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Phoenix Rising

Four generations

Last week, my kids and I zipped to my hometown for my sister’s bridal shower. We started at the midwives’ office in the morning, where Miles got to hold the Doppler and locate the baby’s heartbeat, which he did on the first try. We all marveled at the wonder of a fully formed human baby, just beneath the surface. We watched him roll about as his brothers talked to him. I got the greenlight to make the 4-hour journey, 36 weeks pregnant. 

I arrived at my childhood home to learn my grandmother was at death’s door. This wasn’t shocking news–she’d been in hospice care for 7 months. I went to her bedside and said farewell, wishing I’d thought or cared to ask her more about her own 5 births before dementia took hold of her so deeply. All I know about her births is this: the first time around, an L&D nurse scolded her for vocalizing during a contraction and that shamed her into birthing silently the other 4 times.

Gommy never liked to let go of Miles once she managed to catch him.

By the time my first son was born, she was far enough gone that she mainly could comment repeatedly about the wonder of his red hair. My son Miles pleased her enormously, because his flaming red afro reminded her of her father, of her own strawberry hair. Probably of her youth and all the wonderful, pastoral things that seem amazing once one reaches 80+ years of life.

I’m glad he was able to trigger some pleasant memories for her each time she saw him, even when he played peek-a-boo with her a few months ago and every time his head popped up was like greeting him anew. “You’re gonna be a red-head!” “Oh! You’re gonna be a red-head!”

My family sat around her, holding her hand and singing to her as her pulse got weaker and her breathing more labored. Eventually, everyone left for a hot minute and she took that opportunity to slip out of this world.

Her five babies, in accordance with her wishes, had her remains cremated and the sleek box of ash sat before us at her memorial, much heavier than I’d anticipated it would be as I tried to open it to show my persistent red-head what lay within. It was locked–we couldn’t see.

The night before her service was meant to be my blessingway. My friends were gathered to offer affirmations and blessings for my upcoming birth, to wish me well as I try yet again to birth my baby. But I was 250 miles away, surrounded by the many, many women of my family. So they blessed my baby’s upcoming journey Earthside.

My cousin Christie, who wears the ashes of her own mother (fused into a glass bead) around her wrist and in her hair, painted a henna phoenix on my belly. I told her the bird had to swoop downward, toward my birth canal.

“But phoenixes rise,” she told me. “It can’t be a phoenix.”

“What if, for me, to fly toward the birth canal IS to rise?”

The past two times, my births ended with me lashed to the operating table, my body severed to extract my wailing boys. My scars are every bit as weighty as the box of ash that sat before us. I want this baby to rise. I want him to soar from my body and into my arms. I want this so badly.

Christie painted the phoenix and I thought about what my grandmother would say. Probably that it was strange to paint a bird on a stomach.

We left town straight after the memorial service. I needed to get back after our stay was so unexpectedly lengthened. I had another checkup today and learned my baby is optimally aligned, knocking at the door to come out. Neither of my other boys has ever been in a position that’s optimal for birthing.

This makes me feel so hopeful, that perhaps my phoenix will indeed rise. Or maybe, given the circumstances, the phoenix isn’t my baby at all, but my grandmother herself, rising to be with me, peeking inside and impatient to see if this little man will have red hair, too.

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Posted by on July 17th, 2014 No Comments

What to Do with my Wedding Dress?

We’re getting ready to pack up some of our extraneous stuff to move to a storage space, both in anticipation of staging our house to sell and making room for the baby, who will now surely be born before we have secured new premises for Team Lev Headquarters. I’m pregnant enough that I can’t participate too much in the process, but I can make lists and purge like it’s my job. 

As I angrily insist my husband needs to get rid of his Bar Mitzvah kaleidoscope and loafers from high school, it seems unfair of me to not give some thought to the huge-ass box containing my preserved wedding dress. Is it fair for us to move with it to a new house? To have it occupy some of the paid space in our storage unit? Why have I been letting it hog space in our tiny house for 7 years, anyway?

Corey rented his wedding clothes. Men do this all the time. It doesn’t make him less married to me. I’m not even overly sentimental about physical things. But each time I drag down the box, I can’t make myself donate it or otherwise move it out of our house. It was the first dress I tried on, the first one I wanted to wear as a bride. But so what? Why am I attached to it? I had no issues getting rid of prom and homecoming gowns…

In some ways, I see this hesitation as related to my not having a daughter. My kids will never play dress-up in my wedding gown. My daughter will never wear it for her own wedding. It seems unlikely that any future partner of my boys’ would want to wear my ratty, aging wedding dress. Most of the time, I feel so fine about mothering 3 boys. But sometimes I pull down my wedding dress and know my sons will never, ever give a shit hearing me talk about it. So I slide it back up onto the shelf and wait another few years to think about it again.

Right now, we need the shelf space to set out clothes for this baby, who will make his appearance so soon. I took to the Internet to see what my options were in giving the wedding dress a new life.

Most charities that resell wedding dresses for various causes only take dresses from 2009 on up. I’ve dilly-dallied two years too long to have my dress resold to grant a wish to a woman with stage IV breast cancer. There are some places who will still take the dress, but I’m not yet sure how I feel about the mission of their organization.

Someone recently suggested I could have part of the dress made into pocket squares for my boys to wear in jacket pockets for special occasions. Which gave me the idea that I could have some kippah made for them to wear again and again. Maybe even in time for the new baby’s bris shalom if I get off my horse.

And still, I can’t bring myself to slide the box down, to open the (I imagine) air-tight seal and lift out the silky, beaded, tiered dress my 26-year-old self wore one fine spring day to promise a life lived together with Corey.

I’ve given him a deadline of Friday to get our storage unit situated. As I gather boxes this week to pack up our books and the kids’ toys, I’ll need to give the dress more careful thought.

What did you do with your wedding dress?

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Posted by on June 25th, 2014 3 Comments

My Body: Open for Commentary?

My family and I were out for a walk last weekend. We were trolling some houses we want to buy to accommodate our expanding numbers. We saw a group of women sitting on a porch across the street. Strangers. Just yakking on the porch on a lovely spring evening.

One of them yelled, “Excuse me! What are you doing?”

Realizing she was talking to me, I furrowed my brow. How should I answer this person? Had she seen my younger son eating boogers? The older one touching poison ivy?

She clarified: “You trying to walk that baby out???”

I felt taken aback. What? I’m only 30 weeks pregnant. Assuming these women have been pregnant before, I couldn’t understand how they couldn’t tell the difference between a woman in or near labor and, well, a woman just great with child.

“We’re just taking a walk,” I said.

“Nah, you walking that baby out!”

I should have kept on walking, but then something *wrong* would just be left dangling in the ether and I felt compelled to explain. “I have 2 months to go.”

At this, everyone on the porch began to scream and yell in shock and disbelief. They yelled comments about my stomach, about the size of me, about my gait. It kept on and on until we were out of earshot.

Strangers! Presumably not midwives or obstetricians, but lay women just feeling somehow like it was ok to express these things about my body.

On one hand, there’s this reality: this is my third pregnancy. My core muscles have been surgically severed twice. There’s really nothing left to help me maintain lift and so my womb expands and sags.

I’m also just over 5 feet tall. My babies have nowhere to go but straight out the front.

But mostly, who the hell do they think they are? Why is it suddenly acceptable for them to make comments about me from their porch on a Monday evening?

I’ll never get over being angry at the way we’ve decided it’s open season to grope or discuss a woman’s body once there is a human baby inside of it. When you see a pregnant woman, know that every one of her relatives has already made a remark about the size and shape of her body, has suggested something about the size of her baby and made a judgment about her level of swelling/zittiness/belly button. This pregnant woman has been subjected to uninvited, forceful advice about birthing, parenting, infant feeding, and sleep.

The result of these porch-sitting-wanna-be-obstetricians was to ruin my walk, and send me into tears of frustration. I made Corey get the car to hurry us home. I felt too vulnerable and exposed walking out in the world where, evidently, even people sitting on their porches were watching my every step. It’s going to be a long summer until Baby Lev emerges.

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Posted by on May 31st, 2014 No Comments

An Act of God

I read a few DIY house blogs and in some small part of my brain, I pretend I’m into that sort of thing. For instance I’ve got stakes in the ground…they’ve been there for 2 years in some sort of teepee formation and I was going to plant climbing beans along the bottom so they would form a living teepee for my boys. There’s even some gnarled yarn dangling from the stakes pretending there might some day be a plant climbing up in there.

Add to this lack of motivation to tend my abode the fact that I’m 28 weeks pregnant and home a lot of the time with 2 active boys. You might understand why my front “garden” is a den of knotweed and the back “garden” is basically a giant pit for rabbits and groundhogs to poop in. Which they do!

Because we’re starting to look for a bigger house to accommodate our growing numbers, we realize we should prolly tidy up the property a bit. Not a ton, but some weed pulling would be nice. I even went out front last evening and trimmed away the daffodil leaves, pulled the dandelions out of the flower bed, and with great sadness hauled away the carcass of the lavender bush that died in the polar vortex.

Today, I was going to climb into the back garden and clean that sucker out. I was going to dig up all the wild onions and, like, hoe the soil or something. Maybe even use the loppers to trim back some of the forest. In a small part of my mind I considered buying some creeping thyme to plant back there, but then I remembered it wouldn’t spread before we’re selling the house anyway. Better to focus on the tree growing under the porch!

So anyway, I was about to get myself out there. I was about to stand up and get the hoe, when I heard a crackling sound in the back woods. A tree was falling down! Right where I was planning to go weed.

The majority of the detritus landed on our neighbors’ shed. There’s really only some twigs and things in our garden area. But there were aftershocks of crackling sounds and it seemed unwise to haul my pregnant self and my two-year-old up there to potentially get crushed by timber.

So Felix and I sat around and played iPad instead and our yard carries on in its unkempt state!

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Posted by on May 24th, 2014 No Comments

What Interviews Are Like for Me

When I interview people for writing assignments, I get totally engrossed. Recently, I’ve been interviewing a bunch of doctors about their research in women’s health. And it is FASCINATING.

They’ll be casually talking about their findings, and I can’t help but interrupt them–”You discovered WHAT? Are you sure? That’s incredible.”

If I’m talking to, say, an artist about her work, this line of questioning is usually met with shared enthusiasm. We both get to gush for a few minutes. But the sciency folks always seem taken aback. They stutter a minute, then concur. Yes. It is in fact interesting to learn that there is something different in the actual skin of pregnant ladies that causes adhesive patches not to stick.

Or, that we’ve been giving methadone to pregnant women without understanding what the appropriate dose should be for a pregnant person because nobody has ever tested the pharmacology of medications for pregnant patients.

Yesterday, I was interviewing a team of midwives in the birth center here in Pittsburgh. There was some confusion upon seeing me in the lobby, because I’m largely pregnant and they thought maybe I made a mistake and showed up for some prenatal care. But then we started talking about how they hold drop-in well-woman visits on Fridays for women who can’t make scheduled appointments for one reason or another…and once a month they offer these appointments entirely in Spanish. I just can’t help myself when I learn about such awesome programming.

I spend so much of my day thinking that the world is not designed to support a woman who is home alone with young children. And here are a group of women thinking about these barriers to women getting medical care, talking about how if they can capture women and help improve their health, it improves the health of their entire extended families. These aren’t just PAP smears, these are comprehensive explorations of the women’s health, while their kids climb around right there and nobody judges them.

I’ll tell you. Sometimes it’s hard to maintain objectivity as a writer.

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Posted by on May 23rd, 2014 No Comments

Some More People with Their Act Together!

Last night, 20 more people got their act together at Shining Light Prenatal Education!

As I sat checking people in, I heard the same refrain again and again: We’ve been trying to do this for years but never had the money for the lawyer and couldn’t work out the logistics to do it ourselves.

All these families thought they were so alone in this struggle to organize such important parts of their lives. Really, most of the young families I know are in this same boat. Many of the people who came last night were friends with a family who recently lost their young father. They didn’t have their paperwork in order, unfortunately. His widow has been struggling through probate court and the state of PA has suggested she might need to separate out their assets that were intended for their children. It’s a hot mess.

I can’t imagine having to deal with that on top of unfathomable grief. I think of these families when I organize these events!

We’re just a few months out from welcoming our third child, so we’ll need to re-examine our own legal paperwork soon enough. I’m also thinking of all the young people in the sandwich generation, the ones taking care of their aging parents in addition to their young children. Many of these aging, ailing parents don’t have their act together, either.

There’s a lot of work to be done, and I’m excited to help my friends and neighbors to do it!

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Posted by on May 20th, 2014 No Comments

Let It Go: End of the Road For the Favorite Shirt

Remember how I talked so much game about fixing my favorite shirt? My long companion? The garment that’s accompanied me my entire marital life so far? Just as I was getting myself set up to work on it, the other damn zipper broke off.

I realized the metal on all the remaining zippers (pockets only, now that both front zippers are gone) has become brittle and almost disintegrated.

It’s time to retire the shirt.

I’ve made no moves to do so–it’s still sitting on a work bench in the basement, next to the pliers. I think I keep hoping that my letter to Pearl Izumi will have convinced them to re-release the double zipper on their outerwear. Mostly, I’m too sad to take it to the bike shop to exchange for something new.

I’m currently 27 weeks pregnant with our third son. I might have forgotten to mention that online, because being pregnant while working and parenting two other kids takes up so, so, so much of my time and mental energy that sometimes I forget it’s happening. This matters because on cool spring days, I keep trying to figure out why this pregnancy is so much more frustrating to dress for than the previous ones.

Then I realize I don’t have Old Faithful to use as an arm and upper-chest layer, with the trusty double zipper opened at the bottom to accommodate my baby belly.

I’ve got one maternity cardigan and 2 maternity sweaters, which are all too heavy for spring. They are not water-resistant and broken in and soft like my favorite shirt. I’m Goldilocks and I’ve lost my “just right” shirt.

I might stop whining and just go swap it out for a jacket that converts to a vest. It should start to fit me in about 13 weeks!

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Posted by on May 12th, 2014 No Comments

Getting Acts Together!

This week was the April Get Your Act Together notary event at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library. What a great turnout! I’ve been so excited that several local blog and news outlets picked up the story about the events, and word spread fast–April sold out within minutes of one story’s publication and the May event just sold out this morning.

It’s such a joy for me to see these families breathe deeply as they sign the last document, the weight of the world lifted from their shoulders (at least for a few minutes). One of the notaries shared that it’s so important for young people to think about these documents–she told a story of being called into pre-op at Presby hospital as the anesthesiologist waited at the foot of a patient’s bed. The patient hadn’t finalized documents and was about to enter a very complicated surgery. Everyone had to wait until he could sign and notarize his wishes.

None of the folks attending these mobile notary signing events have to worry about this.

So I’m looking forward to the May event at Shining Light Prenatal Education, where 20 more people will sign their way to peace of mind. What an honor to help facilitate!

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Posted by on April 30th, 2014 No Comments

May Get Your Act Together Event!

Get Your Act Together

families signing paperwork

Families get their documents signed, notarized, and witnessed by other participating families

Do you and your partner have a will? Power of attorney? Living will? Maybe you have these documents set up, but have never managed to coordinate a time when you can both get to a notary with witnesses AND find childcare for your kids…

I’ve got a solution for you: Get Your Act Together, a family-friendly signing event

I’m coordinating a notary signing event for young families at Shining Light Prenatal Education. Parents can come with documents prepared, our kids can play safely in the space, and we can all serve as one another’s witnesses while a team of mobile notaries stamps our documents.

Here are the details:

May 19 from 6:00-8:30pm.

Shining Light Prenatal Education, 3701 Butler Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15201

SOLD OUT!

This price includes space rental fees, notary travel fees, 3 notary stamps per adult, and other costs associated with planning the event.

Guests must come to the event with their documents completed. We will not have lawyers or legal advisors present. This event is intended to help families get DIY documents in place to communicate their wishes should tragedy strike.

Not sure where to start with these documents? Rocket Lawyer and Suze Orman have great templates for a Last Will, Durable Power of Attorney, and Living Will.

**Please feel free to bring your children!

**Attendance is limited to 20 adults

For more detailed information about the legal documents we’ll be notarizing, click here. To learn more about my history with these events, click here.

SOLD OUT! Hopefully I’ll be organizing another event soon. Please contact me if you’d like to be on a waiting list.
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Posted by on March 30th, 2014 5 Comments

April Get Your Act Together Event!

Do you and your partner have a will? Power of attorney? Living will? Maybe you have these documents set up, but have never managed to coordinate a time when you can both get to a notary with witnesses AND find childcare for your kids…

(Image via JaySurdukowski)

I’ve got a solution for you: Get Your Act Together family-friendly signing event

I’m coordinating a notary signing event for young families at the Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library. Parents can come with documents prepared, our kids can play safely in the space, and we can all serve as one another’s witnesses while a team of mobile notaries stamps our documents.

Here are the details:

April 28 from 6:00-8:30pm

Pittsburgh Toy Lending Library, 5401 Centre Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15232

Cost: $31.20 per adult**

This price includes space rental fees, notary travel fees, 3 notary stamps per adult, and other costs associated with planning the event.

Guests must come to the event with their documents completed. We will not have lawyers or legal advisors present. This event is intended to help families get documents in place to communicate their wishes should tragedy strike.

Not sure where to start with these documents? Rocket Lawyer and Suze Orman have great templates for a Last Will, Durable Power of Attorney, and Living Will. (Rocket Lawyer is doing a free “make a will month” for April!)

**Please feel free to bring your children!

For more detailed information about the legal documents we’ll be notarizing, click here. To learn more about my history with these events, click here.

Any additional questions? Leave a comment and I’ll be sure to answer them as best I can.

SOLD OUT!! Please consider our May event.
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Posted by on March 26th, 2014 10 Comments