Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Mom to Mom: Emily Bay Olavarri

I met Emily on a bus to Omega Institute some years ago. I lived in NYC and spent my lunch hours with her eating pierogies, potato pancakes and blintzes while talking about anything and everything as if I'd known her all my life. It is my honor to introduce you to my friend, Emily...

Emily Bay Olavarri
Of: Genna (5 ) Zoe (2 )
Where: California
Blog: Caring Bridge

1. In what ways has becoming a mother changed you?

It is hard sometimes to remember what life was like before kids. I think becoming a mother has made me more present. Kids are totally in the moment and you have to be right there with them. Becoming a mother has altered my memory. I always joke that my memory is gone, but it is there- just different. I can’t always remember the plot of a book I just finished, but I know exactly where I last saw the pink pony or the good comb, and I always know the level of milk in the fridge.

2. What is one tip you would like to share about mothering?

You are the expert on your own family. Our first pediatrician told me this when Genevieve was a newborn. I was a typical worried new mom and she told me this so that I would trust my own experience and be guided by what I thought was best for my child and our family. This is the best parenting advice I have ever gotten. Because no matter what anyone else thinks, you know your children best because you spend the most time with them. No one way works for everyone, but you have to trust your experience to figure out what way is best for you. Trust yourself to know what is right and not right for your child. I really thought I was being paranoid when I called the doctor about Zoe’s bruises, but I knew something wasn’t right and I am so glad that I made that call and Zoe’s disease was caught early.

Also, I tell all pregnant women and new moms that I meet that the sling is your best friend. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but if you can make it work for you- it is the best thing ever. A friend gave me a sling when I was pregnant with Genna. She could sleep in it, nurse in it- I always knew she was warm and safe. With Zoe, the sling has been essential. It is like having a third arm, which you need with more than one child. Since she has been sick she has been spending more time in it again. Even though she is two, she is still small enough to be carried and I feel she is safe and comfortable in it. When we have to go out, she snuggles down in it against me and I feel she is a little more protected from the world.

3. What is your creative outlet/medium?

I used to be a dancer, so movement has always been my outlet. Even though I don’t dance anymore (other than dancing with my kids in the living room), I still get a lot of release through movement. I love running now. Running is a great outlet. I love being outside and moving through space whether it is raining or the sun is out, it is always restorative.
I also journal and I like to make collage covers for my journals. I try to choose images and words that inspire me every time I see them.

4. How do you orchestrate motherhood and creativity?

I often feel like I am playing Tetris with our schedules. It is hard sometimes to fit the pieces, but balance is so necessary. I am constantly trying to find the best balance between time to myself and time with the family and time to work- some days feel more successful than others.

5. How has your recent experience with childhood leukemia changed you?

Honestly, I am all over the place. One minute things can feel really fine and manageable and the very next minute I feel totally overwhelmed. The type of Leukemia that Zoe has is quite rare, especially in children, so her doctors are constantly consulting with researchers and figuring out what to do next for her and revising their plans. We never know what the next step will be until we’re there. Confronting the unknown is extremely difficult for me. If I know what I am up against, I feel I can handle just about anything- not knowing has been incredibly scary. And yet, at almost every turn, she has exceeded all expectations. So on practically a daily basis, I am getting lessons in trust and letting go.

Before Zoe got sick, I was trying to wean her. Genna weaned herself at 15 months which seemed at the time like a really reasonable age. When Zoe hit 18 months and was more into nursing than ever, I got a lot of flack from some people around us for still nursing, but I also questioned it myself. How old is too old to nurse? If a child can walk up and ask for it in a complete sentence, shouldn’t she be done with it by now? I finally decided to keep going till she turned 2 and then try cutting down gradually. By two she had lost no interest and when I tried to cut back she was even more adamant. By that point she was probably already getting sick and maybe she was already starting to feel different and needed the comfort and the immune support from nursing. Who can know, but I am so glad that we kept nursing. Even during the worst of the chemo when she wasn’t eating, she kept nursing. One of her doctors said that he thinks she is doing as well as she is and has avoided most infections and side effects because of continued breastfeeding. I am so glad that there is something I can do that is so good for her and gives us both so much comfort.

Another thing that has changed for me is thinking that I can or should do everything myself. We have been incredibly fortunate to have family and friends around us to help us during this time. I have always felt the need to be independent and self-sufficient. When Genna was born there were a lot of services available to new moms in Vermont, but I didn’t take advantage of them because having someone come clean my house or cook me dinner seemed like I was lazy or a failure. It sounds silly now, but at the time I felt that I had to manage everything myself. I don’t know to whom or what I was trying to prove. But Zoe’s illness has forced me to ask for help. I can’t care for Genna at home and be with Zoe at the hospital and work at the same time. I have learned that people really want to help and feel better if there is something they can do. Friends and family supported us by taking Genna to and from school and having her over to play, sending us grocery and gasoline gift cards, and bringing me food and clothes in the hospital when I stayed there day and night with Zoe for weeks. We were totally blown away by the generous outpouring of support and love.

6. What would you like to say to other mothers going through the same ordeal?

Trust yourself, ask lots of questions, and when anyone offers help- take it.

7. What moves you, grounds you, fills your well?
  • Music- running with my ipod is fantastic.
  • Books- it really helps to escape into a good book.
  • Bookclub- discussing books, babies, and life with other educated moms- priceless.
  • Reiki, yoga- aaahhhh…..
  • Hugging my husband and cuddling my kids- ultimate comfort.


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posted by Wendy at 5:24 AM


Anonymous pixie said...

what a wonderful interview! you know the coolest people. love to this family as they find their way to radiant health for zoe.

6:15 PM  
Blogger E and T said...

Hi Wendy

I enjoyed reading every word of Emily's interview. I couldn't agree more with her mothering tip about trusting your instincts as you are the expert (the only expert) when it comes to your children.

Wendy, you meet the most amazing, insightful people in the world. Who would have thought that a bus ride could have resulted in a friendship with such a special mum. I guess that's the beauty in every day; every encounter - you never know what will develop. You just have to create opportunities and then grab them with both hands.

I love that Satch questioned why you would buy a kite when you can make one. He is so creative and resourceful.

Lots of love and hugs

11:31 PM  
Anonymous Angie said...

I enjoyed reading this so much- and I can relate on so many levels! I am now just getting to the point where I feel I can ask for help. Also, my daughter has had some health challenges that has made others question some of our parenting choices. Trusting ourselves is so important!
This was just wonderful!

7:59 PM  

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