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Me in 2010 at 36 Weeks Pregnant.
1. "You look like you're about to POP!" my supervisor loudly exclaimed in the small room full of fifteen plus employees. The perfect way to make a pregnant woman feel great about her body when: a) she's just waddled in off a harrowing train ride; b) her left leg is buckling under the cutting pressure that a 6 lb 11 oz baby is putting on her sciatic nerve; c) she's sweating because it's 96 degrees outside; and d) her feet are so swollen they don't fit in her shoes). Right? I think not. Yet, time and time again that summer, my supervisor commented on the size of my pregnant body and how SURE he was that my due date was sooner than September 9th (it was still June).

Sadly, he was not alone. Friends, family members, coworkers and strangers remarked, "You're huge!" or "You're gigantic!" or, quite simply, "You've gained A LOT of weight." Granted, they were right" I WAS huge, I DID gain a lot of weight, and my belly was big, but I didn't need anyone to tell me anything other than "You look beautiful."

2. You shouldn't eat that. It seems that, just as with my body, several people suddenly thought it was okay to comment on my eating habits. Yes, I was eating ice cream. Yes, I was eating my fifth mini Snickers bar. Yes, I was eating three Gray's Papaya hot dogs with mustard and ketchup. Yes, I was gulping down a caffeinated Dunkin Donuts Coolatta. And, no, I was not going to let you ruin my enjoyment of it by commenting about how sensibly I was eating!

3. You can't do all natural! Oftentimes, in response to my telling someone that I planned on having an all natural birth (as long as no crazy complications arose), they would tell me that I would not be able to do it. One person even managed to hurt my feelings by saying, "You can't do that, Xiomara! You can't even handle menstruation pain without medication!" Such comments always made me feel angry. People should have cheered me on instead of remarking in disbelief, "Yeah, right! It hurts too much. You're going to BEG for that medicine." (For all you non-believers, I did not beg for an epidural once, especially since I purposely pushed off my visit to the hospital until I was already 9 centimeters dilated - way too late for medication). Therefore, if a woman tells you she plans on having a natural birth, simply say, "That's awesome! Labor is hard, but I know you can do it." On a similar note, if a pregnant woman says she plans on having an epidural and you don't agree, choose to be encouraging and not condescending. It's HER birth plan, HER vagina, HER baby, so let HER make the decision about her body without your negative input.

4. My labor was full of complications. I don't CARE that you were in labor for longer 33 hours and the pain was so intense you collapsed on the floor. I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW HOW HORRIBLE YOUR LABOR WAS. Why in the world would you ever tell a pregnant woman about all the complications that arose during your labors? To frighten her senseless? Don't you know a woman needs all her senses about her when going into labor? Most of all, she needs confidence. Give it to her.

5. You're naming him WHAT?! Telling people my baby name ideas during pregnancy was always a gamble against my sanity and pride. Only a few people, including my best friend, were extremely supportive, encouraging me to choose my son's name as I wished. Everyone else, though, was very vocal about whether they loved or hated my name choice. I understood that people's reactions to Equis' name were based in their personal life experiences as well as social and cultural biases, but any negative commentary on my son's name shocked me. I was raised to be polite, especially when broaching a sensitive topic: it is kind to tell someone they have spinach in their teeth; it is helpful to tuck someone's blouse tag back in; and it is loving to hand a stick of gum to a friend if they really need it. IT IS NEVER OKAY TO TELL A PARENT YOU DISAPPROVE OF THEIR CHILD'S NAME (no matter how ugly, weird, non-Biblical, "un-American" or long you think it is).

Ultimately, the point of today's Top Five Friday topic is: Speak to a pregnant woman with sensitivity, encouraging her and instilling confidence in her, not insulting her size, intelligence, strength, or early decisions as a mother. Remember that your words will stay with her long after she gives birth (and then she'll have to write a blog post to complain about them).
 
 
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How a resourceful mommy travels with a baby and a bike wheel.
 
 
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Image courtesy of Google.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. - MLK, Jr.

I almost neglected to write this post... because remembering September 11th, 2001 depresses me. But as I read my post from The Song of These Streets on September 11th, 2009, I figured writing out my feelings might help me, and so here I go on a journey of honesty:

The terrorist attacks traumatized me. I did not tragically lose any family members on that day (although I know several who did), I did not have to evacuate my high school and walk home covered in WTC dust (as friends of mine did), and I did not watch the Towers burn from my living room window (as my mom did). For years, I would jump at the sound of any airplane that passed overheard, and I almost ran off an airplane before it departed for Puerto Rico. I became an asthmatic, and I found it difficult to focus in school. I thought of death every day and what I would do if I were to lose my mom or my dad or my sister or my best friend in such a tragic accident. Would I be able to recover?

Ten years later, I still cry during the news clips of the Twin Towers in the midst of their doom, which remind me of the museum photos of small figures jumping to escape flames, of the front covers of newspapers featuring people covered in white ash and blood, of my own pictures of the Lower East Side's streets empty of people or cars and the skies full of military jets and helicopters. In remembering these moments, I feel a great sense of sadness for the grand loss of life that day: the deaths of almost 3,000 people (mothers, daughters, fathers, brothers, uncles, friends, spouses, cousins...) as well as the loss of life as I knew it.

Sometimes, it still astounds me how much my world has altered as a result of September 11, 2001. At the same time that people pulled together to pray, conduct search and rescue operations, tend to the wounded, house those who were suddenly homeless and support grieving families, our nation as a whole and local communities instantly divided into "patriotic" Americans versus Muslims and Arabs. Many Yemeni-owned stores were forced to shut their doors against angry patrons on the day and in the ones that followed; and a decade later, Muslim Arab workers continue to be harassed by customers and insulted because of their heritage (I have watched this happen time and time again). Racial profiling in airports and highways became widely accepted as the "right" course of action to prevent possible terrorism; and people turned out in droves to protest the building of mosques and Islamic cultural centers.

Such acts of prejudice which parade around my community under the guise of patriotism deeply troubled me ten years ago; but now a new layer of worry has laid upon my heart because of my son. Equis is bi-ethnic, as in Yemeni and Puerto Rican; and I worry that he will be judged through intolerant eyes. So as this day passes, I think not only of the past and the many precious lives we lost in 2001, but of the future and what it holds for my son and all the children who will have no memories of September 11th except for what they hear from their parents or on T.V. or read in their history books. I want our children to carry a torch of pride for their country even as they remain accepting of different cultures and religions.

I know that hatred will always exist; but I have to continually ask myself, how can I raise my son to be different? I wish the world were different; I wish September 11th, 2001 had never happened and the Twin Towers were not now Twin Lights; and most of all, I wish that we will continually choose love over darkness throughout our lifetimes.

I pray peace and comfort for all those who suffered as a result of the attacks across the nation on that day.
 
 
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A week ago, my son turned one. ONE! As in one whole year of breathing and growing and being alive. I cannot imagine my life without Equis' smile, laugh, voice or feet in it. (I mean, I could... but that is an unhappy and unwanted thought). Baby Equis has brought a renewed sense of purpose to my life because I know that I no longer live for myself only but also for him. My son has shown me the true meaning of what it means to love someone unconditionally, without reserve or expectations. In fact, my son has taught me a lot in these past twelve months about the value of life, of laughter and of courage.

Therefore, In honor of my son celebrating his VERY FIRST birthday and my VERY FIRST Mommyversary (or Mamiversario), I am presenting today's Top Five Friday topic--

THE TOP FIVE LESSONS MY SON TAUGHT ME BEFORE HIS FIRST BIRTHDAY:
 
5. TRY NEW THINGS. A couple of days ago, I gave my son a slice of lime to bite down on. He happily sunk his two little teeth into the juicy part of the fruit and subsequently puckered his mouth and trembled. My friend said I was being mean. Mean?! I love limes, and I want my son to love them too. So what did Equis do next? He went in for another bite! I think it is important to take a lesson from babies who are willing to try new foods and are brave enough to learn how to roll over, crawl, and walk and remind myself that it is better to try new things than to live my life without courage.

4. BE OBSERVANT. When Equis and I travel down the street, he is usually leaning forward in his stroller, with his small hands grasping the stroller seat, while excitedly twisting his neck in all different directions in an attempt to soak in everything he sees. He smiles at strangers, tries to pet passing dogs, reaches for leaves and babbles at squirrels. The observant way in which he lives his life, even at home (tasting, touching, smelling everything from the dog biscuit to the leather couch) reminds me of the importance of paying attention to the world around me. How else can I learn about the world if I show no interest in it?

3. TIME IS PRECIOUS. During my elementary school years of age, I could not understand why adults would stare at me in awe while exclaiming to my mother, "Time goes SO FAST!" So what if I had grown taller, thinner, smarter or crooked teeth? I was just me, and That's that, I would think to myself. What was the big deal? However, after experiencing the difficulties and joys of nurturing a child within me, after giving birth to Equis and while watching him master new toys, eat solid foods and try to walk, I feel differently about time. I now understand what the big deal is, especially since my Grandfather passed away when Equis was just seven months old. The physical, mental and emotional development of children (they are real people!) represents the range of life (and the speed with which it passes) to their older counterparts who are then faced with their mortality. My son and the changes he's experienced in his one year of existence remind me of the capability of people to significantly grow over the years of a lifetime and the importance of respecting that time.

2. LAUGH UNSPARINGLY, BUT CRY AS NEEDED. Equis laughs at almost anything: the way I gargle water after brushing my teeth, the way the dog skids away from him when he chases her in his walker, the way the plastic balls sound as they roll around in his toy. His laughter is contagious. But when he is mad (because I took that toy away or Roxy no longer wants to play), or hungry or hurt (I hate when he gets hurt!), he will open his mouth wide to let out a wail and big bright tears will flow from his eyes. His smile is a reminder that I too can find joy in the smallest happenings; but his cry is a reminder too that sometimes I just need to free up my tears when I feel hurt or angry or have a need that needs to be addressed. It is good to find the joy in life, but it is also good to acknowledge the pain that is inevitable in order to move past it.

1. LIFE IS MAJESTIC, or EACH PERSON IS A MIRACLE. As Doctor Manhattan states in my favorite DC Comics graphic novel - Alan Moore's Watchmen - the creation of an individual person is a miracle and ought to be regarded as such. When Dr. Manhattan reflects on the revelation that the man who once sexually assaulted Laurie's mother is Laurie's father, he finally acknowledges the value of human life. He tells Laurie that the processes by which individual people are created are like "Thermodynamic miracles... events with odds against so astronomical they're effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold." He then explains,
    ...in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless  generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter... Until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged. To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air to gold... that is the crowning unlikelihood. The thermodynamic miracle.
I particularly love these quotes because my son's creation IS a rarity, as common as baby-making might seem. Furthermore, Dr. Manhattan takes into account the fact that generations upon generations of people came before me, and their decisions led to my creation and their paths ultimately led to the creation of my son. If any of those people were to have made different choices, I would not exist; and in this same way, if I had lived my life any differently, my son in all his uniqueness would not exist. For that reason, I cannot look back upon my life with regret because Equis is here, and he is my miracle.
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Ultimately, I am extremely blessed to have Equis in my life, not only as the son that I have the honor of raising and shaping, but as my teacher who can also shape me and my thinking.

I am grateful to have spent an ENTIRE YEAR being a mother to a beautiful baby boy who causes me to laugh and learn; and I am excited to see what Equis will teach me in the next twelve months of his life. Happy Birthday, Baby Equis. Te quiero tanto.