Time is the Big Unrenewable Resource

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I often engage in adventure travel with my son. While we enjoy museums and food tours, we are low-key adrenaline junkies and enjoy the occasional thrill.

We have zip-lined across the Zambezi River. We’ve ridden ATVs across the Sahara Desert and through a forrest in Chiang Mai. We’ve also flown in a helicopter to get a better view of Cape Town. We love snorkeling in the open ocean and riding roller coasters – the scarier the better! 

When you become a parent, you’re often faced with the thought of something terrible happening to your child. One minute you can be watching your child be silly or minding your business washing dishes and the next minute a flash of a terrible accident crosses your mind, briefly paralyzing you with fear.

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Self-Care and the Art of Being a Good Mother

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“If you are traveling with a small child or someone who needs your assistance, please put on your mask first before assisting others”.

For those of us who travel, we have heard these words more times than we can count. So much so, we rarely pay attention to them when we are on our flights. We are settling our kids in or sending those last few text messages or emails before the flight attendant walks by and asks us to turn off our electronics. We aren’t paying attention, but rather occupied with other things.

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Six years ago, I almost died.

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I was traveling in Peru, working as a volunteer for an immersion program that encouraged travelers to live with host families and work in childcare centers to increase their language studies. I was to be in Pisac and Cuzco, Peru for a month and I was ecstatic to see what this journey would bring and how it would change me. But the day before I left, I found out I was pregnant.

My partner and I were planning. The month before, we talked about having another child and I even prepared by removing my IUD. We were told that it would take months before my body was ready, so we took no precaution before my trip to Peru, thinking that the time I would be away would be enough time and we could get to baby making once I got back.

We had no idea my fertility was on point.

About a week before I left, I was feeling off. My sense of smell was bionic and everything tasted metallic. The morning before I was to leave for my flight, I decided to take a test. It was faint, but there were two lines. We were pregnant.

Fear and excitement were intermixed and we had no time to make sense of everything. We said prayers and made a plan for me to be safe and check in with doctors as soon as I got into town.

Everything was going well. I went to class, played with children, took amazing photos, and spent time with my host family. I was having the time of my life. We saw Lake Titicaca, climbed ruins and learned so much about this amazing country with the happiest people I have ever seen in my life. The highlight of our trip was our visit to Machu Picchu. We all planned that as our big finale to our month in Peru.

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My Peruvian home (my room was the upstairs window on the far right)

In order to make the trip, we had to take a bus from Pisac to Ollantaytambo then take a train from there to Aguas Calientes. Believe it or not, this was my first time ever riding a train. (I’m from Kansas and there is no need to ride a train ever, okay?) And in true neophyte fashion, I took photos of everything…or at least I tried. The trip was at night and we couldn’t see anything out of the skylight or the windows. But it was amazing. I was on my way to finally see Machu Picchu!

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My travel partner, Anais, and I

 

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Fuzzy photo of the snacks we got on the train. Toldja I was hype!

We get there early and take the bus up the hill at 5am. We are selected to be one of 300 to enter the site that morning and we were beside ourselves. As we entered through the gates, you knew you were on sacred land. You could see the houses and structures that were build thousands of years before you. We set off immediately to climb Huayna Picchu and see everything from the top of the mountain.

So…I’m out of shape. And I was even more so out of shape trying to climb a mountain pregnant. It was hilarious most of the time and I had to tell my partner to leave me and keep going while I took 5011 breaks to catch my breath. But we did it. And the view was absolutely spectacular. I honestly had never felt so free and proud in my life.DSC03485

DSC03475I was standing on the grounds of an ancient civilization. I had climbed a mountain and explored lands no one in my family had ever dreamed of. I felt like I could do anything after that. And all I wanted to do was to go home and grow my family. I had one more week left and I was ready to move on to the next phase of my life. I was starting my internship that year, I was set to graduate the following summer, and begin my career as a school psychologist. I was literally on cloud 9.

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The next day, we set off to return home because we had to work Monday evening. My host sister and I made plans to cook dishes for our family so we traveled from Pisac to Cuzco in the daytime to fetch ingredients. But something was off.

I had been spotting that day, but in the first trimester that’s normal, right? I ignored it and the gut feeling to go to the clinic. We rode home on the bus and I told my colleague that I wasn’t feeling well and I was going to go home to rest. When I got home I had severe diarrhea and was feeling ill. In less than an hour, I had gotten up three times to run to the bathroom. The third time I went, I miscarried my child.

Terrified and shaken, I didn’t want to alarm the entire family. So I called for my host mother to come upstairs and when she did, the only word I could get out was sangre. Her eyes swelled and she looked in the toilet in despair. Not realizing I already knew what happened, she tried to assure me that everything was okay and ushered me back to bed to rest. She called my host father and the entire family swarmed to find the medic in town to help. But it was too late.

I was escorted back to Cuzco by taxi and taken to the clinic that treated me weeks before for altitude sickness. I was put in a room and told to rest.

Calmate, hija.

I was told to rest until they could get in touch with the gynecologist who would be there to examine me and confirm the miscarriage. But he wouldn’t be there until the following evening.

Tranquile, por favor.

He finally arrived, examined me and took an ultrasound.

Es un aborto.

The nurses cried with me.

After the gynecologist confirmed the miscarriage, I was taken to get a D&C to remove all the tissue and everything. I was told that I should be able to go home in a couple days after I rest. But my blood pressure began to decline and they transferred me to ICU in another hospital as a precaution. But when we got there, they discovered that I had a pulmonary embolism and immediately was placed on blood thinners.

After getting to the hospital I remember arguing with the doctor because my body wasn’t getting the medication through the IV in my arm and he wanted to place one in my carotid artery and I argued him down. This is when I lost consciousness.

The next few days are a blur and bits of what I remember were what were told to me after I was released from the hospital. But here is the gist of what happened:

Everything seemed fine in the beginning and people from the program called home to tell them that I was given a 70/30 chance of survival. I was young, I was healthy, and there was no history of anything that would lead them to believe that I wouldn’t pull through. But a few hours later everything changed. Another call was placed to my family to tell them that the odds have shifted. That I am now given a 30 percent chance to survive because my body is no longer responding to the medication and they have given me all that they can now. My body has begun to go septic and my organs are in the beginning stages of shutting down, starting with my kidneys.

I remember regaining consciousness twice. Once when the director of the program was there and I told him that I was okay and another time when Jorge (more about him later) was praying by my bed and I gave him a thumbs up. That’s it.

The next day I remember waking up and being told that my fiancé was on his way to Peru. I almost died. They thought I was going to die. They called him and told him that he might need to come to ship my body home. They seriously thought I was going to die.

The next few days were challenging physically. I woke up with a catheter, a diaper, an IV in my neck, and limited use of my legs. In just 2 days entropy began to take effect. I had to be washed and helped to the toilets after they agreed to remove the catheter. But after a few days, I was allowed to go back to the clinic to recover. After another week, I was able to fly home.

Emotionally, the recovery was much more difficult. My relationship crumbled because we were forced to jump back into a life that didn’t allow us to grieve. My internship started and he, as an adjunct professor in graduate school also, had to bear the financial brunt of the household. We lost a child and he almost lost me. Neither of us could figure out how to come back from that.

***

I felt like part of me was left in Peru in some ways. I returned back to Philadelphia not really knowing who I was or what my place was in this world. I felt guilty and not worthy of anything anymore. I questioned my ability to care for and protect my living child and that brought on more guilt. My depression came in intense waves and kept me from being the best mom I could to be for him. The stress of my internship and graduation coupled with the passing of my aunt became too much for me. I needed to do something.

I went back to therapy.

That summer was intense and she pushed me to grieve the way I needed to, and for both my child and myself. I was forced to reframe who I wanted to be and how I wanted to live my life going forward. I was able to take space for myself and discover me again.

After I finally opened up about everything, I wrote:

I spoke with my therapist about Peru last week. For the first time I spoke in detail, not only about the experience, but about the experience…if that makes sense? The first time I didn’t just mention the facts, but how I felt and what I felt going through it all. For the first time, my feelings were out there in the open.

 

And it was overwhelming.

 

For the rest of the day, I pushed down my feelings because I had to see clients. But ended up canceling because I couldn’t gather the energy to process my emotions and deal with theirs. Uncomfortable and exhausted, I resolved to eat comfort food and go to bed.

 

The next morning, everything just spilled out and I couldn’t stop crying. What I had shared, finally, was more than I could handle at that time. All day, I remember feeling drained. My clients asking me what was wrong. I just gave the excuse that I was feeling a little ill. But the truth was that I was engulfed in emotion that I couldn’t control.

 

This is what I was afraid of. This is the exact reason why I have chosen to cling to these emotions for so long, daring to let a little out at a time. Because when I let a little out, it’s like this balloon that’s filled to capacity – you try to let a little out and it slips your grasp and the balloon spews out of control, expelling all of its contents. That’s how it is right now. I’ve lost control and my emotionals are flying all over the place.

 

I’ve been fighting the urge to numb myself both literally and figuratively. I have consciously stayed away from wine and other substances that I typically turn to, in order to avoid feeling this way. Trying to stay focused and just allow myself to feel what I am feeling right now. Not trying to make sense of any of it, explain it, or push it away.

 

For the first time, I feel completely naked. Stripped of all that I have created to mask the pain and hurt and guilt and shame and all the other emotions that I have deemed unacceptable and too uncomfortable to experience in entirety. I am exposed and vulnerable.

 

It’s an awkward feeling, but it’s okay.

 

I’m finding my way through this. Fumbling in the dark to find the light switch to make everything visible again.

 

In all honesty, this shit hurts. It’s painful and it sucks.

But I am here. I’m breathing. And I am feeling again.

After that summer with her I was hopeful that I could get things back. I wanted to try to start to rebuild my family and grow from this experience that had damaged us as a unit. But everything that happened in that year was too much for us to stay together. Shortly after he returned we ended.

***

So why am I reflecting on this 6 years later? I blame Facebook memories, to be honest. All month, I have been reminded of that trip, reliving posts and experiences that I haven’t thought of or even wanted to in a long time. Until recently, I could not bear look at the photos of my time there. It was too painful.

But this time it wasn’t. A friend of mine recently took a trip to Peru and it was fun to help her plan her trip to Machu Picchu. I didn’t get that pang in my stomach or drift off remembering the details of events. I was happy for her, that she got to experience the place that will always hold a piece of me. I want to take the boy there and hopefully the Mogollons (my host family) will still be there in their blue house selling snacks and cigarettes.

I look forward to showing him the happiest people I have ever seen in my life, the wonderful sights and sunsets, and one day tell him the story of how I died and was reborn a peruana.

The day we left Peru, Doris, my host mother, grabbed my face and told me that I would always be her daughter, that I would always be in her heart, and that I was allowed to live for a reason – that there was something that I was supposed to do.

She also told me to bring my babies back to meet her someday 🙂

I know now that there is something that I am to accomplish in this life. Something so important that I won’t leave this earth until it’s done. Losing my child and almost losing my life in the process taught me to live my life more intentionally. I no longer have time to remain in friendships and relationships that don’t serve me. That I can’t stick with a job that doesn’t bring me joy. I’m not here for busy work and I wasn’t brought back to life for it to be mundane and mediocre.

I don’t have much time left on this planet. This I know. And I intend to do as much as I can with all the time I have left.

For those who are wondering what happened to cause the entire event in Peru:

Apparently I contracted a group A strep infection in my bloodstream. I suspect it happened when we visited the hot springs in Aguas Calientes. The water wasn’t hot and it was more of a shared pool, than a natural hot spring. I must have had a cut or something and picked up the virus that way.

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The hot springs in Aguas Calientes

This caused the ill feeling and diarrhea and ultimately my miscarriage. My body was trying to save my life, I suppose, and it was too much to try and maintain the pregnancy.

I visited my doctor when I returned and told him the entire story. He called me “a very interesting patient” and went on to say that it takes an awful lot to be considered just an interesting one. Through a series of blood work and post Peru check ups, they could not find anything wrong with me. There was no evidence that I even went through the entire ordeal, aside from the post-traumatic stress and depression.

The months after the recovery involved hair loss, skin shedding from my feet and hands, and nerve recovery from the IV being placed in my neck. For almost a year, I was extremely sensitive to cold and became extremely self conscious with my hair loss. I lost a tremendous amount of weight and I was either sleeping all the time or not at all.

But 6 years later, I’m here. I’m breathing. I’m feeling amazing again.

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Doris and Guillermo Mogollon

Oh. About Jorge. He basically saved my life.

The way the system is set up in Peru, the pharmacy is not inside of the hospital. Someone has to sit outside of ICU and wait for them to call your name so that they can go and make the run to the pharmacy to get the life saving medication you need. I was told Jorge did this all night when I was unconscious. Without him, I wouldn’t be here. Literally. They told me he sat outside and waited. Waited to go out and get the medication that I needed.

The next time I saw him after my discharge I cried when I hugged him. Because although he didn’t realize what he had done, I did. Maybe he did but he’s too much of an angel to acknowledge it.

I can never repay him. And he told me that I would never have to. But I know that the life that I live now is because of the work that was done on my behalf, in this realm and next.

Update on life in Japan.

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I recently wrote an essay for mater mea, the online publication that has featured me to talk about my move to Tokyo. They reached out and asked for a follow up on our life here in Tokyo. It took me a long time to write this, because I was so occupied with adjusting and dealing with things, that I wasn’t able to reflect on all that has happened. That was part of it. The other part was it has taken me this long to actually sit and be still long enough to reflect. I’ve been moving so much and in such an emotional whirlwind, that I hadn’t allowed myself the space to just be still. Partly because I was afraid of what would happen.

So, one day I sat down and wrote this piece. It was published last month, but I wanted to post it here for you, who have been on this journey with me.

***

When I made the decision to move to abroad with my son, I was completely unprepared. Sure I was aware of the culture shock, the challenges I would endure with jet lag and sleep deprivation. I even expected that I would go through extreme withdrawal from Chick-Fil-A. But what I wasn’t prepared for was how moving to this new country would forever alter my relationship with my son.

After being a single mother in the United States for years, being a single mother abroad is an entirely different ball game. You become proficient at making things happen and figuring things out on your own because you have no real choice. But here, not knowing a lick of Japanese, having zero knowledge of the area or the way things work, I was forced to rely on other people to help me with things I was accustomed to doing on my own. I had to learn how to ask for help, and that was hard for me and my ever-so-posturing ego. Being here made me realize that it was okay to do so because I can’t do everything by myself, no matter how much my pride gets in the way.

I’m going to be honest: the last six months have been somewhat of a struggle. I didn’t handle the stress well and it was challenging for both of us to adapt. Because neither of us was ready for what adjusting to Tokyo meant, our relationship took a hit.

To give a little context, Chris went to a progressive school when we lived in Philadelphia. It was a very relaxed environment that nurtured him as an individual and actively sought his feedback to structure his education. The school was pretty aligned to how I have been educating him since birth, so it worked for us both. When we moved to Tokyo, I enrolled him at the school that had a relationship with the school that I would be working. I researched what I could about this school from afar, but it was basically the tuition discount and close proximity that got the vote. But what I didn’t take into account was how the school would fit into our personal pedagogy.

In hindsight, the school couldn’t have been more on the opposite end of the educational spectrum. They were a traditional catholic school, enforced a uniform policy, and had a rigid schedule and homework policy. Some of Chris’ challenges at the school were keeping up with the pace of homework and testing (of which neither of us was a fan), adjusting to wearing a uniform daily, and the school had an issue with his locs. Attempting to abide by the school policy, I braided his hair back to keep it as “neat and kempt” as his then eight-year-old self could maintain on a weekly basis, but it became increasingly clear that there was a personal issue.

In addition to adjusting to this, Chris was showing signs of stress very early on. He was chewing incessantly on anything he could get his hands on, he was wetting the bed, and he was irritable and would basically freak out if anything changed in our schedule without notice. This was challenging – to understand the needs of my child had changed drastically. I’m not so sure I was ready for that. Chris was extremely stressed out, and it took a long time for us to learn how to communicate effectively again and for me to find a way to support him.

After the first week of school, I scheduled a meeting with his teacher to inform her of his challenges and see if we could work collaboratively on a solution. A distressed mother, seeking the help of a fellow parent, I found none. Instead, she took that opportunity to let me know how my child wasn’t measuring up to the “room full of Asians”, as she referred to them. Discussing with me all the educational challenges that I was already aware of, and informed her prior to his arrival, but failed to discuss interventions or solutions. Frustrated, I sought help from the assistant principal and, later, the principal – all with no avail.

After my fifth meeting with the school, it was becoming apparent that I wasn’t going to get anywhere and began to feel helpless and frustrated. Despite my appeals, they insisted that he was happy at school and that there was nothing to help, although I saw another child at home. I knew it was just Chris putting on a mask and keeping it together while at school, but then falling apart at home. It wasn’t until I saw how it was beginning to have an effect on his identity that I decided we needed another school.

During a conversation, I asked Chris how he felt about living in Japan. He told me that he liked it here, but he felt that his school wanted to change him. He went on to say that he was okay with the uniform and even how they learn in the school, but he was slowly beginning to feel that the individuality that was celebrated at his previous school was discouraged at this new one. This translated to his eight-year-old brain that he wasn’t liked and accepted for who he is. And as the person who has spent the majority of his life making sure he has a positive self-image despite the messages society sends, this was devastating to hear. I had to make a change.

After months of trial and error, we are on an upswing. I had to transfer him to a new school that could support him better with this transition. The commute to school is longer for him, but he is so much happier and lighter. On the way home from picking him up on his first day, I noticed he was so much more energetic and talkative. It was then I realized that no matter how resilient they can be, no child should have to carry a weight like that. Nor should any of us for that matter.

In all this, I’m learning to change the way I communicate with him. I’m learning to be more patient and remember to breathe when I feel things are out of my control. We are both realizing that this is hard for the both of us, but in Tokyo, we are all we got. So we’re working on being kinder with one another.

Despite the challenges we faced initially, I don’t regret my decision at all. I have realized that moving here, at this stage in his development, was the best decision that I could have made for us. He is living the childhood I always wanted for him. There is a sense of safety in Tokyo that doesn’t exist in the States. We feel no sense of caution when walking home at night or when taking public transit. We don’t flinch or hold our breath when encountering law enforcement. We don’t experience any aggression from the citizens here (maybe the occasional staring contest, but I always win). He has a supportive environment at his school now, and he is freer than he has been in a very long time. As a bonus, because of our location, we can explore Asia significantly cheaper than we could back home. Right now, I am content.

Sure, it is possible that by living here, he is experiencing a false sense of the reality that we may have to face if we go back to the United States. When he is a man, he may never know how to interact with police officers in a way that doesn’t make him seem intimidating or threatening (I don’t know anyone in the States who knows how to do this, actually). He may never learn to keep his hands in plain sight at all times and learn the phrase “If I die in police custody, I did not commit suicide.” I do take all of this into consideration. But you know what? I’m okay with that. Because my only focus as a mother right now is to create an environment where my son can be exactly who he should be at nine years old: a child. And I couldn’t care less on what continent that happens.