Don’t call us, we’ll call you

January 22, 2017

Foster parenting, Day 18

22 September

If there’s one thing baby B hated when he came to us, it was diaper changes. But a close second: having his hands touched. He was already 10 months old so his grasp reflex was gone (except as applied to the death grip on his bottle), but he seemed unusually bothered by even the slightest touch of his hands.

For the first week or so that he was with us, we had Neal give him all his bottles. We wanted to quickly break down his obvious alarm at being near a man, and associating Neal with his beloved bottles seemed to be the quickest way. Once that was well in hand, however, I quickly claimed the rocking, bottle-feeding routine. I’d been waiting 6 years to rock another baby so there was no way Neal was going to get all that action!

The first couple of times I held him while he sucked down his formula at breakneck speed (seriously, you cannot believe how fast he could down 8 ounces!), I was struck by how insistent he was that he hold the bottle (even brushing his hand or the bottle could incite his wrath) and how tightly he held it, so much so that the blood would drain from his fingers and they would seem almost glowing white in the darkness. As I rocked, I would think back on how casually Addison had held her bottle. It was the casualness of knowing that someone would bring her another; there would always be another bottle, another time. Every last drop was not required to be sucked out with such force. Still knowing so little about the baby’s background, it seemed obvious that his grip was the grip of survival, of not knowing what the future would bring.

But I had a plan. I thought that if I could slowly supplant his hands on the bottle, taking care to not disrupt his flow of milk, his free hands would eventually land on mine. I would intentionally fan three of my fingers out so that as he moved his hands around they would begin to glance off mine. Once he brushed past my fingernail and his curiosity won out as he spent 15 or 20 seconds feeling around my nail with his tiny pointer. It felt pretty much like winning the lottery, if you’re wondering.

I still remember the moment, probably around Day 10, that he wrapped his little hand around my ring finger for the first time, and just held on. (As long as there was milk in his bottle, of course, after which all hell would break loose.) I wanted to whisper to him that he could hold on to me for survival, he didn’t have to “fend for himself.” But I didn’t, because on Day 11 or 12 or 13, they could come calling for him and he might have to go back to survival mode.

In those early days, my mind was a bit frenzied during these rocking sessions. I loved him so much in just a few short days, I would think about how wrecked I was going to be when he had to leave. During the morning nap routine, I was convinced that when he left I could never foster another child. And then by afternoon, I was sure that I couldn’t live without fostering 10 more babies. Because BABIES.

But most often my mind would rest on two thoughts. Or more accurately, it would rest on the first thought and spin on the second.

First, I would hear this poem in my head, introduced to me by my friend Steph. My mind might wander to the papers I needed to be grading or the discussion boards I had to post while the baby got a precious little sleep, but I’d hear, “I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.” I guess that’s true for everyone, but it was so poignantly true for us. He might only “keep” for one more day, so I could just forget about my work for awhile and press my cheek against his one more time.

Second, less pleasantly, I was plagued by this question: what if what I’m doing for him — which in some moments is pure euphoria and in others is the most painful thing I have ever voluntarily put myself through — is actually maladaptive for the life he has in store for him? He’s still an infant, yes, but maybe the survival instincts he’s developed are what he needs for the life he has ahead. What if teaching him to depend on me will actually make his life worse if he goes back to an environment in which his needs are not warmly met?

Of course, my mind spins through any relevant studies I’ve read. There’s the ACEs work, but did it address my fundamental fear that not only will the suffering we’re putting ourselves through not help him, it could actually make his life harder? I’d have to revisit it. In those moments, it feels absolutely urgent that I find more data. Of course, there couldn’t be any sort of random assignment experiments comparing human babies from his background who got temporary, nurturing care with those who did not. But maybe there was something with mice or monkeys? But then I remember, I’ve got a baby. Ain’t nobody got time for scouring the research when you’re physically running on empty.

Despite these misgivings, however, my plan worked like a charm. Slowly, he began to take hold of my hand more often and cling to it — but gently, not a death grip. And about a week later, on Day 18, this happened for the first time. 18 days to go from deep fear and distrust of Neal to a little thumb hold on a leisurely walk. Be still, my heart. (Time stand still too, if possible.)

baby-boy-holding-hands

 

 

 

 

October 15, 2012

Heaven on earth

Filed under: Family, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , — llcall @ 4:36 am

This week my dearest of friends lost her sweetest baby girl. I have shed so many tears; it’s hard for me to fathom how they are still carrying on. Luckily, the Nelson family is gifted in the ways of strength, grace, and optimism. When I first thought about making a quick trip to Utah for the funeral, it seemed impossible. But after a couple of days, it seemed impossible not to. So I took maybe the shortest trip of my life, 18 hours on the ground, and paid my respects to the little girl who won me over just a few weeks ago by sweetly letting me hold her (and get my baby fix) — so many babies just want their mamas, you know? I’ll always be glad sweet Lizzie decided to blow-out on me; now anytime I wear those capris, or the new skirt, or the pants, I’ll think of her and the little piece of heaven-on-earth that she was for a few months.

When I wasn’t traveling, I spent the week holding Addison as much as possible. There just didn’t seem to be anything else worth doing. I had to bribe her with a few movies: you can watch Toy Story . . . if you lay on the couch next to me and don’t move at all, except to occasionally hug my neck. (My demands seemed excessive to her; we compromised.) I wish my sweet friend could have her baby back in her arms, but since she can’t (right now), I must remember the lesson in it for me: shut down computer; hug Addison. Repeat.

September 6, 2012

Scumdog redux

Filed under: Personal — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 4:55 am

Once upon a time, we were going to take these Call family pictures in the evening. Addison and I had a busy day ahead of us — dropping my mom at the airport, visiting my famous friend Rach and making friends with her younguns, using up a gift card at a Salt Lake eatery, picking Neal up from the airport — so I did what any brilliant mommy would do, I brought like three changes of clothes for my two-year-old. Just. in. case. I even brought a spare shirt for myself since I seem to end up with greasy handprints about midway through any day.

Everything was going swimmingly. Addison seemed to like her new Nelson friends and I was completely taken with darling little Elizabeth May. I could have held that little six-week-old forever.

Except it would have been gross since, in one intense moment, she covered us both in slimy, yellow newborn poop.

I know you’re gasping right now because, of course, I didn’t bring a change of pants for ME. But never fear, I was in good hands with my fashion consultant nearby. You’d think I planned the whole thing since I left her house with a new skirt (pictured here) and pair of pants. It’s cool how the Universe/Rachel seems to deliver a new pair of pants just when I need one (after all, I lost my beloved CK jeans last year).

Everybody needs a friend like Rach. (Except for people with a natural sense of style, I mean.)

June 11, 2012

Hunger

Filed under: Adoption, Motherhood, Personal, Pregnancy — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 3:55 pm

I wrote this last Monday, but promptly forgot about it amidst the busy week.

Yesterday I held a just about two-month-old baby during Relief Society. I could hardly take my eyes off her, observing/remembering all the baby things babies do that Miss Addison most decidedly does not do. I forgot how charmed  I am by the little things: watching them gently suck pacifiers (something Addison never actually did — maybe that’s why I don’t remember how cute it is); seeing their lips break into momentary smiles; listening to them grunt, trying to get comfortable (or poop). My right arm felt dead afterward, but it was worth it.

Despite how much I enjoyed it, I realized this surprising fact: I’m not really baby hungry anymore. I still like them, I still want one, but there’s no ache there now. There’s a few newborns at church and I remember seeing the first one come to church in March, at just a few weeks old. His mom picked him up to shush him and I started crying. I just wanted to shush a baby so badly. And not someone else’s where I wasn’t quite sure how he wanted to be held, whether he wanted my shoulder or the crook of my arm. I wanted to shush a baby and know that I was the very best shush-er for that little one. But unless I’m mistaken, I think that was the last time I cried for a baby. And that aching hunger has been replaced by something calm and peaceful: my time will come again. Someday.

I’m surprised at how quickly and gently that ache went away. I thought it would hang on me, maybe drive me back into therapy (not that we could afford that right now). I credit it to God and Addison. She doesn’t let me hug her often or long, but one-and-a-half seconds turns out to be just enough to remind me that I have already been given an incredible gift. (And shenanigans like Saturday’s remind me that it won’t be the worst thing for Addison to be older when a sibling comes along, lest I have another child to manage while fishing her out of fountains.)

But despite the baby hunger dissipating, I still feel some sorrow about pregnancy and labor and delivery. This just doesn’t compute for Neal. In his mind, my pregnancy was 9 months of absolute hell and complete incapacitation. But when I protest with all the things I was able to do, I can only come up with finishing my stats class and going to church.  Being out of bed 7 hours a week for 7 months (fewer after the appendectomy) is not exactly a ringing endorsement for pregnancy. And don’t even get Neal started on the terror of labor.

I remember it all differently, of course. Not that it seems rosy, but it seems amazing, almost magical and so incredibly worthwhile. I still can’t believe that I, of the strange and never-ending health problems from infancy (when I was a baby my parents came into my room once to find me bleeding out my eyes) to now, carried and delivered a girl so robustly healthy that she is forced to run everywhere and sees the doctor only once per year! That is a miracle worth suffering for.

Even while I can think of many advantages to not having another pregnancy, when my mind starts to wander, I routinely picture myself with a big, round belly again. I don’t miss the rash, but I sure do miss that belly (and the little girl punching me from inside it). And when I think about never being part of another labor/delivery, I feel sad. I still read lots of birth stories, but it’s not the same as being there with a laboring women, or myself, watching the intense highs and lows unfold.

Is it weird that I don’t even think about having another biological child anymore, but I do still dream of being pregnant and (most of) what goes along with it?

April 24, 2012

A new story of my life, part II

Click here for part I.

I usually don’t write about something until I’ve mentally determined its structure, figured out some semblance of a beginning, middle, and end.  But this new story is so full of different threads, and so far from its end, that I am still only guessing at what its “parts” might be.  But I think the next part is about my miscarriage in December 2008.

When I think about it now, I get a good chuckle from the way I suddenly became a computer-game-playing, Reality-Steve-reading Bachelor junkie.  But at the same time, I cannot downplay the fact that I was in a pretty deep depression for many months.  I had wanted to start trying for a baby as soon as we got married — my “biological clock,” which only started gently ticking around 25, was clanging by 27 — but I was still in the middle of a string of neck surgeries, and the two situations were mutually exclusive.  I think I always had a sense that I was in a race against time . . . my health was probably not going to get better with age, so I needed to get some babies here as soon as possible.  I was hoping for at least 3, maybe 4.  I think the thing that surprised me the most when I did miscarry was how fiercely I was grieving for that baby, the one that I had never actually seen or held or heard.  It wasn’t about setting my timetable back, or running out of time, or wondering if I was capable of having a healthy pregnancy.  I just wanted my baby that I already felt this undeniable connection to.

Oh, that longing was fierce and persistent — even during my pregnancy with Addison.  How I finally moved past that feeling is really just a side-note to this broader story I’m trying to tell, but since I’ve never recorded it, this seems as good a time as any.  The turning point for me came in October 2009 when I was discussing labor and delivery techniques with my friend Kjell.  She said, kind of off-handedly with no particular gravity, “Do you think this baby is the same one you miscarried?”  Perhaps I said maybe or I don’t know or I’m not sure.  Of course, the thought had occurred to me as I contemplated many questions related to perinatal loss.  But for some reason that day in early October, the suggestion struck me in a different way.  Neal had felt that our first baby was a girl.  And we had just found out definitively that we were now expecting a girl, and so I just let that possibility sit with me.  Maybe this new baby girl is the same spirit, coming to a body that can sustain her life in a way the first one could not.  Now, I should make it clear that I didn’t know if that was the case, and I still don’t; but there was enough comfort there that I was finally able to let go of that baby I had tried so hard to hold on to.  So thanks for that, Kjell (I don’t think I’ve ever told you that).

But let’s back up a few months, back to the central story.  After six months of heavy grieving and depression, I was finally ready to try for another baby.  It didn’t take too long to get pregnant, but things weren’t looking too good from the start.  By eight weeks along, I had already been to urgent care and a doctor and my midwife, trying to figure out if the problems I was having were pregnancy-related or just coincidental new health problems.  Just before we took off on our blockbuster summer vacation in July, our midwife told us to prepare for the worst.  We mostly tried to relax and have fun on our trip, but we also made the decision that if this pregnancy didn’t take, we would shift our focus to adoption.  The midwife had told us that she thought I was capable of delivering a healthy child, but that it might take three or four miscarriages to get there.  And when you’re still in the middle of grieving a miscarriage that happened eight months before, you just know you can’t do that three more times.

Needless to say, our adoption talk subsided when I didn’t miscarry and Addison turned out to be a miraculous fighter.  We had our hands full trying to manage the pregnancy, and then a newborn, and then postpartum depression — adoption was no longer on the radar.  I can hardly pin down when the shift in our discourse came about, but eventually we were questioning whether adoption would ever be a good idea for us.  The new conventional wisdom was this: if I had such a difficult time accepting the loss of a baby that had only barely been present, how would I handle losing a baby or child I had held and rocked and soothed?  (Something that does not always happen in adoption, but is common enough that it must be considered.)  We would talk over different types of adoption (I had a decent amount of foundational knowledge from my work at CORE and the fact that I have four adopted cousins) and weigh the possibilities, but it was starting to sink in how emotionally difficult that path might be, and whether I was capable of dealing with it.  Combine that questioning and self-doubt with my still-clanging biological clock, and I became convinced that we should shoot for another biological child.  I felt that it could work out, that the pregnancy wasn’t as bad as Neal remembered, that maybe we could ask for another little miracle and get it.  In short, I bargained.

It’s actually interesting for me to go back and read my bargaining and acceptance posts because I can see just how dichotomous my thinking was only three short months ago: have another biological child or have only one child.  The idea that I wasn’t cut out for adoption, that I couldn’t endure its risks with strength or sanity had become so firmly rooted.  Which is why it was nothing short of miraculous when just a week later, I had this little glimpse of the future and I knew that we would be adoptive parents.

I will have to get stronger before that time comes.  Learn a lot more about the process.  Assess our parental capabilities.  Create an income stream.  Shed some emotional baggage.  Start getting out of bed again (not depressed, just still in a tough place health-wise).  But there’s a child or two coming our way (maybe already born) — I’m certain of it.

February 10, 2012

Acceptance

Filed under: Family, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , , , , , — llcall @ 8:41 pm

This is a follow-up to the “Stages” post from earlier today, so read that first for context.

I well remember a conversation I had with my buddy Matt at least 7 or 8 years ago.  Although I can’t recall all the details, I was debating whether to use my wheelchair at a certain event.

[A short history of my wheelchair: from 1999-2000, I used it often (often enough that I even named it Wapiti, though I have a vague memory of having spelled it Wahpidi); from 2001-2003, I used it regularly for getting around BYU campus and bigger events; from 2003 on, I used it only for museums, sporting events, airports, and amusement parks since they require more walking than I can handle at one time.]

Back to the conversation:  I didn’t really want to use my wheelchair for this particular event because, honestly, it was always awkward.  I cannot even explain how much people stared at me. (Someone once told me, “Oh, you probably just think people are staring at you.”  Then they pushed me through an airport and said, “People really are staring at you!”)  Nobody expects to see a healthy-looking teenager (I looked like a teenager well into my 20s) in a wheelchair, so I got lots of double-takes and stares, as well as the occasional comment about how I didn’t look like I should be in a wheelchair.  Ummm . . . thanks?  My favorite wheelchair-pusher was my girl Rachel because she and her long blond locks were so eye-catching that people tended to ignore me.

Anyway . . . back to my conversation with Matt.  After explaining all my reasons for not wanting to use my wheelchair, Matt said something absolutely searing: “Maybe you should just accept what your life is.”  Not searing in a bad way.  More like searing in the way that this statement will forever come up at the most (in)opportune times, precisely when I’m struggling to accept what my life is.

Writing that post on bargaining was cathartic in a way that even I did not expect.  It was part of the process of accepting what my life is.  There’s been no denial or anger or depression.  And I have stopped bargaining altogether.  Perhaps most surprisingly, I have only wept once or twice over it.  I leave open the possibility that the stages will reoccur (after all, there’s still some pain there), but I also wonder if maybe that’s it.  Maybe I’ve made my peace with this miraculous one-child life I’ve been given.  I hoped it would be something else, but it isn’t, and I’m accepting that.

I am not quite sure I recognized what an accepting place I was in until this last week when no fewer than three good friends announced their pregnancies.  Not that I wouldn’t have been happy for them before, because I don’t believe I have treated happiness (or childbearing) as a zero-sum game in which someone else’s good fortune decreases my own.  But still, I was quite overjoyed.  I could picture seeing their babies and holding them and not inwardly sorrowing that they weren’t my babies.  I felt grateful for what their lives are — because they will also make my life richer.  There was a bit less joy with every pregnancy announcement over that year of bargaining.

The other unforeseen benefit is the heightened enjoyment I feel over Addison.  I have not automatically become that mom who enjoys every minute (in fact, I’m pretty sure when I handed her off to Neal on Saturday night I said, “Hurry! I cannot be whined at for one more second”), but every developmental stage, every new skill or word feels that much more poignant because they likely won’t come this way again.  I’m glad this acceptance came now so that I don’t squander the next year worrying about what I don’t have.  I can’t help but feel this acceptance is a miracle in its own way.  I so desperately wanted the miracle to be one more baby, but peace, happiness, and minimal self-pity is pretty darn miraculous too.

Maybe you should just accept what your life is, words to live by.

Stages

Filed under: Family, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , , , , — llcall @ 7:10 pm

I wrote this more than a month ago, during one of those long, sleepless nights, but Neal and I felt that the time was not right to post it.  But it feels like time now.

I’ve been bargaining.  Pretty much every day for the last year.  Bargaining with myself, with Neal, with God, sometimes even with Addison (although it seems futile until she’s at least two).  I’m trying to figure out how to get another child into our little family, and let me just say, it’s a toughie.

The thing about bargaining is that it often just escalates when you actually get what you want.  I remember after the miscarriage and the difficulties around trying to get Addison here, I must have told God a hundred times, “Please, if I can just have this one baby, I’ll be satisfied.”  We asked for a miracle to get Addison here, healthy, and it seemed like too much to order two or three miracles, evenly-spaced.  And so in the last weeks of pregnancy I was often recording my thoughts and feelings,  hoping that I had gleaned all that I could from the experience in case it never happened again.  But fast forward a year, when my baby was rapidly reaching toddlerhood, and I just couldn’t imagine that I was never going to be pregnant or breastfeed or have an infant again.  I started to say, “If I’m willing to be horribly itchy for 40 straight weeks and hardly sleep for 8 months and vomit until a month before delivery and lose another organ (I could still give up my gallbladder and one kidney and be good to go, right?) and endure doctors and specialists telling me devastating and alarmist things, can I just have one more baby and live through it?  Just a little one?”  I tell myself/Neal/whoever’s around that I would do it for Addison because she needs a sibling.  And although I do feel pretty strongly about the blessing of siblings and the important role they can play in each other’s lives, really I know I want another baby for me as much as for her.  But I’m telling you, we keep hitting up against brick walls of various shapes and sizes and forms.  Neal and my parents (and probably God) think there’s a lesson there, but somehow I have been fighting that with every ounce of mental and emotional energy I have.  And so I bargain some more.

And then I create spreadsheets: timelines, financial projections, childcare possibilities if I was too sick to care for Addison, contingency plans, contingency plans for the contingency plans.  I’m just sure I can make this work if  I plan carefully enough.  Or just never stop talking about it.

It’s good that I don’t think I’ve passed through an anger stage but nonetheless it’s been an exhausting year of bargaining.  And getting nowhere.  But still, until a few days ago, I just refused to consider the possibility that we were meant to have only one child.  It’s not as if anything momentous really happened, but while contemplating the latest considerations, I let my mind go somewhere I had never let it go before: what would the benefits be of having only Addison.  Part of me was mad at myself for even thinking about it, but I can’t deny that I could see some upside.  And I only thought about it for 45 seconds before I forced myself to stop.  And then last Sunday in Relief Society, the teacher, who was 20 years old and teaching to an audience that was, by and large, much older asked the question, “What do you know now that you wish you could tell your 20-year-old self?”  And of course, I said what I always say: This too shall pass.  Because when I was 20, everything felt more like the end of the world.  I’ll never be in love like this again.  I’m going to die today (I have almost died a couple of times, so that’s not quite as hyperbolic as it sounds).  I’m never going to feel like getting out of bed again.  But now I’m 32 and I’ve loved (and lost) multiple people and even the people I’ve been able to keep loving, there’s always bruises and scrapes along the way, but life still went on.  And I haven’t died.  And I don’t feel like getting out of bed a lot of days, but I (usually) do.  And somehow when I was making my comment to this 20-year-old teacher, I was actually making it to my 32-year-old self.  If I only have one child in this little earthly family, life will still go on.  Maybe there will be denial, and anger, and depression (probably some weeping, since that’s my specialty), and heaven forbid, more bargaining, but eventually, eventually, this too shall pass.

So while I’m not completely giving up on one more little Call, for the first time since all this bargaining began I’m willing to consider that a life with one child could still be a good life . . . for all of us.  That Addison could be like her mother and make lifelong friends who feel every bit like the sisters she never had.  That even though there might always be this little sad space in my heart, with time, it will get smaller and it won’t smart quite so much.  That perhaps Addison alone is meant to heal this new wound, just as her name promises.

August 12, 2010

Baby recommends: Patty-cake

Filed under: Family, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , — llcall @ 12:00 pm

Seriously.  This is the best.  Ask anyone to do patty-cake for you.  They have no idea how ridiculous they look, rolling their hands around, writing ‘B’s in mid-air.

They think I’m laughing with them, but just between you and me, I’m laughing at them.

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