Once Upon a Mom

Posted on

SPOILER ALERT:  Some details about ABC’s Once Upon a Time and a few Disney films are discussed in this post.

At the end of the month, Disney’s drama series Once Upon a Time will begin its third season on ABC.  The show takes place in a town called Storybrooke; the inhabitants are actual fairy tale characters who were removed from their enchanted world by a powerful curse.  The characters have no memories of their past lives and take on different identities in their new world.

photo 1-7I have been watching the show since its debut in 2011 and taking note of the ever-evolving adoption storyline that lies at the center of the show’s plot.  While there are moments and events that I believe do a nice job of portraying adoption,  there are others that do not.  One concerning aspect is the fact that the adoptive mother in the show is no other than the Evil Queen, Snow White’s stepmother.  The Evil Queen is the central villain in the magical world in which the characters used to live.  There, she made a habit of ripping out the hearts of many of her subjects and keeping them in order to control their owners.  It is the Evil Queen that curses the characters and brings them to their new world in order to finally defeat Snow White whom she deeply despises.

Now named Regina, she is the mayor of Storybrook.  Ten years earlier, she adopted Snow White’s biological grandson, Henry.  Henry’s biological mother Emma is the destined savior of the people trapped in Storybrooke and the show begins when Henry runs away from home to find Emma and ask her to come fulfill her destiny and break the curse. 

The underlying ideas about adoption are pretty straightforward if we look only at this set-up:

Adoptive mother → Evil villain

Biological mother & family → Righteous heroes

This is not a comfortable set up for me.  I imagine it isn’t comfortable for other adoptive mothers or even some photo 2-7birthmothers.  I am not saying the roles should be reversed.  Of course not!  And I am not saying that the fact that an adoptive mother is portrayed badly in a fictional television show means the show is claiming all adoptive mothers are bad.  However, the conflict at the center of the show is Regina vs. Emma, adoptive mother vs. birthmother.  And, furthermore, much of this contention comes to be about Henry.  They argue over his parenting; they argue over who has the right to make decisions about him.

In many ways, Regina begins to lose her role as mother in Henry’s life to Emma.  In the Season 2’s episode “Queen of Hearts”, Regina’s face drops in sadness when she hears Henry call Emma “Mom” for the first time. 

Now, in the course of the plot much of this makes sense.  Emma begins to take over the care of her son because Regina is a villain who commits wicked acts such as killing her lover when he threatens the stability of the curse and framing Snow White for murder among other things. 

Also, it is undoubtedly clear that Regina loves Henry. As the show moves forward, she does try to become a better person for the good of her son and she and Emma do find ways to work together in order to put Henry’s needs first.

Still, the portrayal of adoption in the show as a whole is just uncomfortable.  In our modern world in which most adoptions are open and a good relationship between adoptive parents and birth parents is all the more important, it simply doesn’t jive with me that in this show two members of the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptive parents and child) are pitted directly against each other.  It doesn’t bode well with me that the birthmother is depicted as better than the adoptive mother.  And it would bother me if these roles were reversed as well.

I am not so sensitive that I will not watch this series anymore.  I understand that everyone can take offense to something in any show, movie, song, etc.  But I can’t help but think about these things while I watch each week and wonder how I would explain them to Rosemarie if she were old enough to ask.

The truth is she may never watch this show.  By the time she is older, it will likely be off the air or she will be old enough to see the show for what it is–fiction.  This series, however, is not Disney’s only production that has negative ideas towards adoption lurking below the surface.   A few of the animated movies do as well.

I watched many a Disney movie as I grew up with my sisters. We yearned for Cinderella’s wish to come true and smiled with glee when her foot slipped effortlessly into the glass slipper. We envied Sleeping Beauty’s “gold of sunshine in [her] hair and “lips that shame[d] the red, red rose.” We sang along with Ariel about her “gadgets and gizmos” and laughed along with Belle at Lumière’s and Cogsworth’s antics.

I still love these movies today.  Rosie’s Nana buys her each DVD when it emerges from the vault and I want her to enjoy these movies while she grows as I did.  However, a few of the animated films contain a non-biological mother who is painted in a negative light:

Of course, we cannot blame Disney for this since most of these movies are based on fairy tales that existed long before Disney animators drew them into life.  It is through Disney, however, that my daughter will most likely be exposed to these stories and, therefore, that is where my focus lies.

  1. Snow White – Filled with jealousy because of her stepdaughter’s beauty, The Evil Queen hires a huntsman to lure Snow White into the Enchanted Forest and cut out the young maiden’s heart.  When this plan fails, the queen uses magic to transform herself into a haggard old woman and tricks Snow White into eating a poisoned apple that will put her into a deathlike sleep.
  2. photo 1-6

  3. Cinderella – After Cinderella’s father dies, her stepmother forces her to become “a servant in her own home.”  The stepmother’s piercing green eyes gleam with hatred as she orders around her stepdaughter and makes every effort to destroy any chance of her happiness.  She purposely gives Cinderella extra chores in order to spoil her plans to attend the royal ball and locks her in her room so that she cannot try on the glass slipper and be reunited with the prince, her true love.
  4. photo 2-6

  5. Tangled – Rapunzel is raised by a woman named Gothel whom she knows as her mother.  After sneaking out of her home in a tower, Rapunzel discovers that Gothel actually kidnapped her from her birth parents when she was still a baby in order to use the magic that resides in her extra long hair.  Her biological parents have been searching for her since she went missing and she is reunited with them in the end.  Gothel, on the other hand, attempts to kill Rapunzel’s true love stabbing him before Rapunzel’s eyes.

photo 3-3

In the case of Snow White and Cinderella, the message is quite straightforward.  The stepmothers are evil; it is as simple as that.  Thus, neither movie depicts the non-biological mother in a positive way and could imply to a child that step, adoptive, or foster mothers are “bad” as well. 

The implication about non-biological mothers is a bit more complex in Tangled.  Gothel is a criminal; she kidnapped a baby whose hair had magical powers.  Thus, it only makes sense that she does not truly care for Rapunzel.  This, however, is not always clear to Rapunzel and an adopted child may see a similarity between Rapunzel’s situation and his own.  He may notice that Rapunzel, like him, was raised by a woman other than his birthmother.  He may start to wonder about the way in which he came to his adoptive parents; he may wonder if his birth parents, like Rapunzel’s, have been searching for him all along.

I am certainly not trying to say that these movies are purposely portraying a negative message about non-biological parenting.  The issue is more that an adopted child watching the movie may pick up a sense of negativity because he lacks the ability to see the difference between fiction and reality.  Based on different forums and blogs I read while researching this post, it seems some adopted children notice the connection between these films and their own lives and some don’t.  I supposed it depends on a child’s age, perception and personality.  Either way, it is my job to think about these things in case the day does arrive when Rosemarie looks up at me with her gray blue eyes and asks if her birthmother cries the way Rapunzel’s mother does or if I will ever treat her how the wicked stepmother treats Cinderella.

And if that day does come, I want to be prepared with an answer that explains that these movies are fiction and not based on truth, an answer that helps her understand that her birth mother chose adoption for her because she knew it would give Rosemarie the best life possible and finally an answer that assures her that she could run away to live in the forest or sneak out to attend the biggest ball of the year and she would still be my daughter; I will NEVER turn on her and will always love her from the depths of my heart.

What do you think?

Do you watch Once Upon a Time and have a different opinion?

Have you seen any children’s movies that portray non-biological parents or adoption in a negative or positive way?


5 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Wedding Day

Posted on

On Saturday, Anthony and I celebrated our five year anniversary.  As it often happens with memories, part of me feels our wedding day was only yesterday.  One moment I was slipping on my lace appliqued dress, watching Anthony wait on the altar as I slowly made my way toward him, entering our reception to our band’s cover of Hot for Teacher, and cutting our five-tiered cake with Anthony’s hand wrapped around mine.

 photo 3-1

And in the next moment, I was sitting on my couch on Saturday wondering where all the time had gone in the past five years.

The other part of me, however, feels that that day was ages ago, another time in another life.  It seems so much has changed since then.  And so much has of course.  Although five years probably seems like so few to couples who have been married for 10, 30, or 50 + years, enough time has passed that I can look back at my wedding day with a new perspective.  Sometimes, I wish I could share that perspective with my young, blushing-bride self; I’d certainly have plenty to tell her.

Here are five wedding day tips for you, twenty-something, tan and naive Kimberly, one for every year that’s passed since.

  1. You will never look this pretty ever again.  Never. – Oh, it’s sad but true, dear.  Enjoy every moment.  Don’t be terribly vain about it but the day will move much more quickly than you can imagine, so find a mirror and take a look.  A good one.   Maybe try to memorize your reflection a little.  You will have pictures, but they’re not the same.  And you don’t want your only flesh and blood memory of how you looked that day to be the split second you glanced into the mirrored wall before you entered the reception.  Because this is it, lady:  the prettiest day of your life and it will be over before you can say “Hello, gorgeous.”
  2. Stop taking pictures. – Did you seriously make a list of almost 50 shots that the photographer must take before the reception even begins? I’m sorry.  I wasn’t aware that your last name was Kardashian.  Kimberly, you are wasting your time.  You are wasting the time you could be using to enjoy your day.  You do not need an individual picture with every bridesmaid.  You do not need a picture with your oldest sister’s children, a separate picture with your second oldest sister’s children, and another with your cousins’ children.  Just take a picture with all of them at once for goodness sake!  Throw in some parent and sibling shots, a couple with the bridal party, and a few of you and Anthony and you’re good.

    Now, once your reception actually begins, your photographer may attempt to get extra pictures while everyone else enjoys the food and music you chose so carefully.  He’ll want shots of just you and Anthony standing outside the hall or holding hands while surveying the Venetian hour.  Do not do this.  Stand your ground.  Do not take any time away from your enjoyment of the night to take pictures.  90% of your photos will be tucked away in a drawer.  You only have four hours to enjoy your wedding.  Soak up every minute.

  3. No one cares about the details but you. – I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but the only person who will care about whether you have orange, yellow, and pink roses in your centerpieces or just keep them monochromatic is you.  I’m not saying no one will notice all the little details.  I’m sure the women at least will take note of the “Did You Know?” page of the ceremony program and the steel drum band at the cocktail hour, but that doesn’t mean they’ll actually care about them.

    You know who will genuinely care?  Other young woman who are planning their own weddings.  They will pay attention to every little thing from the lime green orchids in your bridesmaids’ hair to the song you chose for your last dance.  In truth, though, they’ll only care so much so that they can develop a to-do and to-don’t list for their weddings, but at least they’ll be paying attention.

    I am not just telling you this to hurt your feelings.  I am telling you because you should know that the only people you need to please when you plan this wedding are you and Anthony.  Do what you like; choose what you love.  Don’t be ruled by what you think your guests will find beautiful.  This day is about you, not them.

  4. Go to your cocktail hour. – I know you want to be traditional.  I know you think it’s much more exciting to be announced into your reception if you haven’t already greeted all of your guests, but you’re going to miss your wedding.  Your guests will be swinging and spinning on the dance floor while you visit every single table to say hello. Just go to the cocktail hour, mingle with everyone there and then have a blast at your wedding.  Dance to all the songs you so meticulously circled on that sheet. Dance, dance, dance!
  5. The wedding is only one day.  Then, you’re married. –  The wedding is the fun part.  The wedding is dresses, make-up, flowers, and music.  The wedding is a party.  And as I made clear in the above points, you should savor every moment of that party.
  6. Once it’s over, though, your marriage will start.  And it won’t always be easy.  You must learn to compromise.  You may think you’ve been compromising with Anthony all along, but let’s be honest.  You really haven’t.  You will have to do things you don’t feel like doing, watch movies you’re not really interested in, and help clean up messes you didn’t make, both literal and figurative.  And he will do the same.

    Rest assured, though, that you made a good choice, Kim.  You picked a good one.  And the two of you make a great team.  You make some good parents too.  Trying times are ahead, but you’ll hold on to each other every step of the way.  Together, you will make it.

Alas, I cannot drive a DeLorean back in time and impart this wisdom onto my younger self.  However, I thought maybe this post could help some other enthusiastic but less experienced brides-to-be.  Feel free to learn from my mistakes, ladies.  Feel free to ignore them.  It is your day after all.

photo-2


The Dos and Don’ts of Recovery

Posted on

On July 11th,  I had my fourth open heart surgery to replace my tricuspid valve.  I am grateful to have had one of the best surgeons in the country in an outstanding hospital.  The surgery went extremely well and I hopefully have about twenty surgery-free years ahead of me.

My cardiologist did his job.  My surgeon and his staff did theirs as well.  The P.A.’s who followed me in the hospital after the surgery and the incredible nurses who took care of me day and night did their job.  Now it’s my turn.  My job is to recover.

And that means I’m lucky.  I’m lucky enough to be able to recover and to know that once I do, I’ll be healthier than I was before.  But I can’t lie.  That doesn’t mean recovering is easy.  It isn’t.  But since this is my fourth time around the block, I have an idea of how to do it right.  And while I don’t necessarily believe myself to be an expert, I do think I have some valuable advice to share with others.  Some of you may face major surgery in the future; some may recuperate from an accidental injury or a medical condition.   For those of you who will face such a situation, here are some of my dos and don’ts that I have learned during my weeks of recuperation.

  1. Do push yourself – What do I usually feel like doing after surgery? Absolutely nothing.  I feel like laying in bed, curling into a ball (if my incisions will allow me to do so) and watching hours upon hours of television.  I don’t want to read.  I don’t want to write.  I don’t want to talk on the phone.  I don’t want to get up and take a walk.  I usually don’t want to eat or drink.

    All of this is normal after surgery of course.  Not only does a major operation take a physical toll on your body, but an emotional one as well.  Depression is a common symptom during recovery and loss of interest is a common symptom of depression.

    However, one cannot give into these feelings while recuperating.  Instead, it is necessary to push through the depression and the overwhelming apathy and do what needs to be done.  Pull off those covers, rise up and put on your slippers.  Despite the pain in your chest, legs, back or wherever,  take a lap around your hospital wing and eventually your living room.  Sit up in bed and eat those Cheerios one spoonful at a time; even better, sit at the kitchen table to eat if you can.  Get on the phone when your best friend calls and have a normal conversation.  Push yourself.  Push yourself until you feel like yourself again.  You’ll get there.

  2. But don’t be too hard on yourself – It is okay to be depressed.  It is alright to feel like doing nothing and for part of the day, you should do just that.  Watch your guilty pleasure on Netflix; read Us Weekly and In Touch.  Play Candy Crush until your lives run out.  Allow yourself to recoup.  As I just said, you must push yourself but you can also take some time each day to do nothing and let yourself wallow.  You deserve it.  Your body has been through a lot.
  3. Do have visitors – It is very possible that the last thing you’ll want to do while your recovering, and your hair has air dried, your clothes are basically pajamas and you desperately need a manicure and pedicure, is to have company.  The thought of carrying on a conversation, laughing at jokes, and talking about nonsense may seem completely daunting.  Do it anyway.

    Do you now that one of the mantras of Alcoholics Anonymous is “fake it ’til you make it”? The same phrase has been used in the treatment of depression.  The idea is that by pretending to be confident or happy or just okay, one will eventually become that way.  I am an avid believer in this concept.  While I’m recovering, even when seeing friends and family is the last thing I want to do (No offense, everyone), I find that when I do see them, I am forced to act normally.  I am forced to fake it.  And after a little while of pretending to feel like myself, I don’t have to fake it anymore.

  4. Do start a project – A project is a great idea for two reasons.  One, you’ll have plenty of time on your hands that you need to fill.  Two, your mind needs to focus on something other than your woes.  After my 2010 surgery, I scrapbooked the time between Anthony’s proposal and our one year anniversary.  I spent hours sitting at my dining room table sorting pictures and mementos.  I took short trips to Michael’s and A.C. Moore to buy the perfect accents.  Then I constructed each page carefully and by the time I enclosed the finished pages into a fabric covered book, I was pretty much recovered.  This time, I am crocheting a blanket for Rosemarie and working on a writing project as well.

    You don’t have to be crafty to complete a project.  You can do whatever it is that interests you.  Reorganize your file cabinet; design and display (with some help) that photo wall in your upstairs hallway.  Do that project you’ve been putting off for so long.  You finally have the time.

  5. Don’t watch sad movies or read sad books – This may really depend on an individual’s personality.  I suppose some people would find a fictional tragedy comforting in comparison to their own circumstances.  If you’re anything like me, though, you’ll want to stay away from Terms of Endearment, Beaches, and pretty much any Jodi Picoult novel. 

    After my surgery in 1997, I watched Daylight with Sylvester Stallone in which a group of people are trapped in the Lincoln or Holland tunnel after an explosion.  The film is certainly not considered a tearjerker but in one scene an injured man must be left behind to drown for the good of the group.  I cried for hours.  I sat on the beige carpet of my parents’ bedroom and sobbed in the front of the television.  Long after the movie ended and I went downstairs for dinner, my tears continued to fall.  My depression was more intense that night and a few days following.

    That is why after my 2010 surgery, I enjoyed the ups and downs of college life on Felicity and why I’ve been watching Carrie prance around Manhattan on Sex and the City for the past two weeks.  Remember, light and funny television = a happier patient.

  6. Do laugh as often as possible – It’s cliché to say, right? That laughter is the best medicine? But often clichés exist because they’re true.  Laughing lightens my load even if only for a few minutes.  I advise you to laugh whenever possible during recovery.  First, laugh at yourself.  There must be something funny about your recuperation.  Maybe it’s the way you walk hunched over like Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein. Maybe it’s the fact that you can’t put on your own socks.  Maybe your medical condition has made you clumsy and you knock over an object every time you move.  Whatever it is, laugh at it.  Out loud.   Watch TV that makes you laugh.  Call your funniest friends.  Tickle your toddler under her chin.  Just laugh.

Honestly, for me, the hardest part of recovering this time around is not being able to take care of my daughter as I normally do.  This is the one aspect of my recovery with which I have no experience, but I’m doing my best to make it work.  Fortunately, I have full-time help from my mother at home and my sisters, in-laws, and friends are all more than willing to lend a hand.  I can’t do my normal with routine with Rosie.  I can’t give her a bath, dress her, or even get her out of the crib in the morning, but I have found other ways to spend time with her while I recover.  We sing songs together every day.  She sits with me in my recliner to take a nap or watch Barney.  In the evenings, she holds my hand while I take my daily walks outside.

Image(14)

Recovery is hard.  Recovering with a child is even harder.  But there are ways to make it somewhat easier.  Lucky me, I have plenty of people around me who make it easier as well.


Birthmother Mythbuster

Posted on

showposter

On July 23rd of last year, Oxygen premiered its six-part docu-series I’m Having Their Baby.  Each episode of the show follows two expectant mothers who have chosen adoption for their unborn children.  Season 2 of the show began last month.

I personally began watching a couple of weeks ago when I purchased the first season On Demand.  I am almost done with it now, and I must say that I’m hooked.

This show is not about adoptive parents.  It is about prospective birthmothers, some who ultimately choose adoption and a few who do not.  Filming usually picks up when the expectant mother is about seven months pregnant and ends shortly after the baby’s birth.  A brief catch-up segment some months later concludes each episode.

I am not a birthmother; I do not understand how it feels to place a child for adoption.  Thus, I can’t really say whether or not this show does a good job of portraying the experience.  But I can say that as an adoptive mother, I do like how the birthmothers themselves are portrayed.

In my experience, people outside of the adoption community often have little understanding and a lot of judgement about birthmothers.  I don’t discuss Rosemarie’s birth family with many people as I believe that is her private business and sharing it should be up to her.  But people usually have no qualms about bringing up her birthmother to me.  Usually, they ask about her age, her financial situation, and her reasons for choosing adoption.  I appreciate their curiosity but keep my answers limited.   Sadly, these conversations often end with a comment such as “I just don’t understand how she could give her away” or “She gave her up so why would you care about her?”

Of course, I do my best to defend not only Rosemarie’s birthmother but birthmothers in general.  I explain how in my whole adoption experience, almost every prospective birthmother I met considered adoption for one very simple reason—love.

It makes sense that those who haven’t been involved in adoption and don’t have the same experiences as I have likely never met or spoken to a birthmother.  That is why I am so glad Oxygen created I’m Having Their Baby and why I hope it continues to air.  The show gives adoption outsiders a glimpse into the lives of these women, these brave women who have to make such an impossible decision.

I hope that by watching, people’s negative perceptions of birthmothers will change.  Perhaps by witnessing the struggles of the birthmothers on this show, viewers will start to learn that many preconceived notions about women who choose adoption are simply not always true.

Here are just a few of the birthmother myths dispelled by I’m Having Their Baby.

    • They are all teenagers:  “So was her birthmom really young?” I can’t tell you how frequently I hear this question.  For some reason, when people picture a birthmother, they see the wide-eyed, sixteen-year-old girl, her young, petite frame interrupted by her basketball of a belly.  Some birthmothers do fit this description.  In the first season, three of the twelve mothers showcased were teenagers.  But the other nine were not.  There was a 21-year-old college student named Megan and Sidney, a recent college graduate.  We saw 27-year-old Jamie and 29-year-old Lindsay both already raising children on their own.

      When Anthony and I met our adoption attorney for the first time, she explained that today, the typical birthmother is in her late 20s and already parents one or more children.   While we were waiting, we received phone calls or emails from over sixty prospective birthmoms.  Of the 38 that shared their ages, 10 were teenagers, 22 were in their twenties, and 6 were in the thirties, the oldest being 39 years old.Birthmothers come in all shapes and sizes.

    • They are irresponsible:  Everyone makes bad decisions.  In some cases, a birthmother did make a poor decision that led to her being pregnant.  However, if you listen to these women during their interviews, it is evident that they are taking ownership of their actions and making a choice that they now feel is the most responsible.   They have clearly sat and thought fully about this decision.

      They discuss the different options they considered.  In Episode 3, Sidney explained how she considered abortion but believed giving another woman the chance to be a mother was a much better decision.

      They list the reasons they chose adoption.  In the second episode,  Amanda explained how she already struggled financially raising three children; she believed they and her unborn child would suffer if she chose to parent.

      And they explain why they picked the adoptive family.  During the fourth episode, Brandalynn tell us about her childhood with a single mother and her desire to give her unborn child a two-parent home.

      Perhaps they did act irresponsibly once; perhaps they didn’t.  But choosing adoption does not equal irresponsibility.

    • They don’t care about the children they place for adoption:  As a mother whose daughter will one day likely ask me if her birthmother loved her, I find this myth the most upsetting.  The love birthmothers have for their babies is immeasurable.  The carry them for nine months; they feel them kick inside their womb.  Despite their attempts to stay detached as explained by many of the women on the show, the moment they hold their newborn babies in their arms, they fall deeply in love.  They want so much to keep them; they yearn for the ability to do so.  In the first episode, we watched Mariah sob outside the hospital room where her son waited for her to say goodbye.  We watched Jamie cry her way down the hallway after leaving her baby with his adoptive parents.  After she gives birth, we see Brandalynn yearn for her older son, a distraction from the pain she clearly feels watching the adoptive mom cradling her newborn.

      This pain does make them doubt their choice of adoption because they so badly want to bring home their brand new baby boy or girl.  They have to fight every instinct.  They have to fight every pang of love because they believe adoption is the best, not for themselves, but for their children.  They break their own hearts to give their children the best life possible.  In this way, they are as much a mother to and have as much love for these babies as any other mother in the world.

    Of course, I’m sure there are some birthmothers in the world who are not good people.  Just as all mothers who parent their children are not good people.  However, choosing adoption should never be seen as the reason a birthmother may be considered a bad person.  In fact, when making this choice these women are often using the best of themselves to make the decision.

    I’m Having Their Baby shows that to its viewers.  It helps us see the truth about birthmothers.  It helps us see their pain, new and raw, and their amazing courage for pushing past that pain to do what’s they believe is best for their babies.

    We should not judge birthmothers; we should admire them.  I certainly know I do and will teach my daughter to do the same.


Planning, Prepping, & Pre-op

Posted on

Plans are moving ahead with my next open heart surgery.  While I do not have an exact date yet, it will take place at some point over the summer.  I am happy about the time frame for I know it will be easier to recover when the sun is shining in a blue sky, when my begonias are in bloom along my front lawn, and I can take my daily recovery strolls outdoors, hearing the fun of children in my neighborhood as I walk.

Once the date is chosen, there are different things I will need to do to prepare for my surgery.  There will be plenty of paperwork to fill out including consent forms for both the operation and anesthesia.  I will need to visit the hospital for preoperative testing, which will most likely be an EKG, a chest X-ray, and blood work.  I will also have to stop some of my medications and be sure to get a good amount of rest and relaxation in the days leading up to the operation.  In all of these ways, I will prepare myself and my body for this surgery.

Right now, though, I am more interested in another type of pre-op preparation:  getting Rosemarie ready for my absence while I have the surgery and recover in the hospital.

Anthony and I have decided instead of staying in the city near me as he did during my last surgical recovery, he will be the one to stay home with Rosemarie.  While my mother or his or any of our siblings would be willing to stay with her, we both believe it will be the most “normal” for Rosie to be home with Anthony rather than anyone else.

Actually, this will not be the first time Rosemarie is alone with Anthony for a few days.  As a coach of competitive cheerleading, I accompany my team to sleep-away camp over the summer and a competition in Orlando in mid-February, and Rosie has never had a problem spending this time without me.

My concern, though, is that she has become far more attached to me since the last time I went away.  She has always had a preference for me, of course, since I’m her primary caretaker, but in the past few months, the preference has developed into more of an attachment and she has a harder time away from me than she used to.  Now when I leave her with my sisters, my mother, or even Anthony, she will notice my absence, calling my name as she wanders through the house and becoming agitated when she cannot find me.

All of this is normal for her age and is simply part of her development.  But that doesn’t make it any less concerning to me when I’m faced with the task of leaving her for what may be the longest period yet and then returning home in a state that makes me unable to jump right into taking care of her.

And, so, I need to not only prepare myself for surgery, but I need to prepare my daughter as well.  With others’ help, I have come up with some ways I can do this over the next several weeks.

In actuality, these ideas are not exclusive to moms having open heart surgery.  Any mother may want to consider them if she must leave her child for a business trip, a vacation with her husband, or any other reason, especially if she needs to leave during the attachment phase.

Keeping My Distance

My first reaction when I realized I was going to need this surgery sooner rather than later was that I simply wouldn’t leave Rosemarie until the day of the surgery..for any reason.  I would just spend all my time with her until then.  I would miss cheerleading tryouts and a few birthday parties.  Maybe I wouldn’t even need to shower.  Whatever works.

Once my rational mind returned, though, I realized that is the worst thing I can do for her.  The less time she spends away from me before the surgery, the harder it will be for her when I’m in the hospital.

I am not saying I will concoct reasons to go out just for the sake of being away from her, but I am not going to completely avoid leaving her.  I attended four out of five days of cheerleading tryouts.  I spent a night out helping my best friend plan her baby shower.  As the weeks pass, I will continue to part with Rosemarie when I have something I need to do.

I do feel guilty leaving her for anything right now but I honestly believe it is the best thing for me to do.  She needs to be used to my absence so that my time in the hospital is not a complete shock to her.  As much as possible, I want those days to feel to her like any other day in her little world.

Mr. Mom

Anthony is a completely hands-on father, and he has been from day one.  He has always fed her and changed her, dressed her and brushed her hair (which he somehow does better than I).  He really does help whenever he can and lets me rest when necessary.

But he works and I stay home.  And he works a job that sometimes has strange hours.  So it is not often that he gets to sing her a lullaby and put her to bed.  He is not usually home when she falls and needs comfort.  He cannot always give her a bath and then wrap her up in a plush towel, rubbing her sides to keep her warm.

Even though Rosie loves Anthony and smiles each time he enters the room, it will be strange for her to suddenly have him doing all these daily tasks that I normally do with her.  Therefore, instead of jumping right into this change when I enter the hospital, we will work on getting her accustomed to it over the next month or so.  As the surgery approaches, Anthony will be sure to do some of these every day activities more often.  He will put her to bed if he is here to do so and I will let him reach her first if she stubs her toe or takes a tumble.  This way, once I am in the hospital, Rosemarie’s routine will not change entirely and she will be used to her father’s feeding her lunch and getting her pajamas on before bed.

Image(12)

Face 2 Face

Aren’t we lucky to live in such a technologically advanced time?  Not many years ago, I would not have had ability to actually see Rosemarie “face-to-face” while I am away from her.  Today, she will only be a touch screen away.

The plan is to try to video chat with Rosemarie at least twice a day.  I FaceTimed with her once while I was in Florida for cheerleading this year.  She did not understand the concept and reached her arms out to me, scrunching her eyebrows in distress, as if I could pick her up into my arms.  (After this by the way, I was depressed for an hour while she happily went back to eating her lunch once my face disappeared from the screen).

I do not expect my not-even-two-year-old to understand the technology of video chatting, but before I enter the hospital, I would like her to at least grasp the idea of it.  How can I do that? By practicing.

From now until my surgery, whenever I am away from Rosemarie (and she is with Anthony or a babysitter who actually understands the iPhone), I will FaceTime her.  These sessions do not need to be long or even meaningful.  I just want her to get used to the idea that she can see me and “talk” to me, but that that doesn’t mean I am actually there with her physically.  At the same time, I want her to possibly make the connection that after we video chat, I eventually do return to her side and am able to pick her up when she reaches out those little arms.

Bedtime Stories

My morning routine with Rosemarie is pretty varied.  Sometimes she comes in my bed in the morning and we watch an episode of Barney while she drinks some juice.  Other days she wants breakfast as soon as she wakes up, so we start off in the kitchen and she dips her waffle (or sometimes just her fork and, okay, her fingers) in her syrup while I empty the dishwasher.  And still on other days, as soon as she wakes up, I throw her in the bath, dress her, and walk out the door.

Our afternoons are the same in the sense that they are always changing.  The only time that is almost always consistent is bedtime.  Rosemarie drinks her milk while watching Barney (she watches A LOT of Barney) on the living room couch.  After an episode or two, we make our way to her room where she picks out a book.  We sit in her glider and I read to her, turn out the light and sing “Baby Mine” before laying her in the crib.

Since this is our only daily ritual, I plan on incorporating it into our video chats while I am in the hospital.  Kindoma Storytime is an app that allows you to video chat with your child while reading a children’s book.  The screen displays both the pages of the book and a live video of your reading partner.  When I turn the page at the hospital, Rosemarie’s page will flip as well.  And if she points to a ball or bunny on the page, a shadow will appear on that object on my screen.  Even though I can’t be in the room with her, we can still have our bedtime routine.

Slide1

I am even considering developing another daily ritual before I enter that hospital that we can do together once I’m there.  Maybe we can sing a certain song each day at noon or say a prayer before eating lunch.   I am not sure what will work best but I think being able to do regular daily activities with me while I am away will provide Rosie with some stability at a time when things are going to be confusing to her.

 

 

I may be over-planning a bit.  And the truth is that I honestly don’t know if any of this will matter to Rosemarie, if she will really need any of these things or just be perfectly happy hanging out with Daddy for a week.

What I do know is that I need them.  I need to feel that I’ve prepared her as best I can for my absence.  I need to leave the house the morning of the surgery feeling confident that she will be smiling and playing and giggling while I’m away.  Because just as I was depressed after our failed FaceTime attempt in Florida while she was completely indifferent, I know our separation will really be harder for me than it is for her.

But I guess the reason doesn’t really matter.  Whether it helps me or helps her, these are my plans and overall they will help our family make it through this summer a little more easily.

And maybe they will do something more.  While this summer will undoubtedly be difficult, maybe all our preparation will help it be beneficial as well.  Perhaps Anthony’s time alone with Rosemarie, doing all the things I normally do, and my time away from her, retaining our daily rituals, will bring us all closer in the end.  Maybe somehow we can turn this obstacle into a blessing and by being well prepared, we can make this surgery something that doesn’t break us down but, instead, strengthens the bonds that hold us together.

Image(13)

 


I know I’m a good mother but…

Posted on

The origins of Mother’s Day lie in the spiritual celebrations of maternal goddesses such as Isis of Ancient Egypt and even the Christian festival of the Virgin Mary. It was not until the 17th century in Europe that the day came to focus on actual mothers and this change came even later in America in 1908 when Anna M. Jarvis campaigned for a holiday in remembrance of her mother who was recently deceased. Our modern Mother’s Day, on which we honor all mothers or mother figures in our lives, grew out of Jarvis’s petition.

Really, Mother’s Day is simply about making mothers happy, yes? It is a day to say thank you to the mothers in our lives and to be thanked by those we mother. I am only on my second Mother’s Day this year but, for me, I just want to relax and smile on Sunday. Having a daughter makes me smile every day, of course, but it’s nice to have a day that simply says “You’re doing a good job, Mom.”

Because deep down, I do know I am a good mother. I know I love my daughter and most of the time, I do well. But there are still the other times. There are the moments of action or even thought that make me doubt myself.

I know I’m a good mother but…

  1. I lose my cool: I try very hard not to yell. When Rosie deliberately drops her food on the floor or slowly drags her crayon across the table top just for fun or screams and cries because she cannot have her way, I try to take a deep breath. I focus on making my voice stern but controlled. I concentrate on keeping my emotions in check so that she can learn to do the same when necessary. But, sometimes, I just grab her plate or the crayon from her her hand or yell “No!” Sometimes I even pound my own hand onto the table.

    The times I feel most guilty is when she really isn’t being bad, but I lose it a little anyway. Like at the end of a long day, when I’m finally sitting on the couch trying to check an email on my phone, and she climbs her plump little body onto my lap but won’t stay still. And she just keeps climbing and moving and pressing her elbow into my chest, pulling my hair and knocking my phone out of my hand as she twists and turns. I don’t exactly yell at her at a time like this, but let’s say I’m not as nice as I’d like to be. I am usually guilty after and I kiss her and play a game with her to make up for it. But that doesn’t erase the behavior, does it?

  2. I don’t always want to share my food: I know. You think I’m evil. But it isn’t all the time. It isn’t even a common occurrence. Occasionally, though, I don’t feel like sharing my food with her. It’s not even that I don’t want to give her the food. It’s just that I want to eat my darn sandwich in peace. I don’t always feel like letting her take a bite, during which she will inadvertently knock the tomato off the turkey or rip the top half of the bread in two. Don’t crucify me, please. I always do share the food if she asks for it. I just don’t always feel like doing it.
  3. I don’t always play with her: I’ve heard about those moms. The ones who spend three or more hours a day sitting on the floor with their children, building Lego castles, sliding wooden puzzle pieces into the appropriate spots, coloring a race care red or Cinderella’s dress light blue. Of course I do these things with my daughter. But I certainly don’t spend hours sitting on the chevron rug of her playroom pulling toy after toy off of the shelves.

    I sit with her; we build a few towers of blocks and feed a bottle to her baby. Maybe we draw some letters on her chalkboard-painted wall or try on some fun-colored wigs.

    Image(9)
    Image(9)

    But after a little while, I leave her to play on her own. I go empty the dishwasher, pay the bills, or wrap a gift for a birthday party that weekend. I like playing with her, but sometimes there are other things I need to do.

  4. I make mistakes…a lot of them: I already wrote a post about the Cascade incident in which I also alluded to the swallowed hair clip debacle as well Rosie’s first big fall. I’d love to say those are the only mistakes I’ve made, but of course they aren’t. Some mistakes are small such as a night (or maybe a few nights) when I forget to put her nighttime diaper on before bed, causing her pajamas to be soaked with pee by the morning. Or the time I let her spend an entire day in a party dress with the matching panties laying on her thighs, still pinned to the tulle of the skirt.

    Some mistakes are bigger. We had a scary few moments the other day when Rosemarie fell down our basement steps. While playing with her cousins, the door was accidentally left open. As she stood at the top of the stairs, her cousin shut the door, knocking her down the whole flight. Of course, I personally didn’t leave the door open and Anthony was also present (so I’m not taking all the blame, people), but I still should have made sure the door was shut while the kids played in that area of the house.

    Rosemarie screamed for a few minutes. We kept an close eye on her the rest of the day and woke her up every two hours that night. Luckily, her only injury was a rug burn on her left cheek. But in the words of Vivian Ward, “Big mistake. Big. Huge.”

  5. I’m happy when she goes to sleep: I love being around Rosie. I love watching her play or dance around the living room to Barney. I love singing songs with her and watching her try to imitate my motions. I love when she cuddles with me, when she full force kisses me on the cheek with a big “Muah” sound followed by a proud little smile.
    Image(10)

    But I also love her nap time. I love the moment I lay her in the crib and pull the door shut as I leave the room. I love the hour or two I get to sit on my computer or watch Revenge without needing to rewind every five minutes to hear the dialogue.

    I love when she goes to sleep for the night even more. I love taking out the cookies (which I will not have to share) and pouring a glass of milk. I love curling up on the couch and reading a new book or writing my blog or laughing at Friends until 1 am.

    I love my daughter but I love my alone time too.

My hope is that while reading this, my fellow moms, you are not gasping in horror or shaking your heads in disgust but instead nodding along in agreement, understanding my thoughts and noting how you often feel the same way. I hope tomorrow on Mother’s Day, you feel even more confident about how good a mother you really are. Maybe you’ll feel a little less guilty about your own “bad” thoughts and your own mistakes after reading about mine.

So Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who, like me, are only human. You may make mistakes but you deserve tomorrow and many more. Just breathe and remember, “You’re doing a good job.”

Image(7)

Source


The Reading Rainbow

Posted on

Regretting Freddy

When I was about twenty years old, I wrote a children’s story.  The idea came to me while sitting on the beach of LBI during a family vacation.  My mother probably lay nearby reading a James Patterson or Patricia Cornwall novel.  My siblings most likely sat in bright beach chairs taking the sun, except Katie who I’m sure was playing in the sand with my nieces and nephews.  Surrounded by my own family, I wrote The Perfect Family for Freddy. 

After being unfairly blamed for an argument with his sister, a young fox named Freddy decides he needs a new family.  The story follows him as he moves from family to family in the forest, searching for the perfect fit.  But the bats fly while he does not; the turtles live in the water, not on the land, and the rabbits don’t eat meat, something Freddy cannot give up.  Feeling extremely discouraged, Freddy is elated when the youngest rabbit tells him about a family that walks, lives on land, dines on meat and lives just around the bend.  Freddy runs enthusiastically toward this amazing family and what does he find? His very own family, the perfect one for him all along.

I do admit that it is a rather cute story.  However, if I stepped into Barnes and Noble tomorrow and pulled A Perfect Family for Freddy off the shelf written by some other author, I would be bothered by its contents.  I was even reluctant to share the details of the story on here and to have other people know that I wrote it, a story that negates almost everything I believe about family today.  A story that, in some ways, contradicts the very foundation of my own family of three.

My intended message in the story was that family is important and we should stay devoted to our families no matter the ups and downs we may experience.  Of course, I still believe in this idea and it is one I want my daughter to learn over time.  Unfortunately, Freddy’s journey through the forest sends another a message as well, a message to which I was not sensitive when writing it as a single, twenty-year-old woman.

As Freddy makes his way from family to family, he decides he cannot possibly live with each of them because they are different, because they are not foxes and do not act like foxes.  Freddy’s return to his biological family at the end of story drives home the point that that is where he belongs.  By all means, for Freddy and many other children (human children of course) that is quite true.

As an adoptive mother, though, I cannot help but see this story as one that argues against the idea of adoption.  The story clearly implies that families should be made up of people who are alike, who are biologically linked, and that families with differing members simply will not work.

At the very heart of adoption is the complete opposite idea.  We adoptive families know that family members need not all be the same; we need not have physical ties.  We are a family because we love one another.  We are a family because despite the distance between us, geographical or genetic, somehow we still found each other.  And our families are every bit as real as those that are biological.

Other Offenders

My story is not the only one I have found that sends such a message.  One other book that I put on the “Do Not Read to Rosemarie List” is Are You My Mother ? by P.D. Eastman.

A small bird is the center of this story.  After his mother leaves the nest to find him some food, his egg hatches and he sets off to find her.  He comes across, among other things, a hen, a cow, an airplane and an excavator (which he calls a “Snort”).  He realizes each of these animals and objects cannot be his mother because they are not like him; they are not birds.  “How can I be your mother?  I am a cow,” the cow states.  To the excavator the bird declares, “Oh, you are not my mother.  You are a Snort.”

When the baby bird finally reunites with his mother at the end of the book, he summarizes his journey and teaches the same idea as Freddy’s experience:

“I know who you are.
You are not a kitten.
You are not a hen.
You are not a dog.
You are not a cow.
You are not a boat,
or a plane, or a Snort!”
You are a bird,
and you are my mother.”

Again, the message sent is that mother and child must be alike in order to be mother and child.  There is something sweet about this story.  And I know the intent was not to bash adoption.  However, it is still not something I will read to my daughter, for I do not want her young, malleable mind to learn that a mother and daughter or father and son or brother and sister must be alike in order to be family.

Some Happy Alternatives

Lucky for me and other adoptive parents, there are plenty of children’s books that promote adoption-friendly concepts of family.  One of my favorites, A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza, is pretty much an adoption version of Are You My Mother?.  Choco, a lonely bird without a mother, searches for one throughout the forest.  He repeatedly asks animals who are like him if they are his mother.  The giraffe has yellow skin like him, the walrus has chubby cheeks, etc.  Each of these animals, however, is not his mother.  In the end, Choco sobs over his failed quest, only to meet Mrs. Bear, who is nothing at all like him but holds him, kisses him, and cheers him up as a mother would.  He returns home with her to meet her three other children: an alligator, a pig, and a hippopotamus, joins their family and happily sits on his new mother’s lap on the last page.

The story shows its young readers that family is not about physical similarities; it is only about love.

Perhaps parents of biological children will find such a book unnecessary and that is very understandable, but for our family, this book is one I intend to read for years to come.

In truth, this book and others like it were probably not even intended for adoptive families like ours.  We are not recognizably different because Anthony and I adopted within our race.  The differences between Choco and Mrs. Bear are presumably more meaningful to a transracial adoptee, who may wonder about the way his skin or facial features differ from his parents.  Rosemarie will not experience this.  Regardless, it is still important to me for her to learn the idea expressed in Choco’s story.  Sure, her skin is the same color as mine, her eyes match my mother’s and she can pretty much pass for my nephew’s biological sister, but I want her to know that none of that matters.

I want her to know that she could have any color skin and any color hair, and she would still be ours.  Because we are not connected by the physical, but by the metaphysical instead.  There is an ancient Chinese proverb, which says that “an invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.”

This proverb is largely embraced by the adoptive community not because we want to believe that it’s true but because we know it is.  We believe we were each meant to be our children’s parents.  This idea may be too otherworldly for some to accept but it is repeatedly proven true to me.  Today, for example, when I went rummaging through my writing from over the years to find Freddy’s story, I discovered that I had named the young rabbit in the story Rosie.  A coincidence? Perhaps.  Something more? Maybe. (I had never considered the name Rosie for my child.  When I first saw her face, I wanted an old-fashioned name; we chose Rosemarie and Rosie followed.)

The Chinese belief about the red thread was also the inspiration for another book on my Read to Rosemarie Repeatedly List:  The Red Thread:  An Adoption Fairytale by Grace Lin. The story tells of a King and Queen who are a inflicted with an inexplicable pain in their chests until magic spectacles reveal a red thread that is wrapped around each of their hearts.  They follow the thread for days crossing an ocean until they reach a small village and find a happily, cooing baby at the end.  A wise villager tells them, “This baby belongs to you.”

That is how we feel about Rosemarie and how we want her to feel as she grows  So we will do our best not to expose her to stories or movies or TV shows that tell her because we are different, we are not a family.  Instead, we will choose those books and films that teach her that despite any physical difference in our blood, our genes, or our appearances, she belongs to us and we to her.

Image(4)

 


Heart to Heart

Posted on

i_heart_you_valentine_1
Universally, the heart is used to represent our emotions.  We use this metaphor in our everyday language.  We watch tragic stories on the news and say they “break our hearts.”  We sometimes say we “don’t have the heart” to deliver bad news, and we proclaim we love our children “from the bottom of our hearts.”

The metaphor is also present in the pop culture that surrounds us.  We hear songs that tell us to “listen to” and “put a little love in” our hearts.  We read poems and books and watch movies that portray the heart as a symbol of our deepest feelings.  As children, we all watched the Grinch’s heart grow three sizes the moment he learned to love (which, by the way, is the worst case of cardiomegaly I have ever seen.  He needs a to see a doctor right away).

Early references to this metaphor exist in the writings of ancient Greek philosophers.  Aristotle, for example, is quoted as saying “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”  Thus, this metaphor has been around much longer than we have.

I wonder how this metaphor came to be.  Why did whoever the first person was to use it choose to connect our heart and our emotions?  Is it possible he somehow knew this idea went beyond figures of speech?   Because it seems that the link between our cardiac organ and our emotions may be more than figurative.  Some would argue that scientific and experiential evidence prove that there is a literal and physical link between the two.

For example, a study by the Institute of Heartmath examined the electrocardiograms of subjects while they experienced different emotions.  The researchers found that the when we experience negative emotions like anger and anxiety, our heart rhythm becomes more erratic.  On the other hand, when we are feeling positive emotions such as compassion and love, the heart’s rhythm produces a “smooth pattern…like gently rolling hills.”

There is also a book titled The Heart Speaks by Dr. Mimi Guarneri.  In it, Dr. Guarneri discusses how working as a cardiologist for many years taught her how much more there is to heart health than physical factors like cholesterol and plaque build-up.  She believes and asserts that stress-inducing situations such as the death of a loved one are just as important and that in treatment of the heart, doctors must tend to both the physical and the emotional risk factors.

Most convincing, is the existence of a disease that is actually called broken heart syndrome, AKA stress cardiomyopathy.  In recent years, broken heart syndrome has been recognized by the medical community as a real and dangerous condition.  It occurs when extreme emotional stress causes the heart muscle to rapidly and severely weaken and often happens after a major stress event that causes extreme grief or fear, or even anger and surprise.

Just as these examples prove that negative emotions can have a negative impact on our heart, the reverse is also true.  After open heart surgery, the heart needs to recover from the trauma of the procedure; this physical factor can have an emotional consequence.  That may be why depression is common during recovery from open heart surgery.  Of course, other surgeries can also cause depression, but some experts say that cardiac surgery has one of the strongest correlations with depression.

After my surgery in 1997, all I wanted to do was lay under my covers in my bed and watch TV.  I didn’t feel like going out with my friends or going to cheerleading or doing any of the things that I normally loved.  Eventually, in a very Bette-Midler-in-Beaches fashion, my best friend gave me a stern lecture about moving on with my life and not acting as if I were dying.  She got through to me and that day I pulled back the covers and began to have fun again.

In 2010, my post-surgery depression came in the form of feeling neglected.  Through tears, I told my sister how no one ever came to visit me and the fact that they didn’t meant they didn’t care about me.  In retrospect, I was clearly depressed.  Rationally, I know that people did come to visit and that now that my friends were married with jobs and children, they couldn’t sit around me on my bed as they had after my high school surgery.  They were there whenever they could be, but my depressed emotional state was telling me otherwise.

My personal experience with the connection between my emotions and my heart health does not end there.

My defibrillator (a device that detects cardiac arrhythmia and then treats it with an electric shock) was implanted in December 1997.  Five years passed before I needed any help from my device.  Then, on September 11, 2001, my father was killed in the terrorists attacks at the World Trade Center.  I cannot possibly sum up this experience in this short paragraph, so I will not try.  My father’s first birthday after his death was on March 13, 2002.  As a family, we visited Ground Zero for the first time.  A few hours later, as I walked through a parking lot with my then boyfriend, I felt a strange sensation in my chest as if someone was pulling my heart toward my spine and then BOOM.  My defibrillator had gone off.  For the first time.  On my father’s birthday.  On the day I had seen the place of his death for the first time.  It is hard to argue that there wasn’t an emotional connection between my emotional experience of that day and the behavior of my heart.

The next five years were also emotionally difficult.  It was during this time that I developed issues with anxiety and that panic attacks became a regular part of my life.  And my heart rhythm continued to be problematic.  My defibrillator shocked me 10-11 times in that period.  Again, emotional distress → erratic heart rhythm.

Then in 2005 I met Anthony and my life began to fall into place with him by my side.  Of course, it did not happen instantaneously but eventually, the arrhythmia events ceased and did not occur again for several years.  Hence, emotional happiness → gently rolling hills.

After my 2010 surgery, because of new scar tissue and other results of the surgery, I started to have some rhythm events that still happen now and then.  My defibrillator has not shocked me (knock on wood) because I haven’t had a true arrhythmia.  Instead, my heart sort of becomes stuck in a very rapid heartbeat.  I take extra medicine and lay down until it stops.

Last week, one of these rapid heartbeats occurred on a particularly upsetting day.

Earlier that day, I went for my biannual appointment with my cardiologist.  A little background info: when I had the surgery in 2010, my tricuspid valve was supposed to be repaired.  Unfortunately, the surgeon’s other tasks took up more time than anticipated and he could not get to it.  So the little guy is still leaking.  And he needs to get fixed.  This has been the ongoing question of my cardiac care since the fall of 2010:  when and how we will tackle this problem.

So, two Mondays ago, I sat in my cardiologist’s exam room atop the paper covered table while he explained that he wants me to have a stress test in the next few weeks.  My performance on this test will determine whether or not I will have the surgery now or if we will put it off.  I have never done well on a stress test before, so chances are I will not do well on this one either.

Okay, I am obviously not thrilled.  I didn’t want to need open heart surgery while I have a baby to take care of.  I will not get into the specifics of my feelings about this surgery; they are mixed and complicated.  I will just say that some of these feelings are strongly negative.

That evening, I sat on my couch on the phone with my friend who had called to see how the doctor went.  I told her all about it and just as we were hanging up the phone, I felt the familiar sensation of my heart jumping into a faster rhythm.  I checked my pulse and, sure enough, I was having a rapid heartbeat.  It did not last long.  I took my medicine but my heart returned to a normal rhythm before I could even swallow the pill.

But it made me wonder.  Why did this happen tonight of all nights? Is my heart responding to my emotions? Do our emotions directly affect the health of our heart?

After looking at the scientific evidence and examining my own experiences, I do believe the link exists and that negative emotional experiences can have a negative impact on our cardiac health.  Of course, that does not mean that emotions are always the cause of heart ailments.  Many times in the past, I have had cardiac issues at a time that I was not emotionally distressed.  On the other hand, there are times when I am distressed and my heart does not react in any way.   Sometimes, perfectly happy people have heart attacks, congestive heart failure, or arrhythmias.

But, still, there is plenty of proof that our emotions can affect our heart health.  And if that’s true, than people with heart disease need to not only take care of themselves physically, but emotionally as well.  Just as much as we need to eat right and exercise, we also need to work through our stress, overcome our depression, and learn to control our anxiety.  In many ways, those emotional tasks may prove to be far more challenging than the physical ones.

 

 

Sources:

  1. Does your heart sense your emotional state? – NBC News
  2. FAQs about Broken Heart Syndrome – Johns Hopkins Medicine

 


Cough, Sweat, and Fears

Posted on

There are so many different kinds of mothers. Before I had a child, I often found myself studying the many mothers around me, taking note of the parenting style of each of them. I noticed some mothers who didn’t blink an eye when their baby fell and hit his head, who shrugged if he accidentally ate a peanut before age two. There were others who jumped when the slightest whimper escaped their baby girl’s lips and kept her far away from any hands other than their own.

Most fell somewhere in the middle.

I’d like to say I’m part of the third group. I don’t find myself to be particularly neurotic. Rosemarie climbs onto every object possible in my house including her activity cube, the back of her plush Pottery Barn chair, and even her toy shopping cart. I encourage her to climb as I believe it is part of her physical development. (I did, of course, draw the line when she climbed onto the bay window.) I let her eat pretty much any that food is around her even if the box says it was “processed in a facility that also processes peanuts,” and I have always let others hold her and play with her.

The Cough

This winter, though, I found myself acting a bit less nonchalant than usual. In the first week of November, after two days with a runny nose, Rosemarie started coughing fairly frequently. She was soon diagnosed with bronchiolitis as she had been at 5 months old. We started the nebulizer three times a day and in a week’s time, we saw improvement. Unfortunately, a day or so later, her congestion and runny nose returned only to be followed soon after by the cough. This cycle repeated itself for the next three months: RUNNY NOSE –> FREQUENT COUGHING —> SPORADIC COUGHING –> RUNNY NOSE –> FREQUENT COUGHING and so on and so forth.

My pediatrician assured me that she was fine and the lingering cough was linked to having bronchiolitis as an infant. I was told by many that this was a just terrible cold and flu season and that plenty of other children were experiencing the same as Rosie. Despite all this, I decided to search for an answer, for a reason that even though she was receiving nebulizer treatments three times a day, she could never truly overcome the cough that began in early November and lasted over 90 days.

photo 1(1)

So, between Christmas and Valentine’s Day, I took Rosemarie to see her pediatrician, two pulmonologists, an ENT and, most recently, an immunologist. I was being cautious; some may even say neurotic. I had my reasons.

First, when it comes to one’s health, I believe being thorough to be of the utmost importance. When I have met my own doctors and surgeons in the past, I come with a typed list of questions to ask. I write down the answers. I simply believe it is better to be safe than sorry. I believe this even more strongly of my daughter’s health and, I think, even more strongly since she was adopted.

In terms of your child’s health, there is a difference between adopting a child and birthing one. No matter how open an adoption is or how much information the birth mother shared with the adoptive mother, the child does not have your genes. She does not have the same family medical history as you do. You did not carry her within you for nine months, so you were not present for every moment of her gestation. Thus, no matter how much you know, you wonder if there is something of which you are not aware. As an adoptive mother, it is the safest option for me to assume I do not know everything there is to know about Rosemarie’s genetics or medical history. And if I don’t know everything, then I need to make sure there isn’t a medical issue that we are overlooking because I don’t have the missing clue.

The Sweat

One night, somewhere in between the second pulmonologist and the ENT, I sat in the velour glider in Rosemarie’s room while she lay sleeping on my lap. She had just been woken up by an intense bout of coughing. Her blushed cheeks glistened with sweat and tears while her head lay in the crook of my arm. My phone buzzed under my thigh with a text message from a good friend with good intentions: “Hey, Kim. Did the doctors test Rosie for cystic fibrosis?”

“Um, no,” I responded, “but thank you for the nightmares.”

My friend immediately began apologizing and continued to do so for way longer than she had to. But I was scared. I hadn’t even thought CF, which is an inherited disease. Sufferers of it have a defective gene that causes the production of an extremely thick and sticky mucus, which leads to clogged and infected lungs as well as the body’s inability to digest and absorb food. Today, the life expectancy of a person with CF is 35 years.

Both my sister Katie and her son were tested for cystic fibrosis as babies. Their symptoms were much like Rosemarie’s, worse but similar. Their tests were negative, but would hers be too?

I suddenly remembered the skin taste test, which simply requires you to lick your child’s head. It is said that the skin of children with cystic fibrosis tastes salty due to the high levels of sodium chloride in their sweat. I licked Rosie’s forehead at least ten times and convinced myself I tasted salt there. I started Googling the symptoms of cystic fibrosis on my phone and texted two of my sisters in panic. Kristen responded assuring me that Rosie did not have CF; Katie called me and explained why I needn’t worry about it, that Rosemarie’s symptoms were not severe enough and that two pulmonologists had seen her and not suggested CF as a possibility.

Both Anthony and my pediatrician said the same the following day. The latter explained that if Rosemarie did have untreated cystic fibrosis, she would be severely underweight with a history of pneumonia and gastrointestinal issues. Rosie did not have any of these symptoms, so I breathed a sigh of relief and moved on.

On Valentine’s Day we took Rosemarie, clad in her festive ensemble, to see the immunologist.

photo 4

After I told him the story of Rosie’s health, he said that in addition to a large amount of blood work, Rosemarie would need a sweat test, the test I knew is used to diagnose cystic fibrosis. In a sweat test, chemicals are applied to the patient’s forearm that cause the skin to sweat. The sweat is collected in a gauze, which is then analyzed in a lab.

I felt my chest sink into itself. I learned from my mother that it is my job to always remain calm, cool, and collected in front of my child no matter what is happening to her, so I did just that. But, inside, I was freaking out.

The doctor explained that while Rosie did not have the symptoms of classical CF, it was possible that some of those symptoms had yet to surface or that she had atypical cystic fibrosis, which he defined as a somewhat less severe form of the disease in which only the lungs are affected.

Typical or atypical, we were talking about cystic fibrosis. And, to me, that was Alex, the Life of a Child, the 1986 TV movie starring Craig T. Nelson, which is still the most heartbreaking and horrifying movie I have ever seen. The film is based on a nonfiction book written by Frank Deford about the short but amazing life of his little girl with CF. My memories of the movie are vague but agonizing scenes flashed in my mind of Alex bent over the sink vomiting blood, her brother and she crying side by side in her bed, and her father rushing to the supermarket to get root beer, his dying daughter’s last wish.

These were my thoughts in the first hour or so. Eventually, I got a handle on myself and forced myself to calm down. I forced thoughts of Alex out from my mind and refused to Google a single thing about CF until I had the results of Rosie’s test.

On Tuesday, February 19th, the morning of the sweat test, I woke up two hours earlier than I needed to. I turned and moved in the bed trying to get back to sleep but had a hard time turning off my thoughts. Poor Anthony was soon woken up by my licking his forehead in an attempt to compare the taste of his to the taste of Rosemarie’s. Despite my nerves, I couldn’t help but burst out laughing when he opened his eyes and stared at me. At 10 am, we took Rosemarie to Long Island for the test. Wearing her new sweatsuit and pewter ballet flats, Rosie waddled around the waiting room pointing at pictures of cartoons and climbing onto the maroon faux leather chairs that lined the walls.

photo 2(1)

A sweat test does not hurt. But Rosemarie screamed as if she were getting her ears pierced all over again. After the chemical sits on the skin for five minutes, the sweat has to collect for 30. We took a walk to the gift shop and Rosemarie pointed out various stuffed animals and crinkled her eyes in excitement. It took great willpower for us to resist buying her the 41 inch Big Bird that she pointed to with her small finger; we chose the foot long instead.

photo 3

We were told we could have the results by the following day. We didn’t. And we didn’t get them on Thurday. Or Friday. The doctor was wonderful at keeping me informed about whether or not he had received the report. Each time I saw a 516 number on the screen, I steeled myself for the results. I took a breath in and put all my efforts into sounding polite and calm. It wasn’t until Monday that I actually needed this preparation.

“So, I got the results from the sweat test, and–”

In the split second it took for him to say the world and many thoughts raced through my head. Why would he start with that? Is he preparing me for bad news? Is he building up the will to tell me?

“it was negative.” he finished.

Negative! Allelujah. Thank you, God. I was elated. I hung up the phone and called Anthony immediately to let him know the wonderful news. I picked up Rosie and kissed her calling her “my healthy girl.”

The Fears

What a rollercoaster ride this parenting thing is. Elizabeth Stone said “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

Was there ever a truer statement? These little people we are raising are our everything. How can we not be neurotic sometimes?

Now that all is said and done, I’m happy to call myself neurotic because I’m lucky that I can. I am lucky I can say I panicked for no reason. There are some parents whose panic is necessary, whose doctors do not call with good news, even some who might wish they had been more cautious. I cannot imagine the fear they feel.

For their sake, I will enjoy my good fortune. And while we continue to work on figuring out the reason for Rosie’s chronic cough, I will proceed with caution, but I will also remember to sigh with relief and thank God that the worst reason is forever off our table.

 

 

Sources:

  1. http://www.cff.org/AboutCF/Testing/SweatTest/#What_happens_during_a_sweat_test?
  2. http://www.cff.org/AboutCF/
  3. http://www.disabled-world.com/health/respiratory/cystic-fibrosis/life-expectancy.php

My Freaky Leaky Heart

Posted on

Image(3)

As many of you know, February 1st was National Wear Red Day.  This day, on which we are asked to wear red clothing, was created by the American Heart Association (AHA) in 2003 in order to spread awareness and raise funds to help fight the #1 killer of women in America:  heart disease.  Taking place on the first Friday of the month, this day is also used as a kick-off to February, American Heart Month.  The goal of this movement is to educate women about their risk for heart disease and help expand scientific research on heart health.

To my knowledge, much of the AHA’s work seems to focus on cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke.  In actuality, even though I have congenital heart disease, I am no more at risk for such an event than any other woman.  But still, this movement is about women with heart disease and, technically, I am one of those women, so I do feel a personal connection to it.

As a woman with heart disease, then, I think during this month when we are asked to focus on our hearts, we should take the time to celebrate them as well, maybe even those that aren’t in the greatest of shape.  Today, I’d like to pay a little tribute to my heart, to my poor, deformed but perseverant heart.  She deserves this post all to herself.

I spoke with a friend the other day, a friend who happens to work in the field of psychology, about the emotional issues I have with my heart and her defectiveness.

“I’d love to see you attack your heart like an enemy,” my friend said.

I sat quietly for a moment, thinking of what he had said, and was surprised to feel a wave of guilt run through of me.

“How could I turn on her?” I thought, “My heart who has hung in there with me through it all.”

I genuinely felt sad at the thought.

Because my heart is not my enemy.

Sure, she is bigger than she is supposed to be and has had more than one hole repaired.  She may be facing the wrong way and sitting too far to the right.  And she is part cow, part human, and part metal.  She is one screwed-up organ, but not my enemy.

You could say she is the root of many of my problems.  She is the reason I had issues with panic and anxiety through most of my twenties.  She is the reason I often feel fatigued and then guilty for my lack of energy to share with my daughter.  She is the reason I have often felt regretful that my husband, mother, sisters, and others have had to spend many hours of their livings taking care of me or visiting me.

She has definitely been a burden in more ways than one, but how could I call her an enemy?

She has sat through several catherizations and ablations and three open heart surgeries while she was poked & prodded, sliced & stitched.  And when those surgeries were complete and she was called back into duty, she pumped as strongly as ever.  When she received her first set of new valves, she kept them working for five years past their expected expiration date.  The many times she was overtaken by an arrhythmia or rapid beating, she fought her way back to a normal rhythm, even sustaining jarring shocks from my defibrillator.

She is certainly not an enemy.  At the least, she is an excellent employee, but I like to think of her as a friend.  Really, she has stuck by me through thick (like the wall of her right ventricle) and thin.

So, I declare today to be Honor My Heart Day.  I am proud of you, heart.  I am proud of you and all your battle wounds: your scar tissue, your patches, even your slightly bionic valve.

Today, I salute you.  Thank you, my friend, for all you’ve done.