Due to Extenuating Circumstances

Adventures in Unplanned Parenthood

Archive for the month “September, 2015”

Big Mac Attack

Mac fact: he has asthma. It’s exercise induced but weather extremes, moisture, mold and dust can also aggravate it. We have about 87 little gray inhalers around; I keep one in my car, he has one in his truck, one in his desk, a couple in jackets, I think there’s one in the shed. Those little fuckers are everywhere, would be the salient point.

For Baby, it is Big Boy Bath Time. Instead of putting Baby in his tiny plastic tub, we thought it would be nice for me to get in the bath with him and hold him because he feels like hell. The poor little guy has a bad cold. He’s cranky, stuffy, and weird goobers are coming out of every hole in his face. I briefly considered grinding up Sudafed and putting it in his bottle, but then I remembered I’m a good mother.

Thus, the Earth Mother playbook has been opened. Massages to keep the sinuses draining, humidifiers at night, steam to loosen mucus. I’m a fan of conserving water when possible, so here was my brilliant plan: turn on the shower as hot as it can possibly go, then sit with the baby in the steam. We’ll wait on the floor while the steam loosens his congested nose. As the water goes into the tub, it will have cooled a bit and when we’re all done having our spa treatment we can sit in the tub together as the water will have become a pleasant and soothing temperature. Perfect.

So I get the kid down to his diaper and we sit, breathing in the steam of the hot shower. The door is closed and I’m taking advantage of the acoustics to belt out of some my greater hits, which includes a rousing rendition of Habenera from Carmen where all of the words are replaced with “duh duh duh DUH, duh duh-duh duh. Duh duh duh DAH, buh buh buh BUM.”

I strip down, take off baby’s diaper, and test the water. Feels great. Get in, lower the baby onto me, and then, I am guilty of only slight hyperbole here, the world ended.

The baby starts howling in a way that makes me question the existence of God. What on earth could be happening here? The water is definitely not too hot, I remembered to test it by normal human standards, not my own (because if I’m not lobster red at the end of a shower there was no point at all, hygiene and socialization be damned). There’s no soap so it can’t be in his eyes, I removed the Oscar the Grouch washcloth I loved and apparently was, in the words of one reasonable friend, “straight up terrifying.” Why is he screaming?

Well, Mac had the same question. So he runs into the bathroom, practically knocking the door off its hinges to get to his child who’s being ax-murdered in the bath. He’s within inches of heroically saving his son from the unseen nightmare that’s causing this alarm when…shit. I had been steaming the bathroom for a good 20 minutes. Mac suddenly looks like I tipped him out of his bowl for fun just to watch him flop on the carpet. He looks for the inhaler we keep in the upstairs bathroom. Naturally it’s not there, because God is mad I questioned his/her existence up there in the fourth paragraph. Mac hurls himself towards the stairs, scrambling to get the inhaler he knows he has in the downstairs bathroom. Meanwhile, the blast of cold air Mac let into the room just hit the tub and…shit.

The baby is now scared, screaming and cold. He lets loose the nastiest, foulest, most watery stream of poop you can imagine. He didn’t poop, his butt was just a conduit for waste water that never made it to the “condense/solidify” stage. And I’m in the tub covered in poo-water that’s swirling in the tub and turning my warm big boy bath into a giant germy sewage dump. Mac comes halfway up the stairs, doing his Puff the Magic Dragon act on his inhaler. He takes one look through the open bathroom door, sees the look on my face and…shit.

Mac is laughing so hard he can’t keep the damn inhaler in his mouth. All I wanted was to gently Earth-Mother-soothe my sick baby into a deep, restorative slumber using steam, a little Bizet and loving caresses in a nice warm bath. Now the baby is screaming, Mac is dramatically clinging to life on the stairs wheeze-crying and I’m soaked up to my cellulite in poop water.

Next time the baby gets ground up Sudafed in his bottle and I don’t care who know it.*

This won’t really happen.**


Elegy for an Unknown Uncle

After a few posts on infertility, drooling, TV, what have you, the next post was supposed to be funny. It really was funny, too, there’s a good bit where Baby poops on me in terror while Mac looks on helplessly as I’m surrounded by poo-water. I wish that was this entry.

The reality is, that entry would be dishonest. I have pledged nothing to you on this blog if not honesty. The honest, biting, horrible truth is that there is so little humor in the day, the week, this writing because my husband was contacted by police last Wednesday and told that his older brother had died of a drug overdose. Carl lived in Asia and the Middle East teaching ESL, but had been deported. He died in Canada after spending most of his adult life trying to leave it, and whatever was inside himself that followed him around the world.

Mac then had to call his parents. I have not heard anything quite so sad as two parents who are in shock but not surprised. This was the phone call they have thought about for 20 years. Mac and his parents are not a family of three. They will forever be four minus one. But the interest paid over and over on that one comes back in this moment as a certainty and peace they haven’t known since Carl picked up that first dose of heroin. At the end of this long and agonizing wait for Mac’s call there is, at last, security.

I cry for them. I cry for Mac. I cry for myself; Carl was my brother in law and I wanted–needed– to believe one day we could have something approaching a friendship. I’m not naive enough to expect an addict to change his stripes. My hope was that he might see me as the new one. I was the person he hadn’t lied to, stolen from, disappointed. Maybe he could talk to me. He did. Not much, but we emailed. It was something; an open line of communication when others were shut down.

I cry for my son. If there is anything I wanted FOR Carl in this year, it was to know his nephew. When I emailed pictures from the adoption I asked him how it felt to be an uncle. He told me he still hadn’t wrapped his head around his brother having a kid. Being an uncle didn’t occur to him! He had a new place. A new piece in his family. This, above all, is what I wish he might have known:


You never disappointed me

You didn’t need to be here for me to think you were cool

You had the really good dirt on daddy and I know someday I would have wanted that

I would have been able to love you and not your decision making

I wanted to hear the stories about traveling a couple of years before mom thought I was “ready”

Someday I’ll know the truth, the entire truth, about your death

And I’ll still be your family and love you.

Your nephew

The Crown Drools

I wouldn’t claim to have NO prior experience with babies– Robin and AJ are both moms, I babysat as a teen, the usual stuff you do to come into contact with babies. My experience was wide, but not deep. Mac had far less experience, insofar as he has a very small extended family and also, this is said with love, for about 15 years of his adult life he looked like a hardcore punk rock Disney villain come to life and no reasonable mother would leave so much as a rutabaga with him.

This is why we were a little surprised the first day the baby let a big stream of clear, viscous fluid stream right out of his face and onto the floor. This was unprecedented. He hadn’t been eating, it wasn’t coming out of his nose, it didn’t seem related to crying or being distressed in any way. I had heard of drool, sure– but this wasn’t a little dribble coming from one side of his lips. This had actual volume and mass.

The strangest part was that it didn’t stop. There was so, so, so much. OK, so drooling is associated with teething. That could be exciting! He might be getting a tooth! MILESTONE! We had a good root around Baby’s mouth, figured it would come in the next day or two, and Bob’s your uncle. Whoa. Watching too much British telly. TV. Anyhow…no tooth. Weird. Surely liquid in this quantity is a harbinger of something. This was varsity squad liquid expulsion from a walk-on.

By the end of the evening, we had changed his pajamas twice because they kept getting soaked. It finally dawned on me that this must be why people gave us bibs. We had assumed bibs were for eating only. Want to laugh at some new parent math? We had been given about 25 bibs. We kept the cutest 12. Why 12? Because the baby would eat three times a day and we would do laundry every three days. Don’t you see how clever we were being? We only needed nine bibs and with 12 we had THREE WHOLE EXTRAS. Oh, don’t stop laughing yet. We only kept the cleanest looking ones. Because we were going to pre-treat every stain, then put them in the laundry, and remember to take them out of the dryer right away so the bibs would always look clean and freshly pressed. Yes. We actually had these thoughts. This was also during my “I’ll never give up on cloth diapering” phase, “I’ll NEVER complain when the baby cries because we were so close to having no baby to hear crying” phase, my “the baby will never eat food I didn’t prepare myself” phase, and (the 80’s hair of embarrassing phases) “the baby will hear Spanish everyday so he still think the world sounds familiar and comforting outside the womb” phase. For the record, we did come back to that one, but I’m pretty sure it’s only because the best childcare in our area happens to be run by Mexican-Americans.

By the next morning Mac and I can’t believe the drooling didn’t abate. Hell, it got worse. Baby had the Niagara Falls coming down his dimply little chin and pooling around his neck fat. Of all the things I have Googled concerning this child, ‘how much drool is too much?” isn’t even in the top ten. But it did make the highlight reel for that day, if only because it auto-completed to “how much do Newfoundlands drool” and I didn’t realize they were talking about the dogs. I spent a fair few minutes laughing at the idea of an entire section of Canada unable to wear a nice suit or get married without a formal little bib to catch their uncontrollable streams of saliva.

So, that was 5 months ago. We now own 30 bibs. Most of them are quite ugly. They are mottled little cloth things that have shriveled up from washing and being velcro-ed to each other for days. There are two bins on our kitchen table: Clean Bibs, Disgusting Bibs. He has drooled for 5 straight months without a single tooth in sight. He happily accepts the bibbing ritual and even laughs if you lift up his neck fat to make sure you’re catching all the good stuff. It’s a good thing he’s used to them, because he leaves a visible drool path in his wake we have dubbed the Snail Trail. He has even drooled directly into my mouth and at this point I hardly notice. Well, I DO notice, but it doesn’t freak me out. Much.

If you were wondering what to call a baby who drools this DAMN much, here is a handy list of nicknames for you to try. I can’t claim all of these, our brilliant friends have chimed in on the act. Use them in good health.

  • Droolia Childs, Drools Verne, Droolie Andrews, Raul Droolia, Droolia Roberts, August Strindberg’s Miss Droolie, Drool of the Nile, The Crown Drools, LL Drool J, Ja Drool, Count Droolcula, and Mark Spits.

You Can’t Do That on Television

I’d like to take a minute out of our ongoing Baby narrative to jump ahead again to real time. You’ll remember we did this once before, when I helped the Dude defeat Sprinkler Spiderman while wearing my sister’s sport’s bra. And if that’s not a sentence you encounter everyday, you probably get out more than this particular writer does.

I’m watching “Cold Feet,” the popular British series that ran in the early 2000s. It was “Thirtysomething” for our friends across the pond. Anyhow, just as soon as Adam (played by James Nesbitt) and Rachel (Helen Baxendale) had a big storyline about needing to stockpile sperm before his treatment for testicular cancer, I knew It was coming. To be fair they waited half a season, nonetheless they were about as subtle with It as a Trump stump speech. The It, of course, is the Infertility Storyline.

Mac and I can spot the Infertility storyline coming from 1,000 paces. One show we watched all they had to do was mention the drugstore before we both blurted “to buy a pregnancy test!” The Infertility Storyline is always, always about the couple that seems happy on the outside but they know, deep down, something isn’t right. The first episode you’ll have the joke (“one of us is shooting blanks!”) then the second episode they’ll think she’s pregnant, the third episode she got her period (or the test was negative) and now they Really Are Worried, and by mid-season they’re at the doctor’s office, feeling Insecure but Hopeful. This then rides Sweeps Week into the serious talk they have about loving each other no matter what, the wistfully looking at babies montage, the tearful We’re Going to be OK heartfelt bedroom scene (tender lovemaking optional) and finally they either do IVF or get pregnant naturally. That usually depends on if they have a sassy black grandmotherly character that needs to say something like “see, if you had just quit worrying that baby would have come in God’s own time!” before the credits roll. The ratings hinge on the Maternity Special where everybody races to the hospital just in time for the birth and Happily Ever After for the Couple-Formerly-Known-as-Infertile.

Mac and I do a lot, and I mean really a LOT, of laughing at these asinine Infertility Storylines.

Why do we laugh? Not so much for what they include, as they do include things that most other infertile couples we know went through. Sure, at first you may not know and then you go to the doctor, or you do have the “it’s you I want not the baby” conversation. But the list of things missing from these TV shows is almost biblical in both scope and length. Here is a list of Infertility Storyline plot points I want to see. Not referred to, not glossed over, I want to truly see them played out in all their ugliness, pain, sweetness and heartbreak.

  1. In real life, you can tell your partner “I want you, not the baby” and chances are you both believe that and want it to be true. But it won’t always be true, not every second of every day. You will look at each other and wonder if you should let the other one go. You will wonder if the other person is scared they signed the wrong contract. You wonder if using donor sperm or eggs is the solution, when the world is walking around full of fertile people that would likely not require an army of technicians to make a baby. You’ll wonder what trade you made, a spouse for a child? This spouse for another spouse that could have children? The present for the future? If it’s you that’s infertile, you’ll wonder if the other one will walk and if you should let them. If it’s not you, you’ll wonder if your spouse knows you really did mean “til death do us part.” You’ll both think of what would have happened if you had tried when you were younger, or healthier, or if you had met earlier. Just once, I want to see a character have these conversations and know you don’t have them only once. They happen frequently; short ones, long ones, sad ones, all-nighters, brief e-mails… these questions will follow you and you have no choice but to deal with them.
  2. Hormone treatments hurt. No, TV, it’s not just a shot you can summarize with “ooh, my breats are tender!” Cut that shit out. You’re bloated, sore, trying like hell to make your body work and everything feels weird. Would YOU like to relive the most painful parts of puberty again? That’s partly what it feels like, and TV should show that.
  3. Money. I want to watch a couple break down, over and over and over again, because they cannot afford to have a child. Their insurance doesn’t cover the hormones, or IVF, or egg harvesting, or using a surrogate. Calculating time and again what you cut out from the budget to pay for all the extras that come with trying: fertility predictors, pregnancy tests, time off to go to the doctor.
  4. I want to see sex that looks like WORK. Not lovemaking, not fucking, not even wham, bam, thank you ma’am. I’m talking sex that you want to be sexy but instead is mechanical, horribly timed, inconvenient, stressed out WORK. You think making babies is fun? Sure it is. You think trying over and over again to “optimize ejaculation inside the vagina during peak fertility” sounds fun? The men who landed on Normandy beach could have only wished for an operation as planned, precise, passionless and efficient as the sex had by two people who have been given medical instructions on how to make a baby.
  5. The decision to adopt is easy for some, unbearably hard for others. Not once on TV, in any show I have ever seen, was it treated as a series of agonizing steps that require endless time, commitment, willingness to be vulnerable and risk of horrendous, literally life-altering rejection. But it is. In an open adoption system, the birth parent chooses the adoptive family, and there isn’t a guarantee of a happy ending for families who fail to meet certain benchmarks. You can be too old, or too sick, or too poor to adopt. Yes, some states have low-cost options, but this doesn’t take into account that there are many things adoptive families need to be able to provide that a biological family never has to account for.
  6. I have never seen anybody throw anything. By the 13th month of our adoption process I was so angry I repeatedly bashed a wall with a metal trashcan until there was a hole into the next room. I didn’t want to make a hole, per se, I just wanted something–anything– to look as ugly and angry as I felt.
  7. Finally, nobody on TV talks about grieving infertility. It’s not seen as something to grieve. It certainly doesn’t make sexy TV, to watch characters mourn a future that so many have provided naturally and was denied to you. You grieve the unfairness, the decisions you made, paths not taken, children never met. You can also celebrate the children you do have, through adoption or fostering. I have seen lots of people on TV get sad, but I have never seen anybody fully grieve because that’s time consuming, and ugly, and it lasts a long time. Nobody wants to live it, I imagine it wouldn’t be great laughs to watch either. It’d be nice though, to see it anyway. Don’t give me the It Storyline standard six episode arc. Give me the larger truths and the sense that at least one person in all of the televised world can represent more than the Sweeps Week Big Maternity Special.
  8. If you do need the Sweeps Week Maternity Special, let’s have a few more through adoption. Sex and the City touched on it with Charlotte, the movie Juno went there, hell, even Downton Abbey took a horrifying stab at the adoptive motherhood storyline. Let the birth family AND the adoptive family have their moment in the sun, where this was done in a loving and compassionate way. We make good TV, too.

The Mover and Shaker

A snapshot into the Borden household:

I’m in the kitchen, putting together something to eat. It doesn’t matter what it was, as long as it went in our mouths and stayed down it was utterly unremarkable that first 6 months of parenting.

I’m in the kitchen, and I hear Mac saying in a very low, serious voice “They say you should never, EVER shake a baby.” I stick my head around the corner, at least mildly curious as to what’s going to follow. This is when Mac continues:

“…but they didn’t say anything about….shimmying! Shimmy shimmy shimmy. Shimmy shimmy shimmy.”

He’s gently shimmying Baby around, letting the rolls of fat sway effortlessly in the breeze as the baby laughs hysterically, making the world’s chubbiest jazz hands with his little sausage fingers.

Our child will grow up in the theatre. He’ll start attending rehearsals as soon as he’s old enough to toddle onto the stage. His first stage combat lesson will be the day he can grip a rubber knife. He’ll know your monologue needs to be strong if you can’t sing, and if you can sing then you need to bring shoes for the dance call. He’s going to hear his parents debate the merits of trying to re-create Sophocles’ Oedipus and he’ll know all the words to The Book of Mormon as well as The Importance of Being Earnest. He doesn’t even know what the world of theatre is yet, meanwhile I break into a cold sweat imagining his first foray into our world. I’m terrified of his first audition, what if like me he’s a total mess (I sang “Frosty the Snowman” and cried the whole time. I was six)? Or worse he gets a lead role and becomes a superstar with an ego to match? WORST– what if, what if, well, dear god…

What if he’s utterly uninterested in the stage? Not being an actor, he should run away if at all possible. I refer to the entire enterprise. What if he thinks everything we do is just pointless? That film and TV are already dinosaurs, if it’s not a four second Vine it’s already too wordy and irrelevant? Can two parents and their burning passion for an ancient art form be enough to convince a kid there is life outside of an X-box? Conversely, could we turn him away from it simply because we’re part of it and he’d rather be anyplace we’re not?

The funny thing is, I understand that it ultimately won’t define who we are as a family. We’ll love a soccer player, a scientist, an engineer, a nurse, a diplomat, an oboist. In time we could even love a conservative politician although we believe his dual Canadian citizenship is a prophylaxis against such an outcome. I never doubt we’ll be proud of him.  Perhaps my larger fear is “In a world where screens are the primary form of communication and entertainment, will he be proud of us?”

For now, I’m going to shimmy him as long as he will allow. As anyone from our tribe will tell you, it’s never too early to start thinking about the dance call. Shimmy shimmy shimmy.

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