Many thoughts about the world, meditation, parenting, Judaism, pregnancy, teaching, cancer survivorship, moving from West Coast to East and more.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

4 Weeks and Change... lots of change

(I wrote this post Sunday night but was unable to publish until this morning.)

We had our first of three birthing classes last Sunday, the second one today. It's six hours per session which is exhausting and sometimes I feel quite antsy to be more active, but it's definitely filled with useful information. Most of the time is spent discussing the process of labor and asking real biological questions and experimenting with birthing positions. It's not the stereotypical sort of class in which you sit on the floor and practice breathing. Today the teacher says her experience is that we'll know how to breathe when the time comes. There are only two of us couples in the class so we really get to tailor it to what we need and want.

Even before the last class I was beginning to feel quite frantic with the ticking clock and the lists of things to do including:

Prepare some skeleton of a baby's room
Get a new couch because we really hate the one we have and know we won't have time to deal with this again later.
Get odds and ends that I'll need and want in the hospital.
Line up a doula.
Prepare lesson plans for my substitute and assistant.
Write a skeleton of anecdotal report cards so the rest can be filled in and revised later with less work.

We've mostly been avoiding getting things for the baby and baby's room until now... it's traditional not to. But now we just really NEED to do it for our own sanity.

In any case, as I said, I was starting to feel crazy about a week ago and went into overdrive. What do you know, but by Monday I had a cold. So the frantic feelings were actually a warning sign. (As were the cravings for sugar, pepperoncini and citrus.) But it's been awhile - Thank G-d! - since I've felt sick. I had a small cold for a day or two right before Yom Kippur and earlier in the summer, but other than that haven't really felt bad since Pesach! And then I was dealing with first trimester nausea, fatigue etc. and couldn't tell what was pregnancy and what was antibiotics. Also, I'm convinced that cold came on because my body wanted me to stop work and just process the new reality a little better.

In any case, remember how sick I was all of last year? Pregnant ladies tend to have weakened immune systems, and yet I'm doing better. My best guess is that the thought of becoming a mother makes me actually feel less stress about the other components of my life. Sure, I will have MUCH more to do soon, but nothing is as important as what I'm about to do. From the very first weeks of my pregnancy people remarked that I looked calmer. Can I keep this up afterwards too?

I'm terrified much more about returning to work after the birth than anything else. Guilt, fear, worry etc. But if I can keep my priorities straight than I hope I can blow off some of the "little" annoyances that push me over the edge much more than the things about work that really matter.

All these years I've wrestled with a ridiculous guilt for taking the time that I do to focus on ME and being introspective, caring for myself, meditating etc. Along the way I've seen it makes a difference to other people in my life that I do these things. I'm easier to be around and am much more present and able to help them. But now I hope will really be the big payoff and that I can be... well... a MOTHER to the best of my abilities.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Post-Party Pictures

Had that remission day party I wrote about. It was as wonderful as I'd hoped and I'm going to try here to actually post my first video on the blog. We are singing (and clapping) very quietly because elsewhere in the house there are baby twins and a four-year old sleeping. The cake is Ben & Jerry's Phish Food (carefully chosen by sampling several of the stores flavors) and we are drinking non-alcoholic Martinelli's apple cider. So don't worry about that.

It turns out that D. has been in remission for 11 years. I have been for 3. He was diagnosed at 23. I was diagnosed at 26. He faced recurrences. I, thank G-d, have not.

We talked about a lot of things tonight related to our cancer-experiences including diagnosis, treatment, hair loss and how cancer did or did not change our lives. For example, as M., (the hostess) put it tonight, our personalities themselves didn't change. But there are changes nonetheless.

For D., his experience led him to a different career. For me, it lead to a change in how I interact with some people in my life and a greater willingness to speak to people going through difficult challenges that are hard for me to watch (such as illness or loss).

I guess I thought the changes would be even greater. I think I believed I would never wake up crabby again because I'd always be so grateful to be alive. I do have a huge appreciation for life, but I'm not constantly aware of it. How can anyone? On the other hand, though I've always been impatient with pettier things in life, that impatience has grown a bit. Shortly after the cancer I went through a dark, angry and bitter stage. During that time I had no patience at all for other people's daily concerns, including the very valid concerns that my 3rd graders had about what time snack was etc. It took me time to re-realize the importance of those everyday things. But I still think spending lots of money on clothes, for example, is stupid.

But whatever... everything is taking on a new light with this pregnancy. Near the beginning of it, I found all of these parallels: The length of pregnancy is the same length as my cancer treatment was. The baby is due around the time my radiation treatment was finished... etc. etc. But what I told U. when I first was pointing these parallels out, was that the most important realization of all, is that I no longer cared about the parallels. I'm living post-cancer, but I'm not living in a post-cancer head anymore. If I've grown at all, great. But I no longer have to be conscious of it. I don't have to tell my story all the time. I rarely have the desire or even need to milk people for sympathy anymore. I still love attention, but now I'm getting it from something happier and something that more people have experienced instead of monopolizing on having a rare and scary experience.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

I Will Survive

The title to this post has a double-meaning, but I'll link them.

This Sunday is my third remission anniversary. I've recently become friends with a wonderful couple here. The woman in particular is in my top 5 list of people in NJ that I connect to. It so happens that her husband survived a very similar kind of cancer to me a number of years ago (at least 5... I can't remember for sure how many). His remission anniversary was yesterday, so Saturday night we're having a double "birthday" party. Yesterday I ordered the Phish Food ice cream cake. I'm so excited about this.

The first year I celebrated was extremely serious as I invited a few trusted friends to whom I told my whole story from beginning to end.

The second year, my friend Emarcy came out to celebrate, but weird things were happening in my life.

This year is just going to be a happy party as I await the next stage in my wonderful life.

So on to the second point... I happen to really really love the song "I Will Survive." It just feels so damn good. I just found this of it that I rather enjoy. (Speaking of cake...)

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

6 Weeks Left!

If we consider my due date to be accurate, I have 6 weeks to go.

If we go instead by my dream cycle, the baby could be born any night with any number of creative twists to the event. Last night two doctors kept insisting on putting stinging eye drops in my eyes after the birth for some reason.

For the most part I think I've rated (surprisingly) as a slightly less complain-prone pregnant woman, but that's changing now. Despite chiropractor visits, a professional massage and yoga, my back hurts A LOT most of the time. (I actually have had less time for yoga, that could be part of it.) My stomach also just feels huge which makes all of my usual associations with it difficult from food to bathroom issues, to being able to pick up something I drop on the floor, put on shoes or squeeze through narrow areas. For the first time, I'm starting to really wonder how all of this extra STUFF inside of me will come out and for the first time am really getting a little scared about the birthing process. (I understand that the more able you are to confront your fears can aid the process.)

Even so, I'm still smaller than average, apparently. I know someone else who is about 6 months pregnant with twins and is shorter and bigger than me. I feel bad for her.

The most difficult symptom has been insomnia. Thank goodness I had a full night's sleep last night. But I always wake up around 3 for the bathroom. What's crucial is what I do at 3. If I start to think or worry about anything for even a minute, the rest of my night is shot.

I feel stressed about a lot of things I need to do for work before this blessed event, and I know I'll (literally) have my hands full when the baby arrives, but I'm going to be so excited to reach that hurdle.


Sunday, October 15, 2006

Simchat Torah 5767

Well, I did it. I read from the Torah for the first time ever.

I've read megillah quite a few times at Purim in Oberlin,OH, Vancouver, BC and New Jersey.

But even though I came to the women's reading last year, I hadn't read Torah before.

I almost didn't do it at all. I knew that if I were to do it, I would be assigned to r'vi'i (the 4th section), but I thought that would be r'vi'i of Breishit (Genesis), not of V'Zos Habrachah (the last section of Deuteronomy). There was an enormous difference in length between the two. As it was, I learned how to do it on the phone with someone within 20 minutes. Then it was just a matter of practicing throughout the week and having U. check my work.

For those of you who don't know, reading from the Torah means 1. reading the Hebrew, 2. reading the Hebrew in a text that doesn't contain the Hebrew equivalent of vowels and 3. reading the Hebrew without vowels and doing it according to musical markings that ALSO aren't in the actual text you're reading from. In short, it involves a lot of practice and memorization.

Because so many women volunteered to read this year, more than one was assigned to each section. My section in particular had the most with four. We actually had four readers. What happened was we reread all of the sections again and again until each woman in the room (who wanted) was called up to the Torah. We made it through four and a half cycles. I was struck by how differently each of us read, and I don't know if one of us was more "right" than the others because none of us reads "trope" (the Torah melody) regularly at all.

When I wrote about reading megillah at Purim this year, I touched on the awe I think many of us feel as we do something so rarely that men do all year long. Today I was struck by that same feeling, but especially by how much we just didn't know! This doesn't mean we were ignorant or did it wrong. It means we were very very careful and most of us quite nervous, even those who had done this before. There was very little ego in the room.

A highlight for me was receiving a special misheberach (a kind of blessing) after my aliyah (going up to the Torah) because I'm pregnant. There is a particular misheberach for when a woman is pregnant, but we didn't know how to do it, so we settled for what was in the siddur which wishes some general wonderful things for the person who receives it.

That was just fine for me.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Hoshanah Rabbah Custom for Pregnant Women

I have a new pet peeve which may become one of those small battles in my life that I'm willing to take on. It's apalling to me how difficult it is to find out about customs and prayers for women to say while pregnant. It's not like we haven't been procreating since the beginning of time. It's not as though this is a small or non-life-changing, non-life-threatening experience. There are a few books, but they're harder to find than you might think, and most women I know don't seem to be aware of them.

One example is Out Of The Depths I Call To You. Please note it is written by Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, a female rabbi, so is likely to be disregarded immediately by Orthodox that say women can't be rabbis. (By the way, I happen to agree that women can't earn the same title of rabbi, but that the title of rabbis is sometimes a misnomer. I also think that there are ways women can be regarded as a very similar resource to a rabbi although they usually aren't. I could explain further on this, but this is obviously not the time.) The prayers in here seem perfectly legitimate copies of prayers women have been saying for centuries. But it annoys me that I always forget to say the one that I OUGHT to be saying daily as part of my regular prayer, because it's not in my regular prayer book and I think it should be.

There is also a book called The Jewish Pregnancy Book. I like this as a resource too for many reasons. There is a lot of modern innovation in here (some that I both do and don't like) which would be uncomfortable for some people who, again, rely only on tradition and Jewish law only. But there are also customs that women have been doing for many years.

Today is Hoshanah Rabbah. (The 3rd paragraph of the description in this link is the most useful for my purposes here.) The second book I mention above has this awesome custom:

As you may know, in the story of creation, Eve is punished for eating from the fruit of the tree with pain in childbirth. Many believe the fruit on the tree was not an apple, but an etrog, which we use every day of Sukkot. So on Hoshanah Rabbah, which marks the end of Sukkot, you take the etrog and bite of the tip, called the "pitom," and spit it out. Without this tip, the etrog can no longer be used to fulfill the obligation (mitzvah) of waving it with a lulav on Sukkot. Then you say,

"Lord of the world, because Eve ate of the etrog, all of us women must suffer such great pangs as to die. Had I been there, I would not have had any enjoyment from [the fruit]. Just so, now I have not wanted to render the etrog unfit during the whole seven days when it was used for a mitzvah. But now, on Hoshanah Rabbah, the mitzvah is no longer applicable, but I am [still] not in a hurry to eat it. And just as little enjoyment as I get from the stem of the etrog would I have gotten from the fruit that you forbade."

In six and a half weeks I'll let you know if it worked!

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hello, Sagittarius

ilI've done some very good things for myself today and yesterday during this week off. In particular, today I got a prenatal massage which was absolutely wonderful.

The most amazing thing happened during the massage. I commented that the baby seemed to be moving in response to the touch of the massage therapist. She said that absolutely the baby was and that it (I know the sex but don't want to say it here) was definitely aware of her presence. We commented on how she can tell that the babies often like the music she plays in the room, even while still in utero.

Then my baby reached out and tried to touch the therapist's hand, right through my skin! At least that's what the therapist claims. I felt some movement at the same time, but on my other side, as though the feet were pushing against the left side to the hand could reach towards the right. The therapist says she's never experienced that before at all.

We then talked about astrology. I don't invest much energy into astrology usually, but when I do hear personality descriptions from people who know what they are talking about, they are almost always consistent with what I see in the world. So this little Sagittarius is likely to be very fiery, active and social. The therapist says that as a Cancer I'm likely to be the more calming influence on the child at home. As these links say, fire and water. (I'm the water.)

None of this surprises me yet. But it does delight me and make it even harder to wait to actually meet this child.

I couldn't help but notice, by the way, the part about how chest and lungs tend to present a problem for Cancer children. How very appropriate for me from my childhood asthma, to current colds (I had one shortly before Yom Kippur, by the way), to the cancer I fought off 3 years ago! To my relief, it also says that Sagittarius children tend to be healthy. Of course, that's no proof that this will be true. But if it is, all the better.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Time Off and Sleep Issues

I have the week off for Sukkot. I think that's just great. Of course, that didn't stop me from signing up for a workshop for school. It's earlier in the morning than I've gotten up for work in quite a while and I'm wondering now how much I wanted to go and how much I was trying to impress by going to this. It's just going to be me and my boss today. All the other teachers had the sense to enjoy their vacation, I guess.

Meanwhile I didn't sleep very well at all. Most of that is probably because I slept too much yesterday during the holiday. So I suppose I can't complain. But there are other factors as well including pregnancy insomnia, middle-of-the-night anxiety and more. Naturally it makes me worry about the sleepless nights ahead that people don't tire of warning me about. (What good is a warning if there is nothing you can do about it?) So soon when I can't sleep I won't be able to lie in bed and just try, I'll have to get up and change diapers and stuff. And then I'll have to go to work.

As always this frightens and depresses me. Even with part-time work I feel like so much is going to be expected from there when I just want to focus on motherhood. Oh, the resentment!

This will be my last workshop for a long time. Last volunteering to do something too, I suspect. That's the boundary I'm setting.

And today I may have to do a lot of school stuff... need to plan for next week still. But today is the ONLY day I'll do it.

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Lulav shake

This is kind of fun.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Tikkun Olam Plug

I'm having one of thost mornings in which I can't seem to focus on getting ready for work. I love part-time. It won't be this easy in a few months...

Anyway, one of the major things that came up for me (unexpectedly) on Yom Kippur was the realization of how little I've been able to do to make a difference on the national or global scale lately. I give a little tzedakah (charity) each month and sign a lot of online petitions, but I'm feeling right now that that's not enough.

(By the way, I went to my modern Orthodox rabbi and asked him for advice on giving tzedakah each month. Ideally we're supposed to give 10%, but I've never known how to calculate that properly, nor how to even live after we've given it. As a result, I wasn't giving often enough at all. He said the important thing for us was to 1. Give a set amount regularly -- I chose once per month instead of once per year -- and 2. to choose a variety of causes I believe in. He said that neither of us fits into the category of people who will make BIG differences with the size of our contributions, but that we should still do what we can for whatever values we want to support. I made a spreadsheet for this purpose and have actually given more than I said I would because I felt more secure once I had everything in place.)

So here's the plug... U. recommended that we each make contributions to runners in the upcoming election. I'm not good at doing research on finding where to make a contribution, but I'm learning. I'm trying to find someone who is not necessarily local for me, but who may be in a close race and stand for something in which I believe. I know that possibly half my readership is not American (Hi Canadians, Israelis and Irish), but might I advice you to do the same?

While nonprofit organizations do so much good in the world, if your money can help policy change so that your favorite nonprofits are less necessary, all the better in my mind.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Yom Kippur in retrospect

I must say, I'm flattered at how many people have asked how Yom Kippur went. I wrote up two pages for myself about everything from the physical experience to the content of some of my meditations and to some of the things I started feeling really ashamed about as the day wore on with me asking forgiveness. It occurs to me, by the way, how many of the things I feel really bad about are between me and other people, not between me and G-d exactly. Didn't I just write that we can't ask forgiveness from other people through G-d?

In any case, I'm not going to give you two pages, especially since it's both rambling and private, but I will copy and paste a few bits as well as rewrite a few short points for this entry:

I tend to believe that meditation will put you into a completely different world. It didn’t exactly do that, but I think I did get more than just following the shul service.

I did miss shul by mussaf. Usaneh tokef (sp?) is usual a highly significant part of the service for me. I realize that I’m always anxious in a shul setting that highlights that I look forward to won’t be good enough or someone will start talking. I guess I’m always very anxious in shul that it won’t be what I want it to. So davening alone meant that I didn’t get the power of hearing a good davening, but it did mean I wasn’t afraid it wouldn’t be good. What does that tell you about me?

I also did go to shul for mincha and neilah but didn’t realize until I got there that I wasn’t feeling great. I wasn’t speaking to anyone yet (except a few words with U. when he came home). I wanted to maintain silence until the end. But I felt a strange sensation in my belly that worried me and that afterwards, when I described it to someone, seems to have been contractions. That naturally has me nervous. I’ve been in touch with my midwife who thinks I’m fine. (I’m seeing her tomorrow anyway.)

Over the entire day and night I had a total of about 5 or 6 meditations, the nighttime ones were the deepest, and they did bring me some new insight. I was careful not to work too hard at them but to let new thoughts come. Sometimes new thoughts look like old ones, but then turn out to be slightly but significantly different. For example, one meditation was supposed to help me find what I wanted to work on within myself. I predicted that being competitive would come up, but it didn't at all. Instead something similar but more painful to face came to me. And also another trait that I have which, once I realized it, was actually sort of empowering. Now that I've faced it I think I can work with it better and break some old patterns.

Throughout the whole day I only prayed, meditated, read, pet my cat and sometimes went to the bathroom. I didn't even sleep during the day. I wasn't able to maintain concentration to only read serious work like the Alan Lew book or Simple Words which jumped off the shelf at me. I also needed a break, so I finished The Silver Chair which while religious in its own way, did not really help much other than to clear my head a little.

All in all, the my experience of the day did not seem to move the world necessarily, but maybe I'll find it changed me a little. I hope so.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006


Yes yes, I've been writing quite a lot, but there's this buzz in the air with Yom Kippur coming and I'm excited and want to record it all.

Mind you, by the way, I don't feel this spiritual every year. But this year, I prepared emotionally as much as I could and, while that's still incomplete, it's paying off.

The day is going by much too fast. What I've done well is made lots of important phone calls. What I haven't done well is caught up on school work, done writing besides the blog etc. But it's gloriously beautiful outside and I needed to get out into nature. U. and I had planned to go somewhere together, but then it was raining so we went out for a HUGE lunch instead. Now, as I said, it's sunny and I wanted to go to the woods.

I felt like there wasn't time, and I realized I needed to daven mincha (the afternoon daily prayer) and that today has a special mincha because it's almost Yom Kippur. There's a cemetary near here and I know some people have the custom to go to cemetaries right before Yom Kippur as a reminder of their own mortality. So I took my machzor (the prayer book for the holiday) and I walked over.

Once inside I sort of felt that creepy knowledge come to me that I was in the midst of death and a beautiful well-kept sort of park simultaneously. Then I noticed a bridge that I'd never seen there before. Instantly I thought of the Rabbi Nachman quote that "All the world is a narrow bridge, and the essential thing is not to be afraid." Just yesterday I read in This Is Real And You Are Completely Unprepared a beautiful explanation of how this means that our lives take place in such a brief span of time between one spread of nothingness and another.

So I walked down to the middle of the bridge, listened to the rush of water from the very noisy stream below and suddenly just felt wonderful. It's such a strange and unhindered sort of joy at this time of year. On one hand I felt so much gratitude for all the good in my life, and on the other hand was able to taste the willingness of being able to give that all up some day because I am not eternal. Only G-d is.

And I prayed.

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One of the tricky things about Yom Kippur is that before you can ask for forgiveness from G-d, you have to ask for it from people. Only those who have been wronged can grant that forgiveness.

I try to take this very seriously and it is always very scary to approach someone in order to apologize. I'm not terribly good at it and, with the exception of family, often don't know who I need to approach. The worst is when I'm upset with someone and don't want to approach them because I feel they are at fault and I want THEM to apologize more than I think I should.

I don't take pride in these feelings, but it is my reality and I suspect it is the same for many others as well.

What's really frustrating is when I receive mass emails from someone asking general forgiveness. There have been a number of times when I've received one and I know the person doesn't realize that I really did feel harmed by something they did. One year I received one of these emails and later approached the person and told her how upset I was about something. This act on my part actually led to a friendship, but that's because this was with a very special and sincere individual who appreciated how candid I was. I hope if someone had approached me in the same way I would have had the courage to open up a friendship too.

What about when you get one of those emails and you know it isn't sincere, and you know you can't tell the person how much they've upset you? The best I can do with those is to accept their request for forgiveness and hope that the new year brings a fresh start. But along with that I think it's important for me to stand up for myself to prevent feeling wronged later on. It's hard to believe that those emails are any more than just a game, but I could be wrong.

As for asking forgiveness myself... except for family, I don't always know who to ask. I think everyone hurts other people in life without even knowing it (just as someone can make your day fantastic without realizing). I'd like to say I'm the sort of person who would willingly accept being told by someone that I had wronged them. I don't take criticism well, but I do understand what it's like for a person to be hurt and in those cases I think I would really be honest with someone who had the courage to tell me and would do the best I could to rectify it.

At the risk of this blog being the equivalent of a mass email that I just now trashed, I hope that if any of you who reads this has felt hurt or offended by anything I've said or done intentionally or unintentionally that you will tell me so that I can sincerely clean the slate for next year. Even if you tell me after Yom Kippur, please tell me.

G'mar tov.

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