Babies, Stillness, and Jesus

Lily is quite the wriggly six month old these days.  The hour we spend at mass is spent attempting to keep her occupied so she doesn’t get too antsy and fussy.  So when we get to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, she tends to be pretty sick of sitting in the same spot.  Who would have thought that someone so interested in exploring could get bored?

So imagine my surprise this Sunday when the most beautiful thing happened.  It was my first Sunday mass alone with Lily, since RJ was home sick with the stomach flu.  So I was completely on my own.  She did well before mass started and through the Liturgy of the Word.  By then, we had read “Let’s Go to Mass” half a dozen times.  Right before the Consecration, she got really restless, looking around and arching her back, which are all signs of her becoming fussy.  Wrangling her while kneeling isn’t the easiest feat.

But just as the priest consecrates the bread into the Body of Christ, lifting it above his head, she pauses and turns towards the altar.  Utterly still, not blinking.  Then a few seconds later, she jerks her head and continues to look around the sanctuary.  I thought I imagined it.  But when the priest raised the Blood of Christ, the same thing happened.

Now I will admit that the bells may have helped gain her attention.  But the complete stillness in her eyes and body as she looked towards Jesus at the altar was the most amazing moment I’ve experienced with her during mass.  It makes me a proud Catholic mama.

She looked at the Body of Christ like she had seen it for the first time.  Like she was seeing Jesus for the first time.  She discovered the beauty of the mass without even understanding why it’s the center of our liturgy.  How awesome is that?

This little girl is teaching me a lot about appreciating these moments.  I’m constantly amazed by her uninhibited discovery and faith in this new world.  I wonder if she can see Jesus during consecration in a way we can’t.  Her innocence and ability to believe without inhibition is so powerful.  I want to be there, with that faith that doesn’t doubt yet.

I’ll remember this beautiful moment for a long time.  And I hope that her innocent faith continues for many years.  This Catholic mama is smiling because of it 🙂

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Broken and Hurting

Note: This was written months before I even started this blog.  But I think that admitting to my brokenness is something that’s very important to share, as we women often don’t.  It’s easy to think, “Hey, she’s got it together,” but really she’s crying on the inside each morning.  So I want people to know my story about the mom who still cries sometimes when she drops her child off with caring strangers.

20160328_103623I’m writing. I think I need to write because this time has been super hard for me. I really struggled going back to work – and I can feel the Devil working on me from the inside. I feel the envy that he’s instilling in me as I look at other moms who stay home and look more put together than I do. The ones who don’t have to leave their child with strangers three days a week and pump in an environment that is male-dominated.

Don’t let me forget my blessings. I’m actually one of the lucky ones. I have a daycare that’s five minutes from my place of work with awesome teachers. I’m able to nurse my baby on my lunch break. I have access to a private pumping room, shared with other women in science. I also have an amazingly supportive PI that gave me a key to his office so I could pump if the other room is busy. And it’s a flexible work environment. So working only four days in the lab and from home the rest is a possibility.

But I’m not happy.  And perhaps that’s for many reasons – specifically the biggest one being my lack of trust in God and our broken relationship (entirely my fault, I admit). I stopped praying – really praying – months ago. Sure, I go through the motions sometimes, and I’m definitely still attending mass weekly. But I’ve forgotten how to connect with God, and that’s created some resentment. Resentment with the state of my life, specifically going back to work and leaving my baby with strangers.

There are a number of things I struggle with. And I think writing about them, even informally, is therapeutic. I’ve always struggled with journaling, perhaps because it’s almost too private. I need something more fulfilling, more substantial than just venting to myself. I don’t want an obligation to write, but I want to WANT to write. I don’t really know what’s going to come from this, but I think this is how it’s going to start.

Advocating for a Pumping Room

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Medela… The pumping monopoly.

I’m incredibly lucky in returning to work in that I have a flexible schedule, a supportive boss, and access to a private pumping space.  However, I realize that some women do not have access to this type of space, though I’m hopeful that regulations will begin to change to allow more women the flexibility of continuing to breastfeed their child if that is their desire.  However, our building community of nursing mamas didn’t always have this space available.  In fact, the “pumping room” used to be a locked closet with a single outlet, wooden table and single chair.  No sign, no refrigerator or cleaning space, and incredibly small.  A number of women attempted to advocate for a better space for the new mamas.  I suppose it shows that you get what you fight for.  Therefore, I urge any new mama (or even mamas that have been pumping) to advocate for themselves and their baby to get a comfortable space.

Some things that have helped us in setting up our pumping space:

1) Get a faculty member (or a supervisor in a senior role) to help you advocate.  We have the support of an incredible faculty member who previously breastfed her twin girls.  She was appalled by the space we had to share, and campaigned for our new room, extra tables, comfortable chairs, and a refrigerator.  She attempted to get us a sink, but it was too expensive to install.  So instead she is personally stocking the room with wipes, hand sanitizer, and paper towels for us to use.  I’m incredibly thankful to have someone on our side in a position to fight for us, especially in this male-dominated environment.

2) To share or not to share.  We have an awesome sign outside our room that we can switch from “VACANT” to “OCCUPIED” or have it sit in between the two to denote willingness to share.  Honestly, I thought I would really care about other women being present while I’m pumping since I am on the modest side.  But it actually doesn’t bother me that much, and I’ve had some interesting conversations with the other mamas.  That being said, I also understand that some women are very sensitive about it, and I’m glad each woman gets the choice of sharing or not sharing.

3) Necessities.  Multiple outlets, refrigerator to store milk, tables for your pump to sit on, space heater to help with let down.  Think about what you have at home and need to help you pump peacefully.

4) Comfortable Space.  Unfortunately, our room came pretty bare.  But we have a great corkboard with the pictures of all the babies in our building.  It’s cool to see the different ages, and I’m interested to watch our board grow.

5) Timing.  Designating a specific time that you pump in your schedule, especially when scheduling meetings, is important.  And I think it’s very important to advocate for this time.  I try not to think of it as wasting time, and I try not to work during it because my daughter comes first and I don’t produce as much if I’m stressed about working.  Remember, mama first, science second.  BUT I’m an experimentalist, so sometimes the times I plan to pump are pushed back a bit because my bacterial culture won’t grow.  In a later post, I have some thoughts on what to do to make that pump time productive.

This is something very near to my heart because I love breastfeeding Lily.  I think all mamas who have chosen to breastfeed deserve the choice of whether to continue breastfeeding upon returning to work.  There’s a lot of hurdles when heading back to the lab, but I’ve been lucky to have a workplace that makes this desire a reality.

Waiting in the Stillness

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I’m sitting at work at 4pm, waiting to leave to go pick up my daughter.   And with how busy I am (or should be), you would think I’d be scrambling to get stuff done. And I was, up until about 5 minutes ago. Now I’m waiting, feeling anxious to leave but unable to because I would feel the guilt if I left early.

Isn’t it odd how even when we are waiting in silence we are still so restless?

Even when I don’t have a million things to do, I try to find something to busy myself. Like here at work, I have 30 minutes before I usually leave, and I’m trying to find something to occupy myself for that time. But I can’t get too invested because I’ll have to leave it unfinished until tomorrow. Still, I can’t just sit here and do nothing.

But perhaps that’s what God has been trying to teach me these past many months (and I mean, many). Maybe I should be waiting in peace rather than restlessness. Instead of finding ways to be anxious, I should be at peace when everything is taken care of. I know that I’ve always struggled with that. I always have something to worry about, and when that something is fixed, I put another worry in its place. I worried about hosting a speaker a few weeks ago. Hosting him was actually really great, and I learned a lot. Now I’m worried about the fact that I’m behind in my PhD work. At home, I’m worried about my daughter not sleeping – is it because she’s too cold? Worry after worry, I find myself drowning in this waiting for the worst thing to happen. God doesn’t ask me to do that. He asks me to wait in peace, and trust in His plan for me. That doesn’t mean I won’t suffer, but I shouldn’t suffer from my own anxiety.

Believe me, a lot of my issues stem from this anxiety. I’ve always been an anxious person, even before I had a baby. But everything is heightened now – like anxiety on steroids. And waiting is so much harder now.

Isn’t it odd how that happens? I’m always unhappy with the waiting for the next stage. I was frustrated when I had to wait to get married. I was upset when we were waiting to start our family. I was uncomfortable waiting for Lily to be born. Now I’m frustrated with waiting on results, waiting even longer for my PhD. I wish I could go back and tell myself to be happy with the waiting. To be at peace with the waiting. Because things change, but not always in the way we expect. (I mean, I used to actually get a full night of sleep and be able to focus entirely on science without being sleep-deprived.) So maybe I should have focused more on gaining the grace I needed while I was waiting, instead of being angry that things weren’t happening the way I wanted. I once heard a woman say that she wished she had spent her weekly time in adoration during her single years praying for grace in her future marriage rather than wishing she was already married. She has six children, so she needs a lot of grace. I should have listened to her.

The times of waiting are opportunities for growth. I may feel like it’s stagnant, and the day to day is unfulfilling. But God is asking me to grow somehow. I don’t really understand how, but that’s what the quiet moments are for.

Right now, no one is screaming at me. No one is stressing me out with a deadline. And the lab is oddly quiet, a strange stillness in a world that is constantly moving. I’m coming to appreciate those moments of quiet, but I really need to focus on not worrying through them. Rather, I should focus on the beauty of the slowness at the end of the day, waiting for the blessing of seeing my baby girl in a bit.

Lilies in the Lab

20160407_131811My research has been in a rut lately.  I have no new results, not because the experiments have been inconclusive, but because I haven’t been able to perform the experiments due to some issue in what should be trivial preparations.  So morale is low in our side of the lab.

That being said, the technician and I decided to brighten up our bay with something to make us feel a bit better.  Why not?  It helps our mental health, which needs a boost.  (Actually, science can make you a bit crazy if you don’t find ways to fight the depression of failure.)

So we chose to decorate with some pictures of lilies.  My idea.  I’ve been missing my baby girl, so this reminds me of her every moment I look out the window.

Here’s to hoping the beautiful lilies get us out the slump 🙂

The Guilt of a Working Mama

It’s been a hard couple of days.  I’ve alluded to my postpartum anxiety and depression, but it’s definitely been tough this week.  Work has definitely been a trigger.  Perhaps the stress of trying to be a great scientist has been getting to me, but also feeling guilty about not doing the things I’m supposed to do.  I’m not accomplishing very much in lab this week, and I’m spending a lot of time away from my home life.

There’s definitely a certain amount of guilt that happens when being a working mom.

When I’m home, I worry about work and the fact that I’m not spending the time thinking about science.  When I’m in lab, I’m worried about Lily, and the fact that I’m going to fail at cooking dinner again.  You’d think I’d just worry about work at work, and worry about home at home.  But that’s not the case.  I’m trying to change that by making a conscious choice to separate the two, but it hasn’t been the easiest transition and process.

I’m lucky to have a supportive husband, who doesn’t mind cooking.  (In fact, he actually enjoys it.)  But the house isn’t clean very often.  And I’m constantly behind in my data analysis for work.  (In fact, I still haven’t caught up from last weekend’s Easter celebrations.)  But sometimes I completely feel like I’m failing as a wife and mother.  These are the things I should be doing.  Taking care of the home, taking care of my husband.  So the guilt has surfaced this week, when I’m feeling like it’s not all getting done.

But when I get like this, thinking about priorities is important.  Someone told me that you can really only do two things well.  For me, I suppose that’s being a mom and being a scientist.  So what if I’m not the best homemaker?  My daughter isn’t going to remember the clutter caused by a week’s worth of mail on the counter.  So what if I haven’t been able to cook a meal in a few days?  My husband is happy to cook whatever I’ve meal planned this week (even if he isn’t a fan of the vegetable I’ve picked).  So what if the laundry is still in the dryer and hasn’t been folded?  At least it’s clean.

Getting past the initial guilt is tough.  And the resurgence of it all this week has really made it a struggle.

But as St. Thomas Aquinas reminded us in his Summa Theologica, there is a true order to charity.  First, love of God, then comes our spiritual life, then taking care of others.  So maybe I need to take care of my spiritual self a little bit more, and my family comes next.  Science and work isn’t in that list.  It really comes down to a conscious decision to reorder my priorities.  Remember, Catholic mom first, scientist second.

But that doesn’t mean the guilt doesn’t rear its ugly head.