Three Words.

“Are you nursing?”

There they were again -- those three words. A well-meaning (or probably just nosy) acquaintance raised her eyebrows and waited for my answer.

Inside, I was hysterical. It took all I had to remain calm as I tried to string together a few words to answer the question. A “yes” or “no” wouldn't do. It wasn’t that simple.

Breastfeeding had been great in the hospital. He latched right on, no problem. Each nurse that came in to check said the same thing: “You’re a natural. You make it look easy.”

There was no pain. No latching issues. No tongue ties. It was smooth sailing all around.

“Are you nursing?”

How do I explain that I’m trying? I’m trying so, so hard. We’d been home only a few days and suddenly my milk wasn’t enough.

I did all the things they told me to do—an endless cycle of feeding on each side, then pumping right after. Oh, and then it’s time to feed him again, but wait, I was supposed to sleep when he’s sleeping but there’s no time to do that with all the pumping.

This lactation nurse said to wake him every three hours. Feed him on both sides, then give him a bottle. Then pump. This other lactation nurse said don’t wake him. Just let him eat whenever he gets hungry. And one side is fine. And don’t even worry about trying to pump yet.

After all, my body will adjust when it learns how much is needed. My milk will come in soon. Stop stressing out, because stress won’t help. Just relax. Just relax. Just relax.

Meanwhile, my once nine-pound-two-ounce newborn had dropped under seven pounds and his pediatrician told me to supplement. We were in for weight checks every few days. Supplement this time. After a gain, it was safe to stop using formula and go back to nursing alone. Only a few days later, his weight had dropped again, so it was time to do it all over.

Back and forth I went.

“Are you nursing?”

Three words. Three words that meant another three words to me: You’re a failure.

I couldn’t feed my son alone. My body was supposed to do it, but it wouldn’t. It failed. I failed.

I had never given a second thought to seeing another woman feeding her child with a bottle. Yet every time I pulled out my formula and mixed it to feed my baby, I felt the eyeballs on me. I felt those knowing stares. I felt the judgments. In my head I heard, you’re not good enough.  

Even the formula container reminded me every time I mixed a bottle. “Pediatricians agree that breast milk is best.”

Thanks, formula container. I needed that.

“Are you nursing?”

I had friends who could do it. Three friends had given birth in the same month as me. Their babies didn’t need formula. They gave me their free samples. They were supportive. They answered my questions. They told me they were struggling, too.

“Just stick with it,” they said. “It will get better.”

I was so thankful for their support, but they still didn’t get it.

“Are you nursing?”

This time I was angry. How badly I wanted to answer, “My son is eating and he's healthy.” It was really nobody’s business how.

I never said it, though. I forced a small smile and tried again.

“Are you nursing?”

I heard the three words again and the tears started to form in my eyes. I tried to blink them away but I couldn’t.

The woman who had asked me embraced me. After a hug that lasted long enough for me to slightly compose myself, she took me by the shoulders. Her knowing brown eyes met mine and she said, “You’re doing great.”

Three words. 


Written by Lisa Hunter. Lisa lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with her husband and their inquisitive 15-month-old. She is a working mother who likes photography, baking, running, and singing. You can see her photos here.  

Photo by Rebecca Hansen

The Anniversary Card

My neighbor came over a few days ago and asked me for a favor. She is a petite woman, newly retired, and often shares with me wise or humorous childrearing tidbits that always seem to be spoken at the exact moment I need to hear them. After a gentle knock at the door, I smiled when I saw it was her through the window, eager to enjoy a few minutes in her company. 

She held a blue envelope with both hands, and was gently pressing down the seal, stroking the softness of it. 

“I’m going out of town this weekend to my daughter’s house, and will not be here on Saturday for my anniversary. Can you take this anniversary card for my husband and put it in my mailbox on Saturday?”

She handed me the card, and looked into my eyes deeply, as if to tell me without words the importance of its message. 

“Of course I will. How sweet! How many years have you two been married?” I asked her. I had an idea in my head of how many years it could be. They have four grown children and a slew of grandchildren, so it knew had to be a big number. 

“46 years!” she said with a chuckle and a can you even believe that? tone of voice.

“That’s ALMOST 50 YEARS!” I replied.

“I KNOW!” she giggled, like a school girl the morning after a middle school dance. 

I just got home from taking the card down to her house and, like a secret Cupid on a mission, sneakily tucking it into her mailbox. While I strolled back home, I thought to myself, “How do you buy a card to say what 46 years of marriage means to you? What could a card like that actually say? Haven’t you said everything to each other already?”

Truthfully, it can’t say much. A generic card covered in flowers and loaded with sweet sayings cannot possibly convey what almost 50 years of marriage means. Sure, in that card there are probably plenty of “I love you’s, blessings, we’re so lucky, you’re my life partner….” but when I held it in my hand before delivering it, I thought about all the sentiments that card could honestly and genuinely say. Almost 50 years of a life shared has more than sweet nothings to represent it. 

In that card there are decades of “Have a good day” kisses and long walks with hands entwined.  

There are years spent living more like roommates than lovers, while you were rocking babies instead of rocking your marriage. 

There are hundreds (hundreds!) of months reading bedtimes stories, doing book reports, science projects, sitting on bleachers for games and auditoriums for recitals. 

There are small chunks of years spent hanging on to any shred of sanity you had, while you both attempted to comprehend adolescence, and the tornado that is a teenager. 

There are days spent in grief, in silence, in despair, and in explosive arguments that nobody won and nobody will ever remember anyway.  

There are moments of over the moon intimacy, followed by nights spent sleeping alone on the couch. 

And there are the moments when you probably found yourself falling in love all over again, when you sent your last child out into the world, sighed, then looked at each other and the quiet empty house around you and thought, “Now what?”  

And today, with your grown children all scattered around the country, and your retirement spent both enjoying some well deserved peace and quiet mixed in with frequent trips to dote on all your grandchildren, you still, STILL, think it important enough to surprise the person you married 46 years ago with an anniversary card.   

That card? The one I just left in a mailbox for an unknowing husband to discover later today? It means nothing. And yet it means everything. And therein lies its true beauty. It means “I do” again, and “I would” again, and most importantly, “There’s still more for us.” 

By comparison, my marriage is still young. We are almost at 20 years, not even half the length of her marriage, and the more that we have left to experience together is more than just exciting, it is my everything. The first 20 years of our marriage have been consumed with childrearing and growing roots. The next 20? That is when the sturdy roots push children out into the world, and when our marriage limbs stretch, grow, and bloom. That is also when we can sit under the solid tree of our marriage, the one that now provides shade and respite, and allows us to linger under its security, endlessly loving each other, ’til death us do part. 

The years are long but the time is short, and that shortness of time left together, when husband and wife are knocking on the 50th anniversary door, is more precious than gold (there is a reason it is called “The Golden Anniversary.”) But I think the wife already knows that. She knows that the simple card she planned to have waiting today in the mailbox will mean everything, and I can’t help but agree.  

I can only hope to still be their neighbors when the big 5-0 happens. 

What an honor it would be to deliver THAT card. 


Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer and adjunct librarian. You can find her writing all over the internet, (like here and here) but her work mostly on the dinner table. 

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons.

On Learning To Like Motherhood.

I remember the moment I knew it was time to talk to someone.

My colicky daughter, with her dad’s ski-slope nose and a desire to do things she wasn’t remotely capable of doing, was screaming uncontrollably in her swing. I walked upstairs to get her pacifier and found myself fighting a strong urge to crank up the fan, roll myself up in my blanket and forget about the world, and more specifically, the commitment that my daughter represented. It was then I knew I needed to talk to my doctor about the bogeyman of parents everywhere: postpartum depression.

There had been signs before that, of course. I have a history of anxiety and depression.  Though the first three weeks of motherhood had been a breeze, a toxic cocktail of colic and hormones eventually hit and brought me to a depth I didn’t know existed. I started fantasizing about locking myself in the garage, turning on the car and just falling asleep. The fantasies began to veer ever-so-slightly into “planning” territory, but until the trudge up the stairs to fetch a pacifier, they didn’t seem like anything worrisome.

***

One phone call and two days later, I dragged my tired self and my cranky three month-old baby to my obstetrician’s office. I looked around the waiting room at the two or three pregnant ladies; you don’t realize this when you’re pregnant with your first, but to anyone who’s had at least one kid it’s immediately obvious who’s new at this and who is on their second, third, or fourth rodeo. On this day there were a lot of newbies.

I had done the math, the math I’m sure every mom has done: how long do I have before my kid breaks down and this becomes a full-on shit-show.

(I was never good at math.)

My daughter started to fuss and scream, to scream and fuss. I tried a pacifier, I tried rocking her stroller, but she was having none of it. After more than one look in my direction I decided it was time to take her into the hallway. Employing a defense mechanism I’ve used a lot over the course of my life—humor, or a half-hearted attempt at it—I told her, loud enough for the others to hear, “let’s go before we make the pregnant ladies regret their decisions.”

I got a few laughs at least.

***

We’re almost 19 months in now. It might seem strange to say, and frankly unpopular in this era of “I love everything all the time” social media parenting, but I feel like in the last six months I’m finally starting to like motherhood. I’ve always loved it: from the moment that little girl was placed on my chest I knew I’d love it until my last breath.

But I didn’t like it.

I had to learn to like it.

Somewhere in the day-to-day struggles, with my head down and my eyes focused on surviving the second in front of me, I learned.

The thought hit me tonight when I was cleaning up my daughter’s Megablocks and crayons. It was after a day of typical highs and lows, of snuggles and squirming, of kisses and screams. I put the blocks in the bucket one by one, remembering that in just eight short hours she’d be dumping them out and putting the bucket on her head to make me laugh. I put the crayons back in the plastic tub one by one, remembering that in just eight short hours she’d be tossing them over her tiny table again, some of them falling into the heat register where I’d have to pry them out.

I realized that instead of feeling like what I was doing was totally pointless, I couldn’t wait to watch her do those things. I couldn’t wait to see her excited face as she launched crayons off her table. I couldn’t wait to see that damn bucket on her head. Instead of trudging up those stairs and wishing I could avoid the moment, I was eagerly anticipating it.

Of course I’d felt that same feeling in fleeting moments beforehand, but tonight was the first time that I didn’t feel like an imposter playing a part. I felt comfortable and happy, like I knew what I was doing—at least to the extent that any mom can.

There’ll be times in the coming months and years, I’m sure, where I’ll feel knocked down and unprepared to get back up. 

But part of the agonizing beauty of motherhood is that staying down is simply not an option.


Written by Caitlin Abrams. Caitlin is a almost-thirty-something living in New England with her husband, 2 year old daughter, and needy Husky mix. She writes very sporadically about life stuff on her blog Caitlin, etc. When she isn't worrying about screen time or developmental milestones, she enjoys taking pictures, hand lettering and calligraphy, worrying about stuff she can't control, napping alone, being warm, and applying too much chapstick.

Photo by Sandra Kordazakis.

P.S. Speaking of feeling unprepared or knocked down, our latest podcast episode about potty training might just cheer you up. Check it out here.

My Foreign Miscarriage


“啊!他们死了!” Oh! They're dead! 

For the first time in my life in China, I wish I could truthfully say, “我听不懂.”  I don't understand.

In disbelief and a faint hope that I misunderstood, I ask the translating nurse.

"Did she say they were both dead?" 

"Yes, they don't have heartbeats."

As soon as she notices I'm crying softly, she brings me tissue and says, "Don't be so sad."

My prenatal doctor and a party of head nurses are suddenly in the ultrasound room. 

I hear my doctor commenting. “ 是的. 他们都死了.”  Yes, they're both dead.

The nurse says, "她年轻对吗?”She's still young, right?

"是的。很年轻和她友两个孩子.” Yes, very young and with two children already.

I interrupt the chatter to ask, "他们男性还是女性?” Are they male or female?

The technician says, “我看不见.” I can't see.

The nurse says, "They're in a bad position."

The doctor asks, “她什么时候觉得他们动了?” When did she last feel them move?

I respond in English, "I felt them yesterday." The nurse translates.

"不行,” That's impossible, The doctor adds, “他们已经死了两个星期.” They've been dead for two weeks.

That sinks my heart desperately low. I couldn't even tell when they stopped moving?

Sharon, the nicer and more accurate translating nurse, is by my side in the ultrasound room now, holding my hand. She searches my face, and I search her worried face in return. The flow of my tears pool and burn behind the dam of my eyes, but I fight them, and my face sours in battle. She says, "Don't worry." I only stare in response. Both nurses help me up. I wipe my belly and follow Sharon outside, averting my eyes from the pregnant women waiting for their turn in the ultrasound room, women who have nothing better to do than wait and study the bellies of other patients. I feel shame since my tears give away every pregnant woman's dreaded fear. My babies are dead.

Sharon tells me to sit down in the waiting area and to call my family. 

“Don’t be so sad. You’re still young, you can have another,” she tells me. 

I gently respond as I hold her hand, “I understand you are trying to make me feel better, but you shouldn’t say things like that to mothers. That doesn’t make me feel better, that makes me hurt more.” 

I call my husband. He’s about to start a class when I tell him. Dutiful man that he is, he continues through the class. Manager that I am, I start to delegate in the midst of so much body and spirit swollenness. I hang up with him, then call my supervisor, then my friend, then my husband again, then my husband's boss. I cry, dry up and calm down; cry, dry up and calm down with each call. I arrange pick up for my children and emergency time off for us both. I begin to text our Chinese roommates to update them and ask for help with childcare, but Sharon interrupts me to tell me I need to call my insurance for pre-authorization. I call and hand her the phone once I realize explaining so soon to a stranger is too difficult in either language, since I've already cried and dried up so many times now. 

Approval is granted, I sign here and there. Sharon takes me to my sleeping room. Our first 24 hours of 96 hours trapped inside the hospital are filled to the brim of sober meetings with Chinese doctors, pestering, mixed-English questions from busy nurses, and phone calls from friends and acquaintances, wanting to express their condolences or visit. In the 25th hour of our stay, I’m scared and grief-stricken as they wheel me on a bed toward the surgical room, where I’ll be without a translator and without my husband’s hand to hold. I fight back tears as I glance at the nurses’ faces from under my blanket. One is an older female, who looks at me with knowing, empathetic eyes. The other is a young man with Korean-style glasses and a shaggy haircut.

At the door of the surgical wing, my husband stops, and another busy nurse continues on with me.
 
She asks, “哪里是小床?” Where’s the baby bed?

The others ignore her.

She calls out, “嘿!别忘了小床!” Hey, don’t forget a baby bed!

The old nurse hushes, “他们死了.” They’re dead.

The loud nurse’s eyes meet my eyes and linger as though she wonders if I can understand. 

Inside the surgical room, the older nurse leaves me with two young, fresh nurses and a stocky male nurse. I wish that the older nurse had stayed and held my hand, or that I would have had courage to reach for hers.
 
 As everyone waits for the surgeon to arrive, one fresh nurse comes to inspect me.

“你说普通话吗?”Can you speak Chinese?

“一点点.” A little.

“你很漂亮.” You’re very beautiful.

“谢谢.” Thank you.

“你不要了是吧?” You don’t want them, right?

“他们都死了.” They’re both dead.

And tears begin to fall down the sides of my face into my ears.

As she tries to wipe my face, she hurries to say, “啊!别哭了!你很漂亮!"  Oh! Don’t cry! You’re so beautiful!

I continue to cry, slowly, quietly whispering to my heart that this is goodbye to my twins. I’m telling them goodbye with this procedure, but I feel like I’m ejecting them from my body. The older nurse returns to the room and comes back to my side for a second. She sees my tears, but she responds with merciful silence. 

I cry in my heart, “Oh my dear twins, I want you. I want to hold you. Your daddy wants you. We want to name you. Your brother and sister want you, too. We don’t want to say goodbye. We value you and treasure you. You are both unique and special. I cannot have others like you.” 

The problem hadn’t been the language. I understood the business language of most exchanges at the hospital. The sharp, cold words were all very clear. I responded with the same indifference until the pressure in my heart erupted with fury. One of the doctors trembled as she left my room, dismantled by my explosive anger.  

No. The actual issue was the first slap of culture shock in the almost three years of living among the Chinese.

My friends have always been so tender, so mild. They understand when things hurt. They perceive when I am hungry or thirsty. They do their best to show honor where honor is due. But a miscarriage? It brings me no honor.  

Why didn’t I listen to strangers who said not to drink coffee? Why didn’t I wear more sweaters? Why did I work on my laptop? There was potential radiation! I could have borrowed a “safe suit” from a friend. Why did I eat this and not that? Was the air too bad? Why didn’t I rest more? Why did I go swimming? Twisting might have hurt the babies. These concerns they all previously expressed came crashing down on me in shame. Not because I was wrong in ignoring their triviality, but that I had only death to show as my answer.

Then the doctors, as though nothing was ever whispered to me in the halls of my school or on the side lanes of my neighborhood, tell me it’s ok. “You’re young. You can have another.” Then, for a greater sting, “Take care of yourself.”

The chances of naturally conceiving identical twins again now that I’ve lost them are 1 in 80,000. The chances of conceiving when I’m not sure I can even bear the pain of trying again: unknown. I cannot simply have another. 

I later ask a Chinese mother and friend what she thinks about what was said, and other offensive comments made by others later. She tells me she wouldn’t like it either. She tells me that these doctors and nurses don’t know what to say to encourage me. Especially for the elder Chinese, they have experienced famine, drought, and revolutions. These elder Chinese saw their own family members eat tree bark, or swallow globs of clay so that at least they could die full. These elder Chinese saw a nation full of bloody, murderous change, where neighbor turned on neighbor. They just want me to focus on what I have, focus on the good still in my life. 

And for the second time in China, I wish I could truthfully say, “我不明白.” I don’t understand


Written by Vanessa Jencks. Vanessa is the incoming Managing Editor of beijingkids Magazine and website.  She writes in her free time at vanessajencks.com. A fully extended version of this piece will appear in the book, Knocked Up Abroad 2.