Monday, November 30, 2009

Closing the Circle

With great emotion, Michal and I (along with her partner Yael and both our babies) followed the path we had taken so many times while undergoing the fertility treatments at Hadassah Hospital. I carried Raphaela, Michal carried Daniel, and Yael carried the largest fruit basket I have ever seen. I was so hoping that my favorite nurse, Chava, would be there so I could tell her how much she actually assisted in bringing Raphaela into the world, but unfortunately we happened to choose a day to visit when all the nursing staff except one were attending a conference.

We still dropped off our various presents to the IVF/Fertility Clinic staff, and I did have a chance to see Professor Horowitz, the head of the department and the doctor who did that final insemination that worked for me. We also distributed gifts and personally thanked Rut, the coordinator of the sperm bank. Rut is a hard person to read, she comes off as totally unemotional and hard, and yet today there were cracks in the armor. She loved the photo I gave her of Raphaela, and wanted to be sure that I had written the baby's birthday on the photo. Rut also held Daniel, and complemented Michal on how handsome he had turned out. Rut ought to know, as she had engineered the unique matchmaking in this situation.

Michal and Yael are already talking about starting a second round of treatments within the year, as they want to have four children together. I am content at the moment with one healthy baby who is growing in leaps and bounds, and one cat who at the moment is sitting on the keyboard and begging for attention, now that Raphaela is sleeping.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Who Does She Look Like and Other Recent Discoveries

I have always maintained that Raphaela, who is coming up on two months old this week, inherited my ears and my lips, but that she does not resemble me overall. Considering genetics, she could look like the donor, and I feel fine with that, as long as she stays healthy and happy.

Yesterday, looking at her discover her hands for the first time, I realized that she reminds me of my biological father's mother, my grandmother, with whom I was not particularly close. My mother divorced my biological father when I was about five years old, and then remarried the man I call "Dad," the man who raised me in every sense of the word. I remember bits and pieces about my paternal grandmother, but not enough to ever be able to describe the kind of person she was.

Most surprising of all was the reaction of my mother, in speaking to her about this resemblance. My mother was badly burned emotionally and financially by the divorce, and was herself a single parent of two children in the time before she remarried. The topic of my biological father, normally fraught with anxiety even after all these years, did not phase her. In fact she said that she had noticed this when Raphaela was first born, and did not say anything to me because she thought it would upset me and affect the bonding with my newborn. Yesterday on the phone, she said, without stress, "Your father has strong genes."

Indeed. And whatever genetic material Raphaela has inherited, I love her for who she is, and cannot wait to see how she turns out.

She is so grown up, compared to even a week ago: she can sit in the bassinet for an hour, eyes open and staring at the ceiling, and she no longer cries after five minutes and needs to be held. She examines her hand and laughs, and pumps her arms up and down. Raphaela discovered cause-and-effect with the Brain Gym, and realized that if she pushes the chimes, she will hear the beautiful sound they make.

Raphaela, like all babies, is a developing miracle, my angel.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Fear of Little Fingers

I have developed two recent fears, both regarding Raphaela's little fingers. The first involves cutting her nails: since her birth, I have always gotten others with more confidence to cut them, as I am petrified of removing a piece of her body along with the nail. This all started when I read in one of the many baby books on my shelf, "and when you draw blood..."

The second recent issue revolves around my long curly hair, and the fact that Raphaela always grabs a handful. This morning I noticed a particular strand wrapped around one finger, practically cutting off circulation. I went into a major New Mother panic, and was ready to take her to the emergency room.

When do these feelings go away?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving Day

My three favorite holidays, both religious and secular, in descending order:
1. Thanksgiving Day
2. Succot
3. The December Holiday Season (Chanukah, Christmas; specifically in The City)

I have so much to be thankful for this year, and I feel that every moment that I spend with my daughter. I also feel the loss for her, that she will not necessarily grow up with her American cousins and experience the holiday traditions that make days like this so special. The food, the predictable arguments, Macy's Day Parade, the mass migration of the men into the den to watch football all afternoon, the midnight deli feast to which only the adults were invited.

The amazing smells of my grandmother's cooking. That feeling of being surrounded by family, for better or for worse. I will have to find Israeli traditions to replace that void.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Like Riding a Bike

Having finally arranged child care for Raphaela, an arrangement that I can accept because I trust the person, because it is only for four hours; and because having her out of the house makes more sense, as it allows me to concentrate on my patients.

Or at least I hope so, because putting her in someone else's hands for even 12 hours a week will be an emotional trauma that I will have to work through, as has every parent before me. If I am distracted at work thinking about her, I might as well not go back at all.

This decision means that I will miss one feeding, but for that we have the Avent hand pump.

I had secretly feared that not working for over two months would make me rusty, but today I adjusted my friend and colleague, and got a badly needed Chiropractic adjustment myself, and I knew what I was doing, I felt confident and ready when the time comes to start working on my patients again, and even getting paid for it.

I am, however, choosing to be selective about which patients I inform when I return to work, because between giving Raphaela away so to speak and picking up Chiropractically where I left off, I want the cheerful patients, the relatively easy cases in the beginning. Thankfully I have the option of creating my own work schedule, and its content. In fact, that is one of the main factors which convinced me that I could be a single parent by choice.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Feeling Grossly Inadequate

Moved to the edge of insanity by two days in which Raphaela did not nap for close to 15 hours straight, followed by two nights where it took several hours to get her to sleep, I finally got the electric breast pump I had borrowed from Yad Sarah over two months ago, and took it out of the box. You see, the other night I was so exhausted and frustrated that I had no desire to put my own child on my breast, and wanted at least to have the option of giving her a bottle with my milk. I also did not want to get to a place where my very kind neighbor - whom I had called over around eight pm in a state of panic - asked me if I thought the baby was hungry, and I said, "I don't care."

My friend Rachael pointed out that since Raphaela and I had spent the whole day together, and into the night, she was probably as sick of me as I was of her. It is in these moments that I truly feel the burden of being a single parent.

True to the scientist part of my nature, this breast pump may have provided the key as to why my daughter gets so ornery at certain parts of the day, and sometimes needs over two hours to calm down at night: she may very well be hungry.

When I started pumping, I expected to receive at least 60 ml from the effort, and barely scraped away with half that amount. At this stage, Raphaela needs between 90-120 ml at each feeding, and clearly, my milk supply is inadequate. That is one of the fundamental problems with breast feeding, you cannot measure the serving you have provided.

First off, I feel like a failure; despite my best efforts and intentions, I am not giving my child enough food. That translates to serious guilt in every religion, not just the Jews.

Now I must come up with a plan, which includes supplementing throughout the day with bottles, but finding the right formula that will not activate what I suspect is lactose intolerance. (I find the soy based formulas stinky.) I plan on pumping as often as possible, to increase my own milk flow. I also plan on reading the latest book borrowed from my friend and upstairs neighbor, which tackles the specific issues of sleep patterns and behaviours.

Thank G-d babies do not remember most of the traumas of early infanthood, hopefully all she will remember is that I tried my hardest and that I love her.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Visions of My Future

I spent two hours today with Raphaela at the birthday party of Zoe (Zoharia), the eight year old daughter of my friend and Chiropractor. Twenty one very loud girls playing musical chairs and mystery gift party games, and touching everything in the house that was either rare or breakable or off limits. My friend's husband kept following the swarm with a garbage bag, trying to clean up after them practically before they finished an activity, and finally gave up and retreated to the back yard, away from the chaos.

Raphaela was a hit, not just with the girls but also with Zoe's older brother and his friend, who all saw her as a dress up doll with small fingers (relative to their size) and who actually smiled and ate and pooped. My assumption that the fascination with babies is genetically and sociologically programmed only into the women-folk was mistaken.

Raphaela has attended her first birthday party, and in my mind I have already started the guest list for her one year old birthday extravaganza.

Today I also finally bought myself a rocking chair, Israeli style rather than the classic American wood jobs I would expect to see in my grandmother's house. We tried it out with tonight's feeding and enjoyed, and at the moment, Harry is sitting there, curled up on the blanket I left for him. I would not have expected any less.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Truly, A Miracle Child

Not only did I lose weight while pregnant, but according to the optician today, my eyesight improved. I had been having trouble reading and had been getting some headaches, which I attributed to the position of my head during breast feeding. Turns out my myopia went from minus 4.25 to 3.75, thank you Raphaela!

(I can see the headline: "Amazing Fat Sucking Baby Cures Vision")

Now if only she could learn better sleeping habits, we would all function better, except for Harry who waits until just the worst possible moment to desperately need food/attention/to be let out. His timing is uncanny, and straight out of the textbooks on sibling rivalry. I realized that Harry makes the perfect developmental toy for Raphaela: he's black and white, he moves and makes noise, and has a fuzzy texture.

Though her skin was flawless at birth, Raphaela started with the classic baby acne in the last week. In response, I am cutting down on the processed sugar I intake, as it gets processed immediately into milk; and I have started the baby on non-lactose formula, for the one to two bottles she gets each day. She has to look great for her American passport photo.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

All Clear!

I had my six week gynecological appointment today; my stitches are fine and every organ is back in place. I weigh exactly the 78 kilo that I started at, at the beginning of my pregnancy, and now that I am allowed to resume running, my stomach may actually get return to my previous level of fitness.

(Why can't doctors check women without sticking their fingers in the least comfortable way possible?)

I also received a very important message from my subconscious today: after investigating another, better child care option, I started crying, because I understood that I am not ready to go back to work. I am not ready to give her to someone else, to miss that time watching her grow, no matter how much I enjoy being a Chiropractor. It feels so much less important than investing in my daughter.

I love her more and more every day, even when she resists to sleep, and must find a way to make this work thing work, without traumatizing me, and without going into minus at the bank.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

First Laugh

First laugh this morning. There is nothing in the world like it.
Shabbat Shalom!

The More Things Change...

After days of phone tag and mistimed feedings, Raphaela and I finally got together with Michal and her son Daniel. We all met in the Hadar Mall in the Talpiyot area of Jerusalem, and walked around to various stores, baby and otherwise. Michal insisted that we hit some grown-up stores as well, as long as the two babies were content in their strollers; "We mothers deserve time to ourselves too," she said. Indeed, the Baby Whisperer would be proud.

Turns out, the woman in the changing stall next to us at Castro was a single mother by choice, and had given birth to her son last year, at the age of 41. The three of us talked about maternity leave and breast-feeding boob sizes, and how having a child changes your life; how one smile or laugh lights up the world, and makes you forget your annoyance or exhaustion.

Then Michal's partner Yael met us for brunch, which for me was the only full and relaxed meal of the day. As we were sitting there, one of my mother's oldest friends from college, a religious woman who tried ever so hard to hide her discomfort, came over and asked me the second most annoying post-birth question: "Well, are you ready now to get married and get your baby a father? I want to set you up with a very nice boy."

(For the record, the most annoying question has been the not so subtle prodding of patients: "Are you bored yet? Because we need you to go back to work.")

As if my happiness, and my need to focus on bonding with my child are not legitimate until it can be said that I have a proper husband. Not that I have anything against marriage, just not now, five weeks after giving birth.

I politely told this woman that I did not feel ready to start dating. What I would have loved to do as well was introduce her to my lesbian friends sitting at the table with me, simply for the shock value, but I held back on the L-word. As a Chiropractor, I did not want to be responsible for possibly harming someones physical or mental health.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Child-Care Blues

As a new parent in a foreign country, I am learning new important pieces of information every day. In Israel, there are, apparently, four different levels of child-care:

1. Baby sitter, ie the person who charges around 30 NIS per hour and comes to your home and watches your child. After having interviewed many candidates, I believe I have found one woman who satisfies my requirements and has my trust in this position; I could have her watch Raphaela while I work in my Chiropractic office, knowing that my child is in the next room with a competent and caring person.

2. Metapelet [Hebrew for Care Taker] ie a woman who takes two to three babies into her home or specific place of work. Less expensive than a baby sitter but not located in my home, so I have less information as to the details of how Raphaela spent her time. However, it gives my very alert child a chance to socialize and learn how to share.

3. Mishpachton [Hebrew for Family Center] ie a location outside the home with six to ten children and hopefully a decent ratio of care takers. They will keep your child pretty much all day, feed them and change them and make them take a nap. That kind of atmosphere spells trouble for me, at the very least because it represents way too much exposure to germs, and Israelis are not quite as careful as they should be about not keeping sick children at home.

And now we have arrived at today's story, with our number four option.

4. Maon ie a location outside the home that accepts children from the age of six months and through three years old. Like a Mishpachton, they will keep your children all day, and on the positive side, once your child gets used to the place and the people, they don't have to leave for three years, or readjust to a new situation every year.

I visited one such place today, within walking distance from my apartment. First thing I noticed was the play area outside, climbing toys inside a giant sandbox. As a cat owner, I kept thinking about what my relatively clean cat (Harry), and his less than clean street cat friends would do in a place like that. When I walked in, it smelled like fried fish, which had in fact been the lunch that day.

The babies area contained 14 children for two care takers, and at least two of the children exhibited throaty coughs and/or runny noses in the ten minutes that I stood in the room with Raphaela. This part of the nursery also contained row after row of small cribs, and reminded me of the opening scene in the orphanage, in the Broadway musical, Annie.

Though the play space was baby-proofed, the entire facility felt "institutional" to me. I felt like this was a place that I would only leave my child if I had no other choice, no matter how convenient the idea of consistency for the first three years; and no matter how inexpensive compared to other options.

I am told that not every maon feels like this, that there are high quality facilities as well throughout Jerusalem.

As a child, my parents did not have a lot of money, and we lived (at one point before moving out of the New York area, four children and two adults) in a cramped three-bedroom apartment. I started working as a baby sitter at a young age, and always sought out opportunities to earn money for myself, to help pay for basics like a new outfit, or a "luxury" like art supplies.

I always felt less-than, looked down upon by my classmates and pitied by the adults in our Jewish community. Being in this maon today reminded me of the shame and sadness I felt in my early life, and I have no intention of exposing my daughter to the same thing.

I, and my daughter, deserve better.

There He Goes Again (Obama)

As a registered Democrat who did not vote for Obama - both in the primaries and in the general elections - and as an American citizen living in Israel, I am allowed to complain.

Along with his recent snub of our Prime Minister, here comes news that Obama's health care plan includes a (penalty) fee of $750 per person, for American citizens living abroad; for my $1,500 (myself and Raphaela) we receive the privilege of a health care plan which we cannot use.

Raphaela and I already have basic and additional private health insurance here in Israel.

As a woman with her own Chiropractic clinic, I already pay a self-employment tax to the American government, as there is no reciprocity agreement with Israel on this matter. By the time I reach the age of 65, the Social Security I am owed will be bankrupt.

As a single parent, trust me that $1,500 goes a long way towards paying for diapers, especially when I am on maternity leave and not earning money at the moment.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Like Blind Dating

The process of finding a nanny feels like my previous experiences with blind dates.

You speak to someone on the phone and you get a vibe from them. You decide if it is worth the time to meet up with them anyway. You figure out how much time you will spend with them in person, so as not to be rude, and towards gathering the information you need to make a decision. You ask questions to understand if you want to get to know this person better, and in this case, if you want them to spend quality time with your child.

I am looking for that elusive "chemistry" as well as experience.

You tell them that you will call them, knowing that some people will be disappointed, and not wanting to hurt their feelings.

I spent this entire afternoon in interview mode with potential care givers for Raphaela, and came out with one candidate who fits the bill. I have three more interviewees on Sunday, and will make a decision by Monday. In any case, I see myself easing back to work part-time in the beginning, mostly because I don't want to spend too much time away from my daughter, and because I honestly don't understand how a woman goes back to work so soon after the birth.

But bills must be paid, and that represents the reality of my situation even more so, as a single parent. I am lucky enough that I have the Chiropractic as a viable and successful career, and that I can make my own hours.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Search for a Caretaker

Wanted: Responsible and experienced caretaker to take care of a infant two to three days per week. Non smokers only, English and/or Hebrew speakers. References and interviews a must.

The response I got to this ad varied from actually experienced pediatric nurses and caretakers, to grandmothers who wanted something to do during the day and to earn a little extra income, to teenagers who thought babies were "cute" and "adorable", and who wanted to use my little Raphaela as their social experiment.

One person recommended her room mate, who is unemployed at the moment but has some experience with slightly older children in a previous job incarnation. She wrote, "If I had a baby, I would trust her with my child."

All niceties aside, I challenge any man or woman who has not yet had a child to casually recommend a caretaker, no matter how good and responsible the person may be by grown-up standards. Raphaela is my treasure, I will not entrust her to just anyone. Even if the babysitter comes to my home and watches her while I work, even when I am on-site.

From the many responses I received, I singled out four to five of the candidates, and start interviewing later this week. I should also start pumping, because the sitter, whoever she is, will most likely have to take care of one feeding, and I prefer that Raphaela get my milk rather than formula.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Crash and Burn

When my mother was here, after the birth, she kept telling people that she was waiting for me to crash.

Well, one month after Raphaela's birth, I got to the point where I was so exhausted and so frustrated, that I was actually afraid that I could lose control. Last night, it took two and half hours to put my daughter to sleep. At a certain point, when she started crying again, I immediately put the baby down, and walked out of the room and counted to ten. In a scary way, and in a way that causes me much guilt, I got to a place where I was so exhausted that I could understand how ordinary, normal, intelligent and loving parents get to Shaken Baby Syndrome.

And I have spent all day today feeling guilty about even thinking about it, when it never came to that and never will.

My friend Rachel, who has three children, assures me that this is normal, and that there have been times when she has been crying, as she held her crying baby.

It would have been great, however, if I could have handed her off to someone last night, even for an hour; the most simple luxury of an extra pair of hands is unavailable to me as a single parent.

Savta Shira, Raphaela's adopted Israeli grandmother, came to the house this morning and after I had a solid cry, Shira watched Raphaela for two hours while I took a nap. Afterwards, Shira expressed amazement at how alert and active and interactive this child is, thank G-d, but to steal a quote from Stan Lee, with great power comes great responsibility. And great frustration.