The worst week of my life

Cee was born on a Friday morning and spent the first weekend of her life in the NICU under the lights, being treated for a mild case of jaundice—she’s A+ like Carter while I’m O+, and was sluggish during her first night with us. As we were trying to sleep the pediatricians came in, looked at her, then took her to the nursery for some time in a bili blanket. Her levels didn’t go down; in the morning they said that out of caution they were putting her under the heavy-duty NICU lights, and supplementing her with formula since my milk hadn’t come in yet.

It was good in a way; I was able to rest and sleep and go up to the nursery to attempt breastfeeding every four hours or so. Three of my closest friends came to visit on Saturday and I escorted them up to meet her. My best friend burst into tears—good ones—at the sight of her. We stood in front of the incubator with our arms around each other and looked—just looked at her.

Carter went home to sleep on Saturday night, and I spent the night going up and down to and from the NICU. He came and brought food—sandwiches and smoothies from Whole Foods, Chinese takeout. Sunday they released her, and we put her in the carseat and drove home with Carter’s mother in tow. I had a feeling of mild unease when we went home; I knew that the real hard times were about to begin. Over the next few days my breasts became painfully engorged, my legs and ankles and feet swelled with fluids. I couldn’t fit in any of my shoes. The nights were murderously difficult as I tried to feed Cee with my minimal milk and then supplemented her with formula. I think I burst into tears on Tuesday night after Cee burst out of her ineffectual swaddle for the third time.

The engorgement slowly began to fade; by the weekend it seemed things were better. Sunday, however, Cee stopped eating. Her latch was terrible and then she began to refuse formula, which was a first. As she faded we panicked and went back to the ER; they admitted her to the NICU again. We hoped it was jaundice; it was not. The nurses and doctors had no idea what it was. They did every test they could think of over the next week: upper GI, head ultrasound, jaundice, electrolytes, blood cultures, spinal taps, everything. All was normal.

I became gradually more and more unhinged. I would go to the NICU and sit there with my floppy baby on my lap, sobbing over her. My milk production was low, and I spent hours tethered to the pump. I’ve never fallen apart like that before. I spent time furtively running searches on the internet about obscure medical conditions. I tried to bargain with God.

Carter’s mother came to help us, buying me flowers and cooking meals and staying up to keep me company. I tried to pump to bring in milk to the NICU—I didn’t manage to get much. Less than an ounce most of the time. Stress? I don’t know.

On Thursday the 7th, my mother-in-law and I got up to go to the NICU in the morning. When we arrived, the nurse told us that Cee had eaten 70 milliliters, and had been fussy. I high-fived her and promptly burst into tears. Now you’ve got me going, said my mother-in-law, and then she started to cry.

I leaned over her bed and kissed Cee on her forehead and promised her that I’d never complain about being woken up in the middle of the night again. All the while wiping my nose to avoid dripping tears and snot all over her.

I texted Carter that she’d eaten 70 milliliters!

I took her onto my lap and breastfed her, while my mother-in-law took a call from Carter. She handed the phone to me and I said yes, she’s eating, I’m nursing her right now. He told me he loved me.

That moment was like the laws of entropy had been reversed in the universe.

They kept her for a few more days to make sure she gained weight. I went home and pumped milk with a renewed determination. She came home the following Sunday morning. We were together again.

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“Life is always a rich and steady time when you are waiting for something to happen or to hatch.”

Life is always a rich and steady time when you are waiting for something to happen or to hatch.  -E.B. White

It is December! And things are in such a state of flux that I am sure we will never be settled again…or at least for a long time. Good news on the SV front: I’ve made about $500 in November alone, which is not bad for only being in business about two months. I am now firmly in the black, and December is looking promising–likely between $300-$400, I guess, but with zero expenses.

Still, these past few weeks have been strange. I have been sick, finally hauling myself out of it only to infect Carter, who came down with the same cold yesterday (oops). Our house is still covered in boxes and hammers and paint cans. We’ve been finding ticks on the Beast almost every day until it started raining. Then the crawl space under our house flooded during the storms. Armed robbery only a hundred feet away from our front door. Protests in town, a scant two blocks from our house. We know enough to pull down the shades and deadbolt the doors, but it’s been a long time I had to worry about going out at night by myself.

So, I have not been feeling like I have control over my life of late.

And yet, here it is: I am pregnant. It’s early, very early, true and this tiny clump of cells that is half me and half Carter may well disappear in the next few weeks. In fact, that’s likely, even. But even if it goes, it’s here now. It could be a new life! A new human being!

Part of me prays for mental caution against wholesale joy. It may go. It may go. That’s true. But on the other hand, I do not want to guard against happiness because it may disappear. I don’t want to waste these weeks holding back, holding everything in. I want to savor the wonderment and amazement of this time, even if pain comes of it. That’s life.

The past ten days have been very rocky, feeling physically sick being the least of it. Pregnancy and birth are scary, true. I thought I’d have my adult life in order before I started a family. (I do not, and it’s not looking promising). Motherhood was always the most distant of abstractions. For some part of my life I was sure I didn’t want children at all. Even now, I haven’t been pursuing it like I do most of the things that I want in life, and figured that maybe in a year or so it would happen. I haven’t sat down to process everything until now. I’ve just been worrying and going through the motions.

But abruptly today I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And this whole new life thing–it is incredible.

Today I felt the strangest bloom of happiness, the likes of which I haven’t felt in a decade. It’s not at all that I’ve been depressed these last ten years, but I haven’t experienced this particular color of joy since I was a teenager, I think. It’s hope and wonder and astonishment all mixed together.

I can hardly describe it except to say that remember when you were a child, and at moments felt like the entire universe lay at your feet, and that anything could happen, and everything was amazing? At the time, I remember feeling an irresistible urge to dance. These verses have been floating in my consciousness, from Li-Young Li’s poem From Blossoms:

from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Well, my little baby, little blastocyst, little could-be person, my sweet impossible blossom, I am drowning in joy. For as long as you are here–one more day or an entire lifetime–I will be glad that you are here.

“Dogs are our link to paradise.”

“Dogs are our link to paradise. […] To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.”  -Milan Kundera

Yesterday, a pit bull charged and attacked Beast on his morning walk. Carter had him on-leash, but the pit bull was off leash (in an on-leash park). Carter washed him off to realize that Beast had a ragged puncture wound (among other smaller wounds) on his shoulder. The vet sedated him and put a surgical drain in.

He spent the later hours of the day bleary on painkillers and antibiotics, his drain dripping blood around the house. It was gruesome. We put a t-shirt on him to absorb the blood at night, only to be woken up a few hours later by whimpering at the foot of our bed. He’d somehow managed to wrestle the t-shirt off.

The night was windy. We were awoken again by the scratching of the neighbor’s fence against our window. It was the least restful night I’ve had in awhile. I’d wake up and wonder if Beast was okay, and then it would be hard to get back to sleep.

How do parents do it? The sleep deprivation, the worry?

“If you can think of the times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency…”

“If you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves.  To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself.  And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that.  I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it.  I know that sounds a little pious.” – David Foster Wallace

I am married. And honeymooned. And today, utterly fatigued by the weight of the carbohydrates and protein that I have ingested in the last twelve hours. Thanksgiving seems a good day – an excellent day! – to return to a more reflective way of living.

I’d kept my private journal updated daily in October, but this month has been sparse on account of finishing Nanowrimo for the first time in the proper month of November – I finished Camp Nano in June 2012. I have not thought of much else but writing at breakneck speed, and keeping up the usual professional and familial obligations. I pulled a marathon writing session this past weekend, averaging 3500 words a day so I could finish the novel before Thanksgiving. It actually happened. Wow.

Tuesday night we stayed with mom on the way down from SF, and then drove the rest of the way down on Wednesday. Today was nothing but food, food, and more wonderful food. One of my lifelong wishes is for science to develop diet that emphasizes the heavy, unlimited consumption of simple starches and sugars.

What has changed in the last three months? Marital status, sure; but have also found a new writer to add to the pantheon of my favorites (above), and added a new country to my passport, and many small and grateful realizations about family and maturity.

I’m looking forward to winter. Ahead: family, daily writing, figure drawing & exercise. Happy Thanksgiving.

“If you have one parent who loves you…”

“If you have one parent who loves you, even if they can’t buy you clothes, they’re so poor and they make all kinds of mistakes and maybe sometimes they even give you awful advice, but never for one moment do you doubt their love for you–if you have this, you have incredibly good fortune.

If you have two parents who love you? You have won life’s Lotto.

If you do not have parents, or if the parents you have are so broken and so, frankly, terrible that they are no improvement over nothing, this is fine.

It’s not ideal because it’s harder without adults who love you more than they love themselves. But harder is just harder, that’s all.” -Augusten Burroughs, This is How

I have not one, not two, but FIVE parents. Three of whom are steps; all of whom are floating around California in these last weeks before the wedding. My Baba and his wife landed on Friday; this morning they’re rolling towards Yosemite in a tour bus.

One of the first things we did after they arrived was to take them to the library so they could borrow some books and DVDs to enjoy while we were at work. My Baba left the library with biographies of Mao Zedong and other Chinese political figures, positively delighted that he would be able to read some banned/censored/unavailable histories while he’s here. The nerdiness runs deep in our family.

There is a lot to say but I am running on fumes at this point. Onwards.

A beach, a dog, two airplanes, a sunset, and…

…a ring!

On Saturday I attended my design class (late) as usual, and then Carter picked me up for lunch at chipotle. He’d spent the morning at the office so he seemed a little distracted, and he told me he’d spilt his coffee all over his pants. We went home and he changed; afterwards we were both ravenous and went to grab burritos at Chipotle. We planned out the rest of the day as usual: Target and Costco for groceries, then a trip to Fort Funston with Beast. I planned to cook chicken piccata in the evening.

We got to Costco late, maybe around 3:30; being that the sun sets early these days, I suggested that we delay our trip to Sunday so we could go home early and cook. Carter waffled a bit but finally decided that yes, he still wanted to go to the beach. We got home from shopping and I readied the beach accoutrements: ball, tossing stick, treat bag, a sturdy jacket for me. As we were about to leave, Carter asked me where the camera was. Being that the sky was already beginning to darken, I was a little skeptical, but he was insistent. So, I found the phone and we were off.

At the beach, Carter decided not to bring his hiking bag, which we usually do. We headed down towards the sand. It was dusk and there were little clouds of plovers skimming the tops of the waves, and Beast predictably lost his mind and raced after them like a maniac. We watched him and enjoyed; Carter took a short video of Beast sprinting across the sand.

We reached the middle of the beach and paused to look at the airplanes ascending from San Francisco airport. There was one that climbed steeply, and then banked out towards the ocean; Carter said it was heavy, and so was probably headed towards Asia. Another airplane looped around and headed back inland.

In the middle of our lovely pause I noticed that Beast was taking a poop near the cliff. I started to head for him but Carter said–I’m not picking that up right now. We leaned against each other for a few minutes while the sunset reddened over the water, and then Carter turned to me. I started suspecting something when he dropped Beast’s ball and throwing stick. He said he had an early Christmas present for me, and bent down on one knee, and asked me to marry him.

I said yes, and smooched him soundly. He smooched me back. I seem to remember my hair flying everywhere in the wind. So I kissed him through my hair.

He slipped the ring on my finger as I bounced up and down. We recruited a pair of passersby to take our photo. We look ridiculously giddy, or at least I do. There was a brief debate about which finger the ring was supposed to go on–left or right? (We settled correctly on right, as we live in these United States.)

We climbed the wood-and-sand stairs back up the cliff and I told Carter that this place would always be special for us.

“but a succession of brief, amazing movements / each one making possible the next”

“but a succession of brief, amazing movements / each one making possible the next” -Adrienne Rich, From a Survivor

drawing in progress. It’s gonna be a big one!

The day before Thanksgiving: we bundled Beast into the car and drove him to Carter’s parents’ in Merced. We then inched down route 99 to Los Angeles, where I witnessed many a truck filled with produce: onions, carrots…even chickens! The chickens made me feel bad and I contemplated vegetarianism for a good half hour. The ride was as it always is: slow, lots of flat landscapes and big skies.

We stayed in Carter’s sister’s guest house. Their home is small but sweet: old fashioned, with a big back yard and lots of greenery. There was a lemon tree that drooped over one of the guest house’s small windows. We’d gotten in late Wednesday night so we’d eaten dinner (In n’Out and Starbucks) on the road. But the next day, our hosts made brunch in grand style, by which I mean they made a massive Thanksgiving feast at about 2PM. Soon after Carter and I were off to visit some old family friends of mine in Palos Verdes, who fed us twice over. We waddled back.

The day after we headed to Griffith Observatory as a quick and easy jaunt, as we’d toted along Carter’s toddler nephew. It was surprisingly crowded, and there was even a bridal party taking photos there, but we enjoyed a few exhibits and the scenery–the nice thing about Griffith O is that it’s quite easy to sweep through there efficiently. We enjoyed Korean bbq for dinner, and I lay in bed that night contemplating my diet.

Saturday morning we had huevos rancheros (and horchata for me!) at a local tacqueria in West LA, and Carter and I got back on the road. We swung through Merced to pick up Beast, who’d apparently impressed Carter’s family with his sideways pooping skills and odoriferous emissions. Once we got into San Francisco I insisted that we go to the local noodle shop for beef noodles and dumplings: I was not about to cook after all that. Sunday was a blur of cleaning, cooking, and errands.

I’ve rather relished being back in San Francisco, and even enjoyed being back in the office. I am a creature of routine, habits, and comfortable grooves.