Sunday, February 2, 2014

Post-baby Spousiness

Well, well, well. Look who we have here. I suspected you'd be reading this. That's why I typed it.

Today, you'll learn about some of the harsh realities of the transition to parenthood(lum) that they don't teach you in school. AND YES, there will be poop. Hopefully you'll find a helpful gem of incompetence to avoid in your own transition to parenthood; or at least a little laugh at our expense.


The past several weeks have been both the hardest and happiest. Our little boob-buzzard has grown and changed so much. Most of the her astounding feats of development that would put any of ours over the past 25-30 years to shame, have occurred unnoticed. She is constantly at work, like Data from Star Trek Next Generation, becoming more and more human each day.

On marriage.

The Spousal Unit and myself are pretty synced. We've had 14 years of exclusive schooling on the subject of each other, more than some laureates have on the subject of how cow farts affect the biosphere. Having grown up together, we're fiercely protective of one another. Why, just yesterday, some Duck Dynasty-looking, inbred, butter-fed, f--k behaved in a threatening manner toward the Spousal Unit and I felt my neck hairs bristle and my chest puff up. The guy eventually sped away in his pick-up as he was undoubtedly late for a date with his sister-wife at the seasonal corn-hole hoedown in his tooth-deprived aluminum village.

As it happened, the 10-second encounter was the fault of the Spousal Unit to begin with. In the past some mouth-breathers have asked, "Uhh, so which one uh y'all is the man", as if the fact we are both male had somehow eluded them. If there were ever a thing that would make one of us the wife, it would be the Spousal Unit's driving. In fact, I've taken to strictly staring into my phone while a passenger in a vehicle he's driving so as to avoid episodic incontinence.

Digression aside, we are indeed still in love with each other. I often compare love to a volcano. In the beginning, it is this violently passionate eruption of heat and goop. It's so hot that it burns everything around it and burning ash blocks out the sun leaving only the glow of lava to light the way. After some years, the lava slows, the sky clears, leaving an impassable mountain of strength warmed from beneath by the magma that unites landscapes from the inside out. The mountain still erupts but it has calmed into a fertile island of refuge and growth.
 

That is not to say that it is perfect, in any traditional sense of the word. Familiarity breeds contempt after all, and we're both capable of harshness. In fact, everyone knows that one couple that appears 'just perfect'. Folks look at them with envy and the couple feeds into it by saying things like, "Oh we don't really ever fight".

Oh flickerpiss!

Look, if you never fight, if you have no conflicts, if you don't occasionally want to rip off the face of your beloved, roll it into a tight little ball, and shove it where the sun don't shine, if you really have ZERO skeletons in your closet, YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG. It is how you deal with conflict that determines your strength as a lava-oozing planet-pimple.

When you throw an infant into that mix, WHOA! As much as 83% of couples experience significant marital decline when they become parents, (Journal of Family Psychology, 2008). This of course begs the question; why?

Snores

When Elle wakes up in the middle of the night either the Spousal Unit or I will stammer out of bed, put the lounge clothes back on (sometimes discovering that the cat puked in the pants in the middle of the night), pluck the squalling bundle of mushy back-side from her bassinet, place her over a shoulder to be doused in the cold, stomach-clabbered milk-puke she's swaddled in, bang a toe on the bed and make way to the kitchen. Once there, milk is selected from the fridge, placed in nuked water to warm, while we make way to the nursery.

The changing table, fraught with its own mix of midnight joys, becomes a place to bend at the waist and rest one's head for just a moment until she kicks me in the ear as if to say with her tiny, drill sergeant feet, "GET UP MAGGOT! MOVE MOVE MOVE"! Once poop and pee have been washed from both her butt and our hands, the bottle is retrieved and the beast appeased... for now.

Then, we'll lay her quietly back into the bassinet. Undress again, completely having forgotten about the cat vomit that has now warmed to 98.6 degrees, and climb back into bed. Somewhere around 30 minutes later, I'll feel sleep beginning to return, when suddenly, she decides the 120cc of milk consumed wasn't enough. Rinse. Repeat.

Chores

As you might imagine, just sleeping seems like it could be a full-time job. As adults, lacking Warren Buffet wealth, our full-time jobs are still there too. What, did someone fail to mention to you that a child is 'in-addition to', not 'instead of' the normal day-to-day routine that already leaves you feeling drained? HA! Dumbass.

The commute from hell still awaits you. The laundry, the house, the pets, the bills, the meeting, the boss, your 2-month overdue haircut, the trash, and all the other things you didn't know how you'd find the time to get done are ALL STILL THERE.


You don't want to end up feeding your baby soot from the fire you have to burn out of old furniture to warm the house so it behooves you to keep your job. You don't want to smell like that one kid in high-school that everyone assumed carried sliced onions and an open can of salmon in their pocket everyday, so you keep up with the laundry. You try to keep up with it all, and when you feel so overwhelmed by it and see that your spouse has two seconds more free time than you do, you scream at them for dumping all of this in your lap and about how unfair the workload is.

Bores

Remember that social life you've been promising yourself you'd pay more attention to? Again with the HA!

Since Elle still has a fragile immune system, crowds must be avoided. We'd prefer the diseased masses keep their skankiness to themselves. This presents a dilemma. As explained earlier, the Spousal Unit and I are best friends. We've been together our entire adult life and don't know anything without the other. We like it that way, but it makes it difficult to get out of the house and have any fun with friends since at least one of us would have to remain behind to monitor the prodigy and ensure she refrained from the manufacture of enriched uranium in our absence.

Even though the three of us have each other to talk to, we remain gregarious and want to play outside with our friends. Before long, one begins to feel a bit like the deformed kid who speaks only in grunts through a mouth of giant gums and sideways teeth that the bygone era-family would have kept locked in the attic and fed fish heads and stale bread in a bucket. You know, like Quasimodo or Anne Frank.

Given all the annoyances associated with the snores, chores, and bores, it isn't difficult to imagine a need to lash out on occasion. Since there's no one else there, it makes sense that one's spouse is a likely target. Only, it doesn't really make sense at all.

Vetted neuroscience tells us that the parental relationship is of primary importance to the developing brain of infants. When it's good, they feel safe, when they feel safe, they learn and grow, when they learn and grow, you don't have to pay for special tutoring sessions, when you don't have to pay for special tutoring sessions, you don't have to bail your kid out of jail for robbing a liquor store. When you don't have to bail your kid out of jail for robbing a liquor store, you don't have to pay for a criminal defense, and when you don't have to pay for a criminal defense, you are less stressed because you can pay for a vacation instead.

So it really does pay to have a solid volcano.

Here's what mostly working for us:
  1. Honesty. Be honest with yourself and your spouse about the fact that it is hard sometimes. Be honest AND COMMUNICATIVE about what you think and feel.
  2. Empathy. At the same time DON'T wait to be told how or what your spouse is thinking or feeling - seek to understand before seeking to be understood. Describe the emotional changes you think you see, then take a guess as to where the emotional changes came from.
  3. Share the load. Write down all the daily, weekly, and monthly chores on paper. Then take turns picking from the main list to add to one of three columns, either Parent A, Parent B, or Both, until all the chores on the main list are accounted for (we don't consider childcare a chore).
  4. Parental private time. Schedule it for no less than once a week. You know the kind of 'private time' I'm referring to! SCHEDULE IT! Who cares if some romance novelist led you to believe it should be spontaneous? Trust me. You won't regret it.
  5. Blame the baby. Remember when you are ready to kill your spouse because of all the extra work or lack of sleep or social isolation that your spouse didn't cause all of this, THE BABY DID! Blame the baby! If you have to be mad at someone, be mad at the baby. If you're like us, this will prove impossible, leaving you mad at no one.

So with all of that said, is there ANY JOY to be had? You'll be happy to hear that we have never been happier. Our love is now ginormous at a magnitude 9.9. We are sleep-deprived, socially-isolated, over-worked, vomit-covered bliss-bunnies filled with more oxytocin than you can shake a stick at.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Well it's official. We are now and forevermore Daddy (Byron) and Papa (Jonathan). The last post discussed the "Zombie Period", and despite my melodramatic attempts at a comedic style of writing, I can accurately assert that the transition to parenthood was underestimated. So pardon me, dear reader, for not having updated you before now. What follows is an explanation of the good, bad, and ugly. Prospective adoptive parents read with the understanding that your experience will be unique.

The Good

Elle is beautiful. I was privileged enough to be there for her birth. I suppose I expected a knight on a white horse, each with several attendants standing on either side of the birth canal blowing long gold horns while a town-crier harkened, "HEAR YE, HEAR YE..." as she squished her way through the final passage into the world amid cheering crowds throwing confetti and streamers. While there wasn't nearly as much fanfare as expected, she was squished out.

There was a final push, a few inaudible mutterings of the physician and nurses and all of a sudden, what looked like a large, boiled, white haggis or bratwurst was flopped up on top of a hospital gown. When she began squirming I realized the doctor would not be slathering her with barbecue sauce and that we were dealing with parenthood instead of a picnic.

The hospital was a 5-hour drive from home. Since Elle was so tiny, I worried somewhat that I would lose her in the padding of the car seat. See, there is something quite magical that happens to you when you become a parent. You go insane. You become acutely aware of any and everything that poses even a modicum of risk to the wellbeing of your sausage.

Every bump in the road seemed twice as bumpy. Everybody was driving at ridiculous speeds. Birds were flying too close to the car (you know 100 ft. up or so). The sun was shining too brightly, and the Spousal Unit, who was driving, couldn't have paid close enough attention if his nose was scraping the pavement.

On occasion, the anxiety-inducing state of parenthood would overcome me. I'd become near frantic, fearful that the car seat would give her drain bamage. Thankfully, it didn't. No, Elle was fine. She woke up once during the trip home for a bottle, but was otherwise survived the trip in good humor. I thought I would collapse at home after the harrowing ordeal, but Elle had other plans.

The first night home was no less daunting. At one point, I held her while she slept and just flat out WEPT like I had a menstrual cycle at her stunning beauty. I kissed her forehead and my tears landed on her cheek. I kissed her hand, her tummy, and then her toes. It was that moment that she decided to fart in my face, as if to say with her tiny gluteus, "Cheer up, Daddy! We're home"! This is not surprising as we tend to do a lot of communication through flatulence in this house. Who knew she would be born a master of the musty Morse Code?!

Since then, we've adapted quite well. Many nights she'll sleep 5-6 hours at a time. She smiles a lot, but it is hard to tell if she smiled because she heard our voice, because she had a funny thought, or something tickled her little hiney. It's hard to tell much about her personality yet as she mostly eats, sleeps, poops, and pees.

Having consumed much of the established and vetted neuroscience regarding baby development, we've done our best to provide lots of face-time with her. We speak in parentese, which is characterized by drawn out vowel sounds and a pitch that requires a grown man to draw his testes up to his pelvis. She seems to respond to these and other efforts inquisitively. In fact, if I had to describe what I know of her personality so far in one word, I would say "curious".


When she's not sleeping or eating, she is studying. Intently. Her color-changing mysterious eyes become fixed and her brow furrows slightly while her head tilts to the side. Her little brain is mapping and memorizing the world around her. She has already learned the word hungry. She can't say it, but if asked (in parentese), "are you hungry", she hones directly in on the speaker stops crying and opens her eyes wide with a look on her face like someone just opened the arc of the covenant.

John Medina proposes five ingredients of intelligence in his book "Brain Rules for Baby". These include: self-control, inquisitiveness, creativity, verbal and nonverbal communication. I worry that self-control will be her challenge because it is the biggest challenge for her birth-mother, and there are times when she already has the bottle in her mouth and yet she uses her little hands as if she's trying to grab and pull the whole bottle into her throat. As with most things, I'm probably over-thinking it.

We've been swimming in the bath tub, toured her new house, and spent hours just gazing at each other, nibbling on her tummy and toes, giving her baby facials, back rubs and foot massage. We sing to her, tell her she's pretty everyday, and read stories together. Luca (the pup) and Kisho (the puss) both love her too. Luca seems watchful and protective, while Kisho likes to lay next to her.

Like a new issuance of common stock is to the assets of a publically traded firm, our love has been divided, but each piece is bigger than before making us all one big happy pie-chart.

The Bad

On a more serious note, Elle was born at least a month prematurely. The OB induced at a presumed 36 weeks because the mother had cholestasis of pregnancy, a fairly uncommon and largely benign complication affecting approximately 1 in 1000 women. The cause isn't really known and, assuming both mother and child are treated with medication throughout the pregnancy, there are no lasting effects after delivery. The caveat is that most babies born will need to be delivered by 38 weeks gestation as the risk of still-birth increases exponentially for these babies beyond that.

Both the routine OB and a High-risk OB were monitoring Elle three times a week for any signs indicating it was time to deliver. Despite the physicians' warnings about the serious risks of pulmonary and cardiac complications resulting from delivering unnecessarily, the birth-parents insisted.

As a result, Elle was unable to breathe when she was born. They rushed her immediately to the NICU where they worked fervently to save her life. After a couple of hours, one physician came to tell us that they feared bilateral bronchial dysplasia and pulmonary hypertension (PH). She said that babies with PH are usually very sick babies that don't do very well, and that the next several hours were very critical.

When we were finally allowed to see her briefly, we returned first to the maternity wing to see if the birth-mother wanted to come down with us. She laughed and said she hadn't had anything to eat since the day before and since the cafeteria was closing she thought it was more important that she get something to eat. So we went without her to see our baby with machines doing the work her body should be doing and tubes coming out everywhere. It was the hardest thing of my life.

Eventually, we had to return to our hotel not knowing if she would live the night. She did. She's strong.

Over the next 18 days, we watched her improve day by day. She grew stronger and stronger as she got closer to her due date. PH was eventually ruled out, along with every other major problem or disease. Obviously, we did not anticipate spending 18 days away from home in a hotel 5 hours away. We never anticipated how hard it would be to watch our child suffer. I can honestly say that had it not been for each other, the grannies, the NICU staff, and money, we couldn't have made it.

One day, in the wee hours of the morning, I sat awake in our hotel room, with my mind still in the NICU. And although I probably haven't written poetry since I was a confused teenager romanced by Poe and all things bleak, I wrote the following poem for Elle. It seems to sum up the experience well:

"Heroine" - Byron
 
Laying here apart from you another winters night,
Feigning sleep I dream your monsters are my battles to fight.
You are my heroine.
Your breath is quick, tugging against the stringent air,
And while I wish it was my burden to bear,
You are my heroine.
Your never-ending day under burn of artificial sun,
Must incite your appetite for night, my little one.
But you do not cry, you are my heroine.
What...
is touch? What is dry? Who are they? Who am I, to you with the flashing dark eyes?
I fear you are afraid.
I'd die with courage to be your strength and leave the war behind,
I wish I could be your hero, little girl, but as it happens, you are mine.
 
 
The Ugly
 
Our experience will probably be different from most, but the story, the truth, is worth telling. I wish I could say that our adoption went smoothly like those you see on popular television programs like "I'm Having Their Baby", but it didn't. It was nothing like that.
 
Our match seemed fairly innocuous, but it wasn't long before a trend emerged. The birth-mother would call almost daily with some sort of crisis. Usually, it was a knock-down drag-out fight between her and the birth-father. I'd fall back on my leadership training and encourage self-reflection through rephrasing, validation, and empathy, but for some reason that never seemed to be enough. It wasn't long before we realized something was seriously wrong.
 
The first time we met was full of its own positives, but there was also the darker side. On numerous occasions the birth-mother would have tantrums. She'd scream obscenities, throw things, slam doors etc. On one occasion, we allowed them to stay in our guest room while they were visiting Fort Worth. In hindsight, this was a mistake. We'd been to Wal-Mart because she was shopping for a new prepaid phone. When they didn't have the one she wanted, she began to get visibly upset.
 
When the birth-dad tried to calm her down she blew up in front of god and everyone yelling "fuck this" and "screw that". When we returned to the house she ran down the hallway to the guest room, threw herself on the floor with her head in the corner and sobbed dramatically screaming like a kid throwing a fit. The next morning, another display because breakfast wasn't ready for her when she awoke and she didn't want to have to ask.
 
For labor day, we met them on the River Walk in San Antonio. Of the several tantrums she threw while there, one was particularly memorable. She was ready to eat. Being a holiday, everything on the River Walk had at least an hour wait. She didn't want to wait an hour, so we suggested getting off the River Walk and heading to the outskirts of town, but she wanted to eat on the River Walk. Since no one was able to reconcile her desires with reality, she began screaming amid the sardine cans of people travelling up and down the sidewalks.
 
Eventually she worked herself into such a state that she threw herself down on the concrete, cast out the entire contents of her purse while literally screaming, "F--K YOU, TOM, F--K YOU" (name of the birth-dad changed for privacy of course)!
 
Although the vast majority of our experience of these tantrums occurred by phone rather than in person, they occurred over the entire 6 months at least weekly. They pale in comparison, however, to her attempts at manipulating the men around her, namely, the Spousal Unit, myself, and the birth-dad.
 
Frequently she would have separate conversations with which she later tried to use to pit people against one another. She told such fantastic versions of the truth so often that she couldn't keep track of what she'd said, and worse, appeared unconcerned by anything she'd ever said prior to the present moment's lie. She used the pregnancy and the adoption as a source of power over the people in her life, and an excuse for everything she didn't want to deal with, like vacuuming, dishes, laundry or bathing. However, despite being utterly crippled by her pregnancy Monday through Friday, she usually made miraculous recoveries just in time for any sort of recreational activity.
 
She would call us after her doctor appointments to tell us that something was horribly wrong, but would then refuse to tell us what or to allow us to speak with the doctor. She'd cite such reasons as, "No, they won't let you speak with the doctor because I'm too far along and it is against their policy. Trust me, I've spoken to the head of Medicaid and it's some new law because of Obama."
 
At one point, when she slapped her stomach and shouted, "STOP IT YOU F---ING IGNORANT IDIOT", I mistook her message as being meant for me. When I questioned, she said, "No, not you. I was talking to Elizabeth. She won't quit moving in there!"
 
Eventually we questioned whether it was a good idea to continue with the adoption. We worried about what effect the birth-mom's genetic material would have on our daughter and dove head-long into extensive research on the subject. During that time, the cholestasis was diagnosed which became a new subject of study. Interestingly, one of the more rare effects of the complication is temporary psychosis in the mother.
 
AH HA! We thought surely that was the problem, but unfortunately, it wasn't. After Elle was born we took the birth-mom to the mall to pick out Elle's going-home outfit at the Baby Gap. We thought it would provide her with some emotional comfort and closure. While browsing the shelves, she suddenly screamed out, "OH SHIT, I LOST MY WALLET!"
 
The theatrics that ensued thereafter dwarfed any prior. She stormed through the mall yelling at cashiers saying things like, "You don't understand! If I set my wallet down and some f--cking n-gg-r walked off with it, I'm going to be so pissed, I'm going to sue everyone!"
 
This went on for a couple of hours. Eventually she became tired and we left. These examples are but a few of the relentless behaviors we dealt with. Usually, we were quiet and just stood back observing in disbelief. I mean, what do you do? For Elle's sake, we kept quiet.
 
So fast forward. Drama, drama, drama, then, finally, all the papers are signed. We are home. At one point, she had called once and texted once, and because we hadn't responded in timely fashion (since we were at the doctors office), she left the following message:

video 
 
Later, it was time to have our post-placement home study. We told the Social Worker about everything we'd experienced and about the fact that both the birth-mom, and the hospital Social Worker (with birth-mom's permission and in her presence) told us that Child Protective Services had removed children from her before and terminated her parental rights to her two previous children forever.
 
In response to this, the Social Worker recommended in the verbiage of the home study and to us, that if we decided to allow visitation, it should be outside of the home in a neutral location and always with our supervision. She has called each week wanting to come and spend several nights in our home. We've explained politely, that we are not open to that, much less anything other than sleeping a few hours at a time and tending Elle's needs 24 hours a day. When she persisted,  I came right out and told her that we would not be comfortable having her stay over night and that when we feel ready we might be able to meet up somewhere, but that she would need to stay in a hotel.
 
Well of course she didn't like that answer and began screaming over the phone because the Social Worker was a "lying bitch for saying I can't ever visit her". I reiterated that no one said she'd never be able to visit her, but rather that we weren't open to it right now (we can barely hold our eyes open), and that when we deem visits appropriate, it would be outside of our home.
 
She then began threatening me. She said, that if we didn't let her in within three months, she and her lawyer would be taking us to court. At that point, I hung up the phone. Rarely do I assert what I have a "right" to, but in this instance I felt comfortable exercising my right not to be yelled at or threatened. I unfriended her on facebook. If it was her intent to take us to court, then she can communicate with our lawyer.

Shortly thereafter, she called back and left the following message:

video

Suffice it to say, we feel obligated to protect our daughter from exposure to people who behave the way her birth-mom has. Right now we've chosen to ignore the situation and focus on the incredible blessing that has become part of our life. We will always honor and respect the birth-mom's choice to place Elle with us for adoption. We can feel for and empathize with her struggles and the difficult emotions she deals with. We will always appreciate and care for her for that if nothing else, but we will not expose ourselves or our daughter to that.

Hopefully, she will get some assistance. Hopefully, she'll discover what it takes to make her life better once and for all. Hopefully she will find peace and happiness, but helping her achieve happiness and balance is beyond the scope of our abilities and know-how. It is regrettable.

In the meantime, we're living in the good and learning to be Daddy and Papa to one beautiful, special, little princess, and standing in her amazing glow, nothing else matters but her. Now and forevermore.

 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Working the Zombie Period

We are both particularly blessed in our work. The Spousal Unit works from home as an Information Technology Manager. Basically, he's like Tank from The Matrix, reading the codes, making sure his teammates can dodge bullets.

This sometimes makes me jealous when I think of how comfortable pajamas are, and how nice it would be to be able to mine for the odd nostril-clinger without restraint. There's nothing so embarrassing as flaring your nostrils at the mirror in your office, Kleenex in hand, when someone walks in to meet with you. It's so awkward. You just have to muddle through the meeting, but you both know what they saw. You both know.


I am a Senior Executive Director (sounds fancier than it is) in the largest senior healthcare company. I spend my days working with crazy people a lot like Sybil or Dorey the Bluefish. Together, these crazys and I take good care of those with Alzehimer's and related dementia. I genuinely love the work I do and the people I work with. We are truly a family - we may be the Addams family, but we're a family just the same. Somehow or another, I am their fearless leader; their Gomez Addams. How could I leave them?

Perhaps I'm conflicted by some misguided, misplaced paternal instinct. Leadership, I imagine, must not be that different from fatherhood. I teach and guide them, defend and protect them, pick them up when they fall, and help them believe in their ability to accomplish more than they expect of themselves. Occasionally, they throw up or dump their poop on me (verbally at least). They are important people in my life. Thankfully, everyone is potty-trained, or really good at hiding the fact that they aren't.

When planning for the initial portion of the transition to parenthood, the Spousal Unit and I discussed each taking a bit of time off from work. At first, I wondered how I would be away from work; how I would leave them unattended. What would people think? Is it normal? Will my bosses treat me weird?

Then I come to my senses and realize that everyone's poop will still be there, and that if need be I can help everybody get their poop in a group again upon my return. After all, I do have more sick-time than god. They'll survive, and so will I. Besides, according to my research, no amount of coffee will remedy the harrowing sleep deprivation that will undoubtedly turn us into zombies scrambling to find our brains as we inadvertently stir formula into our morning beverage, fall asleep while peeing and dream of the day child-safe sleep aides will be invented.

Being away until we get into a groove just makes sense. No. No one wants to see their fearless leader with bags under his eyes so bad that Louis Vuitton wants to brand them. To allow sufficient time for the under-eye area to return from my chin, we think 3 or so weeks away will do.


The day is fast approaching. Soon, we'll be learning to sleep for 1-2 hours at a time, make a bottle one-handed, clean vomit out of our hair without having to shower, and the difference between the "poop all the way up the front cry" and the "I'm just going to scream for no good reason until you question your sanity cry". We'll give. She'll take. Period. And we'll LOVE every gruesome, messy, poopy, cranky, puking, alarm going off 5 seconds after having fallen asleep, whining, diaper-buying minute of it!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

11 Questions, 11 People

Greetings Earthlings! With a few minutes to sit and type, I thought it wise to carpet the "M". For those of you that don't know, that's Aladdin for "seize the day". So let's get this party started.

On Saturday, a bit of sunshine visited my email inbox. Really. Apparently, people actually read, or at least attempt to read, the cerebral incontinence I have made a habit of recording here. Those same people have nominated me for a "Sunshine Award". It's a bit more like a public outlet for a chain letter than an actual award, and given the rules of acceptance, it should eventually be passed to everyone that keeps a blog on the subject of adoption, much like that weird Christmas present you plan to re-gift that will no doubt be re-gifted dozens of times.

Still, I feel special just the same. Knowing that my journey has meaning for someone other than myself makes me feel ever-so-slightly less like that homeless guy we saw on the sidewalk at the gas station shouting "HEY" at himself over and over again. Poor sod. Why do crazy people have to let their hair get like that?!? If I had to fashion a cutting tool from empty tin cans, make styling product from puddles of motor oil, and wash my hair in a urinal, I would have good hair, but I digress.

The award asks a series of 11 questions to which I am to provide answers. Then, I'm supposed to pass the award on by nominating 11 other bloggers and composing 11 questions for them to answer. This places me squarely amid a presumably peculiar predicament. See, I don't read anyone else's blog. Perhaps I'll start, so long as it doesn't interfere with my hair. In the meantime, I'll track down a handful of other people's blogs that pique my interest and nominate them.

On to the questions they've asked:

1)Name a favorite memory from your childhood that you want to have with your child.

Cardboard. That's the name I would give the memory. I couldn't tell you where it came from, but I remember being very little and my mother helping us to make a house out of the cardboard box a refrigerator came in. We cut a door and windows with shutters. We drew shrubs and flowers on the front, made curtains out of paper towels, and had a smaller box inside for a table with milk crate chairs. 

What strikes me about the memory is that we had plenty of toys to play with. It wasn't that we lacked or wanted for anything, just that she wanted to play with us. Thanks to her valuable play-lessons, I am prepared to live style and comfort even if all I've got is a box.    

2)What is your favorite movie and what does it mean to you?

Until recently, this would have been a very straight-forward answer. Now, this is tied between "What Dreams May Come" and "Cloud Atlas". Both have a very similar existential message: we create ourselves through the eyes of others, and it is in the reflection of love in those eyes that we live forever. 

3)What is the parenting moment you are most looking forward to?

The parenting moment I am most looking forward to is the Spousal Unit getting shit, pee, or puke in the face. Quite honestly, I'm most looking forward to seeing him grow into Papa. We both believe the greatest give we will ever give the little miss is our love for each other and for her. It is possible to divide this kind of love and it not be lesser.

4)What is your first childhood memory?

My earliest childhood memory would be me, in tighty-whiteys and a giant over-sized t-shirt that hung to my ankles, recounting how I'd caught a fish bigger than my dad's to a living room full of my parents guests. Or, being asked by my mother after getting home from kindergarten where I'd learned the word, "fuck", and why I would tell a girl "fuck you" because she stole my dump-truck in the sandbox. 

5)How did you meet your significant other?

Significant is a strong word. I prefer Spousal Unit. It encompasses everything. Let's face it, a spouse should be EVERYTHING; and he is. Sometimes he makes me all squishy and emotive. Other times he validates my theory that under the right circumstances, anyone can have homicidal thoughts. Sometimes, he rocks my world, other times, he is my rock.

We met through friends at a movie night. He was 19, I was 21. We both smoked, because of course canary-yellow teeth were fashionable then. I was actually recovering from surgery and having difficulty reaching for the ashtray. He jumped up from across the room and grabbed it for me, put it in my hand, and then sat next to me. GAWD! How Jerry Springer does that sound nearly 14 years later?

6)What has been your favorite adoption moment so far?

Seeing her face and hearing her heartbeat on 3D/4D ultrasound.

7)What is the best advice you have gotten about adoption?

The best advice we've been given came from a 82yo woman who raised two adopted children. Both had problems, both turned out just fine and very successful. She said, "Just remember. People will tell you adopted children are different from biological children. Those people have typically never raised an adopted child. They will have problems, just like any child, and just like any child you just love them. Love them, love them, love them, and everything will be all right".

8)What makes you laugh?

I laugh hardest when someone falls, bangs their toe, or is startled or spooked. Sorry if that makes me sadistic.

9)What have you been doing to prepare for the day you adopt?

Read my blog and find out.

10) What is the last book you have read?

At present I'm about half-way through "Brain Rules for Baby" by John Medina. I'm kind of a neuroscience buff.

11) What scares you the most about raising a child?

Boys.

That's it. My 11 questions answered. Stay tuned for our next episode where we discuss telepathy and labor laws. Now I'm off to find 11 people to Sunshine (kind of sounds like the opposite of mooning someone).

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Chowning Alliance

Hello blog-nerds! It has been Monday all day. Mondays and chaos seem to share an inexorably intertwined fate akin to the bond between a tick and a fat hound. Despite the Monday doldrums, I managed to leave work at 5:25pm and decided that with all my extra time I'd update you on our journey down the bumpy road toward parental bedlam.

Apparently, children, especially of the infantile variety, do strange things like puke and poop a multitudinous pallet of colors that completely bewilders the mind when compared to the monochromatic stuff that actually went into them. Supposedly, this mystical ability to transmogrify infant formula into liquids and solids across the spectrum can, in certain situations, be indicative of, or predict health, sickness and various other conditions.

This of course begs the question: can the emesis of babies be examined and interpreted to find the winning lotto numbers? Stay tuned. I'm sure the answer will befall us.

You may wonder why one would suddenly be interested in poop health, and if you'll shut the hell up and quit interrupting, I'll tell you. According to our research, and the demands of the Maternal Birth-Nerd, it became necessary for us to find a pediatrician. Simple enough right? Not so much.

As soon as you realize you need something, and that there are numerous choices, you find yourself instantaneously plagued with the fear of choosing the wrong one! This is quite an alien feeling for me as I make decisions for a living. Aside from making decisions that sway millions of dollars and profoundly affect people's lives, I decide things like what I want for dinner, what I want to wear to work, and whether or not to take a break now, or try and hold it until I get home.

There are even lots of people that depend on me to make decisions for them or about them, like the marketer who asked what I thought about her look to which I responded, "Sweetheart, the hair, the ankle-length denim? Honestly, you look like a Pentecostal. Can we at least do something fashionable with a haircut and some accessories"? In hindsight, the decision to recommend a few changes was correct and warranted. The decision to make a comparison, probably not - seeing as how, unbeknownst to me she was a Pentecostal.

WHOOPS! Open mouth, insert politically incorrect foot.

Anywho, lots of decisions. These don't typically prove difficult, but as with any decision, the endless research ensues. A brief consultation with the all-knowing interweb as interpreted by the metatron Google, reveals a plethora of pediatric people from which to choose.

Search terms like, "how to choose a pediatrician", generated countless lists, each with their own criteria. One thing I've learned though my years in healthcare is that you want doctors that are board-certified. Nowadays it may be tougher to find someone restricting their practice to pediatrics that isn't board-certified. Nonetheless, you'll want to be sure to avoid taking your child to a doctor who just got tired of doing breast implants and Botox and swapped out the sign on their door. Besides Babies would just look weird with the Hollywood frozen face.

A board-certified pediatrician means the doctor completed high-school, four years of college, passed the MKAT (entrance exam), then four years of medical school, then 3-5 years of residency in their chosen specialty, like pediatrics. They've also passed numerous exams along the way to get their license. They're also required to complete hours of continuous education each year to keep both their license and board certification.

Damn, I should've been a doctor. Had I known where my surplus education was taking me early on, I probably would've been. Probably would still, but the Spousal Unit has forbade me from the pursuit of further education for fear that my brain will SPLODE (and probably because he misses me when I'm a bookworm).

Ok, so board-certified. Next, distance. Let's face it, no parent (maybe with the exception of my mother) who is sleeping a couple of hours a night is going to want to have to get up, get dressed, pack-up, and travel to a remote doctor at the end of a 500-mile yellow-brick road, only to find out they were dreaming the whole damn time and Auntie Em was really there all along.

So we decided to begin our search with board-certified pediatricians within a ten-mile radius of home. We found the healthgrades website which helped. The parameters help narrow search results.

Since our chosen doctor will likely be following the Progenal Unit (yes, my word) until she is much older, we didn't want a doctor who had already aged enough for their face to look like a scrotum with eyes, which would no doubt cause her to run screaming from the exam room. It wasn't all about looks, as it was also important that we be able to relate from a generational perspective with him/her.

We also hoped to find someone a little bit nerdy, like us. Nerds are good peoples. Next, we went to the Texas Medical Board's website and researched the licensure of the few that we'd narrowed it down to. We zeroed in on just a couple that we wanted to interview in person.

Next we compiled a long list of questions from the almighty interweb and our own values. We reviewed the questions and decided on the answers we wanted to hear from the doctor prior to hearing the doctors answers. The healthcare executive side of me wanted to pick apart the business of the practice to ensure fiscal responsibility and solvency. The nurse side of me wanted to delve into the standards of care and compliance. In the end, the adoptive parent side of me had me all squishy and receptive. Totally weird.

The first test was an email to the practice to inquire about a meeting with the physician of choice, Dr.
Chowning of Alliance Pediatrics. Of note, I think it would be AWSEOME TO THE MAX if he changed the 'H' to an 'L', but then I recall children on the playground calling me Byron "Pounds" instead of Bounds and wonder if he endured similar torment. Better keep that thought to myself.

The email signature, "Thanks, Byron and Jonathan Bounds", would give us a chance to say, "Hey, we're adoptive parents, and we're same-sex adoptive parents". Yes, we know the world has grown up a lot, but you never know when a doctors office or, say, a fast-food chicken sandwich chain will voice their opposition to your family. And to Chick-fil-a, learn to spell your logo, you dumb bastards - it's Chicken Fillet.

Surprisingly, the response to our email was not only immediate, but an exuberant warmth seemed to exude from Terri's words (the gal who replied). Of those emailed, Dr. Chowning's office was the only that replied. Family acceptance test: CHECK, Responsiveness test: CHECK.

We made an appointment according to Terri's directions and went by the practice after hours. It looked cute as a button, smelled clean, and I didn't notice cobwebs. Cobwebs are a sign of complacency! Also, despite having droves of children through each day, the books and magazines were surprisingly straight and organized. Appearances test: CHECK.

Then we got to visit with Dr. Chowning. Nerdiness test: CHECK.


He was awesome. Despite our preparedness, it was an experience that made me a bit nervous. This is weird, because I don't do nervous. Dr. Chowning was in no hurry. He answered all of our questions as though he had been prompted for the interview beforehand. He appeared green enough to be passionate but learned and experienced enough to handle whatever, especially since he has FOUR CHILDREN of his own! He's only a year or two older than I am which means his parenting experience will be fairly relevant to ours.

When we were satisfied with his answers and what we could glean of his character of the brief encounter, we decided to end the meeting, but had a distinct feeling he would have liked it to be longer. Again, this is weird. Most docs are in a hurry and of a mind to give little credence to your inherent lack superior knowledge. Dr. Chowning was weird. Weird is kickass!

Pediatrician found: CHECK!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

On the Moon of Baby

Life goes on, and life begins.

Having recovered somewhat from the intense feelings that led to my last post, I press on to the experience of new things.

This story begins on November the 11th, 2013. Actually it begins long before that with what the Spousal Unit calls nagging, and I call friendly reminders. A while back, we decided that a last hoorah was in order. Aside from not having taken a proper vacation in about five years and having become nearly lifeless, cheese-chasing automatons, we thought it would be nice to spend some time alone.


We needed to say goodbye to it being "just the two of us".

We decided on spending a week at a lovely spa resort in Puerto Morelos. The week would touch on five areas of life including: Physical, Cognitive, Social, Spiritual, and Nutritional. Each of these areas will change and grow in the near future.

As it happened, day 1 would prove to be highly stimulating cognitively. See, the Spousal Unit is a special creature. If one doesn't make the correct noises when approaching, it may become spooked and growl or bite. So, to get anywhere, you have to hold your mouth just right. Let me give you an example:

Spousal Unit Safe: "Dear, do you think we should plan for the trip by making a checklist prior to our departure weekend?"

Spousal Unit Unsafe: "Please make a list of everything we need to pack. We don't want to be unprepared."

Get it? One is all about his ideas, the other is not. The latter of the two may be unpredictably dangerous.

I have a "big picture" perspective in life, while the spousal unit has the more detailed "pin-point perspective". Both are beneficial. The Spousal Unit will often help me avoid being overly-concerned with that which has yet to happen or to have fun in the moment, while I help him draw connections and switch focus. Despite our symbiosis, on occasion, these opposing perspectives ever so gently bump one another like sub-atomic particles in the Hadron Collider.

After a handful of "friendly reminders" I have two options: get frustrated, or let it go and trust that everything will work itself out. Day 1 of our vacay didn't turn out to be one of those instances where it all worked out. We missed our flight.

OH LAWD! You would have thought someone was murdered. "Let's just forget the whole damn thing! This is fuckin' stupid and pointless", the Spousal Unit was heard to say while his face turned an ever brighter shade of nuclear fuschia.

When one of the people of Wal-Mart, masquerading as TSA agents, began raising her voice at the crowd to "MOVE TO THE RIGHT PEOPLE", I worried briefly that I would have to restrain the Spousal Unit from slapping her nicotine-stained, gold-toothed mouth so hard that the Aqua-net shell on her bleached-blonde, beehive bangs would shatter into shards and injure the surrounding crowd. Thankfully, I was eventually able to calm the beast and we caught the next flight out.

When we finally made it I was surprised to see just how jungley Puerto Morelos is. EVERYTHING was green and lush. During our stay we enjoyed a fantastic excursion that included a tour of four cenotes (sink-holes). When the shuttle arrived to take the group from the hotel we were a little taken aback when the tour-guide said that we should move further forward in the bus because we'd be going off-road shortly!

He was SO not joking. After what seemed like an hour of driving through jungle so thick we could scarcely see the sky, and thinking at least twice that we were being kidnapped and sold into slavery, we arrived. The cenotes were beautiful. We snorkeled, zip-lined, kayaked, and rappelled through and in underground pools and rivers of electric-blue waters.

The only problem I had with the whole experience was when it was my turn to rappel from a high-platform down into a rocky hole in the earth to the waters below. We were told that a staff member would be atop the platform holding our brake line to gently lower us in. When I surmounted the structure, I noted the nice Latino gentleman charged with my brake was about 5' tall and weighed something like a young girl. I'm 6'2.5 and 225lbs.  

I questioned him for assurance that he would be able to keep me from splattering on the rocks below. Of course he said, "No, senior, is ok. You go". I went alright - damn near down my legs. When I departed the platform I heard a large grunt behind me and felt the rope jolt as I dropped suddenly about two feet before he said, "Iiiee", and managed to stop the rope. You'll be happy to know that I made it safely into the cave, although it was tempting not to relieve myself once I was in the water.

By the second day, we'd relaxed into this magical aura of forgetfulness that allowed us to focus completely on one another, and the rest of the world to melt into nothingness. We ate beautiful foods, took long walks on the beach, napped in hammocks, went horseback riding through the jungle, shopped, played in the sand and even treated ourselves to a spa day.

On the final day of our babymoon, preparatory ritual, we adopted new names. We each had the little crafts-man make us a bracelet. One said "Daddy" and one said "Papa". We wrote our names in the sand and dedicated the rest of our life to one beautiful little-girl-to-be.



The entire experience was sublime and one we can recommend emphatically.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Hole

This will be a sad post.

It seems like people from all walks of life deal with loss whole host of ways. Professionally, we refer to the process of coping with loss "grieving". Some people deal with loss by surrounding their self with friends and loved ones. Some people turn to a bottle of some sort. Some internalize everything, dimming their light just by a little for the rest of their lives.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross  taught that there are five stages of grieving: 1. Denial, 2. Anger, 3. Bargaining, 4. Depression, and 5. Acceptance. Although for a long time this was commonly accepted wisdom, it was erroneous in its presumption that people slowly and predictably recover from loss.

In my work, I've given numerous talks on the subject to audiences from all walks of life. What we now know is that while these "stages" of grief are fairly common, how they are experienced is not. They are best viewed as common elements of grief rather than stages experienced in a linear progression. A person may not experience each of the stages. They may experience them in any order, go back and forth between them, or get stuck on one forever. Nowadays, we even recognize something called anticipatory grief - coping with a loss that hasn't even happened yet.

Carl Gustav Jung, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, some would say outdoer, hypothesized that whatever it is that makes up the psyche exists beyond its confinements in time and space. He also fathered an archetypal dynamic known as the Wounded Healer. In his day, before the age of having a plethora of instantly gratifying information to hand, he postulated some pretty amazing shit. The mythological origins of the wounded healer stem from ancient Greece and Asclepius, a sainted physician whose own wounds gave him the power to heal the same wounds in others. The problem is that he was unable to heal his own wounds. When studied later for validity or vanity, psychologists have found that nearly 80% of people who train as healers (whether psychological or otherwise) carried wounds that bore significance on their choice of profession.  

Yup. I've read a lot. Even before nursing school, even before undergrad or graduate studies, I was fascinated with all this shit. I've even talked with neuroscientists like Paul Nussbaum, who say there is sufficient evidence to eliminate the need for belief in an after. Yet despite my myriad obsessions like the brain, and neuroscience, and psychology, and logic, and academia, and sociology, and helping people, and striving ever, quite vainly, to be the smartest person I know; despite it all, it seems nothing can make me an expert in helping myself.

It is no surprise then how bad I hurt. Yesterday, Orson, our blue british shorthair, was having a hard time breathing. I may not know much about veterinary medicine, but having worked as a hospice nurse several years, I know labored, agonal breathing when I see it. Maybe it was just a side effect of the medication he'd been taking. Maybe it wasn't the lymphoma the vet strongly suspected when his pupils quit working two weeks ago and collapsed.

My brain, in a subdued and quiet panic, vacillated between reason and insanity; selfishness and gestalt. I reasoned that it was probably nothing, but just to be sure, we'd take him in so the vet could tell us we were just being paranoid. Once there, Orson was scared. We kept trying to reassure him by petting him and calling him a good boy while nuzzling his face.

They decided an x-ray was necessary. I hated that because I know they tie their front and hind legs with rope and stretch their bodies across a table to take a clear and steady picture. Then, because he was so stressed by the experience, they put him in an oxygenated kennel after trying to aspirate some of the fluid around his lungs with a long needle while he was still restrained.

The vet then called us in to look at the x-rays. She showed us how his lung was collapsed and his heart was displaced, probably by a large tumor, she said. She advised us that in this type of situation, aspirating the rest of the fluid would be painful and very temporary. She said it might buy us a day at a time. She said it was her recommendation that he be humanely euthanized.

No words could have hurt worse in that moment. My sweet fluffy baby had to go through all that just to be surprised with an untimely end. She sent us back to the exam room to wait while she put in an I.V. Then they brought him in so we could tell him goodbye. So hard.

After a while, they entered the room. He looked so scared, but I kept scratching him under his chin in his sweet spot, locking his eye in contact with mine, telling him I loved him so much. The vet put the first syringe in the IV and depressed the plunger. He meowed like it hurt. Then his eyes no longer seemed to be looking and his pupils dilated slowly. Once he was unconscious, she gave him the two final shots, listened to his heart and told us he was gone.

I have sobbed so much. You may think my response to the loss of a cat is unwarranted or dramatic, if so, fuck you! I have lost my loyal companion, the fluff that sucked up my sadness, the soul with no agenda but loving me and food that has been by my side for nine years; without judgment, or condition, or any malice.

I will have many joys in my life, each standing on their own merits, but none will serve as substitute for Orson. None will replace him. There will always be a hole where he once was.

I love you Orson. I wish you were here.