Fighting the Dampness

Today marks one month until the official due date.

I’m in the home stretch and boy do I feel like it. The acid reflux is so bad I wake up in the middle of the night to vomit. If the reflux doesn’t get me, I’m up in the middle of the night to pee. My feet are swelled so much you can’t see my ankles.  I’m chronically tired, and walking from one end of the room to the other is enough to both wind me and make me want to take a nap. My back aches worse than ever. Bending over is agony. I’m grateful for the ability to get pregnant and have a baby, don’t get me wrong, but losing some of my autonomy has made me look forward to when my body can be my own again.

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Bodily changes are one thing. Emotional ones are another. I’ve often posted on Facebook about the odd triggers that would make me get weepy. A lot of times I found them amusing. I mean, come on. Getting weepy at the Soarin’ music? But then, sometime in late October, that weepiness started to shift. It got more frequent. Sometimes I didn’t even know why I was crying at all. it happened everywhere, without warning: in the middle of the night, first thing in the morning, at work in the bathroom stall, on the metro ride home. It wasn’t just sadness affecting me, either. It was irrational anger and an almost crippling anxiety. According to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, between 14-23% of women will struggle with some symptoms of depression during pregnancy. I decided it was time to do something about it and spoke to my doctor about options.

Matt and I decided to avoid medication and explore other avenues of treatment. I don’t know how, but when I was talking to a friend about the depression and what course of action I thought I would take, acupuncture came up. I did a little research and found acupuncture is actually used to treat a variety of pregnancy-related ailments: infertility, morning sickness, depression, headaches, sleeplessness, and many others. I decided to give it a try. I didn’t relish the thought of getting stuck with needles, but crying and feeling like a bag of snakes was in my chest every day wasn’t a picnic, either.

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With the blessing of my doctor, I looked up the number of some fancy wellness center in Old Town and tried to get an appointment. Unfortunately, the doctor only saw new patients at certain times during the week, and my leave is more precious than ever now. I wrote that doctors off and made a list of doctors that stayed open past 5. I got lucky my second try. There was a Chinese acupuncturist and herbalist nearby that stayed open till 7. He could even see me that evening.

I’m not sure what I expected. The doctor didn’t speak much English and he didn’t explain much, but he went right to work asking me questions about my emotions, my diet, and my habits. He took my pulse and started to hit pressure points with this pen-type device. Then he took several needles out and inserted them at different points in my feet, hands, and arm. Some stung a little, some I hardly felt. He turned on a heat lamp and left me to my own devices for awhile. And that’s how every visit goes.

He did tell me that first visit that I’m “out of balance.” He said my lung qi (pronounced chee) is low and my liver qi is high. The goal is to get me more balanced out. I looked up some of the terms he used when I got home to try and wrap my Western head around the ideas of qi and imbalance. According to one source, the lung is associated with the emotions of sadness and grief (funny enough, the liver is associated with anger). The lung is partnered with the large intestine, and both work together to take in and expel. When the lung is out of balance, there is a prolonged grief that leads to depression (which is, the article points out, Western term), or dampness.

It was easy enough to wrap my head around it, honestly. And I’m really happy to say that the treatment has helped. I don’t get weepy anymore, even when there are triggers. I don’t dwell on the things that have been making me anxious, but the anxiety still manages to creep in here and there. Yesterday, I was even able to purge a monstrous amount of things I’ve been holding onto (since the lungs are also associated with emotional attachment and letting things go, apparently). I’m hoping that this fresh, more balanced feeling lasts into the postpartum period, as I know that’s also a time for depression.

I’ve wanted to talk about this for a long time, but as it seems with most things pregnancy related, it’s more acceptable for women to keep silent about the issues and the problems related to pregnancy. One things I’ve learned the hard way is that no one really cares about your morning sickness, or your debilitation, or your depression. Some do, but those are the people who are close to you. In other situations, you’re supposed to, in the name of what people view as equality, be tough and act like nothing is wrong.  I’ve seen women bravely declare that they’ve gone through these things, not for sympathy, but for the simple fact that they are sharing an experience with the world in hopes others might see it and relate.

I’m sharing this as a way of saying, yes this does happen. No, you’re not a terrible person for admitting it. There are options. I’m lucky; I know my experience is not as bad as some. I’m lucky that the acupuncture has worked. I’ve got an amazing husband and friends willing to listen and help me though it.

And as I feel Zelda kicking around in my stomach, ready to make her debut sometime in the not too distant future, I know the decision I made to get help has been more than worth it.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Grandma with my Aunt Patty (left) and Mom (right)
Grandma with my Aunt Patty (left) and Mom (right)

I am a big fan of the Rolling Stones. I like them so much that I briefly played in a Rolling Stones cover band in college. If Angela was there, she would have gone crazy over the half-Chinese drummer (me) in his tight polyester pants. I am confident there would be one of her bras onstage by the time we got to “Satisfaction.”

Just kidding. I don’t think she likes the Rolling Stones, even though she had an unhealthy obsession with The Doors for years (and the Stones are 20x better than the Doors, sorry). If she was there, I think “early twenties Angela” would think I was a square and chastise me for not knowing who Skinny Puppy was. She would then proceed to the nearest coffee shop to write about the stupid conformist concert in her composition book. Still kidding…kind of. I am thirty-one years old now and three years married and I still barely know who Skinny Puppy is. It’s like the Rolling Stones of Industrial music, right?

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Anyways.

One of my favorite Rolling Stones songs is “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Although it takes a while to get started, the buildup to the second half of the song became the “golden ratio” of all power rock ballads ever since. It also helps that it’s the closing track on Let it Bleed, arguably the best Stones album.

Why do I bring the song up? Unfortunately, it’s incredibly apt. This past weekend, our family lost my grandmother, Barbara Young. She died peacefully in her sleep Friday morning. It did not come as a surprise to anyone in the immediate family, thankfully. Personally, I am more still in a state of shock that it happened. These things are the ripped band-aids of life that nobody can prepare you for. This weekend has been rough one. My lovely wife spent her time finding ways to occupy my mind in other pursuits (I think there is a Costco hot dog with my name on it later today). In between the excursions, I’ve had plenty of time to shed tears and think about her and her life and how it relates to our unborn child. We really wanted her to meet Zelda. In fact, it was one of the last things I said to her on the phone a few weeks ago on her birthday. It was not meant to be. You truly can’t always get what you want.

My grandmother was not a fan of the Rolling Stones. I don’t think she even liked rock music, classic or otherwise. What she did love, however, was Michael Bolton. I am talking about serious devotion to the pop rock icon. As a young child, I remember sitting in her living room looking at all of her colorful knick knacks and leafing through her Michael Bolton records. I think there was some Pavarotti and Rod Stewart in there as well.

She was always blunt with her music tastes. Actually, she was pretty blunt about everything. That was Grandma. I remember playing a tape of my band in high school to her on the way to dinner. After about a minute, she told my mom to “turn off that crap.” That was her in a nutshell. She was right – it was crap. When Angela dyed her hair blonde when we were recently married, she asked my grandmother if she liked it. She gave a one word response: NO.

I am laughing to myself while typing this post, mostly because I use humor as a defense mechanism. I want to remember the good times I had with my grandmother and not the years of pain she endured before she died. It truly breaks my hear that she is gone. It gives me comfort to know she is in a better place, pain free and with her husband.

My grandmother was the toughest woman I have ever known. If there was a definition for “piss and vinegar” in the dictionary, Barbara Young’s face would be the “see example” right next to it. She drank Milwaukee’s Best by choice and refused to drink the fancy craft beer (I agree, because Craft Beer is a cult). To the very end, she attended functions and family events with an uncanny amount of energy for her condition. She had the kind of pride that was infectious and admirable, not showy or selfish. She was also not somebody to mess with. She could eat you alive with one look. Wu Tang has nothing on her. When life gave her lemons, my grandmother would grab them and throw them back. Why? She didn’t take handouts, nor did she take shit from anybody – truly selfless. She was a rebel without a cause with a Hallmark Maxine shirt on.

She was my flesh and blood, so I can only hope that some of the qualities she possessed will trickle down to my daughter. She was exactly what every woman should be: smart, independent, loyal, and caring. My mother-in-law always said that I have my grandmothers smile. I believe it and am proud of that fact. I hope that (among many other traits from her) I can pass them down to Zelda.

She never saw Zelda, but I know she loved her. I know she wanted to make it to see her, but could not. Truly, the pain was too great. I cannot be selfish and wish her to sit through months of agony just to see our daughter. Life doesn’t work that way, even though I know she would have done that for me if I asked. I know she will be looking down on us, silently judging our parenting moves as only I would expect. As odd as that sounds, I think it’s perfect.

Barbara Young was a renaissance woman in an age when most mothers still looked to the Dark Ages of the nuclear family. She cared for my mother and Aunt largely on her own and on her own terms. I am truly grateful to have known her for as long as I did. I know that others in my family feel the same way. Angela, who lost all of her grandparents by the time she was twelve, was truly happy to have a grandmother for a few years. 

She was the matriarch in a long line of strong women I have in my life. As it turns out, I am SURROUNDED by strong female figures. The measure of any man is recognizing the ability to acknowledge the presence of a much stronger woman. My dad and I didn’t stand a chance. For that we are forever grateful:

  • My grandmother: Strong and Independent
  • My mother: Fierce and Protective (a carbon copy of Grandma)
  • My sister: Charismatic and Driven
  • My wife: Opinionated and Passionate, my Imperator Furiosa

It’s been an emotional weekend. I find myself experiencing the same roller coaster of emotions that Angela felt when she first became pregnant. But for now, I can rest easy knowing that she loved us more than I could ever love her. I’ll do the same for zelda.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to go to the store to buy a sixer of Beast and pump up “Time, Love & Tenderness.” You can’t always get what you want. As I come to find, however, I got what I needed from her: the best qualities any woman (or man) can possess.

For you, Grandma. I love you.