OK, this is it. Tomorrow is June 3. Three months. Jack will be three months old, and we’ll have officially made it through the “fourth trimester.”

That means we’re closing out the blog. You’re free to keep reading, I suppose, if you like. But I won’t be posting any more. I’ve got a kid to raise, y’know. (If you’re really sad about this, we can keep boring you with photos and occasional journal entries at jackguppy.shutterfly.com.)

Every road trip has to end. The one after which this blog is named ended on November 16, 2005. I was so glad to get home, after driving close to ten thousand miles. Brian and our kitty Izzie were there waiting for me.

I’m sad to stop this particular journey. I’ve enjoyed writing and hearing from everyone. It’s been a therapeutic and fun undertaking.

But now, I feel like the real adventure is just beginning.

Amen.

Advertisements

Ten days from now, Brian and Jack and I are flying to California. A very generous friend has access to a free place to stay at Lake Tahoe, and we couldn’t say no to that. It will of course be Jack’s first time on a plane, so this gives me an opportunity to reflect a bit on what I’ve learned so far.

On an airplane, they tell you that in case of a loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will drop from the ceiling in front of you. They tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before helping anyone else with theirs. It’s a lesson I’m still learning, that I can’t help anyone else if my own well is dry. I have to take care of myself in order to be of any use to anyone else. Brian’s post “Impact” talked a lot about this important life principle, too.

On Sunday we were in Winchester to celebrate my dad’s 71st birthday. He was hosting a cookout and cannon shoot at his house in the Shenandoah Valley. Brian and I were upstairs with Jack and our good friend Dave Knight when my uncle Fred, who was also visiting, shouted up the stairs that Dad was having chest pains. I looked at Brian and said, “Oh, shit.” I handed him the baby and started downstairs.

Dad was leaning over in his chair on the side porch. Fred was on the phone calling 911 for an ambulance. I went out and knelt beside my father and held him. He was in such pain he couldn’t speak, only make small sounds of suffering. I held him, said softly, “I’ve got you, Pop. I’m here.” Words I’ve repeated often to my son, as of late. Well worn words, soft and smooth, meant to comfort.

Our good friend Pat Jay was in the yard, and he came over to where now Fred, Dad, and I were on the porch. The dispatcher on the phone had told Fred to have Dad lie on his side, and Dad slowly moved onto the porch floor. Pat put his hand on Dad’s back and talked to him, loudly. “Can you feel both sides? Talk to me, Jim. Talk to me.” Dad could nod and speak monosyllabic words, in gasps. “Yes. Pain.” At one point he stopped breathing, his knuckle in his mouth. I called him loudly: “Daddy!” And he started to breathe again. I thought how he looked like Jack, and how I wanted to hold him and make it all better for him.

The paramedics arrived shortly and fitted Dad with an oxygen mask. I could see his breath fogging the mask, and I knew he would be OK. Through the mask I could hear him say that the pain was easing up. After giving them a brief medical history, I asked the paramedics if we should follow them. “Yes,” one of them said. “We’re taking him to Winchester [Medical Center]. Take your time.”

I went back upstairs where Dave and Brian were sitting with the baby. I told them what had happened. I started to panic a little, pacing back and forth. Brian asked if I needed him to drive me to the hospital. I wanted him with me, but I knew we couldn’t take the baby to a busy emergency room. I looked at Dave. He opened his arms and said, “I am at your disposal.” I asked if he would stay and take care of Jack while we went to see Dad, and he agreed easily.

I made sure I got cell phone numbers for my uncle Jan and one of my dad’s friends who had already arrived for the cookout, promising to call with updates. Then Brian and I left, and on the way, we stopped at a McDonald’s drive-through for lunch, knowing we would both pass out in the ER if we didn’t eat. That sure wouldn’t help Dad. And who knew how long we’d have to wait?

When we arrived at Room 16 in the ER, Brian and I were both fed and stable, and Dad was fine.

The EKG didn’t indicate a heart attack, though the doctor said that blood clots in the chest could cause a similar kind of pain. After blood work, a chest x-ray, and a few other tests, they gave Dad the option to either be admitted or go home. He wanted to go home. He kept talking about how badly he felt that he had “ruined the party.”

In the mean time, people back at the house had started to cook the meat on the grill. Brian’s folks had arrived and eagerly taken over baby care from Dave. So when we finally got back, after only two hours in the ER, Dad received a hero’s welcome, making a grand entrance to cheers from family and friends.

Today he was scheduled for a follow-up appointment with Dr. Gemma, his oncologist, who would run further tests to see what happened and decide on a treatment plan.

I can’t see the future. I don’t know what will happen to my dad, how his health will be in the days, months, years to come. But I can see the present, that he’s here, laughing at the funny desk clerk in the hospital. I can see him with his grandson, both grinning from ear to ear. I can hold his hand and hear his voice. But I can’t do any of that if I don’t work very hard to keep myself as stable and healthy as possible.

So next week, on June 11, I’m taking a much needed breather and going to Lake Tahoe with my husband and new son. We’ll send the pictures to Pop.

A guest post from Brian

Being pregnant is obviously no picnic, but it does seem to have a few advantages, one of which is that Chris’s direct physical contact with Jack began at the instant of conception and changed gradually as Jack grew and developed. She was able to feel his movements when he was still only a pound or so, and became accustomed to them as they gradually became stronger and more frequent.

I, on the other hand, had my first direct physical contact with Jack when he wrapped his tiny hand around my finger as he screamed, while the nurses cleaned him off, wrapped him in a blanket and stuffed all 8 pounds of him into my dumbfounded arms. I was in a daze and my eyes were blurred with tears as I brought him over to Chris, casually noting but not quite registering the fact that a group of people were busy sewing her uterus back together and stuffing her intestines back inside her.

One of the medical staff took the first pictures of us as a family together – Chris was immobile and couldn’t hold Jack, so we had to settle for nuzzling his cheeks and crying all over him. Chris was then taken away to the recovery room; I accompanied Jack to the nursery to begin the first of many late night 3 hour sessions doing my best to comfort and take care of him while struggling to remain upright. When Chris had recovered and Jack was given the ok to leave the nursery, I wheeled him into our room on the Mothers and Babies’ Wing and we both got to hold him for the first time.

Jack had obviously had quite a day, and was capable of little but sleeping and staring lethargically around the room. This was just fine by us, since we had by this point gone 24 hours without sleep and 12 without food. The nurses came around and fed Chris but not me; if you’re a soon-to-be father, you should be prepared for the fact that even if you stay in the room 24 hours a day, the hospital will not give you anything other than what you can scrounge from the break room. I, the Survivorman fan, figured I could get by on the Slim Jims and candy bars I had brought for snacks. I figured wrong.

On the second day of Jack’s life, when we had officially started the every-3-hour-round-the-clock feeding schedule, I woke up for the 1AM feeding and knew I was in bad shape. I felt absolutely horrible and had barely enough energy to sit up. Chris smartly recognized that I was crashing from low blood sugar, so I downed a couple of sodas and a bunch of candy bars. Doing that gave me enough of a pick-up to get through the feedings, but I was not feeling optimistic. If I was this utterly spent on day 2, how in the world was I ever going to survive the next 3 months of round-the-clock feedings? For the first of many times, I thought “I can’t do this”. I think that thought went through my mind more times in the first week we had Jack than in the rest of my life put together.

The smart thing for me to do would have been to get out of the room, get myself three solid meals a day, and take some walks outside and get some fresh air. But I couldn’t bring myself to leave Chris and Jack, because Chris was recovering from surgery and couldn’t really get around, and Jack was utterly helpless. Of course, there were plenty of nurses around, but I felt that if I left the room for more than a bathroom or snack break, or if I took care of any of my own needs before seeing to it that Chris and Jack’s were met, I’d be failing in my role as a father. Finally, in the late morning of day 3, I had a breakdown, sobbing and apologizing to Chris that I couldn’t continue like this. I was becoming more of a burden to her than a help, and I needed to leave and take care of myself for a while, even though it made me feel like a miserable failure.

Our friend Cindy, who had come down from Winchester to be with us for Jack’s first week, came to the rescue and took me out to get a real meal and go home and get a nap. I was so shaky and nauseous that it took me an hour to gingerly pick my way through a large pork plate at Jackson’s BBQ, a meal I can normally wolf down in about 5 minutes. We left Jackson’s and went home, and when I walked through door, the smell of the house hit me like a ton of bricks and I was suddenly desperately sad to be there without Chris and Jack. I got weepy yet again, a sign of severe sleep deprivation, and immediately went to the bedroom and collapsed without so much as moving a cover.

After I woke up and took a shower, I felt like a human being again – physically, anyway. But as hard as the physical ordeal was, the hardest part was what was going on inside my head. You see, I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a chronic and episodic condition which can be triggered by major life events like (for example) having a baby. The way OCD works is that your brain is flooded with unwanted or unpleasant thoughts (“obsessions”) that are accompanied by extremely high levels of anxiety. You then feel an overpowering need to perform some action (the “compulsion”) in an attempt to rid yourself of the unwanted thoughts and feelings. In my case, I have what’s known as the “purely obsessional” form of OCD, which means that instead of engaging in the more well-known compulsive behaviors like hoarding objects or making sure the the stove is off 100 times in a row, I ruminate furiously in an endlessly futile attempt to prove to myself that the unwanted thoughts are false.

As you might suspect, my unwanted thoughts and feelings centered on Jack: whether I could take care of him, whether I loved him enough, or, worst, whether I even wanted him at all. The rational part of me could see quite clearly that there was absolutely no reason to worry about these things, that it was patently obvious that I loved and wanted Jack, and that I would learn to take care of him in due time with the help of friends and family. But the OCD-influenced part of me could not dismiss these thoughts, and I was utterly unable to stop myself from getting worked up into a frenzy about them. I was coping with it reasonably well while we were in the hospital, but when we brought Jack home my anxiety levels skyrocketed. I spent much of Jack’s first night at home dry heaving into the sink from anxiety-induced nausea.

The unfortunate thing is, I was largely to blame for my own suffering. I had identified and gotten treatment for my OCD quite some time ago, and was on Lexapro, which is a typical long-term medication for OCD patients. But I’d gone a few years without having any OCD-related problems, and became quite lax in my Lexapro usage, which, I’ve now learned, is no better than not taking it at all. I’d gotten cocky and was now paying for it. Worse, Chris and Jack were also paying for it through my inability to be available to them when they needed me, and that added guilt and self-recrimination to the anxiety.

On Jack’s first morning at home with us, after a night of almost no sleep, I was getting seriously worried. I was still exhausted and undernourished, but my anxiety levels were so high that I couldn’t eat or sleep. This, of course, just made me even more anxious, and the vicious cycle continued until by late that afternoon it had spun up into a panic attack of dire proportions. I’ve never experienced such utter terror in my life, and I hope I never do again – it was by far the worst thing I’ve ever gone through. Desperate, I called our friend Debbie, who is a great voice of calm support during a crisis. She was able to help me talk through some of what I was feeling anxious about and get me breathing more deeply and slowly. I started to feel a little better – for about 5 minutes, then the panic attack came back with a vengeance. I was completely incapable of functioning, and Debbie and I agreed that I should seek medical attention.

I was adamant that Chris not be left alone while this was going on, so Cindy stayed home with her while our friend Scott raced over to our house and took me to Urgent Care. It took a shot of Phenergan and 1mg of Xanax to get me to the point where I could eat or sleep. Scott drove me home, where I ate a bowl of beef bouillon broth and then collapsed and slept unmoving for 6 straight hours, the worst of the ordeal behind me.

Since then, under the guidance of a psychiatrist, I’ve gotten back on the Lexapro religiously, started tapering slowly off the Xanax (you don’t want to be on it for very long, and people have died from quitting it cold turkey), and dusted off the cognitive-behavioral skills I learned for coping with OCD. When my unwanted thoughts and feelings arise, I simply acknowledge them, let them be there, take some deep breaths, and then go back to concentrating on whatever I was doing, and the anxiety fades quickly. I wish I could do it without having to take the medication, but this experience has led me to the difficult realization that I can’t. Between all of those things, I’ve come a long way on the path of recovery. It’s going to be a lifelong struggle, but I have the upper hand and I don’t plan on losing it again.

As difficult as the anxiety has been, the most powerful thing I’ve experienced since Jack’s birth is not anxiety but love. All the parents tell you that you will love your child more than you’ve ever loved anything in your life; they are seriously understating it. I had no idea about the depth of love that is possible in this world until Jack looked me in the eye for the first time. It was the most intense thing I’ve ever felt, and made all of my life up to that point seem trivial by comparison. I know that sounds hyperbolic, but I promise you it’s not.

And I can’t imagine a more worthy recipient of all that love than Jack. He is the sweetest thing I’ve ever encountered on this planet, bar none. I can already see a playful, gentle, happy personality coming out in him that makes me really like him, not just love him. It’s been so fun and rewarding to watch him grow and develop, and he becomes more animated and skilled every day. I never thought I’d be wildly excited because a baby successfully grabbed a toy ring, but the first time Jack did it I was. Since Jack came into our lives, Chris and I have laughed together more, enjoyed each other more, and loved each other far more than we ever did before.

I knew going in that becoming a parent would be the most difficult thing I would ever do, physically, mentally, or emotionally. Man, did I underestimate it. But Jack, you’re worth it. You’re 1000 times worth it. I would go through all of it again just to have you grab my fingers with your tiny hands, fall asleep on my shoulder, or to see that little smile light up your face, and I can’t wait to see what you do next.

Welcome to the world, little buddy. I love you.

Tomorrow afternoon Jack and I are meeting my friend and fellow blogger Becky and her son, who is three weeks younger than Jack, for a walk at Hugh McRae park. This will be the fifth visit I’ve made to this park since Jack was born twelve weeks ago. How many times did I visit the park before he was born, in my two years of living in Wilmington? Maybe, I think, once.

What did I used to do with myself? The answer is, “Not a lot.” I’m boosting my protein intake these days, thanks to advice from my acupuncturist, to match the protein levels I was taking in during pregnancy. I’m also reducing my sugar intake. The fast food meals that we lived on for the first few weeks of Jack’s life (minus the two weeks that other people cooked FOR us) were getting a bit old. And fat. Oh, wait. Maybe that’s me getting old and fat.

I go religiously to yoga class every week, because I go with Jack. I get out of the house and go for walks, because Jack needs to get outside and look at trees. I go to the library or the art store or even the grocery store, because it’s good for Jack to go out in the car and see different people. I have people over for “play dates” or go to their houses, because it’s good for Jack to see babies around his age. And oh, yeah. It’s probably good for me to see people my age, too.

My point is that before I got pregnant, I was pretty lazy about taking care of myself. I go to the chiropractor and acupuncturist and therapist. I get massages and talk to a life coach and a healer. So it’s not like I sit in the corner eating Chee-tos all day. But as far as exercise and diet have been concerned, I haven’t participated as much as I’d like. And then came Jack. And I ate two hard boiled eggs a day and did leg and butt exercises twice a day to help me get through labor and the aches and pains of late pregnancy. And now I’m going to the park and walking at least once a week. I took three walks around the neighborhood yesterday, two of which were with my little man, one of which was with both Jack and Brian.

And it’s extending into other areas of my life, too. I speak up for myself more than I used to. I take the parking spot someone is standing in, waiting for them to move out of my way instead of finding another spot. Because I belong here. I have a place on this planet, and I deserve to actually inhabit it. I used to play along with jokes I didn’t think were funny, sometimes at my own expense, because I wanted to keep the peace. No longer. Why? Because now I have a son. And I want him to feel that he’s worth standing up for. Because he is. And frankly, if he is, so am I.

A year ago, I ended a relationship with a woman who was driving me crazy. She had been my mother’s best friend, and my mother had loved her. But frankly, she took advantage of my mom’s tendency to feel responsible for other people’s feelings. She exploited that, even in Mom’s last days, and she tried to do the same with me. For a long time, I let her, out of respect for my mother’s memory. And finally, I’d had enough. She’d guilt-tripped me and blamed me for her own unhappiness, her own mistakes and weakness. She even once told me that my mother would slap me for disagreeing with her political leanings.

I’d taken all of that, thinking Mom would want me to. But last May, I finally asked myself what *I* wanted me to do. Did I want to keep apologizing to this bully of a person for not sending her a Mother’s Day card – even though she’s not my mother? Did I want to end up angry and resentful after every encounter? If I had been dating her, I would have broken up with her a long time ago for being verbally abusive. So why was it OK for her to do it? Answer: It wasn’t. Just because Mom let her treat her like that doesn’t mean I had to.

It was a big step. I was in essence drawing a line, separating myself forever from my mother – not because this woman was a link to my mom, but because my mom never would have cut off a relationship, no matter how dysfunctional it was. An oft-heard phrase from my mother was, “Now, don’t burn your bridges.” But a year ago, I burned one. And I burned it big.

By then, Brian and I were trying to get pregnant. And it occurred to me that I did not want to subject my children to her kind of emotional blackmail. And then it further occurred to me that if my kids shouldn’t have to deal with her, neither should I. So I told her enough. I stopped e-mailing her. I blocked her access to me online. Enough. That was May 22. Our “ground zero” date for counting the beginning of my pregnancy was May 24.

And now, a year later, I have this little boy in my life. He doesn’t know how to eat or stand or move on his own. He has no claws or shell or scales to defend himself. He’s just soft and pink and helpless. It’s my job to keep him safe. It’s my job to keep him healthy. It’s my job to help him grow. What I would do for Jack is a whole list of things that I also need to do for myself.

On a rare movie night, Brian and I watched “Legends of the Fall” a few weeks ago. I wish someone had warned me how intense and unrelenting that movie is. (All I remember hearing was how hot Brad Pitt is as Tristan.) It reminded me of seeing “Miss Saigon” on Broadway, like someone was beating me over the head and saying, “Be sad! Be very sad!” We were thankful after watching it that we’re both on medication.

The other day, Brian made some reference to the song “Cat’s in the Cradle,” about the father who has no time for his son, and then the son has no time for the father. Then he laughed and said, “We could listen to that song and then watch ‘Legends of the Fall’! Last one to commit suicide wins!” I laughed until I had tears running down my face.

This kind of dark humor is necessary to support life in the world we live in today. I’m convinced of it. Like the Jimmy Buffet song says: “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.” It’s an important mechanism in child-rearing, and in getting older, and even in dealing with death. When we found out, finally, that my mom’s cancer was terminal, the doctor told us that they would just stop the chemo treatments. Mom had been so upset by losing her hair, so I said, “At least your hair will grow back.” She barked out a laugh and said, “Yeah, just in time.”

Mom’s also the one who used to laugh at news reports about “mortality rates” in this or that country. “Face it, folks,” she would holler at the television. “The mortality rate is 100 percent! We’re all going!”

Not long after Brian and I got married, I had a series of panic attacks, terrified that he would die suddenly. I talked to my teacher at healing school about it. He said, “What if you were to just acknowledge that you will lose him–or that he’ll lose you–because it could happen that way, too. How will that change the way you live your life now?”

At the time, I assumed it was a rhetorical question, since the answer seemed obvious to me. I’d be nicer to him. I’d hold precious the time we have together, instead of wasting it on crap that doesn’t matter. I found out later that my teacher had wanted an actual answer from me, and I’d remained silent. But I still got the message.

So, yesterday I was listening to a very mellow, sad sounding song on the CD player, and I made a joke to Brian that we could listen to it, then “Cat’s in the Cradle,” and then watch “Legends of the Fall” again. Brian said, “I’ll just start dousing myself with gasoline now.”

And we laughed.

On Sunday morning, Brian asked me if I wanted a nap, just as we were being awakened by Jack’s crying. I half-sleepily said, “God, are you kidding?? Of course! That’s a stupid question!” He posted our exchange on Facebook, and got several responses. Most were just people laughing, but some of them seemed to imply I should be falling all over myself in humble appreciation because Captain America generously offered to take care of his own kid.

And this brings up an important insight that we are both getting, these days. I understand from talking with my friends that our situation is unusual. I understand that Brian is not only a good person, but a great partner and dad. I am lucky to have ever met him. And I am astounded that his level of involvement in raising our son is not the norm. It saddens me, not only for my own sake and the sake of other women, but also on behalf of all the men who are missing out on the lives they’ve helped to create.

For all the advancement of women in the workplace, religion, and politics, women are still expected to be the primary caregivers at home. I hear and read all the time about “the second shift,” women who work full-time and then come home and run the household. Frankly, I think it’s not only exhausting for women, but insulting to men. He doesn’t know how to cook? He’s 35 years old, for God’s sake! What did he live on before now? Worms?

The magazines geared toward “Parents” and “Parenting” (with those very titles) are actually geared toward women–moms! Articles on make-up and hair advice abound. Tips on how to lose that baby weight, etc. I think that these publications can be very helpful and supportive to women who are doing all of the child-rearing, with or without a dad in the house. But dads are often left out of the marketing equation. Why? Because so many of them aren’t doing that work. It’s shocking, actually. Brian started out being offended by the mass-market exclusion of his role in the parenting process. I have had to point out to him more than once that it’s because so many men just aren’t interested. Then he changes the direction of his outrage and rails against the biases of his own gender.

As well he should. In the 21st century, we as citizens of the world should be ashamed that women make 70 cents on the dollar for the same work in business, that magazines need to market all of their parenting advice to women, and that men are expected to bring home the bacon, camp out in front of Monday Night Football, and swill beer. I even have a pregnancy book that advises “letting Dad help” by about the third week of the new baby’s life. WHAT??? Brian was like, “And what have I been doing until then? Sitting around with my thumb up my ass?” Which of course, he wasn’t. But it shocked us both to discover that even among couples we know, that’s more common than we ever realized.

So. Yes, I am grateful. Of course I am grateful. I couldn’t ask for a better partner, lover, friend, and father for our son. But to those men who believe that raising children is “women’s work,” I’d like to say, “You are missing the boat, dude. You are missing the most important work of all, the most important moments of life. And it sucks to be you.”

In 1999, I applied for a full-time summer intensive program in publications at George Washington University. At the same time that I found out I was accepted to the program, I also found out that my mom had lung cancer. I quit my full-time, well-paid job as a desktop publisher in Arlington two weeks earlier than I’d planned so I could spend that time with my mom as she started chemo.

I finished the program at GW and spent the next year as a freelance writer and graphic designer. I got some work, but it was spotty, and frankly, I lived on credit cards most of that time. But I also had freedom and time and went out to be with my folks often and for days at a time, not having to answer to a boss or worry about a long commute.

In the spring of 2000, I accepted a full-time gig as a technical writer at Northrop Grumman (then TASC). By then, I was deeply in credit card debt and needed money badly. I was getting calls from utility and credit card companies for being so behind on payments. Mom was still in chemo, and the cancer had spread to her brain, so she was also receiving radiation treatments. In the midst of all this, she told me I was brave for striking out on my own and doing what I wanted to do as a freelance writer. She was proud of me.

A year later, Mom was dead. I was in the midst of buying my own house. I had to write a letter to Wells Fargo, explaining my bad credit history, but I got a loan for the house, and I still own it today. I was freaking out about money, but I never regretted a single minute I spent with Mom – not even in the chemo treatment room, eating Chicken McNuggets and watching inane daytime television and averting my eyes from the big needle in her arm. If I had it to do all over again, I would go into credit card debt and spend that time with my mom.

These days, I miss sleep the most. Good, solid, eight-hour stretches of sleep. Uninterrupted sleep. Peaceful sleep. I miss the quiet. I miss solitude. I miss being a couple, hanging out with Brian and talking for hours at a time. I miss relaxed shoulders.

But I just realized that these are all temporary losses. I’ll one day sleep again. I’ll one day have time to myself, have time alone with Brian, have relaxed shoulders. But I’ll never again have this time with Jack. He’ll never be ten weeks old again, sleeping on my chest in the middle of the night. I remember that time I had with Mom, how I wouldn’t trade it for all the money in the world. I eventually got the money back, bought a house, paid off all the credit cards. Yes, every one. Yes, really.

Do I feel exhausted and fried and frustrated a lot of the time? Yes. Do I ache and wish for sleep? Of course. Would I trade sleep and quiet for the wonder of seeing Jack smile, feeling his soft breath on my face, hearing him laugh at my funny faces? No frickin’ way.