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How I Chose My MFA Program, or, Doing Your Research

How I Chose My MFA Program, or, Doing Your Research

It’s a funny story how I decided to get my MFA in Fiction Writing.  Spoiler alert:  it does not involve research.

I was twenty-four years old and in my second year as a full-time math teacher when I stopped by a little bookstore near my house in Uptown New Orleans and my eyes fell on a paperback called Pretty Little Dirty by Amanda Boyden.

I didn’t know Amanda Boyden then. I didn’t know that she lived in New Orleans and that one day I would sit with her and her husband at a bar in Spain, or that, a few years later, we would have margaritas together in Mexico. I didn’t know I would go to parties, and even a wedding, at her house in Mid-City New Orleans. All I saw was the skinny girl on the cover of the book, her arm cocked like she might be holding a cigarette, her face scribbled out with fluorescent yellow highlighter, and I knew it was just the sort of thing I liked to read: a literary coming-of-age story.

So I bought the book and devoured it. Then I read the author bio and learned that Amanda Boyden taught a class on fiction writing at the University of New Orleans.

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It was around this time that I started thinking to myself, gosh, do I really want to be a math teacher for the rest of my life? The answer was no. What I really wanted to do was write novels, but I’d always assumed that was something people did in their spare time – it wasn’t  a viable career option. (And, to be honest, I still think that’s somewhat accurate… at least for a lot of people.)

The problem was, teaching left me emotionally, physically, and mentally drained. It was difficult to find the energy to write in the little spare time I had. So I made a bold move: I quit my teaching job and embarked on a series of random jobs (barista, receptionist, orthodontic assistant) that gave me more time and energy for writing.

That summer, I sat down to write what I hoped to be a literary coming-of-age novel. When I finished the last sentence, I was elated. A day later, I reread the whole thing and was completely dismayed. The book wasn’t good – I knew it wasn’t good – but I had no idea how to make it better.

That’s when I decided to contact Amanda Boyden.

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Author Amanda Boyden

 

I’ve since looked to see if I could find the original email I sent to Amanda, along with her reply. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I can’t, but I know I said I’d enjoyed her book, and then I explained that it was the sort of thing I hoped to write, but I was having trouble figuring out how exactly to write a novel in the first place. I was thinking maybe she and I could get together for coffee sometime to talk about writing.

Yes, I realize now how naïve that sounds. So I don’t blame Amanda for how she responded. I don’t remember her exact words, but it was something along the lines of, no, I don’t have time to meet with you, but maybe you should check out the MFA program at The University of New Orleans.

And here’s where I’ll admit that up until then, I didn’t know there was even such a thing as a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. (It does sound rather absurd, right?  A Masters degree in creative writing?!)  I realize that might make twenty-five-year-old Eva sound a bit dumb, but, to be honest,twenty-five-year-old Eva was a bit dumb.

Twenty-five-year-old Eva was also excited. Going to school was something I’d always exceled at. No wonder I was having trouble writing a good novel: I needed to go back to school and learn how to do it properly!

So I went online and found information about the University of New Orleans “low residency” program, which sounded cool. In the program, students took classes online during the school year and then did intensive summer abroad sessions. That sounded good to me. Online classes meant I could keep my day job at the orthodontist’s office, and I hadn’t studied abroad as an undergraduate, so this would be my chance to do some traveling.

I’m embarrassed to say that I did no other research. None.  I didn’t look to see if there were other MFA programs that were more highly rated, or that perhaps focused specifically on novel-writing. I didn’t look into ways to get my tuition paid for. I didn’t even realize that there was also an in-person MFA program at the University of New Orleans I could have applied to.

I’ve never been a fan of research, and I’ve always been a bit trigger-happy when I’m excited about something. At the time, I honestly didn’t think that anyone would pay for my MFA. I didn’t realize that many schools offer teaching assistantships – something that would have been smart for me to do because not only would my tuition have been covered, but I would have gotten experience teaching at the college level.

Instead, without researching any other programs, I applied for the low-residency MFA at the University of New Orleans, and I was accepted. The following summer, I headed to Madrid, and my Fiction Workshop professors were Amanda Boyden and her husband, Joseph.

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My first year in the MFA program, Amanda Boyden gave a reading while doing THIS.

 

It’s hard to say whether or not I regret making such a quick decision. Yes, I did have to take out a student loan to pay for my degree, but I paid if off pretty quickly. And it’s true I could have gotten a teaching assistantship that led to a college teaching job, but I don’t want to be a teacher (remember?) And I probably could have gone to a more “prestigious” school, but to be honest, I’m not sure I would have liked that any better.

Besides, so many good things have come out of my MFA from UNO. I met some wonderful (and eccentric!) people, and I had some amazing travel experiences. If not for my MFA from UNO, I never would have become involved with Burlesque Press or gotten to spend a month in Mexico on a writing fellowship.

In this case, my utter lack of research didn’t seem to hurt me. In other words, I got lucky.

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Here I am in Madrid with fellow writer Jeni Stewart(now Jennifer Wallace), who has become a very dear friend and resource.

 

I’m thinking about all of this as I prepare to query agents with the novel I recently finished revising. In the past I’ve been trigger-happy about contacting agents, and I’ve learned my lesson. This is one case where I am definitely doing my research. I am spending time on Twitter and agency websites and Manuscript Wishlist. I’m reading agent blogs and interviews. I’m making a spreadsheet of possible agents and revising my query letter over and over again. I know that when it comes to querying agents, it pays to do your homework.

My MFA didn’t teach me anything about querying agents. That’s something I learned on my own after a lot of practice, and probably in part because I did it wrong the first time around.

And, in a way, that’s how I’ve learned to write as well.

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Here I am in Madrid for the running of the bulls.  There’s a story in this picture.  There definitely is.

Has Becoming a Parent Made the Muses Flee?

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Has Becoming a Parent Made the Muses Flee?

Having a baby means I’ve started making up songs about everything. At changing time I sing a song to the tune of “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” that goes,, “Let’s go check your diaper, let’s go check your diaper, let’s go check your diiii-aper….. and see if there’s some poop.”

I sing a song when she’s cranky that goes “it’s time for wrap time nap time, nap time in the wrap. It’s wrap time nap time, when you feel like crap.” I also sing about her current favorite page of her current favorite Dr. Suess book, Circus McGirkus. The page depicts a creature called the “drum-tummied Snumm” so I sing to the tune of “Chim Chim Cher-ee” something like this: “drum-tummy-tum, drum-tummy-tum, drum-tum-ta-roo.  You love drum-tummied Snumm, and he loves you.” That song has a lot of ever-changing verses and usually includes me playing the drums (gently) on my baby’s belly.

 

My husband and my favorite song (or at least the one that gets stuck in our heads the most) is the song I made up for “tummy time.” It goes, predictably, “tummy time, tummy time, tummy time for baby. Tummy time! Tummy time! Tummy time. Tummy time! Tummy time!”

My brother and his fiancé visited over the weekend, and I’m pretty sure the tummy time song got stuck in their heads, too, especially because we were singing about everything to the tune of it: “Picture time, picture time, pictures with Uncle Deven. Look so cute! Look so cute! Look so cute. Look so cute! Look so cute!”   You get the idea.

I’m sorry to say that my husband and I proved to be like every other set of annoying new parents in that we found it hard to talk to Deven and Lauren about anything other than baby stuff. Oh sure, we asked them about their wedding plans, and we had a few non-baby-related conversations. But we also insisted on showing them our stroller and describing the baby’s sleep habits. We talked to them ad nauseum about the baby’s bodily functions. (Literally ad nauseum…when we described using the Nose Frida snot-sucker during breakfast, Lauren started gagging.)

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With the Nose Frida you can suck your child’s snot out of their nose using the power of your own mouth.  I’m kind of obsessed with it.

 

I’ve been worried about this. I love my baby, but I don’t want to be one of those people who only talks about her kid. That’s why I’ve given myself a goal: at least once a week I will leave the baby at home with Daddy and have myself some adult time. I’ve been successful at this for the past three weeks. The first two times I went out for drinks with friends, and last week I went to my first real yoga class since giving birth.

I’m also slowly finding time between the feedings and the diaper changes to work on writing. I sent in an application for a Work in Progress grant from SCBWI, and I’ve been revising my current manuscript. But one thing I haven’t done in a long time is write any new fiction. I feel I don’t have the time, energy, or brainpower for that.  But I also wonder if, as time goes on and I have more time and energy, I’m going to continue to use the baby as an excuse for why I’m not writing anything new.

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The drum-tummied Snumm of Dr. Suess’s Circus McGirkus.

 

There’s this fear that creeps in on me sometimes, that I am losing my ability to be creative. When I look back at stories I wrote in my early twenties, I’m somewhat in awe.  Not of the story structure or writing itself, but of the uninhibited creativity of my ideas. How did I come up with that? Was I more creative back then? I know I’m a better writer now, but I worry that my ideas and inspirations are not as free-flowing.  I worry that the realities and responsibilities of being an adult, and now a parent, have sent the creative muses looking for someone else — someone with more time and energy and brainpower.

That’s why these stupid little songs I’ve been singing are, in a way, comforting. Coming up with silly rhymes and funny phrases isn’t the same as composing a poem or writing a fictional scene, but it’s still being creative with words, isn’t it?

And maybe, as the baby starts to nap more regularly and I have a little time to myself, the muses will hear me singing “Tummy Time” and decide to pay me a visit.

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Baby meets her Uncle Deven!

 

 

 

 

Why I Don’t Feel (Too) Guilty About Watching TV

Why I Don’t Feel (Too) Guilty About Watching TV

Having an infant is a real roller coaster of emotions. I swoop from highs of loving adoration to valleys of exhausted frustration all day (and night) long. There are times in the night, when she won’t sleep, when I look into her big, blue eyes and implore, “why, Baby? Why are you doing this to me?”

Both my husband and I are finding that nine weeks of constant sleep-deprivation is taking its toll. Recently Paul was making himself a sandwich and put the mustard bottle in the dish rack instead of back in the fridge. The other day I found myself stuffing Baby into her footie pajamas without putting a new diaper on her. Oops.

Some days I have what I call a “tired headache,” and I’ve taken to drinking coffee in the morning – I was never much of a coffee drinker before.

As much as I try to heed my own advice of sleeping when the baby sleeps, she often sleeps on me in her wrap, which makes it difficult for me to nap (though I do manage it sometimes.) And, I must admit, I often use her naps as time to do laundry, eat lunch, take a shower, write this blog post, etc. This is all, of course, when she actually naps. On Monday we had a delightful time in which Baby basically refused to sleep from 1:30 in the afternoon until nine o’clock at night.

So is it any wonder that sometimes I just don’t have the energy for anything other than TV?

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Baby sleeping on me in her wrap.

 

Admitting to binging on TV shows is one thing, but here’s the real secret: since coming home with Baby from the hospital, I have watched the entire first season (all twenty-two episodes) of Pretty Little Liars.

PLL (as I like to call it) is a ridiculous teen soap/drama. A girl is murdered and her four gorgeous friends (who always have perfect hair and awesome clothes) are being plagued by text messages from a mysterious person who somehow knows all their secrets. Not a whole lot happens in each episode (although lots of meaningful glances are exchanged between characters), and anyone with half a brain can follow the plot. Which is great, because half a brain is what I feel like I’m working with most days.

Not that I’ve become a total TV-junkie. I’ve read four books since coming home with Baby from the hospital, and I just started another (Little Strangers by Sarah Waters – enjoying it so far!) As long as the book is on Kindle it’s pretty easy to read one-handed while I breastfeed. But sometimes, honestly, I’m too tired to read, so I open up Netflix.

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I’ve watched some legitimately good shows in addition to my guilty pleasure of PLL. I thoroughly enjoyed American Crime Story: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson. I also re-watched Season 1 of the Netflix Original series Love before binging on Season 2. At night, my husband and I watch episodes of Brooklyn 99.

Sometimes I feel guilty about all this TV. Shouldn’t I be reading instead? Reading is better for me, isn’t it? It’s what will help me with my writing. But for one thing, I need to give myself a break. I’m taking care of a two-month old and running on only a few hours of sleep each night. I can and should watch a few TV shows if I darn well want to.

For another thing, aren’t TV shows just a different way to tell stories? And isn’t telling stories what writers do? TV shows can teach me at least a little bit about plotting and character development and dialogue. In fact, I often think that a good novel chapter is much like a good TV show episode: it has conflict and a mini-plot arc that fits into the larger plot arc… and it ends with a cliffhanger, of course.

Even silly PLL may have lessons for me. If I want to write for teens (which I do) then watching a teen show isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Of course, Season One of PLL is from 2010. If I really want to get hip to the teens of today, I’ll need to work my way through all seven seasons. Whew, that’s a lot of episodes… I better lose the guilt and get to watching!

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Is my baby reading more books than I am?

 

I’m Writing This While the Baby Sleeps

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I’m Writing This While the Baby Sleeps

Last Thursday, my husband and I talked to the new crop of students in the Bradley Method Birth Class that we attended when I was pregnant.

“Birth is the easy part,” I told them. “It’s everything after that’s hard.”

That night, the baby proved my point by refusing to sleep from midnight until six a.m. In our dark bedroom with the white noise machine blaring, I would nurse her and bounce her on the exercise ball until I thought she was asleep, but the moment I’d stand from the ball, she would startle awake and cry piercingly until I did more nursing and bouncing. Things went on in this manner (with some diaper changes thrown in for good measure) until the first rays of dawn appeared, when she finally fell asleep on my chest, and I drifted into an exhausted one-hour slumber.

On Friday, she slept for most of the day. She slept in the baby k’tan with Daddy in the morning (he was working from home, thank god, so I was able to snag an hour of sleep in bed), and then in the afternoon she slept on me while I slept on the couch.

My husband and I were worried that we’d let her sleep too much and she wasn’t going to sleep come nighttime. We were right to worry. Friday night I was again nursing and bouncing for hours. Not only would she not sleep in her bassinet, she wouldn’t even sleep in the bed with me. She dozed for a few fifteen- minute intervals on my chest, so that’s when I slept, too.

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Daytime nap with baby.

 

By Saturday, my husband and I knew we had to do something differently. We decided to be stricter about both a bedtime routine a daytime nap routine. We also decided to limit the amount of time she spent sleeping on us. From now on, for at least two naps per day we would swaddle her and put her in the bedroom bassinet with the white noise machine going. That way, she would make the association that swaddle plus white noise plus bassinet equals sleep.

And, so far, this new routine seems to be working! Not perfectly, mind you. She did, for example, cry inconsolably from 7pm to 9:30pm on Sunday night and it often takes upwards of an hour and a half to get her to bed. BUT she has also been sleeping IN her bassinet for chunks of the night. (And by that I mean for an average of two hours at a time. It still takes me about an hour in between those intervals to get her fed, diapered, and comforted, but still, I’m not complaining –BELIEVE ME, I’m not complaining!)

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Me and the little bae.

 

The baby has also started taking naps in her bassinet during the day. If she settles into some sort of napping pattern soon, it means that I can start to get into a routine myself. It might look something like this:

  • Early morning nap: Eva eats breakfast, takes a shower, and tidies the house
  • Late morning nap: Eva eats lunch and puts dinner in the crockpot
  • Early afternoon nap: Eva responds to email and/or takes a nap herself
  • Late afternoon nap: Eva does chores and/or some living room yoga

Where does writing fit into this routine? Well, I haven’t figured that out yet.

Up until the baby was born, I had a routine for my writing. I would sit down at my tidy desk in my office by 9am with a steaming cup of tea and usually a bit of chocolate. I’d work on writing until I got hungry for lunch around noon. It was ingrained in me: morning plus my desk plus a cup of tea equals writing. Unfortunately, that meant I had trouble getting myself to write at any other time of day. I had trouble writing if I wasn’t at home alone, if my desk wasn’t tidy, or if I didn’t have a cup of tea and something sweet to eat.

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My writing routine pre-baby:  a quiet morning, a clean desk, a cup of tea.

 

As I’m getting my baby into a stricter routine and getting her to make helpful associations, I’m loosening my own routines and associations. From now on I have to snag writing time whenever I can – morning, noon, or night. I have to learn to write wherever I am and whatever the conditions (especially since my office now doubles as the nursery and my desk is currently a neatnik’s nightmare). I don’t have the luxury to be so particular anymore; I will have to write whether or not I have time to make myself a cup of tea.

People always say, “sleep when your baby sleeps,” and I will do that, but I  will try to write a little, too.

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She’s such a little angel when she’s sleeping!

You Can’t See All the Parades

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You Can’t See All the Parades

For most of the country, yesterday was just another Tuesday, but in New Orleans and surrounding areas, it was Mardi Gras. I should know because my facebook feed is currently filled with pictures of my New Orleans friends whooping it up on the parade route.

A lot of people don’t realize this, but Carnival season officially begins on Twelfth Night (The Feast of the Epiphany on January 6) and lasts until the day before Ash Wednesday.

I lived in New Orleans for six years, and Mardi Gras parades there begin several weekends before Fat Tuesday. Parades roll the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights before the big day, and both daytime and nighttime parades abound on Saturday and Sunday. There are more parades Monday evening (Lundi Gras), followed by a full schedule on Mardi Gras Day, starting with Zulu, which rolls bright and early at 8 a.m.

I remember one year trying to rally for Zulu even though I was running on two hours of sleep and had either a hangover (and a sore throat from shouting), or what was the beginning of a terrible cold. I concocted myself a drink I called my “Mardi Gras Magical Mixture,” which consisted of Emergen-C, Diet Mountain Dew (for the caffeine), and vodka. Then I put on my costume and headed to the Quarter.

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Here I am with a toilet on Mardi Gras Day in the French Quarter.  (2009, I believe.)

 

After living in New Orleans for a few years, I realized that I didn’t need to go to every single parade. The smart thing to do was to save energy for my favorites (Muses, Thoth, Bacchus), and make sure I had enough stamina to make it through Mardi Gras Day.

But that’s easier said than done, especially because, for the last three years of my New Orleans life, I lived one block off the parade route. I would be in my apartment, trying to read or write or organize my closet, when I’d hear the sounds of high school marching bands and jubilant cheering. Anxiety would strike: people were having fun without me!  I was missing out on potentially cool floats! Half the time, I couldn’t stand the thought of missing out, so I’d pull on a coat, pour a cocktail in a to-go cup, and head out to Saint Charles Avenue to whoop it up with everyone else.

This is probably the reason why I, without fail, came down with terrible post-Mardi-Gras illnesses every single year. You can’t do it all, and when you try, your body tends to rebel.

 

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Saturday before Mardi Gras.  (2010, I believe.)

 

Now that I’m in my thirties, I’m much more okay with missing out on fun. In fact, I usually prefer staying at home reading to whooping it up out on the town. But I sometimes still suffer from the desire to want to do it all.

Currently, my baby is five weeks old and requires a lot of attention (and rightly so!), which means the amount of time I have to do other things is quite limited. I have a stack of books I want to read. I have stories I want to write. I have projects I want to complete. I have all these postnatal yoga classes and crybaby movies I want to attend.  And sometimes I feel frustrated when a day goes by and all I’ve managed to accomplish is feeding and bathing myself and the baby.

But the thing is, you can’t do it all, nor should you even try.  I’ll never read all the books I want to read.  I’ll probably only attend a fraction of the baby-and-me yoga classes the DC area has to offer.  And that’s okay.

You can’t pursue every idea either, which can be hard for us creative-types to understand. New ideas are exciting (so bright and shiny!), but chances are high that I won’t be able to write every book or story I’ve ever thought about writing. Better to focus my energy on the strongest ideas (or the ones I feel strongest about) than to chase every single thought that goes marching through my brain.

Just because you can’t do it all, doesn’t mean you can’t do something worthwhile.  For now, I’m going to stay home with my baby and enjoy the small parade of miracles she performs for me every day.  And if I get to sneak in a few minutes of reading or writing or whooping it up every now and then — well, all the better!

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My little bae.

 

A Sleeping Baby, A Finished Manuscript

A Sleeping Baby, A Finished Manuscript

Today my daughter is one month old, and I’m exhausted.

The other night, I had just drifted off to sleep when the baby woke up. Of course I’m used to this by now. She only sleeps for two-hour stretches, so she wakes up multiple times in the night.

Before she could get into full-force crying mode, I pulled her from her bedside bassinet and nursed her. Then I woke up my husband and sent him off to change her diaper while I used the bathroom, refilled my water glass, and changed out of my sweat-soaked pajamas. (Why, by the way, does no one tell you about post-partum night sweats? They’re the worst!)

I re-swaddled the little bae and nursed her until she got sleepy. Then I rocked her in my arms until her limbs went slack and it appeared she had fallen asleep. I gently deposited her in her bassinet, tucked her blanket around her, and counted to fifty before oh-so-agonizingly-slowly slipping my hand away from her soft little head in hopes that she wouldn’t realize she was no longer nestled safe in Mommy’s arms. I rocked the bassinet for a few minutes for good measure, and it seemed like she was fast asleep.

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Baby in her swaddle.

 

Relieved, I flopped back into bed and pulled the covers up to my chin, excited to get another two hours of sleep. That’s when I heard the baby grunt. I stayed put, hoping she was making noises in her sleep. But no, now she was starting to whine and thrash. I sat up in bed and grabbed the side of the bassinet, hoping I could just rock her back to sleep. But soon enough her little eyes popped open, and her face screwed with displeasure. I tried slipping a pacifier between her lips, but she wouldn’t take it, and she let out a giant, heartbreaking wail.

“It’s okay, little baby,” I crooned while my husband moaned in his sleep. I picked her up and started to nurse her again. I went through the whole routine – nurse, rock, put in the bassinet, rock some more. But again, mere minutes after I lay her down, she started to cry.

On the third try, I held her in one arm, and with my free hand I checked my email on my phone. One of my emails turned out to be feedback from a beta reader who had just read the most recent draft of my novel. She had some good things to say about it, but she also pointed out many flaws and gave me suggestions for improvement. She had showed me some very real problems, and I was grateful for that, but the email also made me feel tired. I was going to have to start all over  with the novel, giving it a total revision from head to toe.

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Little bae is very good at sleeping during the day!

 

As I rocked the baby in my arms, wondering if she was deep enough asleep to not notice a transfer into the bassinet, it occurred to me that getting a newborn back to sleep isn’t so different from revising a novel. Just when you think you’re done, you have to start all over again from the very beginning. It’s time consuming, it’s tiring… and yet, you love this baby of yours, whether it be a book baby or a human one, and somehow you find the patience not to throw it out the window.

Annoying as revisions may be, I’m looking forward to having the time and energy to revise this novel.  I know it might take awhile, and I know I this might not be the last revision, but it’s my baby.

Finally, the human baby was fast asleep in my arms. I gently placed her in the bassinet and had begun to move my hands away from her head a fraction of an inch at a time when a loud, wet, squelching sound came from her behind. And then another. A moment later, her eyes blinked open and she began to wail. I woke up my husband and sent him off to do yet another diaper change. It was two a.m., and I could tell we were in for a long night.

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Me and the little bae.

 

Our Birth Story: Timing is Everything

Our Birth Story:  Timing is Everything

I wasn’t expecting her to come early. My due date was February 4th, and I’d been told that first babies always come late. I planned on having a few more weeks to polish up a draft of my current manuscript, not to mention to make freezer meals and organize the nursery.

My husband and I were planning on having a home birth, and everything with my pregnancy was normal and healthy. But then, about a month before the due date, my feet started getting itchy. Like, really itchy. It was so bad I couldn’t sleep. One night, while not sleeping, and with cold packs wrapped around my feet for relief, I googled “itchy feet during pregnancy.”

Turns out, itchy feet is one of the only symptoms of a very rare and very serious condition called cholestasis of pregnancy in which the pregnancy hormones cause the mother’s liver and gallbladder to stop functioning properly. It can cause severe problems for the fetus, including death.

Naturally, I freaked out and called my midwife the next morning. She told me cholestasis was extremely rare but I should get tested to make sure. So I went to get my blood drawn.

Unfortunately, Labcorp botched my first blood draw, and I had to go back for a second time two days later. They then took their sweet time (nearly four days) getting the results back.

“If they hadn’t messed up my blood work the first time, we’d know by now,” I grumbled to Paul. I’d convinced myself that I didn’t have cholestasis and that everything was fine, but I still wanted to know for sure. The cure for cholestasis is delivery, so if the blood work came back positive, I would likely go to the hospital to be induced, thus putting an end to our dream of an intervention-free birth at home.

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I didn’t make it past 38 weeks…

 

Well, to make a long story slightly shorter, guess when I found out that I DID have the beginning stages of cholestasis… About twenty minutes after my water broke!

“It looks like your body is taking care of business on its own,” the midwife said when we called her. Then she came over to talk to us about our options.

She told us it would probably be fine to have the baby at home, but cholestasis is so rare that in her twenty-five years of practice, she’d only ever had one other patient with the condition, and the outcome had not been great. “There’s not a lot of information about it out there,” she said, showing us an article in a medical journal that had only managed to round up thirteen cholestasis patients for the study. “I think, to be safe, you should go to the hospital where they can give you an external fetal monitor.”

“When should we leave?” Paul asked. “Should we take showers first?” (Everything we’d read about labor stressed the importance of not going to the hospital too soon.)

She gave him a strange look. “Um, I think you should go right now.”

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Here I am having a contraction in the squatting position.

 

So we headed to George Washington University hospital in downtown DC, which has a midwife practice within the hospital. And we brought Kathy, one of our home birth midwives, with us to be our doula. By the time we arrived and got checked in, my contractions had gone from mostly painless to the worst period cramps ever. Baby was on the way!!

It was a bit annoying being in the hospital. (The room was cold, they made me get an IV port, and the nurse had to adjust the fetal monitor every five seconds – often while I was having a contraction.) But otherwise, it wasn’t too different from home. We listened to music and dimmed the lights and Kathy suggested different positions. The GW midwife left us alone for the most part to labor in private.

We labored all night and into the morning – for about ten hours – and then I was ready to push. “The NICU team is going to come in,” the nurse told me. “But as long as they hear the baby cry, they won’t take her away. They just want to make sure she’s healthy and then they’ll leave you both alone.”

So there I was, pushing out a baby with Kathy, Paul, the midwife, two nurses, the NICU doctor, and a handful of medical students standing around watching.

“Um, how long is this going to take?” the NICU doctor asked. “Should we come back later?”

That’s when I gave a final grunting push, and my daughter (all 6 pounds 13 ounces of her) was born. The nurses placed her on my chest, and she looked up at me, cooing. Only a few minutes old, and she was so alert! It hadn’t happened like we planned, but it had happened all the same. And I can still hardly believe it. Two weeks later, I still look at her from time to time and say “I have a baby. This is my baby and I love her so much.”

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Baby is only a few minutes old here!

 

I keep telling people that the birth was the best possible hospital scenario – no drugs, no interventions. We got to have the birth we wanted, just in a different location.

And weirdly, I owe it all to Labcorp’s incompetence. If they had gotten the lab results back in a timely manner, I probably would have gone to the hospital for an induction, and my birth story would be totally different.

It reminds me that sometimes the things that seem like annoyances, setbacks, failures, or heartbreaks become the things we are thankful for in hindsight.

I lost my literary agent a while back, and I’ve had trouble finding a new one.  At times it feels like a major setback for my writing career, but I’m hoping that hindsight will prove it was a good thing after all: I’ll realize he wasn’t the right agent for me, or that it’s better in the long run that this new manuscript I’m working on be my debut novel. I’ll realize it was all in the timing, and that it just wasn’t the right time for me to be published.

As my daughter proved to me, timing is everything, and in the end it doesn’t so much matter when or where or how something important happens, just that it happens at all.

 

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2 weeks old