Archives for May 2012

Learning from Limitations


I recently wrote about the pregnancy scare I had when I was almost 29 weeks pregnant with my first son, which resulted in several weeks of bed rest and early delivery.

Funny thing: the day after I wrote that post, my doctor put me on bed rest again!

No drama, though. The news didn’t exactly come as a surprise during this, my second pregnancy, nor did the event involve any blood or traumatic hospital visits. Basically, my body is just getting ready for labor way too soon so I need to take it even more easy than I have until now. A lot of lying down, etcetera, but as I told a friend: I feel fortunate I’m not on the chained-to-the-bed-with-a-bedpan type of bed rest!

If you’re busy and exhausted, you might be tempted to say: hey, bed rest sounds pretty good right about now! But honestly, bed rest stinks. Maybe a day or two would be okay, but beyond that? No thanks. I’m normally not super active, but I can actually feel my muscles atrophy! And my poor, active 21-month-old, who I’m not supposed to lift…sigh.

One of the hardest things about bed rest, though, for me at least? I just feel so limited. And feeling limited physically reminds me of all the other limitations I feel I have. In writing and life, I often feel severely limited by my abilities and circumstances. Seriously frustrating!

In our society, there’s so much talk about pushing limits, overcoming limitations, and shattering glass ceilings. Often for good reason.  Perhaps because of that, the word limit and its close friend limitation (I pretty much use the terms synonymously here though they have slightly different meaning) have gained negative connotation. Limit=bad.

But can limits sometimes actually be good? We are all subject to limits, after all. (gravity comes to mind) Apart from physical limits, we face limitations of circumstance, of intellect…It would be nice to know limits are not all about restriction.

Well, the limitations of bed rest are at least teaching me some good things. A sampling of lessons already learned (or relearned—how soon we forget!):

Humility. We humans cling to independence (my toddler does, anyway). Not only do we value independence, but we often shun dependence because we equate dependence with weakness. And weakness? Heaven forbid. But, come on, is anybody truly self-made? Of course not. My (as yet) unborn child, for example, is completely dependent on my every breath. Becoming the helped rather than the helper is not entirely easy for me. But it reminds me that I need other people, and that that is a-ok!

Compassion. Pregnancy bed rest stinks, but at least I will have a newborn to snuggle when it ends. So many people suffer: when you are doing fine and dandy yourself, it’s hard to remember those people. Being limited by bed rest teaches me to be more empathetic, and surprisingly, less self-centered. (when I’m not glutting in self-pity, that is…)

Gratitude. When I’m off bed rest, I will dance down the street! (after some post-delivery healing, of course…) And until I can revel in my returned freedom of movement, I’m grateful for every day Boy #2 stays in my belly. Also, friends and family have been so gracious in offering their prayers and help with childcare and meals. My husband, bless his patient little heart, gladly pours me milk from the “heavy” milk jug. Accepting help isn’t easy but I feel overwhelming gratitude at others’ love and concern.

Now, I’m not saying you should limit yourself (unless you have doctor’s orders). Defeatism isn’t flattering. As people and as writers we should strive to constantly improve, to expand our abilities. But if—like me—you sometimes feel frustratingly limited by circumstance or even yourself, be patient and take comfort:

It’s not all bad.

It’s Good to Be Kind

heartIn a previous post, I shared the pregnancy scare I experienced when I was almost 29 weeks pregnant with my first son. As I finished the post, a quote came to mind. It certainly took on new meaning as I recalled my scare.  

“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”  ~Elizabeth Stone~

So. True.

Example: I want people to be kind to my child. My now 21-month-old had his first experience on an airplane when he was six months of age. While steadily slobbering on his shirt (he did a lot of slobbering back in the day!), he excitedly interacted with the other passengers. Encouraged by all the attention, he smiled at and tried to get the attention of a man who stood with his back turned against him.

Though the scenario was kind of funny, my heart ached. The man wasn’t even trying to ignore my son, but I was ready to yank his (quite substantial) flesh around and make him coo at my son. Though the experience was a first for me, I still feel the same way when people don’t react to my son the way they should. (show some DELIGHT, people!)

As I thought about the quote and the airplane experience, I realized I felt similarly about my writing. In fact, the aforementioned quote—at least from my point of view—could easily be modified:

“Making the decision to share your writing is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

Deciding to write is momentous. But deciding to share your writing? Oh, boy.

Now, I’m sure some writers have steel hearts that deflect criticism of their work. Not I. When other writers speak of their novel as “their baby,” I totally get it.

When my first novel is published (positive thinking!) I want people to be kind to it. I am hard on it enough—in fact, much harder than I am on my flesh-and-blood child. In a way, my writing is an even more undiluted extension of me than my literal offspring. And I am fiercely hard on myself, so why not on the words I birth?

The grand message I wish to give with this post? I don’t know…be nice (but honest) in your Amazon and Goodreads reviews? After all, a real person wrote the book you hold in your hand and put part of him- or herself in it.

Then again, many of us expose our hearts in ways that have nothing to do with children or writing. Are we kind to each other’s exposed hearts? Before we give each other reviews (and don’t we all do so subconsciously, whether we should or not?), are we generous in our judgment?

I’m not suggesting we become blind to each other’s faults. But maybe—just maybe—we can be less critical of each other. Maybe we can look for the good and not jump to the worst conclusions. Maybe we can see each other’s potential and encourage each other to reach it.

It’s good to be kind. Even to yourself.

Side note: For an excellent post on being kind to yourself, visit my friend Erica’s blog

True Human Experiences

My preggo belly this morning.

My preggo belly this morning.

A few days ago, I entered my 29th week of being pregnant with our second boy: nothing remarkable happened.

Thank goodness. Almost two years ago, a few days before turning into a 29-week preggo for the first time, my husband and I had a scare. What started out a fun trip to Tahoe turned into a frenetic search for a local hospital after I discovered blood in the toilet.

That day will live on in infamy, as they say. The initial fear I felt at seeing and dealing with the blood pulsed me between worlds. But that fear soon faced competition. Later, the kind nurse at the Truckee hospital searched for the baby’s heartbeat, asking me if I had felt the baby move that morning.

Yes. I think so. Maybe? With everything that had happened, I couldn’t remember, couldn’t think. Why hadn’t I paid more attention to the star of the drama rather than the drama itself?

The seconds clawed by. On the outside, I was calm and composed. On the inside, I wondered: if the baby’s heart has stopped, will my own be able to keep beating?

When the nurse finally found the heartbeat, I burst into tears. Burst into tears. Had I ever truly burst into tears before, sudden like a popping water balloon? The phrase took on new meaning, no longer trite.

After several weeks of bed rest, something else burst: my bag of waters. This time I was (relatively) calm on both the inside and outside. Our first son, six weeks early, spent two weeks at the hospital. Much better than the two months he probably would have spent in the NICU had he been born at 29 weeks.

I really hope boy #2 stays in longer, but as I look back at that tense day in Tahoe, I feel deeply grateful.

I had a true human experience. Extreme low. Extreme high. All in the same day.

Though my thoughts certainly flew to the past (have I not been careful enough during my pregnancy?) and future (what if? WHAT IF?), I was very much here. Living in the now, present in the moment.

Though the experience felt surreal in some ways, it mostly felt real. Very real. Too real, at times.

The consequences, whatever they would be, mattered. A lot.

In the moment. Real. Vital.

How can I help my readers feel those things about my stories, about my characters? How do I help them feel that if my story stops, they doubt their hearts will go on? (in a good way).

I don’t know, exactly, but I’ll do my best. And in the mean time, I will try to cherish every true human experience that comes my way.

Ps. I am writing this early in the morning. I can’t wait for my son to wake up so I can hug him and tell him I love him. Being a mother is a true human experience.