Sunday, January 31, 2010

Body Image

I was sitting at a cafe with a friend yesterday, having lunch and enjoying getting out of the house with Raphaela. We started discussing my dating in the post-birth era, and I realized that I am not yet ready, and that frightens me.

Except for two women I know in Jerusalem (my Pilates instructor and a lesbian who got pregnant when already in a committed couple), all the people I know who underwent insemination and chose the status of jsmbc have not had a serious relationship, and don't seem to be going there any time soon. Some of these women have a child well out of diapers, so baby sitting is not the issue; they remain content in their situation.

I have never in this whole process believed that my child makes the possibility of a husband extinct.

For myself, it comes down to body image, two areas in particular: one, while I look forward to intimate physical contact, I don't want anyone touching my breasts. I am nursing or expressing pretty much all day, my nipples can get sore and my chest, for the moment, is under long-term rental by Raphaela. I would feel extremely uncomfortable and unattractive if milk started spurting out while I was making out with a man I wanted in my life.

Second, before I gave birth I was running four times a week, enjoyed stamina and was in rockin shape. I have lost weight since the birth - there wasn't that much to lose from the pregnancy - and am technically skinny; but naked I am mushy and have all sorts of left over marks from the hormonal drop. Again, I don't feel attractive, though you would not guess any of this from the outside, when I am clothed.

I know that if I am holding myself back in any way, a relationship cannot flourish.

If I wanted myself and Raphaela to feel secure with a non-biological father, I only have a window of several years, while she is young enough not to remember any other state.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cracks in the Ice

My father's side of the family can be found for the most part on the Ultra Orthodox side of the Jewish spectrum, and in fact, I had not heard from any of my chareidi relatives since the pregnancy.

This week, one of my aunts (who is visiting Israel for a friend's daughter's Bat Mitzvah) called because she wanted to visit me and meet my child. On the one hand, I feared that she had come to judge me for having a child without a husband, especially given that she herself has given birth to thirteen children, most of whom married at the age of 16 or 17.

On the other hand, I felt that this call represented a positive first step in the thawing of my relationship - or lack thereof- with this part of the family.

Trying not to impose my expectations upon the meeting, it went much more smoothly than I had anticipated. Other than several blatant comments about how many children she has raised and how she has "seen it all," my aunt warmly embraced both me and my daughter, took photos and raved about how she could not wait to report to the rest of the family in New York. My aunt even ate from my kitchen, which I did not expect.

Of course I have no idea what she will actually say to the family, whether it will be kind or condescending; but I can hope that the new life energy that Raphaela brings will engender a larger transformation.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

When Television Imitates Life

Last night's episode of the television series, Brothers and Sisters, made me want to laugh and cry at the same time, as I recalled aspects of the birth of Raphaela.

This particular show featured the birth of Kitty and the Senator's adopted son, and at one point, the birth mother (a successful doctor) started frantically screaming, "I want my epidural. Where is my epidural?" I felt like the script writer had attended my birth, with the anesthesiologist arriving too late to provide relief through drugs; and the rest of the birth progressing naturally ie painfully, and everyone around the mother trying to comfort and encourage until the baby got pushed out.

Amazingly, when I tell my birth story, it becomes almost an academic exercise, because nature has graciously provided the female body with the almost instantaneous ability to forget how awful it is to push a six and a half pound baby out of such a small opening. If we women remembered all the less enjoyable aspects of pregnancy and labour, we would not want to do it more than once.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Advice: Don't Read the Morning Paper

With the disruption last week in both our normal schedules, Raphaela's sleeping patterns have become more random than ever. This morning, she has been awake on and off since 2:30 am, the cat has been begging to go outside in the rain all night, and I am exhausted.

Then I read the morning paper, and forgetting for a moment the continuing tragedy in Haiti, the English Haaretz features an article entitled, "We don't live, we just survive", about a 36 year old Israeli divorced single mother with a six year old daughter; I quote below several passages.

"...I'm not able to lift my head above water. I've tried to examine in a creative way what all the possibilities are at my disposal, to increase my income and/or change my work place and/or take a mortgage, and/or to become self-employed. However, other than manipulating the system to get an allowance, and/or finding a sponsor who will pay me in return for sexual favors - I think I have tried everything."

"Since it is essential to spend money on a place to live, that is my top priority and it comes even at the expense of my daughter's food."

"...If they have not cut off your electricity and you have something more than margarine in your refrigerator, you are wasting your time [with government agencies]. So I went to the Housing Ministry to see if they would help me rent an apartment, but according to their standards too, I'm rich...I then went to the Industry, Trade and Labour Ministry because I heard they have a plan to pay for afternoon care and camps for children of single parents, but guess what? It's not for single parents like me."

"As someone who at home always heard time and again, 'There's not enough money' - I can't repeat those words myself. I have a charming daughter, she is mature and clever...I want to live respectably. I want to make it possible for my daughter to have a decent life."

I relate to this woman and having read this account, shudder to think that this could be mine and Raphaela's future. Inasmuch as I can control my own actions, I will do everything possible to avoid this scenario, but in the end it is up to a higher power than me, or the Israeli government.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mysterious and Wonderful

The ways of the Lord are truly mysterious and wonderful, and it is only since moving to Israel almost 13 years ago, that I started to see and understand feedback from the Universe, at an almost immediate level.

1. I got to see Raphaela roll over for the first time on Wednesday, instead of hearing about it.
2. I experienced the kindness of my friend, who truly rescued my sanity today and gave up three hours of his day to help me.
3. I had to post a message on janglo, as part of my attempts to find a last minute sitter.

Now here's the interesting part of the story: janglo only posted my notice today, after I had need of a sitter. Many candidates called in response, and so I started collecting names, for future use if such a situation should arise again.

In speaking to one of the women who had called, she happened to mention that in addition to her background in medicine and child care, she also cleans houses professionally. (It is the family business.) She happens to have time on Friday, a rare event indeed, and she just may be the person who will finally free me from my current cleaning person, a goal of mine for at least the last six months. I have become increasingly wary of his behaviour since the birth of Raphaela, but could not fire him until I had a replacement.

So for all my misery in the last 48 hours, several good things have already come out of it, all because my metapelet caught some version of a flu. I suppose I could also learn from this situation how to relax and trust the Greater Universe, but certain things take longer to undo.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Day Two of the Child Care Crisis

Last night, after leaving several messages, my metapelet called me back, telling me that she was still feeling too ill to work, and that in fact her nine month old son (Raphaela's playmate) seemed to getting a fever as well. In all likelihood, she would not be working until next week, and thus I should consider alternative options on the off chance that I planned on working any more this week.

In addition, her substitute would be available, but only for an hour and a half of the total time that I would need for my planned work day.

First, I got angry, because I only found out this crucial information when I should have been going to sleep, having been awake since 5:30 am that morning.

I also got frustrated because I could intellectually agree that my sitter is a human being, and human beings get ill in the Winter; and that objectively speaking I would not my daughter being in a house with flu-like symptoms for the sake of work. On the other hand, as a single parent who must work, I have come to depend on reliable day care, and when that fails temporarily, I feel like I am stuck in a frightening free fall. It becomes a vicious cycle of thinking, ie in order to pay for child care, I must work, and if I don't have child care, I cannot work.

Finally, I worried that I could not remember the metapelet's policy regarding time for which she has already been paid and in fact did not work. I don't want to bring up the topic of the eleven hours that I feel should be credited toward next month, if it will cause animosity and antagonize the one person I am trusting to watch my child.

I spent the next hour and a half on the phone and on the computer with the following results:
I posted on the janglo (Jerusalem Anglo) site that I needed a last minute baby sitter, no response.
I called my neighbor across the street, one of Raphaela's adopted Israeli family and a retiree, and she told me that she too had a cold, and did not recommend being around a baby.
I called my upstairs neighbor, she works part time out of her house, and her anti-social husband answered the phone and gruffly told me that his wife was not available.
I went through the roster of baby sitters, men and women who had come highly recommended by friends of mine who have children, and none were free to help at the last minute.
I called Savta Shira, hoping she might even have an hour to spare to watch Raphaela, she is also working during those hours.

Finally, I got through to a single male friend of mine who is currently unemployed, and he gladly agreed to give me the three hours I needed in order to take care of patients without distractions. Out of both relief and emotional exhaustion, I started crying.

Feeling the need to connect, I called my mother, who instead of listening to me and reassuring me, she gave me the parenting version of the speech, "Suck it up soldier. Now drop and give me 50 push-ups."

I politely hung up, and went into Raphaela's room and quietly sat by her crib, watching her sleep.

Can't Turn My Back on Her Now...

We can roll over! Right on schedule, and in fact, at the seminar this morning, Raphaela rolled from her stomach to her back. All by herself and two times in a row. I couldn't have been more proud, and almost cried out of the joy of being able to witness the event. (The Big Event of the day)

As well, when it was my turn to practice baby CPR in front of the group, I turned the infant doll over and automatically instinctively brought it to my breast. Everyone laughed, and the Magen Dovid Adom [the Israeli Red Cross] instructor assured me that I am not the first and will certainly not be the last nursing mother to do so. (The Funny Event of the day)

Raphaela started flirting with another baby, a boy the same age as Raphaela named Zohar, who had also been brought to the seminar by his parents. All agreed that they made a cute couple. (The Romantic Event of the day)

Unfortunately, there were several people at the seminar with hacking coughs and runny noses, and I launched into Paranoid Parent mode, trying not to expose Raphaela to needless germs. My mother, and the Chiropractor in me, knows that this represents an important aspect of her development, in terms of the immunity system; but honestly, the reason I put my child in day care with a limited number of humans was to spare her the Israeli "Pass Along the Cold" Experience. (The First Time Parent Event of the day)

The afternoon, however, was less successful. Because the care taker was ill, Raphaela and I (and Harry) had to negotiate each minute reserved for patients. The first client worked out, but already the second person took twice as long, because Raphaela was hungry and overtired and refused to be put down and absolutely refused a nap. Then Harry started jumping onto the Chiropractic table and demanded attention as well; not my most shining hour as a professional. (The Chaotic Event of the day)

I now must wait to hear if I will have child care tomorrow, or if I must cancel my work day.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Minor Child Care Chaos

For the first time since Raphaela is born, I am about to understand what happens when the child care, upon which you rely, goes a little haywire, single parent style.

My care taker called last night to tell me that she was feeling ill and feverish, and did not think it wise to bring Raphaela to her today. The substitute option is only available for half the day.

Ironically, I was planning today on going to my first professional seminar since before I gave birth, and had originally arranged to have Raphaela stay in child care longer than usual. I spoke to the organizers of the seminar, and they encouraged me to come, with baby in tow, and as I have no other real choice, it looks like Raphaela will start to learn the tricks of the medical trade much earlier than planned.

She is a contented child, and I will pack a bunch of toys and several bottles of expressed milk, and I am hoping that it will be alright. The Greater Universe has done its job as well, as all of the patients I had scheduled for the afternoon canceled, except for one woman. I am fairly certain that Raphaela will be able to play quietly, or nap, for the time that I need to do my Chiropractic work.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Oh So Thankful

My mother and I often joke that I have a "thing" against old people. I always reassure her that at the very least, when my mother needs the companionship and assistance, I will pay for the best care available.

I admit it, I have limited patience for those who are too needy or overly negative in their approach to life, as you often see in the elderly.

I also admit, with some sense of shame, that I have issues with those who are limited in their capacities in other ways.

Today, a client brought her affectionate and moderate-functioning Downs Syndrome son to the office, for a Chiropractic adjustment. I actually accomplished an exam and treatment, with lots of effort from me and his mother to work around his preferences and fears of the unfamiliar. I so admired this boy's mother, her approach and caring for him; I could not even begin to understand how she and her husband and their other (healthy) children live with this situation every day.

When I was pregnant, I would sit on my porch in the early morning hours, unable to sleep past 5:30 am. Every morning, a group of Downs Syndrome high school kids would pass by on the street below, shouting and gesticulating, and every morning, I would momentarily burst into tears and pray. Pray that the child in my belly grow to be healthy, and yes, pray that she not be encumbered with physical, mental or emotional disabilities. It will already be hard for her, having started out in a so-called Alternative Family, she doesn't need anything else.

I thank G-d every day that Raphaela is healthy and happy, and feel so grateful that I never had to contemplate the possibility of aborting a child who would be challenged.

We do, however, seriously need to work on her aversion to sleep. Perhaps she gets it from me, this need to experience life to the fullest, and at all hours of the day and night. Now I pray that G-d grant me the resources and patience to raise her, to become the person she is meant to be in every sense and to learn the lessons she must, without limitations.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Chiropractic, I'm Back

(Excuse the pun...)

My three and half months of maternity leave are now officially over, and by Israeli law, I am allowed to start working and making money. Which is a very good thing, as I checked the balance in my account last week and realized that the maternity leave payments ran out a long time ago, and that my Visa bill this month is much bigger than I remembered.

To be honest, for the first time since Raphaela was born, I have entered a state of panic about money. I want to work the minimum hours necessary in order to pay the bills and leave some breathing room, without losing time with my child. As everyone continually reminds me, "She will only be a baby once."

I am not sure that the working schedule I have devised fulfills that criteria, and while I had no problem dipping into my savings fund during my maternity leave, that account will not last forever.

This particularly becomes an issue this week, with Raphaela making every indication that she will roll over for the first time, any day now. She has arrived at a place of comfort on her side, she pulls herself over and hangs out on the precipice, waiting to decide that the moment is right to purposely and proudly roll onto her stomach. It would kill me to get an excited call from the caretaker, knowing that a stranger - albeit a caring one - had the privilege of seeing that milestone while I was taking care of patients.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Playing the Single Parent Card

The Jerusalem Pool, of which I was a member for several years and until two weeks before I gave birth, is closing its doors at least temporarily, if not permanently, in order to build yet another overpriced luxury apartment complex that no Jerusalem resident can afford.

The management knew this of this plan, and yet had me pay for a year's membership that they knew I would not be able to use, especially because I renewed in my third trimester of pregnancy.

Last week I received a letter from them, saying that I should basically "use it or lose it," and it angered me to the extent that I wrote them a letter outlining their poor and fraudulent business practices. I closed by saying that the money they had "stolen" from me could be much better used toward diapers or other aspects of my life as a single parent.

I expected either no response, or a pro-forma letter that said "Ha ha, gotcha. That's life." Instead, much to my surprise and delight, I received a check today in the mail, refunding the amount of the membership that will not be utilized.

I don't like using my status as a single parent to elicit sympathy, and yet at certain times in certain situations, it seems to do the trick. Either that, or they simply have so many people demanding refunds that they would rather cut a check than get involved in a class-action lawsuit.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Real Food

When I eat, or rather when Raphaela gives me a chance to ingest something quickly, she watches me and laughs; she finds the chewing of food hysterical and interesting. The British baby books talk about starting solid food at the age of four months, the Americans and the Israelis wait until six months, especially if the mother is breast feeding. Apparently my mother started me on solids at four months.

Last Thursday I took Raphaela for her monthly weigh-in, she has consistently gained one kilo each month and is now double her birth weight, and she measures in at 61 cm tall, so tall that she was spilling off the examination table. I think I can use this as a basis of certainty, to say that she is growing quite nicely on mother's milk.

Today, Savta Shira and Raphaela and I went to the cafe for our monthly girls' morning out, and for kicks, I put a small spoon near Raphaela's mouth. Eureka, she seemed to understand exactly what to do with her tongue, and actually seemed disappointed that there was no food on the utensil. Right now I plan on waiting until after Pessach, when she will be a half a year old, to introduce the new "grown-up" diet, but I am betting she will enjoy it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sleep Training

Raphaela has an internal Swiss clock that wakes her up exactly at 4:20 am, every morning. After speaking with the care taker ("Raphaela has no problem napping with me...") and consulting with the numerous resources I have available to me, it had become clear that I needed to let her "cry it out" for a few days, until she learned that it is not appropriate to start the day when it is so dark and quiet outside.

I would be happy if she stayed asleep until 6 am, I could work with that.

I decided that I would wait until Raphaela turned three months to start this sleep training, which mostly involves her crying and me trying to ignore it, and not cry myself or feel like a terrible parent. That birthday has come and passed, and I have already gotten through two early mornings in which I let her cry for about a half hour, and then just couldn't take it anymore.

It doesn't help that Raphaela was born to be an actress, and her range of expression when she cries includes sobs, whimpering, coughing/choking and downright screaming. It also doesn't help that I do not have a partner here who can hold my hand and comfort me, and remind me that I am neither neglecting nor abusing my child, but simply trying to teach her the ways of the physical plane of Gaea.

I know that this is best for all of us - Gina Ford's theory that a well rested mother makes a happy, healthy and contented baby - and I must muster the courage and commitment.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy Birthday

Though traditionally not celebrated, today I celebrate not only Raphaela's technical three-month birth day, but also literally the day to the year that she was conceived at Hadassah. I am lucky in the sense of knowing exactly when I became pregnant, and can say with assurance that Raphaela has existed (in some cellular and energetic form) for exactly one year now.

Without getting into the religious, political and emotionally charged definition of "life," I must admit that I have a firm belief in the concept of the soul as separate from the physical body it inhabits in each life time. I would like to think that my daughter's soul chose me as her mother in this incarnation, long before I became physically pregnant with the vessel that would house her.

I appreciate every day with her, and the joy that Raphaela has brought into my life. Thank you for joining me this journey, more to come...