Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Miriam's Birth -- Part 1 (written July 29)

One week ago, at this moment I was on my way to the hospital!

In the afternoon of July 22, I'd gone to a routine midwife visit in the city (Washington, D.C.) at 38 wks 5 days pregnant. A few days earlier, I'd had a late-term ultrasound that had estimated my baby might already be 9 lbs 9 oz. I was worried that this estimate might scare the care providers and make them encourage an induction. Imagine my surprise when not only did the OB say he wasn't worried and there was no need for induction, but also on Friday my midwife Ashlee even discouraged natural means of induction. She stressed that the most important thing was for me to relax and trust that my body would do what it needed to when it was the right time.

Ashlee also felt my baby from the outside and said that she didn't think this baby was over 9 lbs. She listened to me share how it could be tricky for me to be relaxed while also helping my teenager navigate her tumultuous feelings about the baby's coming. Ashlee recommended Naomi be at the birth, and said that it might be just the thing to form a strong bond with the baby. I left that appointment feeling encouraged, not only because I could now relax about the timing of this birth, but also because a care provider had taken the time to really listen to me and offer me hope.

I ran a few errands on my way home. Steve's birthday was the next day and I was buying groceries to host  some friends coming over to celebrate. I remember going a little slower than I usually do in the stores, as I felt like I had pulled a muscle and it hurt to walk. But the pain was gone by the time I got home. Right before dinner I had one more store to stop in and I remember having a sensation while walking out, that felt like the baby was really pushing on my bladder. It wasn't so much pain as it was pressure.

Steve, Naomi and I sat down for dinner and "The Empire Strkes Back" at around 6:30. I felt more of the bladder pressure moments, and after maybe one or two of them, Steve looked at me and said he thought I was having contractions. "Contractions?!" I replied. "No way!" But sure enough, they kept coming about ten minutes apart, and I'd have to close my eyes and consciously relax during them. They didn't feel like cramps, but they definitely didn't feel normal.

I hadn't yet done my hour of exercise that day, so had been planning to go swimming after dinner. I still suited up and started walking to the pool. But in the less than five minutes that it took to walk halfway there and then turn around and come back home, I had another 3 contractions. I decided I need to call my midwives and see what they thought. (I still wasn't actually thinking of coming in to the hospital; I mostly wanted reassurance that I could indeed go swimming!) So I made the phone call around 8 PM. Nora was the midwife on call and at first she said that it didn't sound serious, but then when I had a contraction while on the phone and couldn't talk for a minute, she changed her mind. She said to come in to the hospital whenever we could.

Funny enough, my boys had had their 'emergency bags' packed for at least a week but they were currently away at camp. And those of us left at home? Neither Steve, Naomi nor I had actually fully packed. So we scrambled around for about 45 minutes and finally took off at 8:45. At least I'd spent the morning putting together the freshly-washed baby carseat! Thankfully the contractions were still bearable even on the 25 minute drive downtown and Steve did a great job navigating. And bonus: we were able to find street parking for free since it was a Friday night.

Since Nora was in the middle of helping another mom in labor, I was put in a triage room with a kind nurse named Marina. Steve and Naomi stayed with me, and we all watched the monitors track the baby's heart rate as well as my contractions for the next 30-40 minutes. At one point I started to lie down, thinking that it was necessary as they began to monitor me, but my contraction pain was so much worse when I was reclined compared to standing that I never did that again. I stood the whole time I labored, finding that the contractions were quite bearable that way.

Eventually a doctor gave me a brief exam to see what was happening, and it turned out I was 8 cm dilated and 100% effaced. That meant that everyone got hopping to get me into a labor and delivery room because things were moving FAST!

Persian Meat Casserole (Kukuye Gusht)

My mom lived in Iran for a few years, before she got married, and has loved Persian food ever since. She gave me this recipe some time ago, but I'd only made it once before last night. It was so long ago that my kids didn't remember it. But I remembered that they'd liked it. So I cooked it last night and everyone loved the delicious flavors and moist texture.

For me, the experience of making this dish yesterday was even sweeter because of the way my kids took part. I was lacking a few ingredients but didn't have a car, so I suggested that a few of us walk to the local grocery store together to shop. I carried Miriam in my sling and Josiah and Ethan walked alongside. While at Giant, I let the boys each pick out a donut (a special treat in our house!) and then showed them how to use the self-checkout lane to buy vegetables.

When we got home, I also asked the kids to all help in the dinner preparation. Naomi held the baby, Ethan broke and beat the eggs, and Josiah washed and cut the herbs. Ethan said he'd always wanted to feel raw egg and asked if I'd let him put his hands in the bowl before we added other ingredients. I said "sure" and he delighted in the gooey texture. Meanwhile Josiah was enjoying the smell of parsley (he usually comments on scents while he cooks) and also discovering what it means to 'chop finely.'

So after a group effort, we got the casserole in the oven (our 'new' used one that was graciously given to us after ours was broken for 8 weeks), and then reveled in eating it together for dinner. Here is the recipe:

2 T butter
1 lb. ground beef (I used turkey)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 c spinach, chopped
1 c parsley, chopped
1/2 c leeks or green onions, chopped
 1 1/4 t salt
1 t curry powder
1/4 t cinnamon
1/4 t pepper
5 eggs

Saute meat and onions in butter about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Add spinach, parsley & leeks. Add seasoning and mix well. Beat eggs slightly and add to the mixture. Mix well. Spoon into greased 9" pie pan. (I used an oval casserole dish.) Bake at 325 F for 30-35 min. (I added maybe an extra 10 minutes.) Serve warm, or cool with plain yogurt.

Hopefully your family will enjoy it as much as mine did! It's a winner in my book!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

My baby could come any day now, and I have to say that I'm really really scared. For the past couple weeks, I've been almost purely excited. I've wondered what this little one will look like. I've thought of the joy that will come from the snuggles and giggles, and getting to repeat early childhood with a brand-new person.

But tonight, I'm weeping because I'm also scared and sad. I think now of the time I linger with my big boys while putting them to bed, repeating songs my youngest likes, trying to chat with my middle about what he's reading. It's already getting tougher to have good conversations with my two adolescents. My son is reluctant to talk at all (is he walling up his heart from the tension in our home?) and my daughter is increasingly independent and aloof. I dread what a new baby will add to the mix. How many times will I be pulled away prematurely because of a crying infant? How hard will it be to have heartfelt conversations? How many nights will I be so tired I can't even manage to sing with my boys? How will the other kids feel when they see me with the new baby? Jealous? Neglected? And rightfully so?

I want to still do the same activities with my older kids that I do now, even with a baby in the mix. But I know it won't be the same. I know there will be good, but there will also be bad, and yes, ugly. I'm already an emotional mess; I can't imagine what I'll be like postpartum and exhausted.

So I cry myself to sleep tonight, knowing my days are numbered. In just eighty hours, the boys will be off to camp for a week, and they return home a week before the due date. Will the baby be here by then? Is this the end of our family of five as we've known it for nine years?
Sometimes the only thing that keeps me from slitting my wrists is knowing how horrible it would be for my kids. That's it. That's the one thing standing between me and the end. Wow, is a mother's love strong. I really don't know how I can keep going, but I know for their sake, I will.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

I Hope They Remember...

I know that my kids are aware of many of my issues ... my anger, my despair, my easy frustration. I see them react in different ways, and it makes me sad that they have such a messed up mom. But then we have bright moments of glimmering joy, and I hope that they remember...

I hope they remember the bat walks we've taken at twilight, even putting pillows down on the path by our creek, so we can more comfortably enjoy the interesting creatures swooping over our heads...

... the countless hours we've spent reading all kinds of books together, a sweet bedtime routine and a way to pass long hours in the car. Little Women, Watership Down, Narnia, Lord of the Rings, The Penderwicks, Huck Finn, Tales of the Kingdom, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, Anne of Green Gables...

... the walks we've taken in the snow, enjoying our footprints, watching the falling flakes, sliding on icy surfaces...

... many hours at Pohick Creek, wading, climbing 'The Boulder,' spotting snakes, hiking for hours, and even creating sparks by throwing rocks at a boulder at twilight...

... trips to the beach in almost every eastern seaboard state as well as California, Canada, and other countries, jumping waves together (even when I wore an XXL swimsuit), building tunnels and castles in the sand, seeing sharks and jellyfish and ghost crabs, watching sunrises and sunsets, collecting kelp...

...  songs sung together, loudly with our stereo or radio playing, softly with my guitar at bedtime, in harmony with extended family as Grandpa expertly played guitar, in church every week...

... homemade meals made with love, bringing us together at almost every meal, pleasing our senses as we've smelled bread baking and tasted cinnamon rolls, African stew, or hand-crafted pizza...

... that I said "I'm sorry" when I'd messed up or hurt them, and that I said "I love you" and gave hugs at least every night...

... being encouraged in their gifts, being spoken of proudly, being told they're loved no matter how well or badly they do at something...

... the freedom they've had to explore, take risks, enjoy creation, and be themselves...

... the changes I've made in better eating and finally exercising on a daily basis. Maybe the weight I lost and the health I gained will be an inspiration to them when they face something tough, or they have to decide between a healthy or unhealthy habit...

... the fun of hospitality and the joy we had in hosting friends and strangers for overnights and meals...

... the love of extended family, and the many visits they've had with cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-aunts and -uncles. I know it all starts to blend together, and they may not remember the specifics, but I hope they remember they are cherished and rooted...

... that learning can be spontaneous and fun, and stem from the very world around us, that understanding history is key to moving forward in a healthier way, that math is crucial in every walk of life, that science is a wonderful exploration of the breathtaking world in which we live, that art and music are the languages of the soul, that the written and spoken word are precious and world-changing...

... that the Church is beautiful in its diversity. We've worshiped in Mennonite, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, Anglican, Pentecostal, Methodist, Covenant, Christian & Missionary Alliance, non-denominational, traditional and contemporary, 'high' and 'low,' Scottish, English, and Jordanian churches, in English, Arabic and Spanish, and there's been truth and beauty in each one...

... the respect we tried to always show to those who served us, and also the honor we gave to people in or from other countries. Our time overseas was when the kids were quite young, but I hope they remember that we loved people no matter how they looked or the language they spoke, and that we in turn were loved by strangers. I hope they don't lose that sense of the world being big and small at the same time.

My prayer is that these precious memories, truths and worldviews will take root and blossom in my children's lives, and that when they look back and remember, the sweet will outweigh the sad...

Monday, June 6, 2016

One of our Favorite Quick "Go To" Dinners

I am not a very organized or scheduled person. So it's not a surprise when there are many late afternoons that I'm left scratching my head about what we're going to eat for dinner that night. Sometimes I'm even still scratching my head as late as 7 PM (like I did today!) Thankfully, though it was late, I remembered one of my family's favorite meals: West African groundnut stew. ("Groundnut" means peanut.)

Previously I'd always made this in a slow cooker, but tonight I made it on the stove (and microwave) and it worked just fine. It's a recipe for which I almost always have the 5 ingredients on hand, is flexible in terms of amounts, and is loved by all 5 of us!

Quick version:
Get a pot of white rice cooking.
Microwave frozen boneless chicken pieces until cooked, or mostly cooked. (Tonight I did 6 tenders for 8 min.)
Chop 1/2-1 onion and saute in pot with a little oil. Add diced chicken. Cook a few minutes (until chicken is done and onions are clear).
Add crushed or diced tomatoes to taste. (Tonight I used a whole 28 oz. can of crushed.)
Add a few scoops of peanut butter, and cook on low until you're ready to eat. (Tonight I covered the pot and simmered for probably 10-15 min.)
Serve stew on rice. (I always add salt and crushed red pepper to my own helping.)

Crockpot version:
Put all the ingredients (including frozen chicken pieces) in the slow cooker (I usually use 1/2 onion sliced, not chopped, and maybe not an entire can of tomatoes) and cook on high for a couple hours, or leave on low all day. This eliminates the need to defrost or cook chicken.

I'm sure you could do more with this basic recipe to make it healthier (like add spinach) or more suited to your tastes. You could use any kind of tomatoes, but it's canned that I tend to have always on hand. You could use other kinds of meat, but again, chicken is what I tend to have in the freezer. It's a very flexible dish!! And oh, so YUMMY!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Mental Health??

I had heard that the state of America's mental healthcare left much to be desired, but now I'm seeing up front and personal what a struggle it really can be. It's a shame that at the point when one is depressed, perhaps as low as they've ever been, it takes such an effort to find affordable help. It is not as straightforward as looking at a list of insurance-provided doctors and then making a phone call or two. (Even that in itself can feel overwhelming when one is desperate for help.)

No, of course it could not be that easy. Even after making a list of local names and numbers, and then starting to dial them, mentally preparing to introduce myself over and over again, I faced obstacle after obstacle, leaving me wondering why I even bothered. There were the numbers that were never answered, and the ones on whose machines I left a message. There were the doctors who answered but are no longer taking new patients. The doctors who, though on my insurance's list, don't actually take Medicaid after all. The numbers that were incorrect. The numbers that turned out to be for a general office, the secretary of which then redirected me to another number ... and another... and another. If one could feel dizzy from making phone calls, that's how I'd feel.

So I've actually made zero progress, other than finally booking an appointment with a new GP. People claim there's good in that. ("At least they'll prescribe meds for you.") But I don't want medication as much as I need someone to talk to, someone to listen, someone to help me get out of this stupid quicksand I'm sinking in.

Maybe I have to wait until I'm desperate again and then use inpatient help since outpatient seems non-existent. Great way to prevent disasters. Way to go, American "health" system!