Nearly 6 Weeks: Out of the Fog

May 6, 2011

Dear Hazel,

As it turns out, parenting a newborn leaves remarkably little time for blogging.  But I wanted to take a few minutes to give future you, and everyone else, an update.  You are such a strong baby!  After your surgery, you healed at an unprecedented rate!

For the first week, you couldn’t eat, so you were hooked up to an IV. You also had a chest tube, and in the days right after surgery, were intubated.  This meant that we could not hold you until you were about a week old.  We spent 6-8 hours a day at your bedside.  I read you “Little Bear” and “Island of the Blue Dolphins.”   I sang you lullabies and made up songs for you. I put my hand on your head as you slept, and admittedly, cried every day.  Anselm spent even more time with you — fitting in extra visits while I napped and staying with you when I had to pump. I don’t think Anselm slept at all — he was taking care of both of us!

11 days after your birth, we took you home from the hospital.  The doctors and NICU social worker were amazed.  TEF occurs in one in 4000 newborns, and their only other case this year stayed in intensive care for months.  You really fought for us Hazel.  You learned how to bottle feed within a day, gained weight and were crying and cooing within days of having your tubes removed.  By the time you were released, you were the biggest, strongest baby in the unit, and we were keenly aware how many of the other parents faced open-ended stays.

We followed up with the surgeon, the amazing Dr. Shin, two weeks ago.  You will have your second surgery the last weekend in June at Children’s Hospital in Hollywood.  This operation is far less invasive.  You should only stay two nights and we will be with you the entire time (save the surgery).  Anselm and I can’t help but feel anxious about admitting you back into the hospital, but we’re optimistic that whatever comes up, the three of us can get through it.

As I type, you are strapped to me in Moby wrap, your face pressed against my heart.  We’re getting used to one another and negotiating this new relationship.  I’m feeling more confident spending time alone for you.  In fact, as we were walking around the neighborhood today, I felt again like we’re a team.  Anselm has done a fantastic job caring for you. He will strap you to him and work from home when I have a yoga client or class and he takes care of the majority of your night feedings so I can sleep.  We are a happy triad, especially now that you are sleeping for four hour stretches!

I feel so blessed to celebrate my first Mother’s Day this weekend.



PS You already met three of your four grandparents!  Uh-oh — you just woke up, so I’d better post this now!

Birth Day Update

Hazel in the NICU.

March 30, 2011

Hazel Vivian McClain was born at 3:05 this morning. She is a beautiful baby, weighing in at  6 pounds, 10 ounces, with strawberry blond hair and blue eyes.  We are in love.

Now for the less fun news. Hazel was born with TEF, a tracheoesophageal fistula.  This a fairly serious, but not uncommon, condition in infants.  In Hazel’s case, she has TEF, as well as a related abnormality in her digestive tract.  Tonight, only 14 hours after being born, she had her first surgery to reconnect her esophagus with her stomach.  She tolerated the anesthesia well and is now recovering.  If all goes well, and there are no complications, we will be able to feed her breast milk in about 5 days and take her home within two weeks. She will have another surgery when she is 2-3 months old.

As you can imagine, this is very difficult for Anselm and I.  After the hard work of labor and delivery, it was gut-wrenching to have our daughter taken from our arms after 10 short minutes.   It will be even sadder to return home tomorrow with an empty car seat in the back of our Volkswagen.   Hazel is a strong, beautiful baby and we believe that she will come through this without any longterm damage (save a battle scar).  The team here at Huntington Memorial is excellent, and we were lucky enough to get assigned one of the best pediatric surgeons in Los Angeles.

So, friends, family members and casual readers, if you have the chance, please keep Hazel in your thoughts. Light a candle, dedicate your yoga practice or say a prayer for our baby.  We will probably be a bit reclusive for the next few weeks as we integrate this experience and spend many of our waking hours in the hospital with our child.  Thank you for all the love and support you’ve provided throughout the pregnancy and any positive energy you can send our way as we battle our first great challenge as parents.


Joan and Anselm

You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

Your aura.

March 21, 2011

My Dear Hazel,

I suspect this will be my final letter before I meet you. I went to the doctor this afternoon and it looks like you are on your way. I’m 2cm dilated and 70% effaced and the doctor thinks you will be here within days. I don’t want to count my chickens, but I also am fairly certain you’ll be appearing soon. Anselm and I took a long walk this evening through Elysian Park. After two days of rain, the air was crisp and clear, sunny with a delightful chill. I’m a little uncomfortable, but calmly getting everything together, enjoying this first day of Spring.

You will be entering the world at a strange moment. In the past week, Japan suffered a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami, there is a threat of a nuclear meltdown in Japan and the US is engaged in a military conflict in Libya. There will always be uncertainty and suffering in the world, and as scary as it is to contemplate all that can go wrong, the fact that babies keep being born fills me with hope.

As our time ends as “one” I want to thank you. You have given me such a gift these past nine months. My heart has opened, my soul has softened and I feel more alive than ever.  We have been a harmonious team from inside out. Despite my impatience and discomfort, I am a little sad that we’ll be separate from now on. But it’s time for you to start your journey.

Last week my friend Claire came over and took photos of us in the back garden. She caught a blue aura surrounding you in one shot — you are already so vibrant and present and I know that you have an equally vibrant life ahead of you.

I can’t wait to see you. It is impossible to explain to you how completely I love you, but one day, when you have spent nearly a year growing your own child, you’ll find out.



PS I promise to stay in touch …

Week 35-37: Ready or Not

Big cheeks coming our way ...

March 10, 2011

Dear Hazel,

I just took a walk up to the coffee shop.  On my way back, the ten-minute walk took approximately 20 minutes.  My entire belly is pulsing and cramping, so my usual quick stride was reduced to a labored waddle.  As a first time mom, it’s frustrating to not know what labor will feel like.  No matter how many books I read or classes I take, I just don’t know what contractions will feel like for me. Are these Braxton-Hicks?  A reaction to today’s chiropractic adjustment?  The result of walking up a fairly steep hill?

You had your final ultrasound yesterday.  You are six pounds, head down and have very chubby cheeks.  Anselm and I can’t wait to meet you, but we have non-refundable hotel reservations in Santa Barbara this weekend, so if you could wait at least till next week, that would be great.

But, just in case, you are really getting ready to appear, I’m going to go re-pack my hospital bag and straighten up the house.



Week 34: The Incubator and the Incubated

Incubate, then hatch.

February 25, 2011

Dear Hazel,

This week’s letter may be a bit brief.  I have had next to no energy the past few days.  I can sleep for 14 hours straight and do little else except go to my doctor’s appointments and eat.  On a good day, I can work a couple hours, finishing up my remaining projects. I still feel pretty good physically, better than I ever thought I would this far along.  The most uncomfortable I’ve been was last weekend.  We were at a restaurant with my grandparents and I had Braxton-Hicks contractions as soon as we sat down.  Anselm discreetly ran out and got some Tylenol, which, along with a ton of water, made me feel better.

As for you, you seem annoyed that you are running out of space.  You have grown too big for your acrobatics. Luckily, you are already in the head down position, waiting for your big exit.  Are you scared?  I am.  A little.  Anselm and I have gone from being impatient to anxious about all the unknowns that will arrive with you.  As the OB said this morning, you are “baked.” My friend just delivered her baby boy two weeks early.  If you want to make an early exit, I will completely support your decision! Until then, my job is to keep you warm – I am a human incubator.

Your twice-weekly stress tests have gone well so far. I, who once dreaded doctor’s appointments, have now made my peace with them.  I bring a magazine and don’t schedule anything else within two hours of my appointment.  The once surly office staff is very nice, even compassionate. (Okay, maybe I was the surly one.) No matter what time of day I go in, you always seem to be sleeping.  When you’re not moving around enough I drink half a gallon of cold water to wake you.  Is that annoying? It’s soothing to hear your heartbeat amplified for 20 minutes at a time — to feel you move and hear your movements simultaneously.  You are so close . . . I have already packed my labor bag and nervously wait for you to hatch.



Week 33: Revisions

Home is where the sunshine is.

February 15-18, 2011

Dear Hazel,

Every week I feel like my perspective drastically change and I decided it was time to revise some opinions expressed in prior entries.

In a few of these letters I mentioned wanting to leave Los Angeles, citing my dissatisfactions with its culture and environment.  Seeing as we have recently decided to live here another year, I thought I should outline what I like about the City of Angels.  After a few trips back east this autumn and winter, Anselm and I are increasingly grateful for Southern California’s idyllic November-June weather.  The cost of living is high, but we can still afford a much nicer, larger and more private home than we could in NY.  I complain that LA is shallow and that it’s difficult to make friends, but the longer I stay here, the more I find ways to connect with people and become more invested in the community.  Oddly, the more open I am to friendship, the easier it is to make friends! Besides, we finally filled the house with comfortable furniture, so we may as well enjoy it for a while and not worry about changing location in your infancy!

I have been critical, or at least wary of, prenatal care. In my first trimester blood panel, my PAPP-A levels were on the “low side of normal,” as the perinatalogist  put it.  Neither he nor my OB seemed terribly concerned, so we didn’t even bother to look up the condition.   Because of that test, I recently started fetal stress monitoring.  I go into my OB’s twice weekly and sit with two monitors strapped to my belly and then the doctor performs an ultrasound to check amniotic fluid levels.  I had my first monitoring yesterday and you received a perfect score, which is good for three days.  When I finally got around to Googling PAPP-A levels I was shocked by what I found.  Low PAPP-A levels have a correlation with miscarriage, stillbirth, pre-term labor and low birth weight.  Of the accounts I read online, it seems that the 20-week mark is the most vulnerable for developing fetuses.  I previously wrote that I found prenatal care excessive and profit-seeking.  Anselm and I resented the time, money and inconvenience of these extra appointments.  I now realize that I would much rather have cautious doctors that vigilantly screen your well-being.  I appreciate that my doctors downplayed these possibile outcomes, probably because the only thing they could do was “keep an eye on it” and “hope for the best.”  I’m gaining an appreciation for the finesse with which prenatal care providers disseminate information. Had I realized how serious the test results were, I doubt that I would have slept at all for the past several months!

Finally, I want to comment on an entry I wrote examining the dynamic between women with children and those without.  I want to make it clear that I completely respect the choice not to have children.  In fact, I wasn’t completely sure that I wanted a child until roughly eight months ago!  At the time I wrote that letter I was having a difficult time adjusting to my changing identity and I projected negativity where there was none.  Throughout my pregnancy all my friends have been supportive and loving. Inevitably I’m spending more time with my friends that do have children, but I still value those without.  In fact, I look forward to hiring a babysitter, having cocktails and enjoying a baby-free conversation that our kid-free friends can offer.

I see only positive in taking in new information and experiences and letting them broaden my point of view.  Over the past few years, I’ve worked on my ability to alter my point-of-view and admit when I’m wrong.  But no, you can’t date that older guy with the car, and I  will not change my mind about that.



Week 32: You are Not a Cat

You are not a cat.

February 7, 2011

Dear Hazel,

Anselm and I have gotten into a bad habit of comparing our cats to children.  When people talk about sibling rivalry, we give each other a knowing look, like “yep, the only solution to that is another food bowl.”  Seven years ago, when Darby was a kitten, I accompanied Anselm to a work picnic.  One of his coworker’s had a baby and I was talking to the wife about teething.  She was recounting the child’s pain and fussiness.  I actually said, devoid of irony, “I don’t have that problem because my cat was born with fangs.” Silence, followed by a polite excuse, and she was on her way in search of a non-feline centered conversation.

Tonight I was up doing work till after midnight.  Before I got into bed the cats reminded me to refill their feeding area.  I was grumbling in my head about how often I feed them and how relentless they are if I forget.  I scooped out a mound of kitty crackers and poured them in their bowl with an exaggerated, put upon sigh, as if that 20 seconds defined my life as one of obligation and drudgery.  I then had a sudden flash of late night feedings, diaper changes, tantrums, and all the demands that you will place on us, far greater than even the bossiest Siamese cat.

In our defense, I don’t think that it’s completely unreasonable for us to evaluate our pets for clues as to how to raise you.  For example, we have no boundaries with the cats.  They know how to open every door in the house, insist on sleeping on our bed, and have the uncanny ability to wake us up with intermittent chirping that resembles those alarm clocks you can’t turn off.  Anselm gave up trying to prevent them from drinking his bedside water, so now he keeps a closed Nalgene for himself and fills a glass up for them.  The big cat has a nasty habit of jumping on visitors from behind. A friend that was staying alone at our place in NY thought she was being attacked by an intruder and still hasn’t gotten over the fright. We know it’s awful behavior, but also think it’s hilarious and endearing, mainly because we can’t figure out how to stop it. We joke that the cats, over-indulged and hopelessly spoiled, have absorbed all the parenting mistakes we would have made had we had children when we first got married.

Anselm has been away for the past week on business.  My mom came to stay with me for six days and it felt really amazing to be taken care of.  Now I’m alone for a few days, which means that I’m eating minimal effort food and living in my pajamas.  I made a valiant effort to do the dishes today and the faucet broke, unleashing leaping arcs of water.  I have indulged in not being domestic for several years now and am realizing that I will need to get it together when you arrive.  These last two months of pregnancy I’m like a kid relishing the last days of summer vacation.  Come April, I’ll be a 24/7 caretaker, yet will still have to do the dishes and feed those cats.

As I finish this letter, it dawns on me . . . My anxiety  isn’t about  the new level of duty, but rather an underlying anxiety that there won’t be enough love to go around.  I think Anselm and I both worry that the exclusive nature of our love will change.  I even worry about giving the cats the same amount of attention they’re used to.  And then I remember a metaphor a spiritual teacher used to explain love:  It’s like you’re holding a flame and each candle you light is a person you love, but with every flame you light, your source flame remains just as bright. Point being that love isn’t a pie to be divided, but an endless source.  I have to trust that I’ll always know how to access it and disperse it generously.



Week 31: Baby, Take a Bow

Opening night.

February 3, 2011

Dear Hazel,

Nothing chokes me up like a curtain call.  I never cry at movies or television, but there’s something about a group of performers gleaming in the foot lights, showered in applause, that makes me well up.  The first real plays I saw were in London during my study abroad semester.  I took a theatre class, thinking it would be “interesting.”  After seeing world-class productions of Beckett, Stoppard, Pinter and Strindberg, I was in love.  My favorite part of each production was sitting anonymously in the dark, eyes brimming with tears as the actors took their bows. Despite this intense emotional reaction, I went on to study playwriting and dramaturgy instead of acting.

My performance experience leapt from the shield of guitars, to the safety of a pen, to the guarded detachment of comedy.  My wall has always been vulnerability and being vulnerable is the key to being an actor.  I admire and envy stage actors.  I may be able to face a room full of people, but I haven’t yet been able show them my truth.  I can’t even be emotionally present watching a play.  I’ll clench my jaw instead of react to an affecting scene.

My main goal for your birth is to be completely emotionally present, experience your entrance without holding anything back.   And who knows, perhaps if I allow myself to feel complete vulnerability, I will open up in other parts of my life, including performing.

I am pleased to report that during the two plays I’ve seen in the past few weeks, you kicked your way through the entire show, bouncing in rhythm to the dialogue and doing uncharacteristic somersaults and moving frantically during the applause.  Now I risk sounding like Mama Rose, but I daydream about you getting on stage, owning it confidently and showing the world how beautiful you are.  Your great grandfather had a successful career as an actor and your great grandmother was a ballerina.  Along with the musical bent on my side of the family, I’m convinced that you will take to performing as soon as you can walk!  But then I pull myself back and realize that you may be drawn to mathematics or architecture, and I amend my daydream.  You can find authenticity and expression in whatever path you choose.  I might have a penchant for performance, but I guarantee that watching you on the soccer field, in a spelling bee, or building your first robot, proud tears will wet my cheeks.



Week 30: A Highly Visible Woman

In the public eye.


Dear Hazel,

Yesterday I was picking up a few items at Target.  Two women, around my age, nearly bumped into me and then stopped, and said, very seriously, “I’m sorry, Ma’am, you go ahead.”  I thanked them and as they headed off I heard them yell, “Dude, that’s got to be rough.”  From the timing and their general tone, I deduced that they were talking about me, pushing my red plastic cart, with a bulging belly.  At first, I was a little offended.  “This isn’t rough” I thought to myself, “I feel fine.”  By the time I made it to the car and realized that I left a bag at the checkout, I thought, as I cradled my lower abdomen, slightly out of breath, “This is kind of rough.”

In my Manhattan days, I always tried to be courteous to pregnant women, offering them seats on the subway or bus.  These small acts were something I did out of form, as I would for the elderly, without understanding their experience.  It was just the visual signal, “pregnant” or “old” that altered my behavior.

Now, I am the recipient of these largely empty gestures.  Not that I don’t appreciate them, it’s just that I resent people treating me differently even if that treatment is courteous.  After a lifetime of blending in, save my years as a “girl musician”, suddenly I am hyper visible.  Despite my appetite for performing in front of crowds, which I’ve done for over ten years, I prefer to remain unseen offstage.  I dress simply, wear minimal makeup and, in general, take up little social space.  When I’m traveling outside the US, I tend to speak very little, wanting to avoid sounding foreign.  I spent half a year in London avoiding prolonged conversations, and consciously shaping my slight California drawl into a terse Mid-Atlantic affectation.  Sure, that was partly adolescent insecurity, but mainly I just wanted to operate in public without being treated as “different.”

In my college classes, while discussing race and gender, professors repeatedly pointed out that whenever you assign an adjective to someone, you are marking them as different, or outside the norm.  For example, it is unusual to clarify the terms “white” or “male” (with the exception of male nurse) because they are implied, but people generally feel the need to specify “female,” “Jewish,” or  “Hispanic.”   We use language to narrow down an individual’s identity, even more so when there is an element to that identity which seems to counter our default expectations.

I say all this not to compare my temporary state to the struggles of those that face daily prejudice in a culture that embraces whiteness, Christianity, youth and heterosexuality, just that I am experiencing for the first time what it is like for people to see me and immediately register “pregnant” instead of “person.”

There are times when I need the door held, or a cup of water, but I would like to think that people would do the same, even without a bun in the oven.  I have to acknowledge that categorizing people is something I too am guilty of.  The women I ran into in Target were a couple and I registered as, “lesbian couple” instead of “couple.”  After over a decade of living in big cities where same sex couples are as common as cracks in the sidewalk, my mind still applies this label.

And now, it’s only a matter of months before we board an airplane and every single person thinks “Oh God, a couple with a baby.”



Week 29: The Price of Admission

Price of admission to parenthood.


Dear Hazel,

This week Anselm and I have begun to hyperventilate about money.  We have never been overly stressed about our finances, but the combination of owning our own business, paying for health insurance and the dizzying weekly influx of medical bills has knocked us off our pedestal of monetary calm.

We chose a high-deductible insurance plan, which means that we pay the insurance-negotiated rates out-of-pocket until we have met the several thousand-dollar minimum.  The business still pays an exorbitant monthly premium, and although this sounds insane, it was our best option.  We are still far better off than most Americans, but I cannot believe that pregnancy, a human inevitability, costs so much.  For the money we spend on healthcare, we could buy a new car or put a down payment on a house every year!

Anselm and I both feel like we are stuck in a store, where we are forced to buy a list of products, whether we want them or not, and we’re not allowed to find out how much each item costs until months after we’ve purchased it.  Every time a bill arrives we have no idea whether it will be for $12 or $2000.  The doctors seem to have no concept of cost either.  Our OB ran a “standard” Cystic Fibrosis test in my first trimester and three months later we received a $1300 bill.  (We are still on a payment plan.)  It seems insane that it will cost about $25,000 (including insurance premiums) to bring you into the world.  A hundred years ago childbirth would have been far riskier, but the cost would have been minimal, maybe a sack of potatoes for the midwife!

I believe in modern medicine, but I am deeply cynical about its execution.  I can’t help but think that for all the prenatal care I have received, none of it has done anything to help the pregnancy along.  I am young enough, healthy, eat well and exercise regularly.  I have gained the recommended amount of weight and do not have gestational diabetes.  Although your ultrasounds are fun, they don’t help you grow. Yes, prenatal care is preventative, but it is frustrating to invest time and money for regular reminders that I am complication-free.  In fact, the only questionable test results were false alarms that caused needless anxiety.  Perhaps I am a hypocrite.  Had any of those tests had revealed a problem that could be fixed in utero, I would have been grateful and taken advantage of the knowledge.  That said, I also believe that, had my OB given me a choice, I would have incurred the minimal risk and skipped the tests.

As your due date approaches, we become increasingly wary of the birthing procedures du jour.  We took our first hospital class last week, which covered standard medical interventions.  The current C-section rate is 33%, while the national epidural rate is 90% (even higher at the hospital where we are delivering).  I think every couple deserves the right to decide which delivery is best for them.  Anselm and I plan on having a vaginal birth with as few interventions as possible.   I realize that some view us as naïve first timers, but we believe that our birth plan is achievable and are willing to adapt it to unforeseen circumstances.

We are working with a doula to serve as our advocate in the delivery room and to help us stay at home as long as possible during labor.  Apparently the farther along a woman is when she arrives at the hospital, the lower the likelihood of intervention.  I want to acknowledge that there are very real needs for intervention. If you present in a difficult breech position or are exhibiting distress, I will trust the doctors and nurses to take decisive action.  We are, after all, delivering in a hospital.  BUT, I refuse to have your entrance into this world hurried or unduly forced to save time or increase profitability.



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