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2020 year in review

I’m not sure what to say about 2020. It was quite a year. I’m an introvert, and I had a baby, and so I was prepped to do a lot of staying home and laying low and not really interacting with the public all that much. Then of course the pandemic put all of that into overdrive.

On one hand, it was a really lovely year. I felt like a pioneer. I made sourdough bread and took care of my babies. I felt capable, and it was exactly what I wanted to do.

Except that I would’ve liked to spend more time with human people. I would’ve liked to have had more help with the babies, so that there wasn’t always so much pressure around work, and timing, and getting naps just exactly right for a Zoom meeting, and working at odd times and late into the night because that’s when I could.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we were told to go easy on each other and to be accommodating to each other. At first it seemed like I wouldn’t need this same accommodation, but over time, I came to realize that I did. Even if you weren’t directly impacted by a Covid case, there was an unexpected cascading effect, so that most of us were impacted in one way or another.

In addition to a national/global crisis, 2020 was personally tough for most people I know. My life was no exception. Weirdly challenging things kept happening in 2020. There were literal floods and pestilence, and my heating system broke in, like, six different ways at six different times last winter. Although we never fully had to go without, I had to ration milk for my toddler because of food shortages, something I had never even thought about before in my life.

It’s not over yet, but the vaccine is in sight. I now know people who have received it. As that number increases, I think things will slowly start to feel normal again (though the fallout will last for years). I hope I look back on this year fondly and with gratitude. It’s no exaggeration to say that having to drop a baby off at daycare has been one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, and so I am grateful that I’ve been able to spend so much of my kids’ infancy with them and caring for them.

Having them home while working took a toll though. I think I juggled it all, but it was exhausting, and I am but a wisp of the person I used to be. I hope that in time, I can recover and that I can come out of this experience without debilitating germaphobia or food hoarding habits. Time will tell.

2020 reading list

Once again, this year’s reading list was fairly short, but a little longer than last year, which is impressive given that I had twice as many children to care for! Trust me—reading any books that aren’t for work with little ones at home is a feat. I also read zillions of children’s books and am including Stuart Little on this list because of it’s literary merit.

Severance by Ling Ma

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones

Stuart Little by E.B. White

round 6: knitting a baby blanket (with pattern!)

As I scroll back through the old blog, I’m a little surprised to see that I’ve made several baby blankets that haven’t been documented! After I found out I was pregnant with baby L, I quickly knitted a baby blanket for him using the same yarn and pattern as this one because it was a favorite.

This fabric has bright, cheerful colors and consistently inconsistent blemishes throughout to create a nice visual texture.

I thought I would do something similar when I found out I was pregnant with baby A, but in the interim, I had knitted another baby blanket for my cousin’s baby. I liked it so much, I bought an extra skein, not knowing how I’d use it. So, when I was pregnant with baby A, and that was such a wild and hectic year, I just used the skein I had on hand for a future baby blanket. I didn’t know for sure when I bought it I would be using it for this purpose! I really like this yarn. I like the color and consistency. One of these large skeins can make an entire baby blanket, which is nice because I never seem to buy enough yarn for my projects–a more serious problem now that I don’t have a Michael’s nearby.

The nice thing about knitting a baby blanket for your own baby is that you get to knit, your hands stay busy, it feels productive, and with each stitch, you get to meditate on loving thoughts toward your baby, which is one of my favorite past times!

I started this blanket in spring 2019. I was unable to complete it before A’s birth. I was then unable to complete it for his first birthday. However, a few weeks after his first birthday, with about a week left before Christmas, with my grades submitted, and a serious need for some down time, I began to finish the blanket. I worked on it every night and stayed up late on Christmas Eve to finish it. That night, I had to tear out the last rows three times: once because I forgot how to knit, then purl, then reverse it, and once because I began the ribbing too soon, and once because I forgot how to cast off. I was rusty, but thanks to a few videos online, I was able to finish it, wrap it, and hop into bed by 12:30am.

The finished product, folded up and ready to go.

This project also inspired me to make more blankets for my babies. The next projects will be twin sized blankets for when they graduate from their crib-sized bed, which hopefully won’t be anytime soon.

Here’s the pattern:

The Materials:
-6 skeins of “Rainbow Jellys” by Caron Chunky Cakes
-Knitting needles, US 10.5

The Pattern:
-Cast on 65 stitches.
-Knit purl, knit purl, purl knit, purl knit until the row is finished.
-Then reverse it: purl knit, purl knit, knit purl, knit purl until the row is complete.
-Continue this pattern until you’ve got a few inches of a ribbed border. With this yarn, I like to make the border the length of one color, since the colors make stripes throughout the blanket.
-Then, knit the rest of the blanket until the last few inches or so.
-Finally, repeat the pattern from the beginning (knit purl, knit purl, purl knit, purl knit; then reverse it on the next row) to create a ribbed border for the last swatch of color again at the end.

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

If you’ll recall, in December 2019, I was part of a book gift exchange with a group of women who also had babies that year. I was gifted two books by one woman. The first I read and wrote about here: https://sherewin.com/2020/03/09/severance-by-ling-ma/. The second was Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. Both were shockingly timely to 2020. Severance was about a global pandemic and Queenie is about, in part, race and racial injustice.

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So, here’s my take on the book. The story immediately drew me in. It starts with some relationship drama, and I am always happy to be a fly on the wall to any and all relationship drama.

But, as the book progressed, I grew weary of Queenie’s antics, and I didn’t always have enough emotional connection to the story to be patient with her as she navigated her failed relationship, her abusive/borderline abusive sexual escapades, and sabotaged her career. Certainly there were reasons, and certainly we would grow to understand them, but I sometimes grew weary in the waiting. (This happens more and more with me when reading works of fiction.)

While her relationships with friends didn’t always resonate with me (which probably says more about my relationship to “friends” than about her depiction), her relationship with her family became the most interesting aspect of the book to me. Fortunately, that narrative builds and builds throughout the story to a nice conclusion. (Not nice as in happy or resolved per se, but nice as in well done.)

Overall, this piece has literary merit, is well done, if a bit too long. I hate to make the comparison, but it really does allude to the Bridget Jones’s Diary story. It’s a workplace romance starring woman who is a mess. It’s a hallmark of British Literature, and Carty-Williams carries it on and makes it her own in Queenie. The author artfully integrates trauma and politics, specifically the #BLM movement. I am glad I read it, and I think you will be too.

Stuart Little by E. B. White

Since my ability to read for pleasure has been severely diminished since 2018, I’ve decided I’ll also keep a tally of children’s books that I read that I think are also worth reading in adulthood. For the most part, we read many, many baby books, but I’m also able to read a page or two of capital “L” children’s literature, and so I try to do that as I can.

First up is Stuart Little by E. B. White. I had never read this children’s classics, and so I snagged it from a “Little Free Library” when I had the chance. It is the first “real” book I’ve read to my child. I read it page by page over the first two years of being a mother, with several months-long breaks in between. There were little images on every other page or so, and it, along with the text, was just enough to sustain my child’s attention for short periods of time.

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our copy

This is a delightful book. It’s about a mouse named Stuart Little who takes himself far too seriously. He lives in New York City, but a few discomforts and experiences compel him on an adventure. He is both honorable and seriously lacking in accurate self-reflection.

It’s E. B. White, so the writing is perfection. Every bit of dialogue enriches the characters. The plot is simple. It’s a child’s book, but somehow the journey seems very authentic to real human experience. It’s a quick read (unless you’re reading it like I did) and well worth the time.

A bonus is that it also reminded me of my grandpa, whom I miss tremendously, who also wrote and told delightfully absurd stories of characters who took themselves too seriously.

How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones

I read How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones because it was sitting there, and I’m glad I did. It’s a quick (but not necessarily easy) read. I was immediately drawn into the narrative. He shares what feels like a really authentic account of what it’s like to grow up Black and gay and how and why that felt like a death sentence to him.how we fight for our lives

The confusion, innocence, curiosity, and angst of childhood felt really authentic to me—though his experience seemed even more exacerbated by his firm knowledge that he was *different*. Later, the sex is explicit, and there’s a lot of it, and at times I wondered if it was gratuitous, but in the big pictures, it really did serve an important purpose in the story. And anyway, it’s about a young gay man, so yeah, there’s going to be some sex.

About two thirds or three quarters of the way through the book, when many authors lose their steam, attention to detail, and sentence-level care, this book picks up, ending powerfully as the author’s relationship with his mother contextualizes and heals and, although imperfect, a clear love story emerges that feels true and healing and heartwarming.

The ending is surprisingly, as it becomes clear that this author has achieved the sense of self that he’d been searching for—in some unlikely ways and places that simultaneously feel familiar. I too have suddenly and unexpectedly wept with strangers.

The book made me much more reflective of my own education, especially my undergraduate degree, an experience that, for me, has inexplicably evaded much analysis or meaning making from me. This book also made my world much smaller. I identified with this man in that I too went to a state school on a scholarship, and although it wasn’t the fancy private school to which I had received a partial scholarship, it offered an important education still the same.

Because the book was not too demanding of my time, I googled some of people listed in the acknowledgements section. I read Sarah Schulman as an undergrad! I didn’t realize Roxanne Gay has a PhD in Rhet/Comp like I do! I didn’t realize it was from Michigan Tech, a sister school with my own PhD program that often exchanges “talent.” Not only did the book’s journey resonate with me, I also had the sudden sense that these people were actually my people. This felt like…my circle.

This is a story of a gay black man, but the journey to reconcile the love and harm inflicted by one’s family, the journey of navigating the first years of adulthood (college) and settling into one’s authentic identity amid wildly conflicting pressures, the community we find, the family we choose is the stuff of life and something with which every reader can identify.

planting the placenta

Today I finally planted the placentas that I saved from both of my hospital births. I kept them in case I was struggling postpartum and wanted to have them encapsulated. Fortunately, I never ended up needing to use them postpartum. So, I stored them in the freezer for months with a plan to bury them. I learned that once you have them, there’s no turning back. I moved across two states with a placenta in a cooler on ice. I started to have my doubts about keeping them, but what else could I do?

Finally, it is springtime, and I am settled, and I am planting my first orchard: apples, pears, apricot, and peach. It is time.

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a new fruit tree for the orchard

To begin, it felt like a chore. Get trees. Remember to get the placentas out of the deep freeze so that I can work with them tomorrow. Dig holes. Do it all quickly before the babies wake up from their naps.

I’m so glad I did it though. It was a beautiful and surprisingly introspective process. When I opened the containers, they were so fresh, like I had just given birth. Everything slowed down. The memories of my pregnancy, of growing and birthing these beautiful babies came flooding back as I prepared the placentas that connected us in every way. It was bittersweet to let them go. To put them in the earth felt like letting go of the most physical connection I have with my boys. It’s something I’ll never get back.

I hope I’ll remember. I hope sometimes when I am in the orchard, I’ll slow down, and I’ll remember the absolute miracle of life and the life changing gift this experience of motherhood has been to me.

How fitting that today is also Earth Day. Happy Day!

A’s birth story

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A was born at 7:44pm on December 5th, 2019. He was due on December 1st, although an early ultrasound read a Nov. 30th due date, I rounded “late” to give myself more time. I did the same last year with L. Given a family history of long gestations and big birth weight babies, I wanted to avoid induction pressure as much as possible, while still being relatively accurate and medically responsible. I was in labor with L on his due date—not late at all! However, during this pregnancy, I was bombarded with so many stories of people barely making it the hospital with their second babies and stories of early babies that, despite knowing better, I began to think that I might have a quick, early labor with this baby too. But first, let me back up.

I found out I was pregnant around the middle/end of March 2019. (A few days before, I had submitted an application for my dream job in Oregon.) I was still nursing 8 month old L around the clock and had not yet start my period. So, my only indication of pregnancy was implantation cramping, which happens during a very specific window of time after conception, and, in my body, is a very specific feeling that I’ve only felt twice. Thinking of it now, I cannot draw up the memory of the feeling. But, I know it when I feel it. I noted the date, told T I thought I might be pregnant, and loaded L in the car and made the drive from Driggs, ID to my home in Utah. Around that time, I had also just received word that Grandpa H was dying of kidney failure. Mom met me in Utah, and we began a week of tender visits with Grandpa as his kidneys failed, and then he passed away. Privately, I began taking pregnancy tests and saw that first faint line get darker with each test. I told both T and my mom. Although this pregnancy was a surprise and came to me much faster than my first pregnancy, I felt strongly that this was a precious miracle baby, and I was grateful for the timing. Questions about if and when to have a second child were suddenly no longer a concern. This was how it would happen. This was the answer.

Shortly thereafter, in mid-April, we made our first trip to Louisiana with L. The trip went well, but I felt that first trimester exhaustion and had an upset stomach the entire time—something I never felt with my first pregnancy. When we returned, I had my first prenatal appointment, where the due date was confirmed, and we did prenatal testing to find out, “It’s a boy!” Around this time, I also learned that I was a finalist for the job in Oregon. So, once again, I packed up L, and we made the long trek to Oregon. I felt great the day of the job interview, but it was taxing. I continued to struggle with first trimester exhaustion, upset stomach, and also scheduled nursing sessions with L throughout the day.

Shortly after returning from Oregon, in early June, I was offered the job. I accepted, and by mid-June, I made arrangements to put my house in Utah on the market, with a goal to sell it within a month. That process required cleaning and trips to Utah and packing up my life (once again). My mom came for another visit, which coincided with my uncle Roger’s sculpture reveal at This is the Place Park in Utah. Mom helped me pack, then T came to Utah at the end of July to help finish packing and load my belongings into storage pods, which would be shipped to Oregon. During this time, I was also house shopping in Oregon, via video walkthroughs with the realtor and my mom’s visits to properties. I made a few offers, until finally finding the home I would buy at a great location.

I spent the rest of the summer enjoying my time in Idaho with L, taking long walks in the stroller with him and generally enjoying the slower pace that life there affords. In mid-August, I found childcare in Oregon and moved in with my mom temporarily while I began working at my new job. I also saw the house that I was in the process of buying for the first time. Buying the house ended up having several unforeseen setbacks, and the one month I was supposed to stay with my mom turned into three months. I had repairs and updates completed, and I moved in during my third trimester, only a month or so before A was born, with the help of my mom and T and other family members.

I mention all of this to indicate the intensity of this entire pregnancy. While staying with my mom, L and I shared a small bedroom. He began daycare for the first time, he caught every cold imaginable, and so did I. Antibiotics were even required at one point, and while I was sick, I had regular, painful contractions that made me wonder if my baby would arrive early. T was also supposed to arrive and stay about a month before the due date. However, work obligations kept him away several weeks longer than anticipated.

In the final weeks of pregnancy, I felt huge. I was huge, gaining 65 pounds this time. By far the most difficult part was caring for L while pregnant. Tasks like lifting him, changing him, getting him in and out of the car seat, and putting him in this crib sometimes felt impossible. I held him not on my lap, but beside me now—a emotional transition as I began to feel what it would be like to not be able to fully baby my first baby as much as I had in the previous year and a half.

My due date came and went. At the 38 week mark, I began nesting and became much more motivated to finish unpacking the house. The few weeks previously were spent moving and unpacking too, but I was tired and less motivated. In the last few weeks of pregnancy, I’d finished enough of the interior of the house to feel satisfied and ready for baby.

The due date came and went. I felt uncomfortable at night, tossing and turning, but never went in to labor. At 36 weeks, I was dilated 2-3 cm. At 40 weeks, I was dilated to 4cm. One night, near my due date, I had a wave of hormonal nausea and a painful contraction, followed by another painful contraction. I told T that I felt certain I was in labor, and I tried to sleep. I awoke the next morning. Contractions had faded away. I wasn’t in labor after all.

At around 2:20am on Thursday, December 5th, I woke up feeling uncomfortable. I was struggling with the bedsheets and felt a pop or a shifting in my uterus. Steady, painful contractions started right away. After about an hour, T and I made our way to the hospital, while Mom stayed home with L. I arrived around 4am and was at 4-5cm. About an hour later, I asked for an epidural and the anesthesiologist arrived around 6am. Contractions were not regular (between 3-7 minutes) and never established a regular pattern, which is what happened last time too. I couldn’t talk during the contractions and had to moan and close my eyes and sway to get through them. The anesthesiologist encouraged me to get the epidural then based on my pain level. However, the epidural was not so easy. This time, the anesthesiologist was unable to easily place the epidural. This was not a problem last time, but this time they thought it might be cause of mild scoliosis, which was the first I’d ever heard of it. I did get a severe headache last time, which doctors thought might’ve been the beginnings of postpartum preeclampsia, but the anesthesiologist felt certain that it was a spinal headache. My last epidural did leave my legs completely paralyzed for the duration of the epidural, so I guess that’s not normal.

After three attempts, a second anesthesiologist was brought in. She was tried a fourth time, and then was able to place it the fifth time. (She said it would be her last attempt.) I was so, so grateful that it was finally successful! Especially since I ended up having another very long, slow labor, just like last time. It was definitely not the fast second baby that so many had warned me of. My mom showed up at the hospital around 9am, after getting L ready and taking him to daycare, where he would spend the night, since baby arrived at 7:44pm, which was after L’s bedtime, and the following day. It felt hard to have L spending the night away for the first time, but it was our only option, and at least he was familiar with the daycare.

After the epidural was set, I waited and rested. There was talk of breaking my water (more) because it might have already broken a little. There was talk of Pitocin, which I eventually got, because my labor stalled out again once I had the epidural. After a long day, with little progress, the obgyn came to the hospital after a full day in the clinic and had me labor in hands and knees (more like child’s pose) since I had so much more sensation and mobility with my legs with this epidural. Then, she was going to break my water, but baby had shifted, and she didn’t feel comfortable doing it. After laboring awhile longer, she broke my water. A short time later, I was complete and able to start pushing. Although I had spoken to the obgyn about it, and the birth team, and put it in my birth plan, I was cued to curl around my baby and do purple pushing. Personally, I hate this method of pushing. I feel no leverage in the lithotomy position, and it feels like a frustrating and an unproductive waste of energy. I tried pushing in this way again, at the insistence of everyone in the room, but felt nothing but lack of oxygen and straining in my face and neck.

The obgyn suggested the squat bar, since I had so much mobility in my legs. This pushing felt very productive. After one push, I felt baby’s head move down significantly. I told everyone that the push felt productive. I was then made to lie back after the contraction. Lying back felt unnecessary and bad because baby’s head was descending so much now. With the second contraction, I got up on the squat bar and pushed the baby’s head out. At that point, the medical staff started yelling at me to stop and to lay back. Again, this did not feel good. I could tell that something was wrong, and they began to break down the bed and prepare for delivery. Since this was expected to be such a big baby, I guess they thought that pushing would take awhile. In the meantime, I wasn’t sure what was wrong. I wasn’t too worried, but I was hyper focused. I thought maybe the baby was a surprise breach. Once they were ready, they began yelling at me to push again. Afraid of what was going on, I pushed with all of my might. I knew I was tearing. I knew it was going too fast. I knew that if I could go slower and ease my baby down, it would be better, but I felt I had no other choice but to listen and push because my baby might be in danger. Within just a push or two, trying with all of my might to get the baby out, my baby slipped out of my body and into this world.

I said I wish I’d been allowed to stay in the squatting position. The obgyn said she couldn’t deliver a baby upside down. I said, you might’ve surprised yourself. The obgyn said the urgency was that the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck. However, later my mom told me that the urgency was that the umbilical cord actually came out first, which can also be dangerous. Despite some lingering bad feelings about the pushing and delivery, the mood in the room was pleasant and celebratory. I would have guessed the baby was having breathing problems because he didn’t seem to cry or breath as much as L did when he was born. However, L was the one that needed oxygen, while this baby was fine. It just goes to show that I’m not a baby doctor, and mother’s intuition is not always right. This baby’s face was quite swollen. His hair was dark. He looked very different than his brother did at birth. He weighed 9 lbs 10.2 oz and was 21.5 inches long. He felt so tiny in my arms. It was hard to believe he was actually slightly bigger at birth than his brother was. How are they ever this small? It’s impossible to remember, until a new baby is placed in your arms again.

I held him, and within the first few hours, he began to nurse. As is common with big babies, he had low blood sugar and needed to be supplemented with small amounts of formula. I felt that the hospital’s standard for blood sugar, hydration, and bilirubin was impossibly high and that most babies probably have to get formula while there, which makes me feel sad for all of the breastfeeding mamas in there. Since this was my second baby, I felt less stressed about formula derailing breastfeeding. But, it was a stressor nonetheless.

L came to meet his brother the next evening. He was sweet and curious. We left the hospital the following day, without a name. Going into labor, we had a few top contender names picked out, but after 48 hours, none of them seemed right. After a few days at home, and a lot of work, and deliberation on our part, we finally found his name.

This baby came to me easily, naturally, and without any effort. I knew my body in birth better, so as labor unfolded, it felt familiar. Breastfeeding, sleeping, holding, even moving my own body was easier and more familiar the second time around. I didn’t yet know him, but he smelled and felt perfect in my arms, and I loved spending hours with him snuggled up against my belly while he slept—easy love.

Severance by Ling Ma

While Covid19 was gaining momentum in China and just barely on my radar, I read Severance by Ling Ma. This is normally not my genre. Not by a mile. But, it’s well written and was gifted to me through an academic mamas holiday book exchange. I was in my first weeks after having a baby, and it was in between semesters. So, found myself with time to read while my baby took those nice, long newborn naps.

Character development: I did not identify with the main character whatsoever until near the end, when she was built up enough that I could see her suffering was human and shared by us all.

Plot: The premise is that a fever, originating in China, steadily makes it’s way through the human race. The “fever” is always deadly, taking 1-3 weeks to kill it’s host. It renders people into a zombie-like state, where they repeat seemingly mundane tasks until they perish by wasting away. The few who remain exist in a strange new world.

It’s a metaphor. It’s all a metaphor. That we’re all zombies going through the motions. That we are our parents’ memories. That existence is a memory. That knowing is memory. Something like that–I’m sure there’s more to it.

***spoiler alert*** below (mild)

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Anyway, if you read it, tell me who you think was fevered in the end.