Monday, June 30, 2014

The Diakonissa Diaries

Now the silence on my blog has lasted for almost four months – the reason is certainly that after my last post [dated March 7 2014], a piece of news changed life as I have come to know it forever…

On March 8 my husband gave me flowers because it was International Women’s Day and, in my strictly personal opinion, the only holiday worth celebrating [no offense, church holidays]. The same day we interpreted positively two red lines, the conventional symbol for being pregnant in our postmodern society – and suddenly we were having a baby!

About a month later, my husband was ordained a deacon in the Orthodox Church [hence the title of this post because his ordination simultaneously made me diakonissa] in San Jose on Palm Sunday. This is what the altar looked like before the service.

During this spring I couldn’t find the time and energy to blog for two totally legit reasons: 1) I was suffering from all-day “morning” sickness and the worst fatigue I’ve experienced in my life during the first trimester [I also concluded that there’s a reason why few literary masterpieces get written while the author is pregnant – between nap time and nausea time it’s difficult to make a stop by the desk]; and 2) I spent every hour of mental clarity my body provided me by preparing for my PhD qualifying exams at the end of the spring semester. I was lucky to have this lovely pig to keep me company as I spent hours and hours reading through concentration camp narratives which can be scary without such a cute little pig to lighten the mood [obviously we bought the pig for our nascent offspring so consider this simply a “test run”].

During this spring I continued to teach Russian – albeit with a strict “no sudden motions” policy due to severe nausea which I suspect my students may have interpreted as poorly disguised contempt [it’s all in a day’s work, comrades] – and was shown such appreciation at the end of the semester of which this is only an example: flowers and chocolate from a beloved student [unfortunately chocolate was and still is one of my big food aversions during this pregnancy so I still haven’t finished this treat…].

On May 29 – by the grace of my committee, the date selected for my qualifying exams was moved till after my first trimester – I finally advanced to candidacy, as the academic jargon calls it, and it is now finally time for “Destination Dissertation” [that’s also the title of this handbook which is ironic, right?].

 On the evening of the same day I and my husband did something else “finally”: embarked on our honeymoon! We spent a week in Puerto Rico; this is me in San Juan when I was seventeen weeks pregnant and thought I was already “huge.” Haha. Oh the naivety. A month later and I’m still far from “huge”…

When people say that “everything changes once you become a parent,” they usually forget to mention the transformative power of pregnancy. Becoming pregnant – as in watching one’s body slowly prepare for motherhood – also changes everything. It might be a cliché, but I must confess that now, about midway through this process, I have found an entirely different kind of inner peace. Once I accepted that pregnancy was going to be physically rough on me [say farewell to the convenient shape you’ve worked hard at for decades and any kind of control over certain bodily functions] and that it was going to install new limitations in my previously so independent life [falling asleep for two hours every afternoon and having to pee every 30-40 minutes restricts how much a “day’s work” turns out to really be], it was as if I had become a new person. Things that used to bother me and would make me upset simply do not even enter into my mind anymore. For example, I was afraid of my qualifying exams for years but when the last semester came and I found myself physically unable to put in the expected amount of work in order to pass I, instead of having a panic or anxiety attack, reacted by saying “alright then” and taking a nap. My academic attitude changed from “being ambitious” to “being enough.” This spring was – supposedly – a critical moment in my time as a graduate student and instead of giving it my “all,” I gave it a part. And I passed. I passed without putting the new life I’m growing inside of me at risk. A fetus can respond negatively to stress, which is why I have completely eliminated stress from my life. Maybe here we have the reason as to why so few women in academia, at least in the United States, decide to not have children? Because creating life puts everything, including the taking-professional-things-personally shit you have to put up with by your colleagues at an American university, in a much-needed perspective? Maybe we’re afraid that if we encountered an experience of life and death [which is what the first trimester of pregnancy is all about: making sure the tiny person inside of you has the ultimate chance at survival], then we wouldn’t give a damn about these nonsensical arguments and negative relationships? This should not be read as me declaring a permanent leave from academia; no, I’m certainly here to stay. But as I face starting a doctoral dissertation with a due date in November, I have realized that neither can I do everything nor do I want to do everything – at once. Of course I still want to write a dissertation and finish my PhD program and get a job teaching at a university, but I don’t want to sacrifice as much as a single “bad day” [be it missing a milestone in my child’s life or being late for a date night with my husband] in my family for it. It’s not worth it. Nothing really is.

Maybe my blog silence was also due to the fact that I struggled with how to write a personal blog while sharing my personal life with another person [soon the two of us will become three and that will indeed make the process even more complex]. Marriage suddenly transforms “my” personal life into our personal life; things that used to come in two separate pieces now come together. My struggle for the public inscription of private experience – which I believe blogging still can be – became increasingly difficult after my husband was ordained a deacon and I found myself a diakonissa in the Orthodox Church. Some people [and these are people I both know and read] manage to include their partners and even children in their blogs, which I respect although I know that a similar solution is not possible in my case. I appreciate that my parents did not publish a single word or picture of me as a child online; I would like to grant my children the same possibility to be in full control of themselves and their image on the internet. Therefore you will never see pictures of our baby on this blog; I just don’t think that’s fair. My husband doesn’t have a blog, and he wouldn’t have an internet presence if it wasn’t for me and how I include him in pictures posted through Instagram, for example. He doesn’t want to be an explicit part of my blog either. I know this paragraph presents an oxymoron right now – why write about not writing about someone?! All I wish to convey is that serving the Orthodox Church, be it as deacon and diakonissa now or as priest and presbytera later, makes us public servants and I have been given the advice during this spring by other members of the clergy to reconsider blogging. Although I believe in taking sound advice from others, especially if they have life experience which you as of yet have not acquired, I feel that I want to be cautious of letting the story of someone else become my story. Those who warn against my blogging do not own blogs of their own. That’s a warning sign. Those who warn against my blogging read my blog in secrecy and do not approach me about it in person. That’s another warning sign. I believe in honesty and in being open – at least about things that aren’t intimate in nature – which is why I have decided that the advice I have received so far about “being a diakonissa online” does not apply to me but rather to these persons and their opinion about themselves and the world they live in. I consider the world I live in much different, and I have never been afraid of having – and writing – my own story. I’ve had this blog since 2006 [don’t let the limitations of the “saved posts” fool you, dear reader] and during these eight years it has allowed me to engage in several important and productive dialogues, both through public posts and private mails, which I would not have undone for anything. Even though I liked the four years when I blogged in Russia more than I’ve enjoyed these four years of blogging in the US, but that is mainly because Russians never made any secret of reading my blog and also never cared about anything that I wrote as opposed to also those sneaky people in my surroundings here who read my blog but won’t tell me in person. I wish I could care more about them and their opinions, but I find myself unable to care. Maybe the reason is once again pregnancy. Maybe I just had to take some time to figure things out – and a possible outcome was always that I’d arrive at the opposite conclusion, which I did. I don’t mind because I have been blessed with the best marriage I could ever ask or even pray for and I’ve been blessed with a healthy baby inside of me who keeps growing perfectly without any effort on my part…

That last thing is not entirely true [but what is truth anyway, my homeboy Pilate?]: I don’t think I’ve ever lived as healthy a lifestyle as I have during this pregnancy. I smoked my last cigarette on March 8, the same day I found out [although life as a non-smoker is terrible and I’m constantly seeing “perfect smoking moments” in everyday life as well as in movies, books, and TV-shows… I guess I just love smoking and I’ll never get over this kind of love], and I’ve been trying to eat as much fruits and vegetables and as little junk as possible while also getting some amount of exercise on a weekly basis. I tell myself every day that I need to exercise – by going for a swim or a walk – on a daily basis but the real has yet to live up to the ideal.

I guess that’s just the way things work around here on planet Earth.

9 comments:

Krugthethinker said...

I am so happy that you are finding your own path through this new forest. I admire you for doing what is right for you. And I can very much relate to the pregnancy changing everything! I don't think I have ever been so stress-free in my life! However, oh my gosh, I cannot imagine how you made it through a semester of teaching every day while feeling so sick: geroina! I think there is such a beauty in the wisdom of our bodies--when they need to, they take precedence, and they know what is best. I have also been fruit-crazed and oddly turned off to dessert during this pregnancy (not typical for me!) I am glad you brought up the issue of the child's privacy too. I have been thinking about this so much lately, and I think I will end up landing in the same place as you. Hardly anyone at all reads my blog (certainly very few people that I don't know already!), but I do worry about what is fair to the child and the permanence of the internet. I know that it's a very widespread thing to have an online presence from birth now, but I am not sure that makes me any more comfortable with it. Anyway, this is the world's longest comment now! I am very happy to see you here, but also always supportive of your decisions and very happy that we can keep up with each other through other channels! :) And another big congratulations to you! What a wonderful year it has been already;)

Iulia Flame said...

Congratulations (upon becoming a diakonissa) and a mother-to-be. :)

The whole whether-to-blog-or-not issue is tricky. One reason I do it under a barely-disguised pseudonym.

Kusin Renée said...

Lovely girl, remember there are also us on the other side of the big blue who read your blog and are fully supportive 100% of the time :) Good for you to have quit smoking, I did the same when pregnant the first time (and after having fallen off the wagon in between pregnancies, I also quit the second time) and hope I am now firmly a part of the permanently non-smoking community. Good luck with everything darling, I hope there will soon be a chance for me to see you (and the kids to meet their "syssling"). Kram Renée

La Maga said...

Congratulations!! :-)

Carol said...

Grattis!

Michael McIntyre said...

What wonderful news - congratulations!

Vera Matveyeva said...

Nice, you are back !!! Congratulations on so important events in your life!!!!!

Tantbastant said...

Dear darling daughter! Kusin Renée is absolutely right, and I think the Diakonissa Diaries is a superb name!And Cameron, I read your blog,faithfully :) Somehow it feels like I know you through your contact with my girl.... The Interwebs can be trecherous and I do think caution is called for,but in the end you can only trust yourself to do what is/feels right.Love mom

P. Veyrat said...

Yay! She's back! We've missed you!
Congrats and happy birthday!