Monday, December 30, 2013

Pregnancy and Narcolepsy: A Tough Combination

I've been pregnant for almost 36 weeks. I'm not sure how to describe my experience with it. For the most part, it hasn't been too physically taxing.

In the first trimester I had an underlying nausea that made it tough for me to eat much. If I did want to eat anything, it was greek salad and cheese. I'd have some days where I was so exhausted I couldn't get out of bed. The second trimester was a little easier. The nausea (mostly) went away, but I still had occasional days where I was so dreadfully tired I couldn't move. One of those days was Wednesday, August 7, 2013 -- the last day where I could have had a chance to spend time with my mom before she suddenly passed away.

Yes, I wish I could have had that time with her, especially because I was told she was quite funny and energetic that day, but I remember very clearly how I felt. There was no way I could have managed it.

The third trimester started off with acid reflux and heartburn, two symptoms I have never before felt in my life. Now I live off of Pepcid Complete. My appetite has been non-existent for eight months, but in the last 3-4 days, I have finally been hungry!

Since I was 7 weeks pregnant, I've had to inject myself nightly with Lovanox, an injectible blood thinner. This is because, five years ago, I had numerous blood clots in my legs and all five lobes of my lungs. I was in the cardiac unit of the hospital for 5+ days before they finally released me. For me, this is one of the most difficult parts of my pregnancy.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes. This shocked me and quite a few other people since I am extremely active, thin, fit, and have only gained about 10-11 pounds my entire pregnancy. I was told that stress could trigger it (nah, I don't have any of that... I'm only dealing with the loss of my mother, moving in with my dad, unpacking, organizing his house, and preparing for baby). Regardless, as a result, I have to test my blood sugars four times a day by pricking my finger. So far, I am able to control my sugars with diet and exercise.

The stress I am controlling with prenatal yoga and gym-time.

At 36 weeks I will have to switch over to Heparin, another blood thinner that has a shorter half-life (they need to induce me at 39 weeks). Good news since it means I'm in the home stretch. Bad news because that means I have to now inject myself twice a day.... I am so entirely over this needle thing. I hated them to begin with, but having to stick myself, in my stomach, with a needle every day really wears on you.

I keep telling myself what my mother told me (she was diabetic): At least you get a souvenir at the end of this.

As bad as the needles are, the lack of sleep trumps.

See, I have mild narcolepsy that was triggered by stress in my last semester of law school. I don't fall asleep during the day; rather, my brain waves don't quite go in the right order when I'm sleeping at night and I suffer from EDS (Excessive Daytime Sleepiness). Laugh all you want at this, but my sleep is only 25% effective. My last good night's sleep was in October 2006.

It's a mostly controllable problem (usually with an extremely expensive orphan medication called Xyrem). I say mostly controllable because, best case scenario, I wake up 2-4 times a night instead of 6-8 times nightly. Ambien is a second choice drug. I can't take either one while pregnant.

As a result, I have slept horribly the entire pregnancy. I am constantly either tired or exhausted. People blame it on the pregnancy, the growing uterus applying pressure on my bladder, the growing of a human being, etc. All of that is true. But my fatigue is multiplied and people just don't get it.

Last night I woke up at 3am, 4:30am, 5:45am, and 6:30am. I woke up for one of my twice-weekly doctor appointment and cried from exhaustion. I lost control and cried again at the doctor's appointment, and that's when my midwife took pity on me. Even though it is a Schedule C drug, they seem to be concerned with the possibility of addiction more than a harmful effect on baby.

And I need sleep. If I go into labor being this tired, I'm not going to be able to have a natural childbirth, or much energy to do any pushing whatsoever. This level of tired isn't supposed to come about before the baby, only after.

People don't understand. They even joke around that baby is training me for when it'll be around, begging me for milk every 90-120 minutes around the clock. I don't find this to be funny, but maybe that's because I'm sleep deprived.

One thing I'd like people to know: THIS IS NOT PRACTICE. This is Narcolepsy.

The average American sleeps less than 7 hours a night. For me, assuming I sleep through the night (I don't), that means it feels like less than two hours of sleep. Each night.

Nothing in life is normal when you're overtired. You can't think, can't remember things, can't handle simple tasks as well, and you aren't any fun to be around. For the most part, I've gotten used to the lack of sleep, but I reached my limit. I'm not going to take it every night, but I'm sure hoping the Ambien will help - even a little. If not for my sake, then for my husband's and my baby's.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Intermarriage. The Self-Imposed Holocaust.

I'd like to think that most of my Jewish friends would prefer to marry Jewish and only marry non-Jewish because they feel that their choices are restricted, either by location, availability, or options. Every time I hear about one of my friends or acquaintances dating, getting engaged to, or marrying, a non-Jew, I feel an acute sense of loss for their kids, our Jewish people, and our communal future.

I used to be a Sunday School teacher teaching Judaica and Jewish history at local synagogues and congregations. Currently, I tutor Jewish kids at a local Jewish day school. My mother was a Judaica teacher for decades and my sister taught as well. I have seen how kids are raised and respond within Jewish as well as mixed families. I have even spoken with friends and acquaintances about this issue and gotten their take on it.

[I have been holding off on this blog for a while since this is a very difficult topic for me. Aside from the fact that I was almost guilty of this myself, I have so many friends and family who will be directly affected by this blog. I was asked why I have delayed writing this... I'm not sure that I have a good answer except that it will hurt people I care about. I'd like to think that they already know me well enough to be aware of how I feel about this and other topics and that I'm not afraid of being politically incorrect. This may be true. Regardless, to them I say that people can differ in their convictions and still love each other. I may not understand and/or approve of your life choices, but that doesn't mean I don't care for you. I apologize if this hurts or offends you, but I cannot apologize for my opinion and feelings.]

Despite this intense conflict of feeling, yesterday I reached my breaking point. Perhaps it was a joke, but I didn't find it to be funny. An old male classmate of mine had a Facebook status, "This is the best time of year to be married to a gentile!"

Fantastic. Let's show some PRIDE that we've not just intermarried, but that we are also happy about it, that we have now relegated our next generation to being non-Jewish (with a gentile mother) AND being apathetic about which religion is important in our lives.

I will admit that I am not completely innocent of this travesty. When I was merely dating, I dated non-Jewish guys (two, to be exact). I was not happy about them being non-Jewish, but felt that my choices in the Detroit Jewish community were extremely limited (not an excuse). Even when I dated Jewish guys, I was bothered because, while they insisted that they were interested in being more Jewish, they were never proactive about doing more or even learning about their religion. I dated these guys because I was fighting my Jewish soul and being more Jewish/observant (as I spoke about in a previous blog).

Perhaps hindsight is 20/20. Perhaps I'm only now accepting what I have always felt, believed, and loudly promoted. Being Jewish is fantastic. Being Jewish is a culture, a people, a way of life, a religion. Being Jewish is to be different. It's all of the above. It's everything. While it's not always easy, it is something to be proud of and to fight for. It is not something to minimize or ignore.

Sadly, most American Jews today are "cultural" and nothing more (I have theories as to why the Cultural Jew is the most common, but that's a subject for another blog). They are ignorant of their own religion and history, and, based on that ignorance, assume that Judaism is restrictive and, thus, off-putting. It doesn't help that they don't have exposure to religious Jews who demonstrate that it can be fun and enjoyable. They only hear about the bigoted, obnoxious, ultra-religious Jews who, quite detrimentally, make Judaism seem outdated and anti-women.

Because of that, I have some sympathy for most Jews... to a point. Ignorance is no excuse.

There is no excuse to not know the basics about your own religion; to do your own homework. I start with one argument:

Why discard your own religion before knowing anything about it? 

Why not ask questions about your own religion? About your identity? Your history? Who you are? Why deny yourself and your children knowledge?

When someone asks you what it means to be Jewish, you should have an answer.

When you date someone, you should be thinking of your children, grandchildren, and their futures.

Then there are the Jews who are somewhat educated, involve themselves in Jewish activities, Jewish youth groups, participate in educating our next generation, and yet have no problem dating and marrying non-Jewish spouses. Before accepting my full love of Judaism and marrying a religious Israeli, I would have fallen into this category. It's just as detrimental to the Jewish People's future, though perhaps sadder, and I would have had absolutely no explanation for my kids had they asked me, "If Judaism is so important, why did you marry Dad?"

Adolf Hitler felt that Jews were lesser people and had scientists manipulate science to prove his theory. In his endeavors, he ended up murdering at least six million Jews and we have learned NOTHING from this. We have only continued his action with the voluntary dilution of intermarriage.

Even Jewish philanthropist Edgar Bronfman, who fought for Jewish rights and to strengthen Jewish identity among young people, who fought Swiss banks to release huge amounts of monies as restitution to murdered Jews, continued the dilution. He even went so far as to encourage it.

“Intermarriage today can even be an opportunity for a stronger embrace of Jewish identity,” Bronfman wrote in the Jewish Daily Forward in 2010. “Intermarriage is not a calamity but an opportunity for both a Jewish and non-Jewish partner to learn.”

I beg to differ. If education, exposure, and tolerance of different religions and identities were the goal, there are simpler and better ways to accomplish it: joint religious events, seminars, and interfaith gatherings, just to name a few. But again, you should learn about your own religion and identity first before studying others.

Nowhere in science does dilution strengthen anything. Rather, it is the process of making something weaker or less concentrated. Religion is no different.

Yes, there are some overlapping morals and beliefs, but there is a stark difference between Judaism and Christianity (or Judaism and any other religion); a chasm that cannot be bridged. When the parents disagree on the basic tenets of religion, what is the child supposed to believe? If it's not important enough to the father/mother to marry Jewish, why should Judaism be important to the child? Why should the existence of Israel matter? Why would it become anything other than something interesting, yet disconnected and academic... How could it not be merely...

Something "cultural."

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Freedom of Commitment: Religion

To me, the best, most comforting and loving thing in the world is a hug. It envelops you, holds you close, provides emotional and physical support, and comfort. It makes you relax, feel cared for, loved, and, best of all, you know you are not alone.

This is my view on religion.

When I was younger, there was an eight month period of time when I wasn't religious. I didn't celebrate Shabbos and didn't keep kosher (though I still didn't eat meat and cheese together and didn't eat shellfish). I lived with a non-Jewish girl and did almost whatever I wanted simply because I wanted to see what it was like on the 'other side.' I wanted to see how a majority of Americans lived and what it'd be like to not be restricted by all the rules.

I was expecting to feel freedom and a lightness of responsibility.

What I felt instead was confusion and a loss of structure. One day blended into the next, one week into another, months went by with no sign of division; I didn't know what day it was. Never mind the guilt. I had actually taught myself to ignore it years before. No - the real problem, in addition to the chronological confusion, was my loss of identity.

I was just like everyone else (my personal hell)!!

How did people live like this, doing whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, to whomever they wanted? How did they STOP and give some time to themselves? How did they judge who and what should have the highest priority? How did they decide what, if anything, was more important and bigger than themselves? I had no reason for why I did things except that it felt good. Why not?

What I learned from that period of time was that, just as children need structure in order to blossom, adults need structure and rules as well. The Federal and State governments provide laws in order to protect its citizens; religions are no different (though their rules are based on morality).

Even as I returned to the comforts of observant Judaism, I still fought many of the rules. Despite loving to learn about it, I refused to study it since I then felt that I'd be obligated to follow what I learned (I have a tendency to need to follow logic). For years, it was quite an internal struggle that I suffered. I even recall having a breakdown while hanging out with a former (non-Jewish) boyfriend, in tears because I felt so incredibly torn.

It was physically painful.

My Jewish soul was tugging at me constantly. Only after I accepted that I was Jewish and LOVED being Jewish did the relief finally come. That's not to say that it's easy for me. I still struggle almost daily with some of the rules. But, in general, I have discovered that instead of fierce restrictions and limitations choking me, my religion permits me a certain freedom -- the freedom I had been originally searching for.

Freedom to stop worrying about my calendar.
Freedom to focus on my future rather than my present.
Freedom to permit myself a weekly vacation.
Freedom to recognize a special soul within myself (and, more importantly, others).
Freedom to accept a REASON for everything (even if I don't know what it is).
Freedom to enjoy structure.
Freedom to know that I am not the most important thing in my world.
Freedom to feel that I'm being protected.
Freedom to see the bigger picture of my neighborhood, world, and universe.

Too much freedom can easily be overwhelming and destructive. Routine and discipline have their benefits.

As Albert Einstein said wisely, "[a]ll religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom."

The structure of my religion has provided me with freedom and a breath of freshness. While my intellectual fight continues and while my emotional struggle goes on, I realize that there's something out there that is smarter than me. I am still myself. I am sassy, argumentative, independent, and colorful. I ask 'why' to many of the rules and beliefs because I need to understand the logic behind laws. I'm not so arrogant to think that I have all the answers, but I feel comforted that Something does.

To me, that's better than a hug.