Finn's Birth Story


This is the story of how our son Finnian came into the world.  He was born at home, in water, under the full moon and falling snow, on St. Patrick’s Day.  While I carried him in my womb for 37 weeks, I carried the hope of him in my heart for many, many years.  It’s been over 4 months since his birth and I still can’t believe that he’s finally here, my beloved baby boy.  
From very early on in my pregnancy, I had a gut feeling that our baby would be born under the full moon.  My due date was 4/6, and given that many first time mamas go late, my midwife Kathy and I agreed that going into labor during the 4/15 full moon was quite possible.  And so it was.  I set my mind on 4/15 as “the date” and carried on with my pregnant life.   But while we were busy making plans for our April home birth, our baby was making some plans of his own...

On Saturday, 3/15, Jay and I ran a bunch of errands and I felt especially exhausted.  I remember struggling to find a comfortable position as I rode in the car.  Everything hurt, and I was huge!   We came home that night, took a hot bath together, and just enjoyed a lovely evening as a couple.  In retrospect, it was a very romantic “last night” as just the two of us, although we had no idea it would be our last night.  

I awoke early Sunday morning (3/16) to very mild yet consistent “cramps”.  I didn’t call them contractions because contractions are what women in labor have, and I was weeks away from labor, so these were just cramps.  Ha.  In addition to the “cramps”, I also woke up with some anxiety and fear on my heart and mind.  I cried to Jay that we were running out of time (ha!) and that there was still so much to do in the weeks remaining.  The house was a disorganized mess, as my shower had the been the weekend before and we now had SO MUCH STUFF to cram into our one bedroom apartment.  I expressed that I needed to feel at ease in our space, but all I was feeling was anxious. I also started worrying about how this baby was going to come out of my body.  It all felt so impossible.  

Jay heard me, he held me, he validated my feelings, and sprang into “fix it” mode.  Within a few hours, the remaining birth supplies had been ordered, the car seat had been installed, the house cleaned, the baby stuff sorted and organized, and I felt so much better and at ease.  While he was nesting, I made a birth necklace with beads that were given to me by a group of fellow expectant women who were all due in April.  These women had been a tremendous support to me throughout my pregnancy, so making the necklace with their beads allowed me to focus my energy and feel connected to this group of strong, pregnant women.  I drew strength from it, and felt empowered to consider myself a strong, pregnant woman, too.  

By mid-afternoon, I felt more in control and was able to relax into a place of faith that everything would unfold exactly as it should.  I acknowledged my fears as they came, but did not give them much energy.  The “cramps” continued, about 5-8 minutes apart, but they were totally manageable, so I thought they were Braxton Hicks or just general 3rd trimester crampiness.  I had absolutely NO CLUE that I was actually in labor.  

After lunch, maybe around 2:30, Jay and I decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood.  It felt great to get outside, move my body, and breathe in the fresh, cool air.  The “cramps” eased up a bit, or at least felt different as I moved with them.  When we came home, I decided to google “March 2014 full moon” just for fun.  What I saw on the screen both terrified and tickled me.  “Oh my GOD! The full moon is TONIGHT!!”, I yelled to Jay.  That was my first clue that I might actually be in labor. Not the morning panic and nesting, nor the steady contractions all day, but Google telling me that the full moon was on the rise.  

Ironically, our doula Jessamyn came over at 4:00 for our pre-scheduled second prenatal visit.  When I told her I had been having cramps all day, she encouraged me to call my midwife and alert her.  For some reason, I still felt hesitant to do so, as if calling it in somehow made it official.  But I decided to make the call anyway and give Kathy a heads up, both about my “cramps” and about the moon. When we ended the call, I said, “See you Tuesday” (for our scheduled prenatal appt.), to which she replied, “or maybe tonight”.  Gulp.  It was right around this time that I started calling the cramps what they really were: contractions.  Both Kathy and Jessamyn encouraged me to go on with my night and to stay in touch as things either progressed or fizzled out.  I was sure things would fizzle out, because, well, it was mid-March.  Not mid-April.  

After Jessamyn left, I settled in on the couch, watched a movie, and timed the contractions.  They were coming about every 5 minutes and lasting 45-60 seconds.  They got a tiny bit more intense, so I decided to take a candlelit bath.  The warm water felt deeply relaxing, and the contractions slowed down to every 10 minutes or so.  Jay was sitting next to the tub, and I remember talking about how I needed to go into the office in the morning to finish up my work and get my personal belongings.  And then a contraction would come and remind me that I was in labor.  I was straddling two worlds, not fully committed to either one.  Also very much in denial that I actually was in labor.  I still thought things would fizzle out and that *real* labor would happen in a few weeks.  

Eventually, I got out of the tub and we had dinner around 9:00.  I had my regular, full appetite, and ate a huge plate of spaghetti and meatballs and salad.  Contractions were back to every 5 minutes and slightly more intense.  Somewhere around this time, I accepted the fact that I was in labor.  But I thought I was in very early labor, and that I’d be at it for at least another 24 hours. I was a first-timer, after all!  Our midwife agreed that we likely had a long night ahead and encouraged me to try to get some rest.   So after dinner, I decided to head to bed and get some Zzzzs despite being really uncomfortable.  I took a shot of Benadryl to help me sleep and hoped for the best.  

Once in the bed, we realized that we hadn’t prepped the mattress with layers of plastic as we’d been instructed.  My initial thought was, “eh, we’ll do it tomorrow when labor is for real”, but Jay clearly had more senses about him and stripped the bed while I was on one of MANY trips to the bathroom.  I came back, helped him make the bed with plastic and two layers of sheets, and continued my attempt to sleep.  Not so much.  Jay slept, but I was wide awake, contracting with increasing intensity,and making constant trips to the bathroom.  

In retrospect, I felt very alone during this part of my labor.  Despite the intensity, I still thought I had a long road ahead of me (seriously, everything I learned in childbirth classes flew out the window), so I wanted Jay to get his sleep so that he would have his energy for “real labor”. Up until that point I had been managing and felt somewhat in control, but laying there alone in the quiet, dark night, I began to feel that control slip away.  I wasn’t afraid, but just very present and aware of the power rippling through my body.  I did not fight it, but began to let go.  It was like stepping into an ocean of fury, knowing that the waves would come crashing down on me, but being okay with that, welcoming that. While I felt very alone, I think that’s exactly what I needed to begin to surrender to the power.  No other person could do it for me.  I had to go it alone.  

No longer able to stay quiet, I began vocalizing and moaning through the contractions.  Low, slow, and deep.  I was very uncomfortable and rather restless. I got up to pee once again and noticed that I had lost my mucus plug.  I woke Jay up and asked him to call Kathy to let her know.  This is where things got murky, as I was not in a position to self-report my status anymore.  I was deep in labor land.   Despite the contractions being very close together and sometimes having two back-to-back, my mind was not on duty and I was unable to communicate that to Jay.  I was also still operating under the assumption that I was in early-ish labor.  I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.  He called Kathy and reported (through me) that contractions were still 5-7 minutes apart.  False.  Even as I heard those words come out of my mouth, I knew it was false but could not correct myself.  It’s as if someone else was speaking on my behalf and my mouth was taped shut.  Had Jay been awake with me, he would have known that things were more intense than I was able to articulate and that I was no longer a good gauge of where we were in labor.  Not that I ever was…  

Kathy encouraged us to try and get some rest.  I wouldn’t call what I got “rest”, as I was lost in the space / time continuum and have no concept of where or when or how.  All I know is that at 2:35 am, my bag of waters burst open with a pop and a gush!  Thank God we lined the bed.  I was shocked at how much fluid came out of me, and how hot it was.  The experience woke me up on many levels. All of a sudden I was back in my mind, fully alert and very aware that I was about to have a baby.  I felt primal and almost back in control again, but more like I had total faith that my body knew exactly what to do.  I just had to get out of my own way and let it do it’s thing.  I needed to be in the tub, immediately.  

Jay started the bath and called our birth team to alert them.  They were all on their way.  As soon as I got in the tub, I felt tremendous pressure and had the urge to push.  It almost felt like I needed to have a bowel movement, times 100,000,000%.  The contractions were INTENSE, but I surrendered and let them overtake me.  The more I tried to control what was happening, the harder it was.  So I let go.  It was like the power of God was barreling down through my body; the heavens and earth, storms and seasons and oceans ripping through me, the cosmos and all of creation expanding and contracting inside me, all at once.  

On instinct, I began to vocalize the Hindu mantra OM (Ooooooooooooooommmmmmmmmm) with each contraction.  This is the perfect example of my body knowing exactly what to do.  I just opened my mouth and low, slow, deep and loud OMs came out, one per contraction.  I don’t usually OM in my non-labor life, so it really came out of nowhere.  It was as if I had to externalize the power I was feeling internally, and OM was the only sound / vibration that came close.  Rather than a mere victim of the power overtaking me, I became a part of it.  This helped to ground me and gave me a purpose and something to focus on.  It’s impossible to feel panicked and tense when repeating OM.  It keeps the face soft and open rather than tight and tense. Despite the pain, I felt a deep sense of calm.  I was in the zone.  In between OMs and contractions, I took sips of water, and gently reminded myself that I could do it, that I was doing it.  I was birthing our baby.  

Our birth team arrived around 3:30 / 4:00 am and checked the baby’s heart rate, which was great.  I remember feeling Jessamyn drip warm water on my back.  Such a small thing but it felt SO good and relaxing.  I also remember telling Alison, our midwife’s assistant, that I was ready to move into the birth pool.  Right.  We had all of these great plans for the birth, including me laboring in a large, luxurious pool, but none of them panned out.  Alison chuckled and said, “There’s no time, your baby is almost here!”  I think this was the first time I realized the timeline of things and that I would not be in labor for another 12+ hours as originally thought.  I also remember saying a few times that I felt the urge to push.  This is the great thing about the midwifery model and especially about homebirth: there was no panic, no urgency, no one yelling “PUSH!!!”.  It wasn’t a problem that needed to be fixed.  It was a natural process that seemed to happen without intervention or without me doing much pushing at all.  Again, my body just knew what to do.  So I let it.  

It was surreal; I actually felt my baby move down with each contraction, the intensity increasing as he crowned.  It was a brief but memorable sensation and I learned why women call it “the ring of fire". Aptly named.  I wasn’t aware in the moment, but Kathy, Jay, and Allison were all out of the room at the time, moving cars that were double parked, setting up supplies, herding crazy cats and the like. It was just Jessamyn and I.  While they were gone for those few minutes, the baby’s head crowned and completely popped out, which was a total shock.  I remember my eyes flew open at that point and I looked at Jessamyn, who reassured me that everything was ok.  In childbirth class, we learned that the head often moves down and then back up, and can take a while to come out.  Not this baby’s head!  He was more than ready to come out.  

Luckily everyone returned just in time for the final contractions.  With one last push, our baby wiggled out and was born into this world.  It was 4:33 am on March 17th.  I swooped him up onto my chest and was absolutely shocked and elated.  I could not believe that our baby was here, that labor was over, and that I actually did it!  I gave birth!  It was the highest high.  Jay and I locked eyes and were overcome with all of the emotion, shock, and joy in the world.  If it weren’t for the cord that connected us, I wouldn’t have believed that this perfect little baby actually came out of me.  It was all too much.  

Lifting baby out of the water and onto my chest.   

We just sat there, completely shocked and in awe, holding and rubbing the baby before we thought to check the sex and discovered that he was a HE!  After a few more minutes in the tub, we carefully got out (still connected by cord) and moved to the bed, where Kathy stitched me up from a small tear and Jay cut the cord, once it stopped pulsing.  Kathy weighed and measured him (7lbs 8 oz, 19 inches) and checked him out head to toe before officially declaring him “perfect!”.  We then settled in for our babymoon.  Kathy and Allison made us breakfast (and fed me!), cleaned up, helped establish breastfeeding, and went over what to expect in the hours and days ahead.  Then, just as quickly as they swooped in, they packed up and left us to snuggle and bond as a new family.  THIS was why we chose to birth at home. As they were leaving, Kathy gave us one last instruction: fall in love.  And so we did.

Our doula Jessamyn, whom I had grown very close with throughout the pregnancy, had to leave soon after the birth to get her daughter to school.  But she came back a few hours later and brought us flowers and stocked our home with delicious, nutritious food.  She also made sure we were cozy and comfortable in bed with our new baby.  I will never forget that.  She went way over and above and made us feel so loved, supported, and cared for as a new family.  

After she left, Jay and I looked at each other with amazement, exhaustion, and love.  We had been waiting for this baby, our baby, for so very long.  And just like that, here he was.  Years of struggle, over in an instant.  And so that’s the story of how our beautiful son, Finnian Thomas Stewart, came into this world.  And the story of how our family was born.  And it all happened under the full moon.  

Finnian Thomas Stewart, 3 hours old.  

Thank you for reading.  



Ahhhhhhhhh...........  <-- That's what happened when I went to Seattle.  One big exhale and release.

The trip was exactly what I needed and wanted: A perfect blend of cathartic solitude and social fun times.  After all the no-baby drama from the past few months, I needed to get away and get lost in the beauty of someplace new.  I didn't choose Seattle; it chose me.  And I'm so glad it did.  

I jammed a lot of living into those five days and did tons of fun, interesting, and healing things, but here are the highlights:

Walking around Pike Place Market.  What a great way to get a feel for the region.  This was my first stop after checking into my hostel, and I spent my first afternoon wandering the market, eating, admiring, and just roaming with no schedule.  What a treat.  Between the abundant people-watching, the food, the street performers, and the craft vendors, I felt like I understood the soul of Seattle after being here for a few hours.  I wound up coming here every day for one reason or another.  It is an amazing place that really makes Seattle what it is.  Oh, and the water is gorgeous.

Speaking of the water...  This was taken from the waterfront area by Olympic Sculpture Garden.  I went for the sculptures and left thinking, "did I see any sculptures?" I mean, who can focus on art when this is the backdrop?  I spent a good chunk of time down here by the water, thinking and letting go.  Ironically, as I was letting go of some of my heaviness, the sun came out behind me and lit up Puget Sound and the mountains.  It was one of those perfect moments.


It was tough to leave the waterfront area, but I had other things I wanted to see and do, including a trip to Seattle's Central Library, which is an architectural gem, by the way.  When I was talking to a local about my plans, she recommended that while I was near the library, I should visit Columbia Tower and check out the views.  She actually suggested I visit the Starbucks on the 30th floor, which I did, but afterwards I decided to go up to the observation deck on the 73rd floor.  Seeing the water, mountains, and city from this perspective was amazing.


And speaking of amazing...  These were taken at Dale Chihuly's Garden and Glass museum, which is located in the shadow of the Space Needle.  It was one of the most awe-inspiring and beautiful museums I've been to.  It really blows your mind to see something that is usually so hard and rigid transformed into something fluid, organic, and natural looking.  And the color - oh! the color.  Wow, it was something.

The real highlight though, was the time I spent at Bloedel Reserve.

Bloedel Reserve was why I went to Seattle.  When I was researching Seattle, I discovered this place and read that they had a section devoted to moss.  As a pretty big moss fan, I was compelled to come here.  But then I read an article about this place in the Seattle Times and knew I had to come here.  The article talked about how Bloedel Reserve is the ideal place for people who are healing from personal tragedies and need a bit of solace.  BAM.  I knew I had to come here, and built the whole trip around visiting the Reserve.

It was more gorgeous than words can articulate.  Outside of the National Parks I've visited, Bloedel Reserve is the most beautiful and healing place I've been.  It's 110 acres of meadows, forests, moss, zen, labyrinths, ponds, and straight up PEACE.  It's wild yet manicured; isolating yet comforting.  It was the true highlight of my trip, and I will never forget the hours I spent there.

Oh, and the ferry ride back to Seattle was pretty cool, too:

My final highlight was seeing my oldest friend, Heather.  Let me clarify, she's not my oldest friend in terms of age; she's my oldest friend is terms of how long I've known her.  We became friends in the 2nd grade, and she moved away in 3rd grade, but somehow someway, we've remained friends all of these years.  I have to say, it's awesome to sit across the table from someone who knew and loved you when you were 7 years old.  Everything about our lives is clearly so different now, but in that moment, I looked into Heather's eyes and saw my 7 year old best friend.  I hope that when we're 87, we can look into each others' eyes and still see "us".

After dinner, Heather took me to Kerry Park, which offers a killer view of Seattle.  

It was a great way to end a truly wonderful trip to the Pacific Northwest.  I got exactly what I needed, and then some.  Thanks, Seattle.  



It's cold here in Philadelphia.  Like, really cold.  It was 18 degrees this morning on my walk to the train, a walk that was a bit touch-and-go thanks to fresh pockets of ice and snow.  Imagine me: cautiously rushing (ha!) over uneven, ice-covered sidewalks (in inappropriate footwear) to make my train.  Thanks to my layers and my oversized puffer coat, I was a hot, bulky mess, ambling down the hill trying not to slip on the ice or trip on the tree roots that have busted through the concrete sidewalks.

I had three minutes to descend Mt. Nippon (or as others call it, Nippon Street), cross the street, walk around the High Point Cafe and cross the bridge over the train tracks.  Of course my nose was running, but I wasn't about to waste precious seconds de-gloving, so I just let it run.


And of course, my hat was flopping about, first in my eyes, then nearly popping off my head.  I needed my arms to help keep balance, as if I were walking a balance beam to the train, so I quickly mashed it down and returned my arms to their fully extended position.  Then the wind blew a few strands of hair into my freshly glossed lips, where they remained and intermingled with the snot that was taking up residence on my upper lip.


And then, to top off the cute-express, my eyes watered, causing my mascara to smudge and blend into the glossy, snotty palate.  I'm telling you, I put the (c)ute in commute.  I was feeling pretty alone in my fugliness until I finally reached the train platform.  But then I looked around and realized that deep winter is just the season of universal ugliness.  Who are we kidding?  When it's 18 degrees, we're all just trying to survive and get from point A to point B in one piece, let alone look good while doing it.

So, my fellow freezing friends, I will look the other way when you have a frozen snot/lip gloss/mascara blend on your face if you will extend the same courtesy to me.  Spring will be here soon and we'll all be cute again, but until then, just go with it.  After all, winter is beautiful in its own special way.  And so are we who endure her.



After dealing with the emotional and physical blow of a miscarriage in mid-December, Jay and I were finally coming to a place of acceptance and peace.  No longer fresh, our wound was developing a nice scab.  But then...

But then, I got sick and went to the doctor.  She recommended, while I was there, to have one last blood draw to ensure that my pregnancy hormone level was back to zero.  It can take a few weeks for it to leave your body, and the last time I tested it was at 9.  I reluctantly agreed to have one more needle penetrate my arm only to confirm that my womb was indeed empty.  Talk about double pain.

The next morning, I received an email from my doctor that said, "Hi Jennifer, your hormone level is 119 so it looks like you are pregnant again.  Congratulations!"  My face fell into my hands in disbelief, and also in relief.  I was totally terrified, shocked, and cautiously optimistic.  I was kind of in a trance the rest of the day, not quite sure whether to panic or allow feelings of joy to surface, or even to believe this crazy news.  How could it be, I wondered, that we could be pregnant less than a month after our miscarriage?  But then I did the math and consulted the google, and let myself believe that we were pregnant again.  

It was real.  

Jay came home that night and I shared the news, and we had the kind of emotional freak-out where we were kind of laughing but kind of crying and totally shocked and felt like someone was punking us.  Our hearts were still so vulnerable from our loss that we were walking on eggshells around feeling the joy.  But eggshells be damned, we were pregnant again and that alone made us feel like whole people again.  And being whole again felt joyous.  But then...

But then, after going in for a follow up blood draw 48 hours later, I received an email from my doctor that essentially said, "Sike."  Apparently, someone in the chain of incompetent medical "professionals" (can you tell I'm bitter?) mixed up my results and it turns out I was not pregnant.  I was not whole.  The minute those words entered my consciousness, our nicely healing scab was violently ripped off, exposing our wound again, bloody and raw, like it had just happened.  Turns out we were indeed being punked.  

Even though this wasn't a real pregnancy, it offered us the much needed hope of a real pregnancy; it was a beacon of light in this otherwise dark time.  Learning that we were not pregnant after believing we were for 48 hours has set us back a few weeks in our healing.  It feels so cruel, like we've been intentionally stabbed in the gut by a benevolent and loving God.  I know that the whole story has yet to be written, and I have deep and abiding faith that our story will eventually include children when the time is right, but man does this hurt.  

So in the wake of this healing setback, all I want to do is escape; I want to escape my skin, my house, my job, my city, my state, and every boundary I know.  Not to escape or deny the pain, but to wander and wonder at things/places/people that are outside of my norm.  I just want to go someplace where I can be anonymous and find solace in the simple things again.  So that's what I'm gonna do.  By the grace of this benevolent and loving God, I had a sudden opportunity to go to Seattle for a few days to kick around, get lost in the misty beauty of the Pacific Northwest, and hopefully... heal.  But then...

But then, it fell through.  

SIKE!  I leave on February 18th.  Stay tuned for stories and pictures.  

Sunday Swell


It's Sunday night and I've got a case of the "I'm-so-content-I could-want-for-nothing"s.  Some Sunday nights are filled with sadness about the end of the weekend and the accompanying dread about Monday being right around the bend.  But tonight, I'm feeling so grateful for one of those perfect, well-rounded weekends.  

By the time I walked in the door on Friday night, I was moving like molasses.  I was surrender tired, you know?  I couldn't speak without yawning, and every effort felt like I was climbing Everest.  I think all of those extra miles I had snuck into my daily routine had caught up with me.  So I spent the night cozied up in the reading nook in our bedroom, totally engrossed in my current book, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed.  There was nowhere else I would've rather been.  Friday = Ahhhday.   

On Saturday, we finally met our new nephew, Christian.  Nothing heals a broken heart (via miscarriage) like holding, smelling, and loving on a newborn baby.  In time, of course.  We gave ourselves a three week baby-free buffer after our loss and his birth (he was born less than 24 hours after our miscarriage began), as we just couldn't go there with our wounds so fresh and deep.  But Saturday, we went there it proved to be just what our hearts needed.  Babies, man.  Those tiny fingers, that soft delicious skin, all those sugar-coated coos; it's all just so perfect and so soothing.  

After a gratifying dose of baby, we took advantage of the fact that we're currently baby-less and turned our attention to booze.  We headed over to our friends' house for their annual cake and champagne party, where we reconnected with great friends and, well, drank a lot of champagne.  Bubbly and good people for the WIN!  Like any good party, there were some memorable stories told, including a tale of becoming a celebrity on New Years Eve under the Eiffel Tower, and the time our friend made front page news by crashing her car into a Dominos Pizza in small-town Missouri.  We came home to the best post-party/pre-crash food ever: leftover chinese food.  Chowed hard, then crashed hard.  

Sunday, or sleep-in-Sunday, as I like to call it, began blissfully and leisurely at 10:00am.  With coffee!  I no longer drink coffee on a regular basis, so when I do have coffee, it's like a special treat.  Even though I had a lot to do today, the slow start set the tone for a chill yet productive day, just how I like it.  I set out around 1:30pm, and returned hours later with a new pair of slippers (my winter life can begin now), two books, and 10 bags of groceries.  If that weren't good enough, I came home to find that my man had 1) done my laundry(!), 2) cleaned the house, and 3) removed all traces of Christmas from our home.  Seriously.  He's that good.  

So here I sit, writing in my new slippers, dinner on the stove, new books on the shelf, new week on the horizon.  My heart is swelled with gratitude for a healing, restful, and joyful weekend.  It's a classic Sunday swell, and I'm gonna ride it straight into Monday and beyond.  

Fake It 'Til You Make it... To Work.


Today was like opposite day, or maybe just "radically different" day.  I woke up early instead of my usual "sleep in till the last minute and rush like mad" bit, I walked to the train instead of drove (yes, I live 5 blocks from the train but always drove because of my chronic lateness/lameness), I took the train that runs along the east side of the neighborhood rather than my usual west-line train, and I got off at 30th Street Station rather than my usual Suburban Station!  How zany am I?!

You see, this is my New Years workout fake-out resolution, where I trick myself into getting more exercise in very sneaky and almost unnoticeable ways.  Here's the thing: I hate to "work out".  I've done the gym thing more times than I'd like to admit.  By "the gym thing", I mean I've joined a gym, been a hardcore gym fanatic for 3 weeks (everyone should join a gym, this is amazing!), and then I just stop going, as if going to the gym stopped being an option.  Which makes sense because going to the gym is just not an option, for me.

I've also done my fair share of group classes and at-home videos, but it just always feels like something else on my to-do list rather than something I enjoy.  I mean, I love and really enjoy a good corpse pose, but unfortunately there are no classes or DVDs devoted solely to this one ancient "exercise".

So without forcing myself to do something I dread, while also recognizing that I need to move my body more, I decided to pad my commute with a few more steps.  I figured that commuting to and from work is something I'm used to doing and involves a bit of walking, so why not walk a bit further while I'm at it?  This way it's not the dreaded E word, it's just commuting.  See?  Sneaky.

I used to walk .8 mile per day during my commute, but by changing up my train and station, I now walk 3.5 miles each day.  Suck it, gym!  And... to up the sneak factor and to keep the commute vibe alive, I use that time to listen to educational podcasts and TED talks.  No one will ever be the wiser, well, except me.  It's like I'm gaining more brain while... just commuting.  Ahem.  The best part is that my new exercise regime commute only adds 30 minutes to my day, 15 minutes each way, so it really is kinda unnoticeable in the grand scheme of things.

So that's how my new year is beginning: Finding a new path to health by traversing a new path to work.  Sometimes you just have to fake it until you forget the point in the first place.  Sometimes end goals take away from the joy of the journey.  So for now, I'm just gonna walk to work and forget about the rest.  See?  Sneaky!

Let's Talk About It


There are some topics that are taboo, off limits for conversation, so I'm told.  You know, topics like religion, politics, or illness; topics that are likely to make people uncomfortable.  When my dad was dying of cancer, people would want to know how he was doing, but did not want to hear the truth: the D word.  They wanted to hear the triumphant and hope-filled "he's winning the fight; he's kicking cancer's ass".  

Friend: "How's your dad doing?"

Me: "Not well, I think he's going to die."

Friend: "Oh don't say that, he's a fighter and miracles happen. He's winning!"

I got the sense they were doing it for me, as if I were a delicate flower that would be destroyed under the weight of truth.  Or maybe they weren't ready to confront the uncomfortable truth themselves.  But I'm someone who copes with discomfort by rolling around in it and smearing it all over my face.  I need to talk about it.  I'm someone who loves nothing more than to get into a heated discussion about religion (just ask my Catholic mother) or politics, or to talk honestly about illness and death.  Not because I can change anyone's mind or reality, but because I find value in these sometimes painful exchanges.  Every time I broach a potentially forbidden topic with someone, there is potential for growth and healing, and I think it's worth it.

So, all that being said, I'm here to share a taboo-esque experience that Jay and I recently had.  Brace yourself, it may make you uncomfortable, but it's important for me to able to talk about this in an open and public way.  This is how I can "roll around in it".

Jay (my husband and best friend) and I have been married for over ten years.  We have wanted children from the start, but have been actively trying on and off for eight years.  Turns out we're not the kind of couple to get pregnant with ease (damn those years of birth control!).  We worked with a fertility specialist and after several rounds of tests, it was determined that there was no physiological reason for our inability to conceive.  Our diagnosis was "unspecified infertility", and our "treatment" option was for me to pop a magic pill that would help to regulate my cycle.  No thanks.

Well, it wasn't a firm "no thanks" on my behalf, it was a "let me change my diet, and approach regulating my cycle (if that's even the issue) from a natural perspective".  I wanted six months to prove to myself that I could change things (whatever the thing was) and conceive naturally.  It's ridiculous to some, but it was important to me.  So I changed my diet, lost some weight, and it didn't work.  I asked for one more month.  One more.

Then we got pregnant!  We got our positive result in November and proceeded to live in the most blissful and joyous pocket of our lives.  We were in total shock, and over the moon excited.  I mean, cannot-control-our-joy kind of excited.   We were having a baby, a BABY!!!  Do you know what it's like to want something so badly for so long, while everyone around you gets it as you are denied it month after month, year after year, and then finally get it??  It's like... I don't have the words.  It was our holiday miracle.  

We planned how to tell our families at Christmas (we made them ornaments that said things like "Grandma to be 2013!)", we hung an "Expectant Parents" ornament on our Christmas tree, we bought all of the "What to Expect When You're Expecting" books, we fully embraced our role as parents to be.  The truth is, our identities changed during those weeks, and we became who we had wanted to be for years: Parents to-be! 

But then, it all came to an abrupt and devastating end on the morning of 12/12/12, when I woke up to blood rather than pregnancy symptoms.  While everyone else was posting witty comments on Facebook about what they were doing at 12:12pm on 12/12/12, I was in the Emergency Room, losing our baby.  The ER doctor told me in a very matter-of-fact way that my uterus was empty and that there was "no evidence of a viable pregnancy".  I didn't know what to make of those words, didn't know where to file them.  No evidence?  Had I made this pregnancy up?  Faked the urine and blood tests?  Did my desperation and hope create that second line on the pregnancy test?    

No.  It was real.  But it was over.  How could it be over??

We were overwhelmed with shock and grief, even though we knew the chance of miscarriage was significant.  It felt (still feels) so cruel to have had our baby (finally!) dangled in front of us only to be grabbed away, like a warm embrace in a hot tub wrapped in a blanket followed by a slap in the face.  We didn't know who to be anymore, or how to be.  The kicker though, was that my sister-in-law gave birth 24 hours later, and our family rightfully so celebrated the birth of a new child while we were grieving the loss of ours.  Such heartbreaking and bittersweet irony.  It was salt in the wounds, and we didn't have anywhere to direct our anger and hurt.  We just hurt, bad.  But boy did we drink and eat our sorrows away.  Thank you tequila and chocolate chip cookies!  You're no baby, but you sure are the next best thing.  

As the days passed and we began to tell people, we were struck by how many other people had lost pregnancies and who had suffered similar losses.  Who knew?  I felt comforted by this knowledge, but also kinda pissed off because NO ONE TALKS ABOUT MISCARRIAGE!  It's taboo, apparently.  Pfft.  I know people don't talk about it because it's personal and private business, but I also know that couples would feel a lot less isolated in their grief if people talked about and normalized the loss of their pregnancies.  It is devastating.  It's not because of something you did wrong.  It is normal (my doctor told me that 50% of conceptions result in miscarriage).  It's okay to grieve for way longer than the outside world deems appropriate.  

What we lost was not just a cluster of cells.  It (she, that's what I felt) had a heartbeat and changed who were were, if even temporarily.  She represented our future, and now I have an empty womb.  But... I also have hope for what lies ahead in 2013.  Despite our loss, I ca't help but focus on the fact that we got pregnant.  That is huge, and something we hope to replicate in the coming days/weeks/months.  

So that's how our 2012 is ending.  We are mourning, healing, and hoping.  We also place our loss in the greater context of others' losses, particularly the families who lost children in the Sandy Hook tragedy and who lost homes and/or lives during hurricane Sandy.  All in all, 2012 has been difficult for many.  There have been high points, but there have also been significant low points.  This was mine, ours.  What's been yours?  Please, talk about your losses, your anger, your taboo topics in the comments.  Let's roll around it and smear it on our faces together.  Let's talk about it.  

Happy New Year, friends.  To hope.  Cheers.  

Thumbs Up


For a Monday, today was pretty damn great.  A solid two thumbs up kind of day.  Here's why:

My proposal for an occasional 4-day work week was approved!  I can now take one extra day off per month, which frees up twelve days during the calender year that I would otherwise be behind a desk in a windowless office.  I am so stoked to have this extra time, and grateful to the powers-that-be at my organization for supporting the idea.  It's a small change, but one that will give me greater flexibility with my limited and sacred free time.  

Also, I applied for my passport today!  I thought I would have to go after work and that it would be a long nightmarish process riddled with bureaucratic BS, but I was pleasantly surprised.  I decided to scope out the scene over my lunch hour, and was prepared to have to call my supervisor from the long line, telling her that I would need to take two hours of personal time because I was stuck in some horrendous line.  But here's what actually happened: I hopped on the subway, went to the post office at 30th & Chestnut, waited in line for the application, applied, had my passport photo taken, hopped on the bus, picked up a salad at the Liberty Place food court, and walked back to my office, all within the span of 55 minutes.  I've waited longer to mail a package free of liquids, perishables and explosives.  Getting a passport was like the Jiffy Lube of all government-related experiences.  I challenge you to interface with the government, take two modes of public transit, pick up lunch and return to the office in less than an hour.   

Next, when I got back to work, I received official notification that an abstract (paper) with my name on it had been submitted to a national Social Work conference happening in January 2013!  This actually starting unfolding over the weekend.  When I was in grad school, I was a research assistant for two professors who were conducting different research studies.  Well, one of them is ready to publish the findings of his study, and is including my name as an author because of my role in the study!  He is submitting the abstract to possibly be selected for a paper presentation at this conference next winter, so today, I received official notification that 1) it was submitted for review, and 2) it has my name on it.  I am so floored by this news, and so filled with gratitude for everything from the initial experience of working on this study to the latest development of being included as an author.  I just didn't see it coming, at all. 

Then when I got home, I saw that I had a piece of mail.  Not a bill or piece of junk mail, but a card from my mom.  I quickly scanned my mind as to why she would be sending a card.  Birthday? No. Anniversary? No. Holiday? No. Just because? Maybe.  I opened it and was so surprised to see that it was a donation towards our Costa Rica trip!  The only caveat is that I have to have a drink in her honor while in Costa Rica.  Damn, I don't know how we're gonna make that happen, given our rigorous itinerary filled with ass-in-the-sand sessions followed by floating-in-pristine-waters sessions.  It was an awesome and totally unexpected surprise, and once again, left my heart so grateful.  Thanks, Mom!

Finally, the last piece of goodness for today is that I turned the last page of a book that has held my imagination captive over these past few days.  Not that I love ending a great story - I don't, I'm actually quite sad - but I do love loving a book in its entirety and feeling like I've come full circle with the characters.  I've been reading 360 Degrees Longitude: One Family's Journey Around the World, which is the true life story of a family (parents John and September, and kids Katrina [11] and Jordan [8]) who dropped out of everyday life (school, work; you know, the things that typically define us) for 52 weeks to travel the globe.  It's been an inspiring read, and has opened my eyes to the incredible experiences awaiting those who have the courage to dream, and save.  Not that I currently have dreams of funds for taking an Around-the-World trip, but reading this book has challenged my perceptions of what it can mean to raise a family in the world.  It was one of the best stories I've read in a long time, and tonight it came to an end.  Happy tears :)

So all in all, today was pretty thumbs up.  In fact, I kind of wish I had a third thumb to raise.  Actually, based on today's wish success rate, I better exercise caution and rethink that one.  I'll settle for two thumbs up - way UP!

The Good, the Bad, and the Beauty


Here's the good news: I have booked my airfare to Costa Rica to visit my friend Jen!!

Here's the bad news: I don't have the money to pay for my trip, yet.  I charged it; it's the American way, after all.  It's my patriotic duty to stimulate the economy even though I can't *technically* afford it.  But I'm not one for technicalities, anyway; they get in the way of dreams.  And as far am I'm concerned, in an epic battle of rock-paper-scissor, dreams are to technicalities what scissors are to paper.  Dreams win every time.  So, I'm taking a leap of faith and trusting that if I book it, they (dollar bills) will come. 

I figure as long as I can raise a few hundred bucks by the time I leave (June 27th), I should be golden.  I've already raised about 46% of my targeted goal, which includes airfare and spending money, so I just need to double that and I'm good.  So far I've raised money by participating in a focus group, doing online surveys (slowest and most boring form of fundraising EVER), and speaking at a local University.  <-- Isn't that a hoot?  A University actually paid me (me!) to speak on a panel.  As if I were an expert on something!  I wish more of those opportunities would fall in my lap the same way that one did.  

So anyway, I'm hoping to participate in a few more focus groups, maybe get a temporary part-time job delivering flowers or something, and solicit donations from friends, family and the best blog readers in the whole wide world.  Hope you like butter, cause I'm butterin' you up! 

I'm still waiting to hear back from the powers that be about my four day work week proposal.  I won't be totally shocked if it's shot down, but I am holding out hope that it's approved so I can create more free time in my life for beautiful moments and the pursuit of joy.  

Speaking of beautiful moments, check out this little beaut: Almost every morning as I board the train, I see an older gentleman who always seems to be searching for someone in the crowd of commuters.  While everyone else is zoned out in their books, papers and smartphones and has that smug "don't look at me, don't breathe on me, don't touch me - this is my last 20 minutes of peace before the work day begins" look on their mugs, this guy is eager for some human contact.  As it turns out, his "lady friend" boards the train a few stops after him, and they sit next to each other in silence (it's the quiet car), just enjoying each others peaceful presence before the inevitable chaos of the day sets in. 

They both get off at the same stop in the city, share a kiss on the platform, and head in different directions.  I can only imagine what their relationship is like.  Are they life partners who have separate lives?  The comfortable and almost intimate silence between them makes me think they've shared this love for a lifetime.  But, the eager way he looks for her in the morning makes me think this is new, giddy love.  Whatever it is, I adore these two and appreciate the beautiful moment they bring to my morning commute. 

That's all for now friends.  I'm off to continue my hustle in hopes of making a few bucks to finance my dreams.  Where there's a will, there's a way! 

Monday Musings


Mondays are rough, aren't they?  Especially after weekends that feel rich, full, and provide ample time to do the things you actually want to do.  So yeah, this past weekend was pretty phenom.  Nothing super amazing, it just felt like I had enough time to accomplish savor all that I wanted to, including date night, time to catch up on sleep, time with family, time to play in the dirt, and time to do all the little precious things that tend to fall through the cracks. 

So, waking up this morning and heading to the office (my office has no windows, by the way) felt less than phenom.  AND, today was the first really warm day; I think it was 89 degrees and sunny, so ya know, I had beach on the mind pretty hardcore.  So, as I was leaving to take my lunch break, I stopped in my boss's office and said, "How do you feel about a four day work week?"  Not that I want a four day work week every week (four 10-hour days would weigh on me just as much over time), but it would be a nice option every now and again to help extend the weekend and help with that whole work-life balance.  The jury is still out on whether or not my organization will allow such freedom, but I'll keep you posted.

I spent my lunch hour in a sweet little pocket park, totally zen'd out and enjoying the sounds of nature drowning out the sounds of the city, or trying to.  Birds are serious nature noise-makers, but they got nothing on bass.  Ultimately, Tupac won out (still?!), but the birds made a valiant effort, and I for one got lost in their sweet songs. 

Ironically, a bird pooped on Jay in this very park many moons ago, right after he told me that it's good luck to have a bird poop on you.  Really.  It was awesome.  We almost had our first kiss here, right after the bird pooped on him, but something held me back.  Probably the glob of bird shit on his shirt. 

So anyway, I hope the four day option pans out.  Going back to the whole "joy and making meaning" business, I think time is a key aspect of that.  Having options about how to structure my work time would mean a lot to me, especially if it means freeing up time (and activities) that have traditionally been off-limits.  So yeah, that's where I'm at these days: creating options, freeing up time, and rethinking what's off limits.  I mean, back in the day, back in the pocket park, kissing Jay was off-limits (mostly because of the bird shit), but we created another opportunity, and look where that took us :)