The Second Time Around

as if first

Posing as if it’s the first…

What has been most notable about this second pregnancy is how different it feels from the first.

The first time around, I prepared myself for what I anticipated would be the life-changing and spiritual experience of pregnancy and birth. My friend Michael fed the fire, commenting on how spiritual it must be to have life growing within you and to be in such a powerfully creative place. I wanted to feel that way.

And, I wanted to be fully prepared for everything. We took every single birth class.  I mean every single one.  Not just the birthing and breastfeeding and first-year parenting classes, but also the infant CPR/first aid classes and infant massage classes. I even convinced Liz to come with me to a ‘prenatal partners’ yoga workshop.

Working with the midwives, my birth preferences were extensive. They articulated a plan for natural labor and reflected weeks of research on how things might go best. By the time I went into labor, I was ready in every way – spiritually, intellectually, logistically – to be transformed by this experience.

Thirty-hours of labor later, on August 2nd, 2016, Elliott joined us. The midwife said I looked surprised there was a baby at the end of childbirth, and she was correct. So much of my preparation had focused on me, my experience of birth, and what I would learn from all these things that I couldn’t clearly see how this was the start of so much more.

There is so much which is different this time around, both in my circumstances and in myself. I wish I could say it’s because I’m infinitely wiser, but instead I continue to learn from every new experience.  Here is what I’m seeing this time around:

It’s Actually About the Baby

but its two

…but it’s number two

The most important difference between my pregnancies is that it has shifted between this pregnancy being about me to this pregnancy being about the baby. I know the punchline now; God-willing, childbirth ends in parenthood. The whole point is bringing this little man into the world in a safe and healthy way. So, instead of being curious about the experiences I’ll have, I’m just excited to meet the little man. There’s far less interest in “What am I like in this situation?” and more interest in “What’s he going to be like?”

Who Has Time for That?
I realistically don’t have the time to be so self-centric this time around. I could point to a whole portfolio of demands on my time, but the ultimate cause is my daughter, Elliott. Two-year-olds do a remarkable job occupying every available minute of time, and I am (mostly) happy to give her those moments. As a result, pregnancy looks different. Last time around, I prioritized weekly acupuncture, gentle but diligent workouts, and frequent prenatal massages. This time, I sit in the closet while Elliott delights in opening and shutting the door or lay together on the floor waiting for imaginary deer and lions to come visit. (Elliott requires Liz to do much more active play for some reason.)

I Know I Don’t Have Control
Even if I don’t always act as if it’s true, I know through experience that I have nearly no control over all of this – from pregnancy to childbirth to parenting. The most important processes – physical and otherwise – unfold naturally. While I still struggle to act in accordance with this insight, I realize I am less in a position of control and more in a position of surrender. No birth plan, only birth preferences. A recognition that birth will come when it comes and go how it goes. And, most importantly, no expectations that the lessons learned caring for Elliott as a baby will translate into any better ability to care for number two.

And so…
Sometimes I step back and reflect on all this, wondering if my different emerging relationships to my two children – starting with even these early months of pregnancy – are simply the first manifestation of birth order conditioning. Though still in utero, Elliott had attention and focus throughout my pregnancy.  She’s maintained much of that while this little man has developed inside of me. For his part, the little man has either enjoyed or suffered through a pregnancy with far less of a maniacal focus on him. At times I’ve blamed myself that I have not been more pregnancy-focused during this time, but my wise friend, Nema advised me that “the baby will make sure he draws in what he needs.”

Little Man, I hope that you have everything you need. We can’t wait to meet you.

Meredith

 

That First Trimester Feeling

Let’s start with the headline: I’m pregnant. 15 weeks. Due July 25th. Don’t know the sex yet but will find out. Going to stay in our current house. Don’t have a name yet. And yes, our dog, Reese, is very pleased.

That’s the explanation for my blogging hiatus. It’s been 10 weeks and 6 days since I’ve blogged. That is 10 weeks and 6 days of feeling crappy.

Since the positive pregnancy test, my entire lifestyle flipped on its head. I went from keeping a primarily dairy-free, gluten-free, organic, minimally-processed diet to developing the appetite of a toddler. Most of my meals involved chicken tenders. I started eating hard candy. I could not get enough cheese and bread. Being a rational adult, I did try to sneak some cooked kale into my Whole Foods macaroni and cheese, but I couldn’t dupe myself and picked it out. Similarly, my sleeping habits shifted. I typically get eight hours of sleep and then turn into a whirlwind of productivity during the day. Now, I found myself ready to clock up to ten hours a night and cherishing a mid-day nap. Moving my body in any way sounded miserable. Leaving the house was not on my list of things to do. My wife wondered if it was invasion of the body snatchers; I had been replaced by a lethargic look-alike.

My doctor, one of the few people who knew of my pregnancy, described it best: it’s like having a constant low-grade hang over (except there’s no fun night out and no miraculous revival when you finally get out of the woods).

All of this caught me off guard. While I have many close friends with babies, I never fully realized how tough first trimester could be. Instead, my images of pregnancy were vibrant, lively, and (as it turns out) disproportionately second trimester. My Facebook feed abounded with pictures of smiling pregnant women; they ran half-marathons, twisted into impressive yoga poses, and modeled for bump-focused photo shoots. They all had elated grins, silky hair, and more stylish clothes than I have ever worn. Even the pregnant ladies I met in person fit the mold: they ran seven miles a day, designed adorable bump-focused Halloween costumes, and munched on cucumbers when everyone else housed holiday sweets. In short, all the pregnant women I observed embodied the pregnancy glow.

I, on the other hand, was eating a mega-sized bag of gas station Doritos on my drive back from a doctor’s appointment, pants unbuttoned.

All this brought up two major emotions in me: self-blame and competition. First of all, why wasn’t I doing a better job at being pregnant? What was wrong with me? Why was my body acting so strangely – and why was I giving into it? Second, I was resolved not to underperform at this pregnancy thing. What did they all have that I didn’t have? What did I need to do to succeed at this?

In my life, I’ve become accustomed to the idea that thoughtful, diligent action drives results. Do the right work in high school and get into college. Do the right work in college and get a job. Do the right work in my job and craft the life I want.

But that’s the thing I’m learning about pregnancy: there is nothing to do. My body’s got it. Beyond taking some prenatals, cutting the booze, and moving a bit, I can’t do much to influence the development of this baby. S/he is going to grow however s/he grows, whether I eat kale or cookies, whether I run a full marathon or watch a Transparent marathon. To be clear, I’m not giving up my responsibility; I’m just letting go of my control patterns a bit more.

Second trimester has provided more relief and normalcy. I eat vegetables again. I have fewer waves of nausea. I even started doing prenatal yoga (like those ladies in the pictures). But I’m glad to have gone through the unexpected unpleasantness of first trimester. With this little one coming into the world, there will be only more and more things I can’t control, from my child’s feeding schedule to the job s/he chooses after school. In that sense, this lesson in letting go is probably the healthiest thing I could do first trimester (aside from buying the organic version of chicken tenders).

 

baby or burrito 2

Still in the uncertain place:  Is that a baby, or did I eat a burrito?

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Keep it Simple, Smarty

I had lunch with a colleague this week during which we talked about her near-term plans and long-term aspirations over a bowl of bi bim bap. She reflected on options ranging from graduate school to life-long ambitions, from alternative career paths to renegotiating her relationship with her childhood pastimes. At the end of the discussion, as I munched on the leftover bowls of banchan, she paused, reflected for a moment, and remarked: “You ask really good questions.”

I? Ask good questions? That’s interesting, because I wasn’t trying to ask good questions.

There was a time when I tried to ask good questions. In fact, I’ve wanted to ask good questions most of my life. As far back as elementary school, I sought to ask the interesting, non-obvious question to the teacher, less because I wanted to know the answer and more because I hoped to signal just how advanced my comprehension was. “I understand graphing real and imaginary numbers on a two-by-two, but what if you add a third dimension?” I delighted in stumping the teacher and didn’t mind taking the class completely off-track.

This inclination continued in the working world. Asking the right “high-gain question” was celebrated as a great skill. If someone was evaluating many options, I might say “It seems like there are really two approaches here: A or B. Which seems most useful?” Similarly, if someone was trying to understand a situation, I might say “In my experience, it is always a matter of X or Y. Which is at stake?” My questions were crawling with clever frameworks and embedded advice. Intentionally or incidentally, I casually showcased how brilliant I could be while simultaneously seeming helpful. While my questions presumed to help the other person find their direction, let’s be honest: they were all about me.

As I’ve started to work on my ego (only partially successful to date), I’ve tried to shift to asking questions in the service of the other instead of for my own benefit.  This has prompted me to realize two things:

The smarter you try to be, the less useful you become, and

The most powerful questions are the most simple.

Everyone has heard the perennial advice to “ask open-ended questions.”   Beyond this, I propose adding the guidance: “ask simple questions.” It’s not about providing a maze of options, a clever trade-off, or a new framing. It’s not about leading people in the direction that you see unfolding. And it’s certainly not about receiving recognition for your endlessly clever perspective.

Instead, it’s about reducing to the simplest question in service of the individual:
“What do you want?”
“What’s important about that?”
“How do you feel?”
“What’s next?”

Though I can’t always get out of my own way, I am always most useful to others when I’m not trying to be clever.  In other words, keep it simple, smarty.

So, what now?
Meredith

Empathy for Bridezillas

Liz and I continue to beaver away at wedding planning, tackling some new aspect of the event nearly every night. Our loft is filled with reply cards, flower vases, and various sizes of ribbon. Our inboxes alternate between guest questions about plus-ones and responses from a fantastic collection of vendors. Our calendars are filled with events like trial hairdos, venue walkthroughs, and just one more trip to Michael’s.

More than once I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the details. Which forks should we use? Will the cake be cut at 8:20PM or 8:35PM? Do I want blush or bronzer? While I value (and perhaps overvalue) the importance of nailing the details, it is certainly not my strength. Instead, I’m constantly surprised about the volume and specificity of the choices that need to be made. Wedding decisions are like matryoshka (Russian nesting dolls); you think you are seeing the entirety of the question, but then you open it up to find that there are infinite layers of decisions nestled within the high-level decision you just made.
wed_linensWhile all this planning stresses me out, Liz, on the other hand, brings an operational fluency to the whole process, grounded in her military background and healthcare expertise. I may be emotional about the fifteenth decision about flatware, but she has the capacity to see the overall vision and also manage the component decisions to achieve the plan. She is unsurprised by the level of planning needed and unfussed about making it happen.

In some way, I’m surprised that these decisions stress me out in the first place. True, I’m not naturally good at dealing with the details, so I may feel incapable. But I also would not be stressed if I didn’t think these decisions were important. Why does this endless parade of decisions matter to me?
wed_napkinOn some level, I believe the efforts we put into orchestrating a gorgeous event – from finding the right forks to arranging the tables – serve as a proxy for the love we’re giving to our guests. If we can control the event and get it all right, then people will enjoy themselves and know how much we love them. If I’m honest with myself, it’s like every other dinner party I’ve thrown in the past; if I make it perfect, all will go well. It’s a lot of pressure to put on picking flowers and candles and desserts; if they’re not exactly right, then people won’t feel loved and we won’t be okay.

Reflecting on my own control issues around our wedding has helped me empathize with the bridezilla trope in a new way. In addition to endless questions around event details, weddings confront us with questions around many of our core values: family, religion, community, beauty, self-worth, tradition, love, gender roles, commitment, and meaning. As the bride (or one of two brides), it’s easy to pretend to control over all those questions by controlling the details of the day. Society tells us that it is ‘our day’ and we can do whatever we like, so why not dictate all the details, avoid the most difficult questions, and ensure the logistics perfectly conform to our vision?

I’m trying to unplug my controlling tendencies here. I’m trying to dissociate the precise linen selection with the love that we have for our guests. I’m trying to I’m trying to channel a bit more of Liz’s capacity for making these decisions without becoming stressed. And I’m trying to not control the world in order to increase my own sense of comfort. It’s not easy to do this, particularly as each vendor comes with question after question about decisions that apparently matter. But my hope is that by letting go of a bit of my wedding, an even better, co-created celebration can grow up in its place.

With love,
Meredith
wed_vase

On Tattooing

At Yale, my favorite class was my senior seminar with all the other Religious Studies majors. We read canonical works on the definition of religion and ritual theory, supported each other on our senior theses, and frequently caught up over kosher meals at the on-campus Hillel. We celebrated turning in our final papers by nailing the front pages, Luther-like, to the front door of the department. We even nicknamed ourselves “RelStuds” – which, while an apt shortening of our major, perhaps belied how cool we were.

One of the things I most valued about that group was the diversity of perspectives we brought to the table. We each had a distinctly different touch point with religion – some of us aspiring to be priests or rabbis, some of us fascinated by ritual and meaning-making, some of us investigating the intersections of church and state.

I remember being particularly struck by one classmate whose senior thesis focused on Christian tattooing. She looked at the interpretation and theories of tribal tattooing and applied these to modern-day biker tats. This topic completely bent my brain. First, I found it such a paradox that tattooing (which, at the time, seemed radical and edgy to me) could carry the message of Christianity (which seemed conservative and traditional to me). Further, her whole approach reframed tattooing from the artistic to the spiritual, from the arbitrary to the meaningful, from the ephemeral to the enduring. Instead of being an impetuous act of youth, a tattoo could be a lasting, unyielding reminder of a core value or purpose. Instead of being something which one might regret, a tattoo could be an essential reminder in the future. I feel in love with the idea of tattooing as an act of inscribing life lessons onto one’s body in a way that could never be lost or forgotten.

I first thought about getting a tattoo immediately after I graduated, but it took a full five years for that first tattoo to come to fruition. I’ve learned, after a few sessions under the needle that coming to the right tattoo takes time. Each of my tattoos represents an insight, experience, or value, inscribed upon my body with thought and consideration. Because of this tie to my life and my development, I can’t plan ahead from them. Instead, as life progresses, I sometimes get the feeling that a tattoo is coming (almost of its own volition), and, over time, the reason and design unfold before me. I have to let them happen instead of declaring that “It’s now time to wrap up that life lesson and write it down!” As you probably know, that’s not how being a human being works. Instead, I surrender to the tattoo.

Since that first tattoo in 2008, I’ve had three more, each at an utterly unpredicted and completely perfect moment in time. This past weekend was my most recent addition. After dropping Liz off at the Denver airport, I knew what I had to do. I drove to Boulder, found a tattoo shop on Yelp, and was soon sitting down with my new friend Sam. Being a bit squeamish, I always need to find the stronger person inside of me to make it through the tattooing process, but I once again proved that I can be braver than expected when it’s really needed.

Now, the ‘charm bracelet’ on my left wrist is one step closer to encircling it, with a newly drawn dot and flourish trailing off to the left. Perhaps someday we’ll talk about all the meanings. But, in the short-term, it’s another step in life, never to be forgotten.

With love,
Meredith

The dark ink is the new tattoo, adding onto the line of the old piece, which you can see to the top left.

The dark ink is the new tattoo, adding onto the line of the old piece, which you can see to the top left.

Are You Reacting To Life or Creating Your Life?

This week someone posed the question “Are you reacting to life or creating your life?”  I liked the formulation and decided it was my key reflection point for the week.  But instead of writing about it, I’m mixing it up and putting my dubious drawing skills to the test.  Thus, please enjoy:

title

reaction

creation
With love,
Meredith

 

The Month Without Sugar is. . . Proof I’m Not in Control (Part Two of Two)

. . . by week two, the wheels had fallen off my August resolution.  So why was I eating that wedding cake and all those s’mores?  [from Part One of Two]

What happened when those desserts kept coming?  There were, of course, the voices in my head that said:  “No, Meredith, you can’t have this ice cream!” and “Bad Meredith, why are you eating a donut?”  And worse:  “Meredith, you are disappointing not only yourself with this brownie, but everyone who reads your writing!”  It felt like exactly the way you screw up a blog:  by making grand pronouncements about what you’re going to do and why it’ll be oh-so-interesting – and then changing your mind along the way.  Due to my Wedding Diet commitment, the voices came up stronger and louder than I’ve ever heard a chorus of self-blaming, dessert-shunning voices sound.

I set forth the goal of trying a new limitation each month and reporting back on how it went.  It was going to be a beautiful little lifestyle project.  I thought that whatever I chose for the month, it would be reasonable to control just that one thing:  not eating sugar, or dairy, or whatever.  It’s not that I didn’t have the willpower; I’ve been doing P90X every day and eating better than I ever have.  In fact, I lost seven pounds this last month.  And it’s not that I didn’t have the mindfulness; I’ve been increasingly conscious of what I eat and when I eat it.  But beyond the challenges I cited last week, the reality is that life didn’t fit into my perfectly symmetrical plan.  Life happened, it happened differently from what I expected, and I couldn’t control it.

While I was supposed to focus on eliminating sugar, I suddenly felt myself drawn to counting calories.  I don’t know why.  I’ve never done it before.  I just resonated with exercising discipline around food in a different way; I went from focusing on limitation to playing with allocation.

Being open to shifting my approach was freeing in many ways.  Limitation – the central idea behind the Wedding Diet – put me in a place of saying a categorical ‘no’ to some foods while giving others a weak ‘sure, but I’ll probably give it up next month.’  The result was that there was a halo of ‘no’ around most foods.  This created a collectively negative way of seeing food.  Playing an allocation game, on the other hand, was much more positive.  I could eat all sorts of things, but there were bounds to what moderation meant.

I expected that I would achieve greater awareness of my body and a sustainable approach to eating by following The Wedding Diet For The Rest Of Your Life.  So much of me wants to shoehorn my life back into that perfect project plan that I made for it.  But when I take a broader view, I see that I’m achieving the outcome I wanted, just via a different path.  If thinking about allocation instead of limitation works for me, why would I deny that insight?  I feel great, and I’ve been able to do that while eating cake at weddings.

And so the month without sugar has also became the month without control.  I can set ambitions, but I don’t always have perfect control over how I get there.  But if I can live with that human messiness, maybe what I realized in this month without sugar can also push me in the direction of greater self-love and growing connection to my body – what I searching for all along.

Meredith

Giving Up My Command-And-Control Post

Sometimes I get stuck in a feeling of lack.  It could be lacking anything – enough money, enough time, the right attitude, the right opportunities, the perfect interactions with others.  Like everyone, I find myself ruminating that “This is not enough” and “That is not right.”

This weekend, I was throwing away junk mail when I ran across a flyer from a self-help program.  In my cursory flip through, I found this suggestion:

“Get in touch with the feeling of what’s it’s like to feel you have your every need and want already met.”

Every need and want already met.  That sounds nice, I thought.  Impractical, but nice.

It continued:

“Just rest into that feeling for a moment.  Feel it in your belly.  Allow it to expand up into your heart.  Open up your awareness to feeling it spread all throughout every cell in your body and even to the area around your body.”

Of course it sounds cheesy.  It is absolutely cheesy.  But I try not to let judgments like that limit my experience, so I gave it a shot.

I opened up my journal and wrote down everything I needed and wanted:  a perfectly-balanced travel schedule, the willpower to follow through on my health commitments (The Month Without Sugar is in full swing), a thriving social life that is both broad and deep (this has been challenged by my travel schedule), and a perfect and cheaper-than-expected wedding venue .

This exercise of visioning the future was not unfamiliar to me; my journals are filled with goals, expectations, and ambitions.  What felt different about this, however, was experiencing those ambitions from the perspective of ‘already-havingness’ and ‘already-beingness’ instead of plotting how they would occur in the future.

You see, when I set a goal, my instinct is to write a tactical plan that outlines exactly how I’ll get there.  So when I set the vision of a “perfect and cheaper-than-expected wedding venue,” I was quick to start my Excel spreadsheet of locations, ask former brides for their suggestions, and fire up the online diligence.  When faced with a goal, I default to strategic thinking, clever problem solving, and executionary prowess to get me there.  These are my trusty old tools; I’m good at them, and, most of the time, they work.

Make it all happen

This challenge to try on ‘already-havingness’ and ‘already-beingness’ eviscerated my typical approach.  I had to turn off the achievement machine in my head.  No more mental to-do lists, no more clever plans to bring my goals to life.  Instead, I just had to sit, to let them come, to feel them to be true with every part of my body.  And it felt amazing.

Beyond feeling good (many things make you feel good, this is just one), it seemed to be useful as well.  Case-in-point:  As soon as I gave up the spreadsheet, the appointments, and the aggressive pre-planning, we locked down our perfect, cheaper-than-expected wedding venue.  The already-havingness was, weirdly, already true.

Do I believe that you can imagine your goals into existence?  Not necessarily.  But it’s both wonderful and relieving to think that every good thing doesn’t need to be the result of my effortful striving.  A better approach for me might be to just let go a bit.  Stop trying to drive so much.  Stop trying to work so hard.  And maybe join together my vigorous action to make things happen with the faith and feeling that they already have.

Meredith

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dont work too hard