can’t find the head;” something no mother ever wants to hear said about her child, born or unborn. They did find the head, eventually; it was much lower than was conveniently ultrasounded. I took that as a good sign.

And then there was the million dollar question: are you having any contractions? Well, maybe. One or two? I’d felt a little something as I waddled from home to hospital, leaking all the way. Maybe a little bitty baby contraction? I don’t know. I was hopeful, but nobody seemed terribly impressed.

At that point, the midwife gave me my options: start an induction or wait and see. Here it was. The Cascade of Interventions. I was supposed to sink my heels into the stand, hold firm to my priorities, and insist that we wait for as long as possible. “I want to wait at least a few hours,” I said, nervously. “See what happens.” That was totally fine, she said; she was comfortable waiting up to 12 hours as long as I got my regular antibiotic drips and sat on the monitors intermittently. “At least a few hours,” I said.

So we waited… but there wasn’t exactly a *place* for us to wait, necessarily. It was a busy evening in L&D. We hung out in triage for a while, eavesdropping on another patient who arrived in an ambulance but also without any sort of imminent labor. We were eventually relocated to a “recovery room:” one of a few curtained-off beds where, we deduced, C-section mamas could recover from surgery while bonding with their babes. We eavesdropped on a different patient who was similarly displaced – she wasn’t full term yet, and hopefully she wasn’t in labor until BAM, her water broke and then she was out of there.

We waited. And waited. And waited. It was the middle of the night and I didn’t know if I should be trying to sleep or walking like a mad person. I did some of each, but mostly walked. Dressed in two hospital gowns and a pair of socks, I lumbered up and down the extraordinarily short L&D hallway. The delivery rooms (all full, no room for me); the nurse’s station; the recovery rooms; triage. Triage; the recovery rooms; the nurses’s station; the delivery rooms. I clutched my iPhone and I listened to birth stories on my headphones – The Birth Hour podcast and Anna Solomon and Eleanor Henderson’s Labor Day on audio.

Waiting “a few hours” stretched into the entire night. I think the midwife checked in on me once, and I reported back to my bed periodically for monitoring and more antibiotics. I wanted not to be intervened with, wanted to be left alone: L&D was so busy and I was so low maintenance, that I seemed to be getting my wish. At some point, I downloaded an app and started timing my “contractions;” I had a few that stopped me in my wandering tracks, left me doing some moderate writhing while I was lying in bed on the monitor, but nothing more than 7 minutes apart.

In the meantime, my deadbeat annoying husband became my poor, dead-tired husband. He stayed in my curtained off room, curled into a ball, uncomfortably wedged in between two standard-issue, non-comfy chairs. I tried to convince him to take my unoccupied hospital bed, but he declined.

We were finally granted a delivery room in the early hours of the morning. Quiet and privacy allowed us both a short sleep before two midwives entered the room.

“It’s been 12 hours,” said the first midwife. “I get to go home, so I am handing your care off to this new midwife. Also, it’s time to talk induction. We can try Cytotec or go right to Pitocin. Your choice.”

I hemmed. I hawed. I texted my midwife-in-training sister. I knew the basic pros and cons. Cytotec: it’s a pill, so if it works to induce labor I could just… be in labor. No more interventions. There is, however, a risk of uterine hyperstimulation – mega contractions. This could be massively painful, hard on the baby, and lead to further interventions; and it’s a pill, so you can’t “dial it back.” Pitocin, on the other hand, is an IV drip that can be adjusted. But… it’s an IV drip: I’d be tethered to an IV pole for the duration… and also the fetal monitor. I wanted to avoid monitoring and I wanted to be mobile. I decided the risk of adverse Cytotec side effects would be worth avoiding further interventions.

My new midwife returned, alone. I told her I was leaning toward the Cytotec, but was a Foley Bulb an option? She said it was! (Why, then, was it not provided to me as… an option? Who the heck knows…) Let’s see how your cervix is doing, though.

From what I’d gathered in my years of anticipatory birth research/obsession, the data gathered from cervical checks were questionable at best. If you weren’t progressing, then disappointment could compound with pain and lead to the dreaded epidural. Also: ouch. Being GBS positive with ruptured membranes, my cervical checks were to be kept to a minimum, which was completely fine by me. So this was my first ever cervical check, 12+ hours into my “labor.”

“Good news!” the new midwife said after she emerged from my… vagina. “You’re two centimeters dilated.”

“Yay!” My husband and I cheered.

“That means we can’t do Cytotec OR a Foley Bulb! It’s time to move right to Pitocin!”

Awesome?

Thus began the second, more medicated portion of my Mostly Boring Labor. Or “labor,” as my now- midwife sister would say, because you aren’t actually in labor until you are at like 4 centimeters or something highly specific. I don’t know. I was in a delivery room wearing a hospital gown walking around attached to an IV pole, so it felt like I was in labor.

But it was boring. I asked for a “slow” induction, so it was still another 3-4 hours before I started feeling significant contractions. Highlights from this boring pre-labor labor:

  • We spent a lot of time deciding what music to listen to, since we hadn’t gotten around to making any sort of “labor playlist.” Once shit started to get less boring, we somehow opted for a lot of musicals, since they were really long and didn’t require constant DJing. We started with Hamilton (this was 2016…) and I think moved on to Jesus Christ Superstar. I vetoed Les Miserables. Just too bleak.

 

  • My husband was really excited to order breakfast. I told him I didn’t want anything, since I was “in labor” and therefore could throw up at any time. He ordered anyway, and I ended up eating half of his hash browns and egg sandwich.

 

  • Also, he fetched me a really large, fully-caffeinated iced coffee from a nearby Starbucks! I remember this feeling very exciting. Second-time-around Pregnant Jessica is wondering why this was so novel, since Starbucks makes iced coffees all year round, from first trimester to third…

 

  • I was getting over a minor cold and had a really annoying tickly throat/cough thing going on. Combine that with my third trimester acid reflux and dry hospital air and I was being driven entirely crazy. Sometime in the middle of the night I asked my husband to scout out a vending machine/nearby pharmacy for a cough drop, or at least a Jolly Rancher or something. No dice. As contractions ramped up, it got more and more irritating. My husband resumed his mission, and the result – hours and hours later – was a prescribed cough drop. A. Single. Cough Drop. I didn’t even take it – I figured I’d wait until it got REALLY bad – and then I lost it.

 

  • I spent a lot of time trying to get my fetal monitors to stay hoisted into the proper position. You really do pay a lot of attention to that little heartbeat computer if it’s right there by your side.

 

  • I saw a lot of nurses that day. I remember the daytime nurse who seemed a little perplexed by my birth choices. In between asking me how I would rate my pain from 1 to 10 (why is this a thing during childbirth, by the way?) she furrowed her brow at me a lot and looked concerned – when there was nothing wrong with me, as far as I could tell! I also remember the nurse who showed up when I was in real pain who seemed really excited to hang out with a medication-free laboring mom – she was offering tips and making impromptu ice packs! How fun! Alas, she was only covering a shift change. In general, though, I was left alone. Which is exactly what I wanted.

 

  • At some point, I unhooked myself from the monitors, wheeled my IV pole by my side and lumbered into the bathroom to pee. When I emerged from the ordeal, there was a smiling anesthesiologist standing in the room with a giant syringe (Is that true? Am I making that detail up? I really think it happened, but it seems so ridiculous…) He said something like, “I’m here with your pain medication!” and I said something like “Um, I don’t have any pain medication,” (See!? It’s awkward. Don’t you people recognize a crunchy birth lady attached to an IV pole when you see one!?) And he said, “I know, that’s why I’m here!” And then me, my husband, and happy syringe man just stood in silence, until syringe man excused himself. I’m assuming he found the right room number at some point after that.

 

All told, it was a pretty boring day. Midwife #2 popped in at one point to check on me – “It’s been so busy!” she said. “I wish I could just stay in here with you guys!” I wasn’t sure if I should feel proud or insulted. At some point, however, I stopped feeling like I was killing time. Instead, I felt like I was in a great deal of pain. It seemed the dreaded Pitocin was working. I’d also been at the hospital for nearly 24 hours – mostly awake for the last 36 – so I was also feeling a great deal of exhaustion.

Pain. Exhaustion. The stuff of most Birth Stories. More to come, including: a baby!

04 Feb 2019

a first birth story: part i

I’ve tried to write this story so many times since June 10th, 2016. I’m afraid that I’ll write it wrong, that I won’t have the skill to turn my memories into A Real Birth Story – not just a retelling of facts and events, but a real story, with tension, rising and falling action, and a really moving message.

And that’s probably where it stops. Did my birth have a message? Does it have to? Maybe the message that birth is raw and messy and painful and never exactly what you expect, just like life? Or… Wow, look what the human female body can do with the help of – or in spite of – a supporting cast of loved ones and medical professionals? That there’s never been a birth like mine, so let me tell you about every tedious, exhausting centimeter of it?

Additionally, I was hoping to have this written and posted before I had another birth story to tell. I almost met my goal, but not quite; as I am finishing, my first-birthed child is doing arts and crafts at daycare while my second-birthed, two-month-old child is napping in her crib (like a g.d. angel). I’m feeling compelled to look back at what I’ve written here – all 7,000 words, if that can be believed – but should I edit? I don’t know. My instinct is to let my words and feeling be. This is what my memories were like a few months ago, when I only had one birth under my belt: loquacious, dramatic, and – in my own, loquaciously dramatic way – reverent. Now that I’ve done this twice, I have a new perspective about what was happening the first time around, with me and my firstborn. I can see the struggle – invisible to me, even just months ago – between badly wanting to be a mother and fearing for my health, my marriage, and my identity. The pregnancy (and preceding Planning to Be Pregnant) the long overture; the birth the loud and sudden shift into the opening number; the strum of apprehension and anxiety the theme churning below it all.

The message?

That there is probably nothing as physically, mentally, and spiritually frightening as bringing another life into the world.

That sometimes everything can go wrong while simultaneously going exactly right.

That the lead-up might be pointless, the story mostly boring, and the aftermath of anecdotes only the “you had to be there” kind of funny, but it’s all part of the drama of being human – of perpetuating the human race – and there’s really only one way I can figure out how to tell it, so here it goes.

 

Part I: The Pointless Backstory

I felt fine all day. Unremarkable. As normal as could be, given my pretty-dang-huge state. According to photos taken on my phone, the concerns of the day – June 9th – were exceptionally mundane. We got a parking ticket. I found the mailbox closest to our new apartment. I sent a screenshot of my terrible sleep stats to my sister. I went to CVS, where I received a ream of coupons.

This was my newly late-third-trimester utilitarian life. After months of planning to bring our baby home to our 450-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment, we’d finally been granted an opportunity to relocate into something more suitable for a growing family. So we moved. My miles long “To-Do Before Baby” list vanished in face of the daily labors and concerns of moving house. Every day there was something to pack, to unpack, to clean, to shuttle, to buy, to locate. Work was more of the same – wrapping up projects, sending emails, and leaving instructions for coworkers – with breaks to lumber over to my weekly doctors’ visits.

That day, I lumbered home from work at five. My husband called me on his way home from an end of the school year Teachers Drinking type event. He sounded somewhere between cheerful and tipsy. His band was playing that night at a restaurant in our neighborhood – did I want to get dinner with him before they played?

Sure. Why not. The food’s not great, but it’s food, and we were about to have a baby! We were supposed to be getting out of the house for quality couple time while we still could! While I waited for my ride, I triaged the new apartment and set upon the second bedroom. It was slowly filling with “homeless” items, like my husband’s musty sheet music collection, but it was also where potential houseguests with air mattresses might land. I cleared off the surface of my desk – the only piece of furniture in the room – and plugged in a lamp. I investigated the sheet music. Lance called, and I hopped into the car. Slid into the car? Plopped into the car? I was 38 weeks pregnant. I probably plopped.

I went from feeling normal to irritated pretty quickly. There was a coworker in the car, hitching a ride home. My arrival did not pause their loud, too jovial banter. They were, in my estimation, tipsy, and my husband was not driving like a cautious tipsy person ought. When his friend got out of the car, I asked for the keys and grumpily drove us both to the restaurant where we sat down for a mediocre meal.

Shameless, starving pregnant lady that I was, I ordered both an appetizer – grocery-store quality guacamole and chips – and a burger. Quality couple time, here we come? But by the time my entrée was served, my husband’s band started to arrive. And by arrive, I mean barrel into the small restaurant, pull a chair up to our table, and talk shit with my still jovial and tipsy husband. Romantic.

I finished my burger as quickly as I could and left with the car: tipsy husband can stumble home later. We had so much to get done – if I had to do it by myself, I would. I drove to our old apartment and started loading up the car with very important items that I needed right this second. Like a bulletin board, so I could finish setting up my entryway table. And the hanging bins containing 100% of our unborn child’s clothing and blankets.

When I parked my car outside of our new apartment, I remembered I was hugely pregnant and left basically everything in the car. Make my deadbeat, annoying, tipsy husband deal with it later.

I went upstairs. I set up my entryway table. I unpacked some stuff. I got dressed for bed and thought I’d sit and read in my pajamas.

Then my water broke. Two weeks before my due date.

30 Jan 2019

unnecessary spending: one month in

In January, I spent more than 850 dollars in at least 40 different unnecessary ways.

This “mostly frugal” girl is a bit shocked.

I’m not going to list everything I bought. Instead, here are some general patterns I observed in this first month of spending, in order of least complex to most.

 

Automatic payments for online services

Once upon I time, I signed up to give my money away to various causes and companies in regular, small increments. I’m old enough that this still feels like a novel way to spend money – kind of fun, but also kind of dumb? Over the past few years, I’ve felt like I’m in a cycle of wanting to cancel all of these automatic “deductions,” but then I end up signing up for something new to replace it.

Right now I spend 28 dollars a month of my personal money on such subscriptions. This month my Audible subscription reactivated – I paused my account a few months ago and forgot to “un-pause” it, so add 14.95 to that. I also purchased three months of access to an online exercise program. And of course, there’s Netflix – 10.99 paid out of our joint account.

I don’t necessarily feel bad about spending this money. Usually this spending brings me small, daily pleasures – like my NYTimes cooking and crossword subscription – or supports artists whose work I admire and enjoy. But they do add up quickly and definitely aren’t necessary.

 

Food products and activities that make life feel more fun – especially when hosting guests

This month I was lucky to have some of my immediate family members come and visit. We spent about 125 dollars this month while guests were in town… pretty much all on food products. Is it necessary to eat at restaurants or buy junky snacks when guests are in town? No. But it does feel celebratory – these folks might be sleeping on my living room floor and staying indoors most of the time with me and my crazy children, but it’s still their “vacation!” The reduced time spent on the household labor of preparing meals is also a plus. But to be honest, I mostly I feel called to provide a taste of the East Coast to my deprived Midwestern family members; aka, when in Boston, eat some good pizza, bagels,seafood, and – if you live in my neighborhood – Italian pastries. Food is our familial love language.

Celebratory dining doesn’t feel too problematic for longterm budgeting, as long as you don’t have guests too often. Celebratory Trips to Starbucks, however, feel more insidious. No, now that I’m on maternity leave I cannot go to Starbucks every day. However, I can – and do – go to Starbucks pretty much every day that I leave the house. Because a cold drink makes running errands feel less like drudgery. Because when my husband is with me going through the drive-through with peaceful children in the back seat feels a little like a date. Because I usually spend my own personal money, so I let myself be more frivolous. Because of habit, poor morning caffeination planning, or because I’m having a shitty exhausting day and maybe it will make me feel better. At any rate, I spent more than 50 bucks at Starbucks last month, which isn’t exactly a festive, once-in-a-while kind of expense.

 

Shopping or coffee to alleviate less-than-ideal scheduling

It’s Friday morning. I get up at 6:15, get dressed, get my baby fed and dressed, help get my toddler out the door, and head out the door as a family. Toddler daycare drop off at 7:30, husband work drop off at 8:00. Baby has a doctor’s appointment at 9:15. What do you do to kill the resulting hour? Drive all the way home so you can go upstairs and unpack a baby only to pack it back up again? Or do you sit in Starbucks for an hour with a book and a coffee? It’s not necessary, but three dollars seems a pleasant way to fill a scheduling gap – especially since you get a cup of coffee out of it.

 

But then the appointment is over and it’s 10:00 a.m. You need to pick something up at a store that doesn’t open until 11. You’ve already had too much coffee and the store is right next to a Trader Joe’s. You are running low on milk and eggs, and it’s always nice to stock up on TJ’s favorites, but you don’t exactly NEED to be in a grocery store… Needless to say, such a hapless individual would be impossibly fortunate to spend just three dollars to fill this particular scheduling gap. At the very least, this hapless individual should probably make a list before entering.

 

“Good Deals” (on items I may or may not buy either way)

The on-sale item is a stupidly common spending trap, and one that my cheap-ass self falls for too often. On one hand, nobody would fault a person for researching a necessary purchase, to find the product that meets your quality standards for the lowest price. On the other hand, “research” often results in more generic “shopping” – once I’ve decided to pull out my credit card, spending tends to beget spending.  Is it really a good deal to buy a 40 oz vat of hummus at Costco when you could have made it at home for pennies on the dollar… or when you then need to buy a giant bag of carbs for hummus dipping? Or when you walk out of Target having spent 75.00, no matter how many items were on your list.

In December, against my better values, I signed up for Amazon Prime. My justification: I have a new baby who will probably need some random baby items and also prevent me from doing much out-of-the-house Christmas shopping. I canceled it in mid-January, so naturally I wanted to place One Last Order (as though Amazon would be going out of business after they lost my 12.00/month?). 160 dollars later, I now have an adequate amount of my favorite pens in the house, many, many ounces of protein powder, a year’s supply of water filters for my coffee maker, and more items of dubious necessity.

 

Too often I find the line between what is necessary and what is just cheap to be rather blurry. I also don’t feel good about purchases born in a vague, consumeristic fear – if I don’t act NOW, then I’ll end up paying more later! But then again, my coffeemaker probably does need water filters, so maybe I just need to chill out?

 

Convenience Foods

I did not find a good way to track my unnecessary food spending this month for the following reasons. A) hanging onto and parsing out unintelligible grocery receipts is difficult for those who aren’t at home with very young children most days and B) diving into what form of calories are “necessary” vs. “unnecessary” is a much bigger challenge than other sorts of spending. If I am supposing this food dichotomy, I am supposing there is some sort of way I *should* be eating. As a recently pregnant, currently nursing person, I’ve been on nutrition autopilot, hoping that whatever I happen to cook or eat is good enough. It’s probably time to think more seriously about my family’s general nutrition again, but for now, I’m relying on habit and instinct – for better or for worse.

One category of calories that draws my attention, however? Convenience foods – especially convenience snacks. In this busy season of my home, this means Delicious (but nutritionally-questionable) Bars of All Sorts. Granola bars. Breakfast bars. Fruit and nut bars. Protein bars. Bars that pretend to be healthy but are really just Rice Krispie Treats dipped in chocolate with a peanut or two on top. Is any such bar a *necessary* part of anyone’s diet? No. But when that  inevitable moment where I am out and about with children and realize I have forgotten to adequately feed myself strikes, a one-handed snack is a really, really nice thing to have in my purse. Ditto to applesauce squeezes for grumpy toddlers. For now, in these Survival Mode months where experimenting with homemade granola bar recipes sounds like a laughably distant luxury, I’m okay with a little convenience, I think. Later this year, I may narrow in on this more complex area of my regular spending.

 

Impulse purchases, usually to solve a nagging problem (or generally make myself feel better about my life)

This is the the big one for me: the purchases that feel most fraught, that leave me feeling so conflicted about my spending judgment.

Usually, these are household purchases that fall in the middle of the unnecessary-necessary spectrum: less necessary than toilet paper, more necessary than a seasonal throw pillow. Usually, these household purchase purport to solve a problem or annoyance in my daily living. Usually, when I decide to pull the trigger and spend the money, I enjoy having solved said problem, but I also feel bad about it. Why, I’m not quite sure. Because I usually purchase such items in a sudden impulse? Because I feel guilty throwing money at minor problems I should either work around or just endure? Because I usually do such spending at Big Box stores, buying plastic contraptions made in factories on the backs of unprivileged populations that will end up, someday, in a landfill?

Obviously, this kind of spending will take some more unpacking. But yes, I did spend 100 dollars on a baby sleep course this month because I was sitting in the dark for an hour tending to a crying babe who refused to sleep and it made me feel like I wasn’t alone. And I did spend 27 dollars on 4 new ice cube trays because I’m thirsty all the time and tired of having mismatched trays fall on me when I open the freezer and also pinching parts of my hands on the ones that are cracked and broken. I am both enjoying and feeling bad about both purchases.

26 Jan 2019

2019 New Year’s Resolutions

New Year, New Resolutions. Despite my failure to keep my seven-hundred sub-resolutions in 2018, I’m looking back at my original list of annual intentions, and I don’t think I really did that poorly. My resolution to Live Seasonally was more of a complex, not-so-achievable resolution than an out-and-out failure. Looking back, it seems that the goal I set wasn’t so simple; I didn’t want to “live seasonally:” I wanted to set and achieve quarterly goals that took into account the season of the year, and of my life.

And yeah, one of them was to get pregnant, grow a child, birth it, and raise it for a little bit, all while working full time, side hustling, and raising my other child. If that’s not a capital-S Season, then what is?

My second resolution was to play a bunch of board games. Luckily, this was a joint resolution with my husband. My husband is a stickler for his NYRs – he’ll read 30 books this year even if it means mainlining hundreds of pages of graphic novels while listening to children’s books on his headphones, dammit. I may have piggybacked on his success a little, but I’ve put in enough time and work into this relationship that I deserve the payout, imho.

In 2018, we played:

My last resolution I forgot about entirely by the end of the year. No, I did not Beautify One Room of my Home Every Month… but I did Beautify quite a few of them! My living room now has throw pillows, a rug, a plant, and spray-painted picture frames. Our joint office now has storage space for my sewing machine and supplies. My bathroom has matching towels and bins for our bed linens. Our back porch had flowers and plants this summer, and my laundry room has a drying rack and a little landing area for soaps and weird stuff found in pants pockets. My kid’s closet is no longer a death-trap of teetering Rubbermaid containers. The only rooms I didn’t quite get to were the hallway and kitchen, but I did make some small improvements to both! Thinking back to 2017, I feel like I have really changed the way my apartment feels and the way I feel in it, so I think that’s a success.

Onward to 2019! Well, the 49 remaining weeks of 2019, anyway. I tried oh-so-very-hard to narrow my focus down to but a few goals for the year. Three was the best I could do.

 

Resolution #1: Track all unnecessary spending for 2019

This resolution took the longest for me to focus in on; my relationship with money and spending is not so straightforward. Objectively, I’m a fairly frugal person married to another fairly frugal person. I’m able to pay my bills, afford some extras, and do some savings. But, objectively, I know I could – and probably should – be saving more… so I’m prone to feeling upset and guilty when I do spend money unnecessarily.

This is the dual-edged problem I want to address this year. I don’t want to spend my money on things that make me feel bad to purchase and own; when I do make purchases, I don’t want to feel bad about them. This resolution will hopefully tap into the “manage what you monitor” technique of habit change – I’m keeping a spreadsheet updated with where I make purchases, what I buy, how much I spend and more. I think the benefits will be threefold. First, the act of documentation will hopefully deter impulse spending. I’m considering some sort of public accountability, too, if I can do it in a beneficial way and not one that lets me give excuses for everything I’ve bought. Second, I’ll have some hard data to examine as the year goes on: is this spending a big problem, dollar-wise, or a small one? Are certain stores or categories showing up over and over again?

And third: in order to accomplish this task, I really do have to think quite carefully about what I consider to be necessary or unnecessary spending. I suspect this might prove to be the most valuable part of the resolution; I’ll be flexing decision-making muscles that will hopefully help me feel more in control of my spending, even if my financial priorities and values change over time.

So far… I am spending a surprising amount of money at Starbucks for someone on maternity leave who doesn’t always have access to a car. Also, I haven’t figured out a great way to keep track of my unnecessary grocery purchases, since they tend to get lost in the mix of legit spending. Additionally, deciding what calories are unnecessary or necessary is a more complex assessment than most anything else I buy.

 

Resolution #2: Give Ye Old Blog a facelift

Hello! It’s 2019! I really hope you are reading this on some sort of Feed Reader, if that’s even still a thing, because, guess what – I haven’t updated a single pixel on herlifewithbooks.com since I moved to WordPress in 2013. At the very least, I’d like to give my blog a cosmetic make over and add some of the fancy, “modern” features that most blogs adopted like, three years ago. Maybe I will be inspired to add some new content as well? Or blog more than once a quarter? The sky is the limit! And by “sky” I mean “Amount of Time That My Children Are Either Asleep or in the Care of Another Adult.”

So far…  I am brainstorming and also trying to make occasional time to write (incredibly timely and not at all delayed) posts. Like this one! Because what is the use of a shiny new blog if you aren’t going to write anything, right? Right.

 

Resolution #3: Enjoy regular exercise by 2020.

I recognize that this is the least interesting resolution a human can make. I also recognize that it is neither specific nor measurable. Am I setting myself up to fail? Maybe, but I just couldn’t come up with a year-long fitness resolution that seemed achievable when I am recovering from pregnancy and childbirth and also have two young children – I chose an overly vague goal over an aspirational one.

It doesn’t feel vague to me, though – I actually went out of my way to articulate my desire very plainly.  I don’t so much care what kind of exercise I do. I don’t care how often I do it as long as it’s a part of regular life and not my once-in-a-while-when-I’m-in-the-mood life. I *do* care that I enjoy it. I want it to be a fun part of my life and not a perpetually nagging task on my daily endless to-do list. I’m probably going to have to set some additional short-term goals to make this happen – you know how I love a good “I Resolve to Make More Resolutions!”-Resolution.

So far… I am trying *shudder* an online workout program. I am not usually a fan of workout-video type exercise… but I’m starting to realize that I’m “not a fan” of pretty much any form of exercise for some reason or another, so maybe I need to get over myself. I signed up for Every Mother, which provides daily workouts specifically designed for postpartum mothers.  I went this route because  A) I’m too lazy/out-of-shape to deal with high-intensity anything B) I can exercise without having to worry about damaging my healing abdominals C) I’m hoping that dropping a little $$ will inspire me to follow through. (Not *thaaat* much $$$, though; it was about $40 for a 3 month membership) I’m a few weeks in and am having trouble finding time to do my 10-30 minutes every single day (surprise surprise) but I’m getting it done most of the time. It’s so great! So much fun! Watch me fake it ’till I make it! I’ll stick with this for 3 months when I’m feeling a little more healed, or until the weather gets nicer and I can do some outdoor stuff. I also left my dear little baby (and my Dear Giant Toddler…) at gym childcare this morning for 30 minutes of mild cardiovascular exercise, so clearly I’m super-committed.

~

That’s it! Just three. Well, I mean I also want to read 100 books, but that’s my resolution every year. And have you heard of 19 for 2019. I may or may not have made one of those lists as well. Those aren’t necessarily *resolutions*, though, just stuff I want to do. During this particular year. Entirely different.

31 Dec 2018

best reads of 2018

Tomorrow is 2019! Happy New Year’s Eve! While I have the opposite of a wild night planned, I think back to how I rang in 2018 a year ago… and I remembered that I went to bed at 9pm in my parents’ house with my 18-month-old who wouldn’t stop climbing out of his crib. At some point I ended up on the floor. I think we also had to wake up for a stupidly early flight. So this year really can’t be worse than that… especially since I am finishing! And! Posting! The Best Books I Read in 2018! Even though I have no time or energy to read anything of enough literary quality to end up on a Best of the Year post, it’s still a wonderful time of year.

Longtime readers (do  I even have another kind of reader at this point? Hi Mom! Hi Dad!) know the drill: these are my favorite reads of the year, regardless of audience, publication date, or literary merit. They are listed in order. I really did love them all – while most of the 132 books I read this year were somewhat forgettable, I really do have a tough time narrowing down the top 25 or so. Please add them to your 2019 To-Read lists. Please forgive me for incomplete and unoriginal sentences below. I have a 5 week old baby and a 2.5 year old in my house and we have all been here together for 10 consecutive days and I guess we all have to live together forever now. Good thing everyone likes to read.

 

10. My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul

Pamela Paul is the editor of the New York Times Book Review. Before that, she was a fairly normal young woman with one of those useless English degrees and a lifelong love of reading. As a fellow reader who considers charting and tracking her own reading life to be a worthwhile hobby, I was entranced by Paul’s essay about her Book of Books – a notebook where she documented her reading life starting when she was a teen. This memoir follows her fairly normal young adult and adulthood, with attention paid to the books and reading experiences that shaped her. Nothing too flashy here, but I found her life story to be so quietly engaging that I couldn’t put it down.

 

9. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Did you already read this book, when e.v.e.r.y.b.o.d.y. was reading it, in 2017? Well, if you didn’t, I can tell you it was still a very good read in 2018, and will probably be a good read in 2019, too. And there’s good news! I bet your library’s holds list have finally died down! Set in an orderly Ohio suburb, this story is split between three very different families – the Richardsons, who have deep roots in the community but also four teenagers who are up to all sorts of behaviors their proper mother doesn’t want to know about; the Warrens, a single mother and teen daughter who rent a condo from the Richardson; a single, immigrant mother who must work full time to support herself and her infant daughter, and in the process has her daughter taken into state custody; and Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist with a murky past – and her teenaged daughter, who unintentionally weave between the stable suburban families. I like domestic literary fiction, and I like adult books starring teenagers, so I agree with the masses – a must read of whatever year it happens to be when you read this!

 

 

8. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

I heard about this book for years – so many rave reviews, plenty from people whose reading tastes I admire – but I never thought I’d want to read it. A book about people behaving badly on the Internet? I actually spend a decent amount of my time and energy trying to *avoid* people behaving badly on the Internet, so no thanks. Then I read Leila Sales’s If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say for a pro book review; it’s a realistic YA book about a girl who behaves badly on the Internet and the backlash that ensues, very clearly influenced by Ronson’s book , so I thought I might be a pro-pro reviewer and take a chance on So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (read: Jessica wanted to procrastinate, so she found a somewhat acceptable avenue to avoid doing her work!) I was not any more interested in the subject than I ever have been, but DAMN Jon Ronson! I was not only sucked in, but entirely fascinated, and I give all the credit to Ronson’s writing: he’s a talented storyteller who also takes some unexpected narrative risks. So add my rave review to the mix, and I’ll add Ronson to my Definitely Check Out Their Next Book, No Matter What It’s About list.

 

7. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

In August, when I decided to play a little 2018 YA/MG catch up, The Poet X was my first choice. Why? Because it was short! And written in verse, so it reads even shorter! It also won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for fiction, so I would get (imaginary, meaningless) Literary Merit points. But external factors aside, I was so pleased with this book. Acevedo portrayed her main character, Xiomara, as a complex, sympathetic teen with a unique set of social challenges – she’s trying hard to balance her family’s staunch religiosity with her earnest desires for independence: to date, maybe have sex, write and perform slam poetry, to challenge some aspects of Catholicism. This felt like the best of old-school YA realism – a personal coming of age story driven by character and not melodrama – but with a modern perspective on race, class, and gender.

 

6. The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

Another of my earnest Catch Up On The Best of 2018 YA/MG reads makes the list! Isn’t it great when you agree with the critics? I knew nothing about the plot or setting when I started reading, so it did take me a little time to get settled into the story, but the narrator’s voice drew me in right away. Little Charlie – the oversized twelve-year-old son of poor sharecroppers – starts the book extremely down on his luck: he witnesses his father dying of a freak accident, then finds out his father owes money to a nearby plantation owner; he and his mother are grieving and wondering how they will keep up with their work and make money when a goon arrives to collect on his father’s debt. The goon (“Cap’n”) convinces Charlie to join him on a journey to collect on someone else’s debt as a payment for his own, and a cross-country, international, consciousness-raising adventure ensues. I thought this was a perfectly middle-grade sized read – just meaty enough for a 4th-6th grader but without anything extra – and oh gosh, Little Charlie is just one of those endearingly naive but earnest narrators that you (aka, adult readers, probably; pregnant/hormonal readers, definitely) just want to hug.

 

5. Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

A third 2018 YA/MG book – another (mostly) verse novel, interestingly enough. Also, another historical: this time, way more historical, going back to the 1600s in Italy, and based on actual people and actual events! The protagonist, Artemesia Gentileschi, is a seventeen-year-old living in Rome with her widower artist father. Out of financial necessity, her father trained her to paint, and at some point she became so talented he was better off handing his commissions to her – while signing his own name to them, of course. Artemesia is pissed off about this. She desperately wants to make her own name as an artist, and is passionate about painting women with the sensitivity and realism that the male artists of her time just can’t handle. Then, she comes across a successful artist who wants to tutor her – she’s elated… until her tutor’s untoward behavior threatens to destroy her and her family. Is this a work of relatively heavy-handed proto-feminist comeuppance? Yeah, probably. But Artemesia’s struggle to be honored for her own talents – and believed against the words of a more powerful man – reads like a story that could be making today’s headlines. This is a fairly devastating but extremely powerful read.

 

4. The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life if Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in the Store by Cait Flanders

Finding this book felt like a bit of divine intervention: I chanced upon a personal finance blog that, upon investigation, didn’t really seem like a personal finance blog. Then I forgot the URL, remembering only that it was the author’s name dot com. I remembered it (caitflanders.com, RIP) and was like “wow, this is better than a personal finance blog…” and then a few weeks later I heard about this book and put all of these connections together. I’m a bit of a personal finance hobbyist, but I do find many blogs and books on the subject to be repetitive, polemic, and fixated on one-size-fits all advice. How we deal with money is… well.. personal; Flanders’s memoir is the first personal finance book I’ve read that fully embraces that intersection. The premise is a little stunt-memoir-y – Flanders writes about her “year of no spending,” – but since she’s writing about her efforts to not do something, what she ends up writing about is the life she lives instead – and what perspective that experience brings to the life she lived before. This was a quietly endearing – and inspiring – read for me this year.

 

3. Circe by Madeline Miller

Unsurprising confession: everything I know about mythology I learned from video games and the episodes of Wishbone that retold The Odyssey and the story of Hercules. But even though I could only barely keep track of which god was related to which demigod, I was somehow totally into Madeline Miller’s latest work of… mythological fiction? I missed growing up in the Percy Jackson crazy by a few years (*cough* more like ten years *cough*), so I’m a little out of the loop; also, I don’t know exactly what aspects of this story Miller gathered from mythology and what is her own making. But previous mythological knowledge proved unnecessary, for me: I was taken in by the strange, petty culture of gods and goddesses Miller crafted, and by Circe’s rich characterization. She’s a lesser goddess, an unfavored child of the sun god, Helios – who spends most of her adult living alone, banished somewhat unfairly to a remote island; she’s also a singular female who, without much support from family or friends, finds her own power and self-worth.

 

2. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

I haven’t written much this year, but when I did, I wrote about this book . It falls under the category of nonfiction that isn’t necessarily more artful, profound, or revolutionary than anything else I read all year; instead, Deep Work simply explained a concept that I needed to understand at this point in my life, and it did so with simple engaging urgency. This is the book I thought about the most all year. While I took Newport’s message – do everything you can to do the kind of work that takes all of your concentration – to heart, putting it to practice has been a little more challenging. It’s no surprise that this is yet another self-help-y/productivity book that doesn’t mention caring for toddlers, pregnancy nausea, or breastfeeding… or chronic pain, mental illness, the economic/personal necessity of working multiple jobs, or any other everyday life situations that myself and people I know might find to be significant barriers to ever achieving Deep Work. But for me, I’ve found his ideas to serve as a gentle beacon that reminds me of what’s important: reading, writing, and caring for myself and my family, aka doing the things that only I can do. Doing that work with intention and as much brain power as I can muster is never going to be a bad idea, and the more time I spend on it the better. I definitely want to re-read this in 2019, and am looking forward to his next book, which looks like a good, old fashioned anti-technology manifesto.

 

1. And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready by Meaghan O’Connell

I have read a great many books about pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood over the years. In my experience, they tend to run in two directions: the slightly crunchy, softly-lit, “isn’t motherhood just GRAND” kind of book, or the Hey, Parenting sure SUCKS so you should feel totally empowered to complain about it – and sure, have another glass of wine. I don’t necessarily have a *problem* with either of these narratives… but neither of them have really spoken to me, either before I had kids or after. While my own experience of motherhood hasn’t been quite the same as O’Connell’s (she is a little more on the PARENTING SUCKS side of the spectrum than I am) there was just so, so much that she got right about the broader experience of the culture of motherhood RIGHT NOW. Millennial Motherhood, maybe? If that wasn’t so annoying? Of being a young, creative, hustling woman who also might want to procreate, even though it’s probably not a good idea and you have no good role models and nobody even TALKS about it. Of the bizarre, sourceless pressure put upon mothers to do everything right, before, during, and after birth that just permeates even your most private moments. Combine that with a fantastically wry voice and I’m-actually-laughing-out-loud-and-not-just-using-it-as-a-textual-interjection humor, and I’m ready to pick this one up again. For the third time. There’s a lot more I’m forgetting to say here, but it’s 8:15 p.m. and my 2.5 year old is at least somewhat silent in his hopefully dark bedroom and my five week old is waking herself up and it’s New Year’s Eve so I should probably at least see if my husband wants to share a glass of wine before I put on my flannel pajamas, so I’m just going to go ahead and push publish, and I’ll see you in 2019!