Thursday, October 29, 2009

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1..2...3... Nesting! My DIY Weekend

We had invitations to attend both a homecoming game in Connecticut and an evening party in Brooklyn this past Saturday. Despite the appeal of tailgate-row meat products, and the fact that, pregnant or not, I can dance any fellow partygoer into a state of sputtering exhaustion (more on the merits of pregnant dancing on Thursday), we woke to dark skies and pouring rain on Saturday morning, and my nesting instinct kicked in. Full force.

We spent the day eating grilled cheese sandwiches, baking chocolate chip cookies, watching movies, and cooking dinner. I guess it was a food-oriented day after all! Aaron and I chose a recipe for Mushroom and Chicken Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce (so good) from Rick Bayless’s Everyday Mexican, turned on some music, and chopped, sautéed and assembled dinner in our kitchen for about two hours. We then dined by candlelight, with the sound of rain hitting the windows as our auditory backdrop.

Sunday was gorgeous, but we were on a domestic roll. Aaron installed some shelves in the living room that I’ve been asking for (for photos and the like…we lack storage space, but practical shelving can come later), and I set about making over a changing table that I scored on Craig’s List.

Aaron instructed me in sanding and painting, and I dove in.

Note to self (and other knocked-up nesters): DIY projects like this one are not as easy as they appear on HGTV. I fell into bed at 11 p.m. feeling like I’d just completed a triathlon, but I’m pleased with the results; the table is 100% unique (you’re not gonna find this at Pottery Barn).

The weekend was in many ways ordinary, but our lives are so busy now with work, social, and creative endeavors that this was a treat. I’m also aware that once the baby arrives, we’ll be busy on a level we’ve never imagined, and two hours of relaxed cooking time together will be hard to come by, let alone an entire day to spend painting furniture. And, practical storage space will be a pressing need. This little in-between phase feels both natural and precious.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Another AltMama: An Interview with Maura Nguyen Donohue

Maura is the mama of Sasa, 6, and Jet, 4, and lives on Manhattan's Upper West Side. She's also Artistic Director of the NYC based troupe, Maura Donohue/inmixedcompany.

> How does being an artist impact your life as a Mama?

It makes me want to live a more integrated life with my children, it
also let's me chill about whether my kids are in dance classes or
music classes or drawing classes all the time because I know they're
growing up surrounded by it. They've been in shows and studios since
day 1. It also means that my favorite rainy day activity tends to be
dance party in the living room/kitchen area under the disco ball and
fake stage lights for one another's entertainment. It's also meant an
activity-based (versus stuff-based) lifestyle due to lack of funds and
a serious recycling (hand me down/thrift store) agenda.

> What are some challenging choices you’ve made as a Mama recently?

Going back to grad school - moving the whole family up to Western Mass
so that I could get the MFA to get the teaching job to offer the
family some level of financial stability. It was incredibly time
intensive and took us out of our community. It paid off...

> A lot of Manhattan mamas have nannies. What’s your alternative, and how do
you make that work?

My kids are in preschool and First Grade - so 1: we pay for a co-op
preschool for the boy now but we juggled college student helpers in
between my courses and teaching load during the first semester of grad
school, then got the kids both into a daycare/preschool up in W. Mass.
Prior to that I was officially a full-time mama who brought my kids
with me to rehearsals, put them in my shows and on tour (to Vietnam
once with Sasa while pregnant with Jet and Hong Kong with 2yr old Sasa
& 6 month old Jet) or brought in a Grandma for intensive performance

> What’s the most exciting thing about being a mama?

The dramatic change in my priorities - my scope expanded outside
myself in a way that is still forming. It moved me to make stronger,
bolder choices about how I want to live.

> What’s the most boring thing about being a mama?

Hmmm... I love my children and I love Play - but I found playgrounds
to be deadening during the early years - I used to need to spend hours
out of the apartment because Perry was tuning Shakuhachi flutes or
giving a lesson and I'd walk all over the city which was great when I
was walking with my sister. However, when I was stuck in an UWS
playground for hours with Sasa, I'd dream of getting a blackberry - 1
yr olds are adorable but not much for intellectual company.

> How do you and Perry share/handle parenting and household responsibilities?

It's good having a hard working but flexible partner - I bore the
brunt of it for the first 2 years while he scrambled to make money and
support the family. But, then when I went back to grad school he
eventually found himself spending many nights home alone with the kdis
while I was rehearsing or performing. We keep a calendar and divide
school drop offs and pickups as evenly as possible though these days
it leans more heavily on him. I do most of the cooking, shopping,
laundry and general keeping up with medical and social appointments
but I make him handle most playdates, which are often beyond my
patience and ability. We work to walk an equal path but I tend to be
the organizer. He's more one-on-one with the kids - patient and

> How have you changed as a mama over time?

Well. I was one of the righteous many - y'know "I'll never let my kids
do this or that." Anyway, we all eat those words eventually. Both of
my kids were born naturally, mid-wives, no drugs the whole deal. Both
breastfed and Sasa's baby food was all made at home by me with organic
veggies n all that. Perry and I boycotted the fast-food chains for a
couple years when we saw people feeding their toddlers french fries.
No candy. Limited TV access. So, now she's 6 and he's 4 and we still
eat organic, veggies mostly at home, their weeknight TV is 30 minutes
but I'm over the whole righteous thing - we'll do McDonalds happy
meals on a drive to the grandparents in RI or I'll bribe my kids with
a lollipop in exchange for good behavior in some public setting. Those
are two things I swore we'd never do...

> What's your best advice for new Mamas?

You have to cut yourself a break and chill sometimes. It's hard enough
getting through the whole thing of keeping them healthy and happy so
why listen to all the other voices (in your own head mostly) telling
you to be perfect. Screw supermom, shoot for happy. Get yourself a
copy of "Bad Mother" or "The Bitch in the House" if you think you're
going mad and need to be reminded that you're not alone - we aren't
all made to mother all of the time. I've got a sister in Westchester
who is doing it full time with 3 and going for 4 and loves it. It's
what she wanted. Another sister with 1 and is the main income
generator of the family. My mom had 6 in 7 years. Each of these moms
has a different story than mine and each has its intense struggles and
overwhelming joys. Try to remember that it's hard for everyone and
cut each other some slack where you can. AND remember to do things
that make you happy - get in "me" time and find support in friends,
family, or professionals.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

24 and Pregnant: From Decidedly Hot and Generally Put-Together to Tired, Chubby, and Nothing to Wear in Just a Few Short Weeks

At 4 months pregnant, I wore the same dress every other day for at least a month. It’s one of the only items of clothing I had that felt comfortable. My existing wardrobe became useless at just four or five weeks, when I made a trip to Target (there is no point in spending a lot of money on pregnancy clothes!) and got the aforementioned dress, a pair of ubiquitous black yoga pants and a small collection of loose-fitting tops. Lucky for me, long bohemian dresses were very much ‘in’ this past season (empire waste, halter top), and they were cheap, and everywhere. At four and a half months, I went out and bought two or three more, as well as a few cardigans, and those purchases (plus the yoga pants) should last me through the fall. I’m five and a half months along now, and the time is fast approaching when I’ll be a whale and will need to bite the bullet and get some real maternity clothes. But first, a few notes on the long bohemian dresses… and on quickly metamorphosing into a whale:

First, loose, flowing clothing may have been ‘in’ this past season, but I am, at heart, a miniskirt (pencil skirt for work… tight pencil skirt) and heels kind of a girl. I like tailored styles. Hippie bohemian dresses with bright colors in mushroom-trip patterns have not really been my thing.

Until now. By God, I’ve embraced them. Cuz here’s the other thing (the whale part): I have, impressively, always eaten more than the men I know do (including my husband). Burgers, for me, just turned into a good butt. I am 24 years old, and blessed with an effortlessly fit body. I was a dancer for a number of years, and I guess the lean look just stuck. I never thought much about it before. Suffice to say, I definitely noticed when it started changing, and it came as an unpleasant shock.

What tipped me off on being pregnant in the first place was that I couldn’t stop eating. I was obsessed with food. I know that the respected medical sources say that in the first trimester one’s body doesn’t actually need additional calories, but I have a hard time believing it. I was hungry. Physically famished. All the time. One evening as I was making dinner and standing by the open cupboard simultaneously shoving blue corn chips and cheese into my mouth, my husband asked, ever so gently, “Is it that time of the month?” I chewed and chewed, and swallowed, and said (while shoving another handful in) “Yes, in fact I’m still waiting on it… I’m a few days late… God I can’t stop eating!” I stopped eating for a moment right then, though, and we looked at each other. The next day, the digital pregnancy test gave us a big YES.

Walking around knowing that a little collection of cells inside me was becoming what would one day be a walking, talking person was the most incredible feeling. I was walking on clouds. Rapidly outgrowing my clothes was not such a fun feeling.

All of a sudden I wasn’t obviously pregnant, not even a little, but I also wasn’t obviously hot. I’m sure I was the only one to notice, at first. My husband has been wonderfully complimentary and reassuring all along (he of course loved the overnight boob-job). But being uncomfortable in my jeans, and getting some extra padding around my midsection, made me feel self-conscious and frustrated. I did not feel sexy at all. I was ecstatic to be pregnant, and I was looking forward to the more extreme body changes, namely the bump. Waiting for the bump, though, and enduring the less extreme creep of a disappearing waste line, was a bit rough. I was exhausted and emotional as it was (like PMS on steroids); feeling frumpy just made me feel worse.

I can offer a little bit of encouragement and advice for you ladies who’re not yet showing, but who are, well, thickening up. First of all, you’ve got a lot going on right now, and a lot to think about (early pregnancy paranoia, excitement, and nausea, to name a few). This is easier said than done for many of us, but cut yourself some slack. Take it easy at work, let your partner make you dinner, and eat it. If you want seconds, rock on sista! You’ll be showing soon enough, and eating healthful, delicious food right now is important. Statistically speaking, you’ve likely dabbled in dieting for years, so you should probably even eat more than you have been immediately pre-pregnancy. Try not to worry about the extra padding.

It’s hard not to feel weird about it, of course, so do not delay in going out and getting yourself some nice flowing hippie dresses (cardigans make them less hippie-like), some stretchy pants and some spacious tops. Put your regular clothes away. Put your “hot” clothes in storage, under the bed. Get rid of the clothes you didn’t even like that much in the first place. You’ll eventually be your normal size again, and then you’ll get to treat yourself to new clothes (though bear in mind that your baby will probably spit up on them).

Pamper yourself. Steaming hot baths are not advisable (your baby can’t cool itself), but I took plenty of pleasantly warm showers, got manicures and foot rubs, watched movies, and slept. You probably feel kind of crazy (actually crazy), so just let yourself feel that way. It’ll pass. Try not to scream at anyone, though. That’s just not nice, and will result in people avoiding you rather than helping make your life easier.

Lastly, I told the people that I’m close to, and my boss, that I was pregnant. Like, right away. This goes against conventional wisdom due to miscarriage rates, so only tell people you are comfortable telling, but I found that telling our friends and family helped me feel better amidst all of the physical changes because it returned the focus to the amazing reason for those changes— there’s a baby in the making! Telling my boss was a good move, for me, because it allowed me to not worry about missing a meeting here and there to go to the doctor (“So… I’m not going on interviews…”), and it gave a good—as in, everything goes-- explanation for my lethargy and, yes, weight gain (“I’m also not depressed”).

The first few months crawl by as you approach and reach the milestones of hearing a heartbeat and clearing the 3-month mark (when miscarriage rates decrease significantly). But things really do pick up after that. You start looking pregnant, not fat, and gaining weight for real. My appetite actually mellowed out after the first couple of months. And I do feel sexy again, bump and all. I’ve found that now I’m not worried about my body; I’m thinking about my baby. I know I’ll get my ass back in good time.

I do. And the Baby Do, Too. (And, why not to get wrapped up in all of that 1st trimester testing)

The months, weeks and days leading up to my wedding followed a pretty classic trajectory, complete with the mounting chaos prior to the big event that somehow all came together perfectly for the day itself. The little surprise that made it all the more… intense?... for us was that I found out I was pregnant three months into the wedding planning process, and got hitched at three-months knocked up. Some of you can, I’m sure, relate. Having two major life events simultaneously in the making was exhausting, but in many ways may have made everything run a bit more smoothly in that I didn’t have enough energy to be a ‘bridezilla,’ and I had the benefit of a sudden bigger-picture perspective (i.e. there are more important things in life than cake). There was, however, one bump in the road that was, at the time, overwhelming, and the timing couldn’t have been worse.

The day before the wedding, and two hours before the wedding rehearsal (as family and friends rolled into town), I was driving back from picking up extra maple sugar candy wedding favors when a nurse called to give me the update on my pregnancy blood work. No HIV, no STDs of any kind, no this no that.

“Great… Excellent…”, I chirped. I knew this stuff.

Then she said, “You did, however, test positive as a carrier for Spinal Muscular Atrophy.”

I pulled over.

“What the hell is that?”

She told me not to worry, and that the chances of my partner carrying were slim; they just needed to get him in and test him. Could we come in tomorrow?

“I’m getting married tomorrow. I’m in New Hampshire.”

“Can you hold?”

“No, wait! What”—Musak. Endless, excruciating smooth jazz.

I was crying. Whatever it was that she’d said sounded bad, and I was stuck on hold.

When the nurse finally picked up again, she said she felt badly and wanted to put my mind at ease and get us my husband’s results by the end of our honeymoon. She sent us to a lab nearby, where we squandered an hour before they realized they couldn’t take his blood because the lab to which they’d send it was closed for the weekend. My husband was unconcerned, but I was a wreck.

My parents’ house had by this point filled with a crowd of relatives. When we arrived back from the lab, I raced past them and into the bathroom to splash myself with cold water and apply some mascara. My aunt, a nurse practitioner, knocked, and told her what had happened.

She scoffed, “Psh. Don’t worry about that! People have been carrying this genetic stuff for centuries without even knowing it. This business of making babies has gotten excessively thorough. You have nothing to fear. Forget it. Hell, when I was pregnant with Will”—her 16-year-old son—“the doctors told me there was an eighty percent chance he’d be ‘incompatible with life’, that his lungs would collapse and he’d die at birth.”

“Okay, wow.”

“Go out there and get married. Don’t give it another thought.”

I did give it another thought. But as we ran through our ceremony in the pouring rain at the wedding site, and later, at dinner, as a Hibachi chef sprayed Sake into my husband’s mouth from across the table and stove-top, I let it go. I let myself get picked up and carried along by the coming together of those we love for an enormous celebration, a major event in our lives.

It’d rained for weeks, but the day of the wedding was clear and gorgeous. We were married in a garden, at the bottom of some steps overlooking a lawn. Our ceremony was very much our own, and our guests were moved by it. The dinner and the party were just fabulous. I was so moved to be surrounded by this collection of people from every facet of my life, as well as my husband’s parents, relatives, and their friends. My husband and I couldn’t stop grinning at each other. We were married! We danced our first dance to Louis Armstrong crooning “What a wonderful World.” It perfectly captured how I was feeling.

I thought about the blood test here and there throughout our honeymoon (I’m a worrier by nature), but we were relaxing, in love, and musing happily about the baby. The baby felt healthy inside me. I just sensed that it was fine. We found out a few weeks later that my husband is definitively not a carrier of Spinal Muscular Atrophy. During the wedding, though, during the dinner, and the party, and later at the hotel bar with our friends, celebrating into the very early morning, I didn’t drink any Champagne, but I also didn’t think about the baby at all.