A Letter to Our First Born...

February 1, 2015

Dearest Kiara,
I am cherishing these last days with you, not because I won’t be with you any longer, but I know in ways you are likely to never remember: that you are our first, our favorite, our beloved only daughter.

Hopefully, you will feel that forever, just how special you are, how much love and laughter you have brought into our lives, so before the new baby joins us and completes our little family, I want you to know how precious these first years of motherhood have been with you.

You entered our world and have stayed so incredibly agreeable. Even though my expectations for how you would join us were unmet, you didn’t seem to mind being cut and pulled from my womb. You cried a little, the air a shock to your little lungs, your mother shivering on the table as your father held you, not knowing how to comfort either of his two women.

I looked for you, couldn’t wait to hold you, as they bathed you and struggled to take my blood pressure for what felt like forever when all I wanted was to feel you against my skin. And when they finally placed you in my arms, I couldn’t believe the love I felt immediately for this little girl. For my Kiara.

And in those early hours, when I didn’t wake you to feed you, when I slept and hoped I was doing it right, when, really, you needed to eat, and I wasn’t doing it right, you ate when I did bring you to the breast and you slept and responded to our shushes and swaddles.

And then I fed you, in a marathon of milk, when they told us you weren’t gaining weight, that I wasn’t doing it right, that it wasn’t about the milk production, it was just that I needed to wake you up and feed you every couple of hours. Even then you went along and you gained the weight and you and I, mother and daughter, fell into that unique space reserved for new mothers and their babies.

There was the exhaustion, the dawn feedings, the afternoon sessions, the evenings, when the day was nearly done and you figured out days and nights and started sleeping for longer stretches.

We traveled up to Oregon that summer to introduce you to my family, and to Bend, where I grew up. You traveled well and won the hearts of all of your cousins, your aunties and uncles, your grandparents.

You adjusted beautifully to daycare, where you made your first friends and we learned how to trust professionals who knew better than we did, who had done this so many times before.

And then, just as you were crawling, I tore my Achilles. And then the dog bit your ear forcing us to the decision we should have made long before: to re-home our dog and simplify our lives.

You turned one. You thrived. You started to walk and talk and you haven’t stopped since. You jump and hop and run. Your babbles have become words, phrases, and tall tales. I have loved hearing about what is going on in that head of yours.

You have been excited about the little brother about to enter the world. You gently tap my belly to say hello, apply little kisses, and imagine baby brother wants to dance and sing and play with you. You have already decided that your Super Sister t-shirt is your favorite and anxiously await Baby Gabe's arrival just like we do.

But in these last days that you are our precious only child, I will breathe in your energy and enthusiasm and hold on to my absolute and boundless love for you, my favorite little girl in the world.


The End of Our Fertility Journey

The crazy thing about fertility/infertility, is that when you're dealing with it, it is both all-consuming and invisible. It colors everything, but it's translucent. It is everywhere and nowhere.

When David and I first started trying to start a family, I over-shared letting this blog (which had only a handful of readers) know. It's been an eight-year journey and now that it's come to a conclusion, I can look back without being in it, but it's impossible to capture the intensity of being in it. There was the worry that we would never have kids like we envisioned, that I was sterile, that he was sterile, that we waited too long in life, or waited too long in this cycle, that we were being selfish wanting kids of our own with so many kids in the world needing loving homes. There were just so many long-term doubts and worries. But then there was the hope, "Maybe we're pregnant this time!" tempered with "Don't get your hopes up" and "Things happen when they are supposed to" and "We can adopt or foster."

I wrote about the journey from inside and now that I'm on the outside, I can't quite capture the chaotic confusion that is trying-to-get-pregnant. I think my links to previous blogs capture some of it, and I'm exploring the journey more in my work in progress, Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop, so there is more to come. But for now, this is my journey, reflected on from the other side but with links to posts from when I was in it.

David and I had been married six years when we decide we're ready to start our family and stop using birth control.

A year later we still aren't pregnant, and although we wonder if parenthood is for us, we look for help. I start the process with my healthcare
provider, but about halfway through their protocol (blood work, exams) the reality of the expense makes us decide to change health plans. That change means treatment will be more affordable, but it also means another round of blood work, exams, and this time a dye test that leaves me ill for days.

That summer, we finally start our first cycle with fertility meds and artificial insemination. Even though my body doesn't really respond to the meds, we get lucky and are pregnant with our daughter Kiara.

We always imagined a family of four, so David and I decide to try again. We head back to the same doctor hoping to get the same results. Healthcare coverage changes make it more expensive, but we get to avoid all of the blood work, exams, and the dye test. On the first round, I respond well to the meds and there are several eggs ready for insemination. But while I'm on vacation in Oregon, I start my period. There's still time that summer for one more cycle, but that round doesn't take either. With our pockets considerably lighter, we wonder if baby number two will ever happen.

We decide not to try fertility treatments again, but hope to get lucky and in the summer of 2014, I'm late. I tracked my cycle and felt like we might have timed things right. I'm up in Portland and there is a positive test. As the pregnancy progresses, we know this baby is it for us. We discuss permanent birth control options and decide to get my tubes tied during my scheduled c-section. I come to the slow realization that our fertility journey is over. It was not short or easy, but it was uniquely ours. I'm so glad it's over. So, for anyone who is still on this ride, I wish you only the best. It is a complicated, expensive, and emotional journey, but it is yours alone and someday you too will be on the other side.


Remembering To Kill A Mockingbird

While I was away at the end of last school year, the teachers in the English department decided to give the Engage NY Common Core curriculum a shot this year. It would not have been my first choice, but I'm a team player so I've been giving the lessons a shot.

The fall unit centered around a great novel in verse: Inside Out & Back Again, about a Vietnamese refugee girl and her family fleeing Saigon and finding home in Alabama.

This spring the novel is To Kill A Mockingbird, one of my all-time favorites. I love this book and movie so much I refused to let my high school English teacher kill it for me. Now, having to teach the novel for the first time, I'm remembering all that I love about the book. We are reading and watching the movie as we go, and more than once I've teared up watching Scout sit on Atticus's lap as she learns the lessons of life.

In the spirit of the book, here is an excerpt from Through Eyes Like Mine about the summer when I first met Scout, Jem, Dill, Atticus, Calpurnia, Boo Radley, and Tom Robinson.

Movie Night

It's late, way past our bedtime, but we rented a VCR and the Butlers are over so Mom lets us stay up. Mom picked out some old movie for us to watch.
            "Are there kids in it?" I ask.
            "The little girl tells the whole story, Nori." Mom says. "You'll like it."
            I take the stairs two at a time to the family room but still don't believe the movie will be any good. It's in black and white.
            The family room is still warm from the hot summer day. The door to the deck is open and a chorus of crickets filters in from the night. The grown-ups just finished watching a movie about some lawyer. Mr. Butler's a lawyer too with an office downtown by St. Francis. When he gives us a ride to school in the mornings, he gives us a word and we're supposed to look it up in the dictionary and tell him what it means the next day. One day I look up culpable which means deserving punishment.
            I lay on the floor as Mom turns the lights out and presses play. The tape clicks and the music starts. There is a box with crayons and a pocketknife. A marble rolls; an old watch ticks. A girl draws a bird and laughs. The people in the room fade away and my world becomes black and white. A little girl named Scout counts and swings from a tire tied to a tree branch. I follow her adventures until I can feel the thin denim of her overalls and the summer heat on her back. I imagine what Scout thinks as she sits on Atticus's lap on the porch and he tells her you never really know a man until you walk a day in his shoes. I wonder if Jem, Scout, and Dill will ever get Boo Radley to come out and if Atticus will help Tom Robinson. In the end, Atticus doesn't win, Boo Radley comes out, and I think I know why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.

            The next day I pull on an old faded t-shirt and shorts fraying at the edges but I wish they were Scout's overalls. I climb up the crooked rungs on the willow tree and sit in our tree house. I look across the backyard at our neighborhood and wonder who in this town might be the Ewells or the Robinsons. I try to figure out how to get everyone to start calling me Scout but the name doesn't stick. No one calls me Scout, and the summer turns to fall.

           School starts, fourth grade, and at our first recess I notice an old house on the border of the playground. I peer into its dirty windows, past the dusty green jars cluttering the sills. It's dark inside and I imagine Boo Radley in there, plotting to murder his family. I tell my classmates about it and they say I'm crazy. I think about beating them up. That's what Scout would've done, but Atticus wouldn't have liked that. Then I see Matt Rose looking in the window of the Boo Radley house and I know he's wondering.

         Winter brings snow and during a close game of kickball, Richard Eigeren sends the ball flying over the fence into the Boo Radley yard.

            "Go get it, Richard," Matt Rose yells.
            "No way, that place is haunted."
            "Oh, don't listen to Nori. She just made that up from some old movie she saw."
            I look at my classmates and back to the dark house across the fence. "I'll go get it, you big babies."
            I sprint out the playground gate and up the sidewalk. The red rubber ball is far into the yard, resting on a pile of dirty snow. I look at the ball and remember the time Jem pushed Scout in the tire and she landed right on the Radley porch. I take a deep breath and push open the gate. One, two, three, four, five, six, I count my steps and heartbeats like Scout did when she was waiting for Jem to get his overalls from the Radley yard. I snatch the ball and huck it over the fence where the boys dodge it, not wanting to touch the rubber contaminated by the haunted yard. A dog barks and I nearly slip on the icy walk as I slam the gate and sprint back to the safety of the schoolyard, far from Maycomb, Scout and Boo Radley.


My Top Books in 2014

So after my year of reading, here are my favorites:  three fiction, five nonfiction, two children's and my one overall top pick.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie The conversations about race and the inclusions of blogs reveal a view of America from a newcomer's perspective. Then, her modern Nigeria feels so distant from the one I read about in Half of a Yellow Sun. Adichie captures the feeling of belonging and not belonging both immigrants and Americans of color experience. 
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai This novel in verse is a beautiful refugee story of escape, family, and locating home. Lai captures a wonderful young female protagonist with all her flaws and keen insights. 

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart  Love Lockhart's lyrical phrasing and how the culture of silences veil the truth. She had me turning the pages and this island story has stayed with me long after reading. 


The Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward These stories of young men in Mississippi who find death too young felt particularly timely. Ward’s ability to capture place and character leave me in awe. She does fiction and nonfiction equally well.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed: I devoured Strayed journey and it actually made me want to hike and camp (and I hate camping). Strong CNF storytelling and I will have to revisit it since losing my mom. 

Marbles by Ellen Forney The connections between creativity, artistry, and mood disorders hit home with me as did the graphic novel-ness of it which captures in visuals a complex and inexplicable experience.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson This biography in verse follows Woodson’s early childhood from Ohio, to South Carolina, ending up in Brooklyn. She holds herself up in comparison to her siblings and slowly reveals her gift as a storytelling and writer. 

Excavation by Wendy C. Ortiz In the same vein as Lolita, Ortiz explores how her middle school world shifts when her English teacher initiates a relationship with her. With occasional notes on her “excavation” as an adult, we get a break from the intense world of a teenager struggling to make sense of a life where the adults let her down.  

Children's Books:

Almost An Animal Alphabet by Katie Veggers This is my favorite of the many alphabet books Kiara has in her collection. The animals are unique and the drawings are smart and teach me things (like the differences between the Asian and African elephants). 

Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue and Pamela Zagarenski This beautifully rendered book about a little girl who just isn’t tired and doesn’t want to go to sleep is perfect for Kiara as she transitions to her big girl bed. 

Top Overall Pick:

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki I love how this novel alternates povs and how each narrative masterfully unfolds the journeys of the two characters. Ozeki works in all kinds of science and philosophy and this book actually makes me want to meditate and study Japanese again.