Aidan was up coughing half the night.

Poor kid. He made it through winter with nothing more than sniffles and sneezes and then in the last two weeks has been slammed with a stomach bug, a fever, an ear infection and now this hacking cough that sounds suspiciously like a barking baby seal.

Aha, the tell-tale barking seal sounds, otherwise known as the croup.

We’ve been visited by this beast before and we know what to do: steam. There’s really not a whole helluva lot else you can do.

Last night I gave him dose after dose of homeopathic cough syrup, which had no effect, cranked the humidifier and put him to bed early. (I also gave him a bath and washed his hair, which would normally be a no-no when he’s sick, but he had his swimming lesson in the morning! So after a quick internal debate, I opted to get the chlorine off, even if it meant sending a coughing kid to bed with wet hair, and kicked myself as he shivered afterwards, his wet limbs covered in goosebumps.)

Between about midnight and 4am, Aidan woke himself—and us—up coughing too many times to count.

“Mommy, can you sing to me?” he’d say, as I sleepwalked into his room. “Can you read me a story?”

Each time I’d stagger in, he’d be guzzling water, coughing up a lung, searching for Kitty, grinning at me.

Between about 3 and 4:00, none of us slept, as he was coughed almost non-stop. I gave him more useless cough syrup, suggested more water, checked the humidifier (still steaming away). Harlan had had enough of my hippie mama remedies and went downstairs to fetch the Tylenol, which he thought might help him sleep, and a cough drop from my nightstand. It was neon blue and Aidan liked it for about three seconds.

“It’s minty,” he said, “too minty,” and spit it out.

I found a pack of honey-flavored ones and he liked the idea of that, but only managed to hold it in his gooey finger and lick it for a few seconds before declaring it “too minty,” too, and dumping it in a bowl I gave him to keep by his bed, in case he wanted it later.

I climbed in bed with him for a while, but he was too obsessed with stroking my face and telling me how beautiful I am and how much he loves me to sleep (motherhood rocks!), so I gave him a big shmoogle (just made that up, it’s a rapturous hybrid hug/kiss/cuddle) and fell exhausted back into my own bed, where I wrapped my arms around tired hubby and almost passed out until the cat started bellowing. Harlan went down and threw a glass of water in his face—his latest trick for getting him to behave, which works for a minute. Then the cat forgets all about it by 4:30 the next morning, when he starts his morose serenade all over again.

Harlan texted me this morning to make sure I’d given Aidan a cough drop to take to school with him. I told him Aidan doesn’t understand cough drops.

The rest of the conversation went like this:

“Fine…but it helped last night.”

“No! He kicked it for awhile and put it in a bowl by his bed,” and then: “Licked.”

“But his coughing stopped right away after he tried it,” he said.

“I think it was the Tylenol,” I said.

“Don’t be so anti cough drop. Embrace Western medicine.”

Last night I did finally embrace the Western medicine called Tylenol and I believe it’s what allowed him to sleep. That said, it’s easier to get me to cave at 4:00 in the morning. Basically I’m reluctant to put any type of medication into my son that they don’t sell at Cambridge Naturals. (I went there today to get a new brand of homeopathic cough syrup). That is, unless he’s in pain. When my baby is really hurting, my hippie mama morality flies out the window and it’s antibiotics all the way for the ear infection, Tylenol for fevers and even a cough drop for croup if we can keep it in his mouth for long enough to do the trick.

I ran into a new friend at the gym today—very cool dancer/filmmaker mom I met on the soccer field who moved here from Brooklyn—and she suggested Benadryl. I have a bottle on hand in case of bee stings. But I suppose if the coughing got bad enough and I was delirious enough, I would give it a shot.

But that’s only if Plan A doesn’t work:

Tonight we blast the hot shower and hang out in the steamy bathroom. I can see us now, sweaty, on the floor, joking around, maybe playing Uno. Then, counter-intuitively, once we’re dried off and bundled up, we step out into the cool night air and take big gulps of it.

These were the suggestions of Aidan’s school nurse and they’re the kind of cures this hippie mama tends to prefer.

I finished reading Stephen King’s On Writing a few weeks ago and have been meaning to write more about the things he says that terrify me.

Last time I talked mainly about the impossible goals he sets for writers and how badly they stressed me out. But almost as soon as I posted, I realized that there were other things that stress me out even more than being required to write for 4-5 hours a day.

Here’s a biggie:

Stephen King does not believe in outlines. And he doesn’t much like plot.

He has this wonderful, mystical belief that stories are like fossils that already exist somewhere, buried deep in the earth, in a lost canyon or maybe in your backyard, and it is the writer’s job to unearth it.

“The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible,” he says. “No matter how good you are, no matter how much experience you have, it’s probably impossible to get the entire fossil out of the ground without a few breaks and losses. To get even most of it, the shovel must give way to more delicate tools: airhose, palm pick, perhaps even a toothbrush. Plot is a far bigger tool, the writer’s jackhammer. You can liberate a fossil from hard ground with a jackhammer, no argument there, but you know as well as I do that the jackhammer is going to break almost as much stuff as it liberates. It’s clumsy, mechanical, anti-creative. Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice.”

Alright.

I plotted out my first book, Room for Love, meticulously. I spent months hammering out the plot before I started writing the actual book. I also plotted out every screenplay I’ve written. Plot is the hardest part for me, much harder than character or dialogue, which come relatively easily, so I figured it was best to work out the plot beforehand, create an outline that I could use as a map, and the story would flow. And it did: The story flowed.

“I’m a plotter,” I told myself and the audiences at my book readings. “I’m an outliner.” And I’ve always been perfectly comfortable with that. Until now.

“The good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice”? How can any self-respecting writer be comfortable with that?

He goes on:

“I lean more heavily on intuition, and I have been able to do that because my books tend to be based on situation rather than story… I want to put a group of characters in some sort of predicament and watch them try to work themselves free. My job isn’t to help them work their way free, or manipulate them to safety—those are the jobs which require the noisy jackhammer of plot—but to watch what happens and then write it down…

A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot, which is fine with me. The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What if question:

What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (Salem’s Lot)

What if a policeman in a remote Nevada town went berserk and started killing everyone in sight? (Desperation)…

These were all situations which occurred to me, while showering, while driving, while taking my daily walk and which I eventually turned into books. In no case were they plotted, not even to the extent of a single note jotted on a single piece of scrap paper.”

Nice, right? Listening to Stephen King wax poetic about his process makes me want to write like he does: intuitively, spontaneously, without overthinking, from the heart, as they say.

As if all that weren’t enough, King also stresses how important it is to write a first draft in total isolation without showing a word to a soul. Once the draft is finished, you’re allowed to show it to one trusted reader, preferably a spouse (if there’s one chomping at the bit), most certainly not a writing workshop, the whole species of which he has not-so-nice things to say about. (I’ve been sharing my work with a writing workshop every 2-3 weeks for the last 2-3 years.)

While hubby is reading (and keeping his opinions to himself), you (the writer) are supposed to stick that precious first draft into a drawer and keep it there for at least six weeks while you work on something else instead.

“Resist temptation,” he says, lest you get drawn into rewrites (and the self-loathing and/or self-congratulations that come with them) before you are ready.

“When you come to the correct evening (which you well may have marked on your office calendar), take your manuscript out of the drawer. If it looks like an alien relic bought at a junk-shop or yard sale where you can hardly remember stopping, you’re ready. Sit down with your door shut… a pencil in your hand, and a legal pad by your side. Then read your manuscript over…

If you’ve never done it before, you’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience. It’s yours, you’ll recognize it as yours, even be able to remember what tune was on the stereo when you wrote certain lines, and yet it will also be like reading the work of someone else, a soul-twin, perhaps. This is the way it should be, the reason you waited. It’s always easier to kill someone else’s darlings than it is to kill your own.”

There is much in Stephen King’s book that inspires me. Truly, the book fired me up. And yet there is also much that made me feel bad about my process. That would not be the case if my process were working. Criticism only gnaws at you if there is truth to it and for me, there is truth to what King says.

I avoid writing by instead planning to write, i.e. writing notes, outlines, etc.

I get derailed by my writing group’s notes.

I reread and rewrite, rather than giving myself the time and space necessary to gain objectivity about what I have written.

It’s time to sit my ass in my chair and write for 3-4 hours a day. Or at least 2.

Consider my wrists slapped.

After completing On Writing, I took a deep breath and made some decisions. I polished the outline for my current book, but left the plot in broad strokes. I needed a time line for this particular book, because there are some tricky chronology issues that need to make sense, but I left large plot questions unanswered. I also told my writing group I wouldn’t submit any more chapters until this draft is complete.

I feel good. I feel ready.

And I end with a quote that simply inspires me (as opposed to scaring the shit out of me):

“I have written because it fulfilled me. Maybe it paid off the mortgage on the house and got the kids through college, but those things were on the side—I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for the joy, you can do it forever.”

I’m a few days late—it’s been a birthday party, mother-in-law visit, Ikea bed fiasco kind of week!—but in honor of my beloved leap year baby’s fifth birthday, here, once again, is my humdinger of a birth story.

A shorter version was published on babble.com a couple of years back. Enjoy!

Aidan’s Birth or How I Learned To Stop Planning My Birth and Let Myself Have a Baby

My water broke on Wednesday morning and I gave birth on Friday night. Let me say that again in case you weren’t paying attention: My water broke on Wednesday morning and I gave birth on Friday night. I know, that’s not how it’s supposed to happen. Or at least it’s not how it happens in the movies, which is where I learned most of what I thought I knew about childbirth.

I know a lot about movies and their comforting, predictable structure. Before moving to LA from New York and diving headlong into the yoga and massage-filled haze of preparing for motherhood, I wrote movies and wrote about movies for magazines, newspapers and websites. My first book is about a movie writer who pretends to look for an apartment as a way to meet men. True story. But in the fictional version I gave it a beautifully shaped narrative arc and a happy ending. It would make one hell of a movie.

I thought I could impose that same kind of narrative structure on childbirth. Most films—those that make it into theaters anyway—follow a classic three-act structure. Climax is followed by resolution. Take Juno. She learns she’s pregnant in Act 1, scene 1. Just in time for Act 3, she looks at her crotch and announces, “Uh, Dad…either I just wet my pants….or thundercats are go!” Five minutes later she’s sweating through delivery.

Katie, my doula, told me, “As you live, so you deliver your baby.” I’m a pretty laid-back person, so I figured my birth would be as breezy as a Kate Hudson romantic comedy and that was the kind of birth I prepared for. Turns out childbirth is life at its messiest, at its least predictable and most resistant to planning. Kind of like David Lynch, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Judd Apatow all fighting for control of the same movie. The movie version of my baby’s birth would turn out to be a meandering indie, at once comic, moving and seemingly neverending. With no chance whatsoever of getting into Sundance.

It’s Wednesday, February 27, the day before my due date, and I’m headed to Beverly Hills to see my OB, Dr. Crane. I’ve been seeing his midwife partner, Debbie, for most of my pregnancy, but she went on a long-planned vacation so now I’m seeing Dr. Crane. I hop out of the car and feel a gush of liquid between my legs. This might sound alarming, but not for me. The day before, I was lying in bed and felt the same gush. I panicked and thought I was going into labor. Only there wasn’t any pain and the trickle of water didn’t seem big enough to be the real thing. A call to Katie confirmed my suspicion. I had a dream that night that my midwife was in my bathroom. She was counseling a supermodel with no panties on—she told me that, “I don’t have my panties on.” I waited patiently at the door to my own bathroom and finally Debbie turned to me and I said, apologetically, “I just wonder if my water might be breaking,” and she said, “Oh, you’ll know when your water breaks.” I took this to be my subconscious telling me to chill.

So, when this happens the next day, I roll my eyes and think, “Jesus Christ, not again.” Then, just as I trigger the car alarm, cool liquid rushes down my legs, drenching the seams of my pants and trickling around my ankles. This is no ordinary gush. I inch my way to the elevator as fast as a person can while squeezing her thighs together, and call Harlan, my husband, but he is too engrossed in shooting footage of a body builder and a porn star against a green screen to answer his phone. I enter Dr. Crane’s office and announce, “I think my water just broke!”

I was ushered into an office and hooked up to a monitor that revealed I was having contractions every six to seven minutes. Every time I had one, the baby’s heart rate picked up, which Dr. Crane said was a sign of a healthy baby. He checked my cervix—I was dilated one centimeter out of the 10 necessary to deliver the baby. According to the documentary The Business of Being Born and my prenatal yoga teacher, this is the point where most OBs would have pumped me full of antibiotics to stave off infection and Pitocin to augment my contractions, and in grave tones terrified me with tales of distressed, infected babies until I was begging for an emergency C-section. But Dr. Crane, who believes that a body knows how to birth a baby and that it’s best to stay out of its way, assured me that the myth that you have to get the baby out within 24 hours of the water breaking is just that: a myth. The risk of infection is still minuscule and can be avoided by monitoring the baby regularly. He sent me home and told me that labor would probably start spontaneously in the night. He also mentioned, casually, that he had to go to Las Vegas on Friday, but not to fret. It was only Wednesday, remember? I’d have a baby by then.

Because I wasn’t experiencing any pain, I did what any normal woman whose contractions are only six to seven minutes apart would do: I went shopping. While waiting for the nursing bra expert at the Pump Station, I told the woman next to me, “My water just broke.” “Oh my God, go before me,” she said. At the Right Start, where I went to buy the baby sling I’d been meaning to pick up for the last eight months, a young mom said, “Oh my God, they’re letting you wander around after your water broke?” and backed away, as if I was some reckless, hippy natural childbirth freak from whose crotch a baby might spill at any moment.

In movies, a montage sequence is often used to show the passage of time, cutting together a series of events that in unison represent a single idea. Like 1995-2005, the period I dated the wrong men: a sampling of the most embarrassing drunken hook-ups and most brutal break-ups. While I’d love to tell you every detail of my birth story, you’d probably walk out of the theater. So, I offer instead this montage of my impossibly slow labor:

Me waddling through the streets of Venice with a friend in an attempt to jumpstart my labor; watching American Idol while waiting for Harlan to get home; whacking him awake later to let him know real contractions have begun. Trying to figure out how to time my contractions using contractionmaster.com. Watching Ratatouille with my younger sister who’s trying to feed me a taco salad that makes me want to hurl. Dr. Crane measuring my cervix and saying it’s still a long way till baby time. Me cringing as my husband and doula force me to go all the way back to Venice to labor in the comfort of our home even though Cedars Sinai is a two-minute drive from the doctor’s office. Crouching in the passenger seat, trying in vain to find the part of my hypnobirthing CD on my iPod where a leopard guides me to a fairy tale cottage in a magical forest. Blasting “Just Like Heaven” and “You Shook Me All Night Long” and dancing around my living room. Harlan sucking my nipples in the shower to stimulate the release of oxytocin while I stand there, immune to his advances, but loving the way the hot water makes my pain disappear. Walking around my neighborhood at midnight with Harlan and Katie. Clinging to them both as a contraction hits. Whimpering, “Why is this happening?” as liquid splashes down my legs—again. Katie saying, “This is good, birth is messy, it’s good to get used to it.” At the hospital, falling asleep between contractions while sitting on the edge of my bed as a nurse watches my baby’s heart rate on a monitor. Katie hanging Christmas lights in our dark room for ambiance. Seeing my family and friends in the waiting room as I walk the long, fluorescent-lit hallways in a hideous green gown and telling them to go home and come back the next day. Harlan rubbing my feet as I recline on my hospital bed, clutching my massive belly.

I was determined to have a natural childbirth. I had gone into the pregnancy not knowing much about anything, assuming I’d have an epidural since I’m not big on pain. But once I started looking for a doctor, I realized that I’m crunchier—and warier of the medical establishment—than I’d thought. Two doctors in a row rolled their eyes and said “natural” childbirth, making quotation marks with their fingers. I was offended and started doing research and began to think that certain measures that supposedly make birth easier for mothers are really about making birth easier—and more profitable—for doctors, and for insurance and pharmaceutical companies. I watched the Russian water birth video about these women giving birth in the Black Sea and was moved to tears. I read Birthing from Within about finding ways to cope with the discomfort of labor so that drugs can be avoided. I learned that epidurals can slow down labor, often necessitating Pitocin, and Pitocin hampers the hormones that the body produces naturally to ease childbirth. And from there it’s often a slippery slope that leads straight to C-section.

That’s how I found myself doing squats in the hallways of Cedars Sinai 38 hours after my water broke. And opening wide as Katie put homeopathic pills under my tongue and fed me castor oil in orange juice. It made me poop green stringy goop that smelled like steamed asparagus. I told everyone in the room my poop smelled like steamed asparagus. Katie made Harlan and me take another shower together, right there in the hospital. When we returned to the delivery room wrapped in towels, Dr. Crane was there, unfazed by our nakedness.

On the morning of Friday, February 29, Susan, a new nurse came on duty. “Hello, my friend, how do you feel?” I grimaced and told her my poop smelled like steamed asparagus. Dr. Crane measured my cervix: it had only dilated to six centimeters. By this time I’d been in labor for 36 hours. He said it was time to put me on Pitocin. Katie put her arm around me and said she had to agree. What felt like days ago, I had sent a text message to probably 75 friends telling them to light the candles my mom had handed out at my baby shower and say a prayer for a safe, easy childbirth and happy, healthy baby. From New York to San Diego to Seattle, candles had been lit for us by friends who expected a predictable “It’s a boy!” text eight hours later. Exhausted and sick of the pain, I told Dr. Crane if I was getting Pitocin, I wanted an epidural, too. Nice fucking commitment to natural childbirth.

And with the flick of a switch, my birth went from warm, fuzzy and feminine to something that Stanley Kubrick might have directed, had Dr. Strangelove featured a woman giving birth: there were two strange men in the room, the anesthesiologist and his assistant, their maleness and unfamiliarity surreal under the bright lights they turned on as they entered my room. They had me sit on the edge of the bed facing the pictures I’d brought from home: my sister and parents, my grandparents, a wedding photo of Harlan and me. Katie grabbed one—my cats, Jack and Maggie, as kittens—and placed it into my hands. “Look at them,” she said. “Think about how much you love Jack and Maggie.” I stared as hard as I could, thought as hard as I could, loved as hard as I could, as a needle violated my back. I leaned onto the soft pillows, afraid of what I had done, and caught Harlan’s eyes. I could still feel my contractions and I feared for the future of my spinal column and how the drug might affect my baby.

But then things improved. If this were a movie, this would be the part where the protagonist awakens from a terrible nightmare and flings the shutters open to find that colors are still bright and birds still singing. I realized I hadn’t felt a contraction in a while. I smiled. Laughed even. On the monitor, I saw them coming, harder now, closer together, thanks to the Pitocin. They were mountains, Everest to the earlier rolling hills, and I couldn’t feel a thing. The absence of pain allowed me to focus on other things. “Hey Harlan, can you get online? Find out who got kicked off American Idol.” Dr. Crane visited me for the last time and apologized for having to leave; he had to go to Vegas to see his son starring in Spamalot. My cervix was at 8 cm, he said, we were on our way. I closed my eyes and slept for three hours.

I woke up to meet Debbie and Dr. Crane’s other partner, Dr. Chin, who was going to deliver my baby. He measured me yet again and said my cervix was not at 8 centimeters at all; it was closer to 6. Either Dr. Crane had been going on wishful thinking or I’d actually regressed. In any case, we had to classify my labor as dysfunctional. He said we should increase the dosage of the Pitocin and reconvene in an hour and a half. If I hadn’t progressed substantially, he would have to recommend a C-section. After all the work I had done, my uterus was not contracting with the frequency or force necessary to propel this baby out of my body and my cervix was not opening wide enough to insure safe passage. My body couldn’t do it. Not even with the help of a chemical battering ram.

This is that part of the movie where the protagonist hits rock bottom and has to summon inner resources she didn’t know she had. Everyone left the room except Harlan. He sat down next to the bed. “Who the hell is he to waltz in here after all this time and tell us you need a C-section?” he said. “He’s just being honest with us,” I said with uncharacteristic calm and resignation. “He’s a good doctor and we have to take his advice. The most important thing is that we have a healthy baby. It doesn’t really matter how.” Harlan buried his face in my chest and cried. I closed my eyes and visualized flowers opening, my cervix dilating easy and sweet, white roses bursting into bloom—and once again, I fell asleep.

“How you feeling, my friend?” was the first thing I heard upon waking. “Okay, I guess? Ready to have a baby?” Harlan stood by the side of the bed holding my hand, holding his breath, as Susan settled between my legs to measure me. The room was completely silent. Then Susan erupted, “Sweet baby, you are at nine and a half centimeters! We’re going to deliver this baby!” I started to laugh, convinced it was thanks to my blooming flower visualization.

With Susan crouched between my legs, Harlan and Katie on either side and a third nurse, who had just come on duty, by my right shoulder, we waited for the next contraction and bam! Susan said, “Now!” The new nurse said, “Push, push, push, push, push!” in a football coach tone. And three days and seven hours after my water broke, we finally found ourselves in a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster birthing scene. I tightened everything I could think to tighten and push push push push pushed! And on that very first push, Harlan said, “Oh my God, I can see the head!” Dr. Chin showed up, cranky that Susan hadn’t paged him sooner. He moved into position and started massaging my perineum. In our attempts to keep our birth as natural as possible, Harlan and I had practiced perineal massage at home. He would put calendula oil on his fingers and gently rub the skin down there, supposedly making it more supple so it wouldn’t tear during childbirth. But it hurt and I hated it so we only practiced maybe three times. But Dr. Chin started pushing and pulling my tight, tender skin, getting his whole hand in there and kneading and stretching me like dough, rubbing full force as if he were scrubbing rust off the inside of a hubcap. And it worked: I made it through delivery without a tear or an episiotomy. The OBs I interviewed before settling on my doctors, the ones who put “natural childbirth” in quotes, had assured me that no first-time mom makes it through with her perineum intact. So this was a victory.

With every contraction, I pushed, not feeling a thing. Blown away, Harlan exclaimed things like, “Oh my God, I see the baby!” And plain “oh my God! Oh my God!” I had my iPod going, on an endless playlist I’d named Happy Birthday. George Harrison was crooning My Sweet Lord when my baby’s head emerged—and one hand, since he came out fist forward like Superman. “Reach down here, Andrea,” Dr. Chin said. “and take your baby.” I reached between my legs and put my hands around what turned out to be a tiny squirming torso, and pulled the rest of my baby out from between my legs. I held him up and saw my baby, still connected to me by the umbilical cord. He was squished and covered in blood and screaming. And he was in my hands. The room erupted in laughter and cheers. Harlan cut the cord and ran down the hall to alert my parents, my sister, my uncle, aunt and cousins who had come down from Santa Barbara, and my friends Mae and Melissa, and they all streamed into the room, beaming, spilling congratulations, pointing cameras at us. My uncle Jack even handed Harlan a cigar.

“As you live your life, so you deliver your baby.”

I may be laid back, but I’m also a damn fine procrastinator. I usually wait until the day a story is due to start organizing useless, random thoughts into a coherent piece of writing. I clear out my closet, old emails, the refrigerator of everything sweet, then fling myself dramatically on my bed and proclaim, “I can’t do it!” And then five minutes before deadline, I find hidden strength and wisdom. I ask for a 24-hour extension and wrap it up triumphantly. As I live, so I delivered my baby. Only when I’d abandoned my plan and nearly given up hope did my body—and my baby—cooperate.

This is where the writer and critic in me tell me that my story should end. But I feel compelled to say one last thing, even if it does completely screw up the narrative structure. I need to tell you about my beautiful baby, Aidan Wolf Bosmajian, the happy ending we’ve been waiting for.

When Harlan and I pledged our lifelong love to each other, I thought I had experienced all that love had to offer, and offered all I had of love. But that was before the birth of my baby. This is life’s greatest secret. And it’s only revealed to those reckless enough to have a child. After all those hours— okay make that days—of pain, this little guy came out from between my legs, with a gush of blood, screaming, and instantly, I knew I would lift a car with my hands, take a bullet, put my thumbs through the eyeballs of a stranger to protect him. No matter how many movies I had seen or how many young mothers I had talked to with the same rapturous look in their eyes—nothing could have prepared me for those feelings. The 38 hours of labor could wind up on the cutting room floor for all I cared. All that mattered was Aidan.

After the shock and awe of that new little body in my hands, after thinking, “Wow, balls. It’s a boy.” And “nice conehead.” And “he looks kind of Mexican, doesn’t he?” After all that, I thought, my God, it is you. It’s you, you who started out as that tiny cluster of cells in a picture back in a fertility doctor’s office; you, my miracle baby who fought hardest to be the embryo that became the fetus that became my son; you who has been using the inside of my womb for kickboxing practice for ten months; you whom I’ve talked to and sung to every night; you who made me throw up at the smell of cat food and weep at Mastercard commercials; you who spent the last three days defying my birth plan and clinging stubbornly to that safe, dark place you’ve been calling home all these months.  Welcome to the world, baby. It’s so nice to meet you.

The most popular post I’ve written is this one.  It’s about an irritating skin condition I’ve got called xanthelasma: fat deposits in the eye area that in my case manifest themselves as a yellowish caulifloweresque growth over each of my eyes and another under my left one.

It’s ugly. It sucks. I hate it.

I decided to write about my pet Xanth a couple of years ago, when I was doing the Master Cleanse in an attempt to get rid of these hideous mushroom-like beasts that have taken up residence on my face.

The response was explosive!

Apparently I’m not the only one googling for potential cures, spending ridiculous sums at the health food store and wearing sunglasses inside and out year-round in a futile attempt to mask a condition that’s as unattractive as it is tenacious. The comments continue to roll in, as people stumble upon my blog and chime in with rumored cures, personal treatment attempts, surgery stories, successful and not.

So, I figure it’s my duty to sift through the 214 comments and enumerate the possible solutions along with their pros and cons. Even if there’s no obvious treatment, anyone coming here looking for answers can at least find a relatively quick and easy resource guide.

1. Surgery: You can have xanthelasma surgically removed. Pay a doctor—I suggest a plastic surgeon—a large sum of money and he or she will cut the bugger off. I had this done twice, back when my very first one was the size of a small freckle. Obviously, it came back—and it mushroomed when I was pregnant with Aidan. (According to the comments on the original post, many xanthomas appear or flourish during pregnancy.) So I started searching for a natural cure, something I hoped would heal them from the inside—or at least not cost me $700 a pop just so they could come back six months later. That said, surgery remains a viable option.

2. Laser Surgery: About a year ago, I was going to have one of mine removed by a surgeon my dermatologist recommended. When I presented her with a study that recommended laser surgery over the scalpel, she concurred and referred me to a laser surgeon. She also told me to wait in case I decided to have any more kids since pregnancy triggers xanth growth. You can read that whole saga here. People who have commented on my blog have had good results with laser surgery. However, it is even more expensive than the old-fashioned kind, it is not covered by insurance and there is a high incidence of recurrence post-surgery.

3. Garlic: Many of the commenters on my post have applied raw garlic to their xanthelasma with excellent results. This is something I actually tried myself. It burned like crazy and by the second day of applying it, my face swelled up as if someone had slugged me and I developed a monstrous black scab on the spot where I had applied the garlic. I was scared off and stopped. That said, I might try again. Several commenters who have had tremendous success say you just have to muscle through the discomfort. You let it scar, wait till the scar falls off and do it again. As ugly as it gets, keep going until the xanthelasma is gone—and it will go. Underneath, new baby-pink skin apparently awaits. Read the comments on my original post, especially those by a guy named Robert, for detailed instructions.

4. TCA: Sharon, a woman on CureZone, had very good luck with something called a TCA (Trichloroacetic acid) peel. She bought hers from a company called Redvenus, but it also available through Amazon and other online stores. She says there was pain and swelling, but ultimately she did get rid of her xanthelasma. I emailed Sharon and she sent me an after-shot that was incredible. I am posting it below. While there is a scar, the growths are gone. Sharon updated her post on CureZone to say they recurred, but she was able to remove them again with TCA and makeup covers them completely.

Sharon, post-TCA treatment

Sharon, post-TCA treatment

5. Lipase: Someone posted a link suggesting that an enzyme called lipase, applied topically with a “carrier agent” such as aloe, can help remove moles, boils, xanthelasma, etc. One woman has been applying it daily, but she’s yet to see results. I asked the manager at my local health food store and she was skeptical, but she sold me a product called Lypo Gold, which contains lipase and is used to optimize fat digestion. (The idea being that, like trying the Master Cleanse, it might break down the xanth, which is a fat deposit.) She said not to expect miracles, but it couldn’t hurt. So far, the xanth is still there—and I haven’t turned skinny either. (That might require cutting down my chocolate consumption.) Another note: high quantities of lipase are found in avocado and unpasteurized, raw dairy products, so it might be worth adding those products to your diet if you’re a xanth sufferer.

6. Diet: Those (like myself) who suspect that there could be a dietary solution, I give you the words of one commenter: “I went on a macrobiotic diet: only fresh whole grains, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, no refined sugars, no processed foods, no refined flour products, very little natural sugars, lots of vegetables, home cooked legumes, and fish once or twice a week. I don’t smoke or drink alcohol. So, I don’t think there’s anything more I could do with diet.” She still has raging xanthelasma.

7. Bleomycin: One of the more promising studies someone posted involved the effects of a drug called Bleomycin A5 solution injections. The conclusion: “Bleomycin A5 can rapidly…induce xanthelasma disappearance. Bleomycin A5 is an easy and safe method to treat eyelid xanthelasma and can be widely used in clinical work.” When I emailed the study to my derm, she was impressed, but this treatment does not seem to be available yet.

8. The $180 wonder cream: A company in Singapore is selling something called Xanthelasma Cream for $180. One commenter, Judy, was buying it and I am eagerly awaiting a report. Wonder cream #2: Someone also posted a link about a cream called Spotaway. The company, Proderma, looks legitimate. I wanted to get their product immediately, but it wasn’t available in the U.S. I emailed and never received a response. I also tried saying I was from France, Ireland and Germany, thinking I could have a friend buy it for me, but it seems Spotaway is the one Proderma product unavailable in those countries. Very fishy.

9. Concealer: Until we can find a way to actually get rid of the fuckers, most of us spend a lot of time applying makeup to them. Most commenters on the blog like Dermablend. While I think it’s okay, I prefer Stila Perfecting Concealer. It’s thicker and stays on longer.

Grab bag of other possible cures:

Rescue Remedy: Someone suggested trying to apply Rescue Remedy directly to the xanth. Why the hell not? I have no data on this.

Homeopathy: A Pakistani friend who rid herself of warts with the use of homeopathy suggested I try this for the xanth. One commenter, however, said she spent many months and dollars on so-called homeopathic cures, with absolutely no results.

Liver cleanses: I had a similar experience with a liver cleanse, i.e. spent a lot of money on a fancy one. While I’m sure it had other fantastic effects on my body, as far as the xanthelasma: Nada.

Colonics plus: Hoping and praying for a natural cure, I saw a holistic doctor in L.A. for some time and, on her recommendation, started doing regular colon cleanses and taking a phospholipid called phosphatidylcholine, also with no results whatsoever.

Lecithin plus cider vinegar: One commenter is taking Lecithin (a phosholipid like the one I was taking) three times a day and applying cider vinegar topically. She reported that the xanth seemed to be going down slightly, but never posted to say it was gone completely.

Wart medication: One woman’s xanth disappeared completely after using a “Wartner Wart Gel Pen” for three days. What followed was two weeks of what she calls, “yucky scabbing which I have managed by salt/boiled water cleaning and vaseline and vitamin e oil at night,” which sounds a lot like the garlic. Her xanth are gone.

Iodine: One woman, Anik, is taking iodine internally with water and dabbing it on topically. She says the xanth are shrinking slowly, but they are not completely gone.

Be a guinea pig! Saluja Cosmetic and Laser Center in Huntersville, NC is recruiting people with xanthelasma to take part in a study. Participants will receive laser therapy at a reduced rate. If I lived in the area, I would definitely investigate.

So, you might ask, what am I planning to do?

At some point, I will probably shell out the big bucks for laser surgery, despite the recurrence that everyone on my blog reports. It is clean, painless, legal and effective—at least temporarily.

In the meantime, I feel I have to explore other options. I will definitely speak to my dermatologist about the Bleomycin, which sounds like an incredible solution, and see if there is anyone who can do the injections. Maybe she can do it herself? I am also waiting patiently and with fingers crossed for a report from Judy, the woman who bought the miracle cream.

If none of that pans out, I will probably go for the TCA peel that Sharon used. The results are similar to the garlic, but the process seems to be slightly less excruciating.

If anyone has any other recommendations for me and my not-so-merry band of xanthelasma sufferers, please send them along!

A recent photo of me with visible xanth—bright sunlight, no makeup, no photoshop. Hopefully the cute kid makes up for the yucky blemishes.

A recent photo of me with visible xanth—bright sunlight, no makeup, no photoshop. Hopefully the cute kid makes up for the yucky blemishes.

Stephen King is stressing me out.

I’ve been reading his book On Writing before bed every night. I love the stories he tells about his childhood, like the one about the abusive babysitter he calls Eula-Beulah who farted on his head and got herself fired after feeding him seven eggs, then locking him in a closet where he proceeded to puke all over his mother’s shoes. As most of us know, his writing is vivid, startling and often hilarious.

I also like his advice about writing, like this:

“Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”

And this:

“While it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”

Then there’s his description of his own personal Muse:

“There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think this is fair? I think it’s fair. He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist (what I get out of mine is mostly surly grunts, unless he’s on duty), but he’s got the inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the midnight oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life.

Believe me, I know.”

It’s great stuff. So why am I stressing out?

Because he goes on to tell you that to be a writer, you should be reading and writing for 4-6 hours a day. 4-6 hours a day!

He does, after all.

His personal daily word count goal is 2000. In other words, he writes every single day—including his birthday and Christmas—as much as I wrote during National Novel Writing Month, that crazy period last November when I felt like I was on a treadmill.

True, he says not everyone needs to write 2000 words (he says 1000 should suffice). And he says it’s cool to take one day off per week (but more than one, i.e. a whole weekend or three weeks at the holidays, will throw you off your rhythm).

He also says you need a room of your own in which to write. Libraries—like the Cambridge Public one where I write—don’t qualify. Coffee shops—my alternate writing space—don’t work at all. You’ve got to have your own room with a desk in it and where you can close the door and write for 4-6 hours a day.

Those words set my knees a-knockin’.

You have to read a lot, too, and that can cut into the allotted time. King estimates that he reads 80 books a year. 80 books a year! I think I read a pretty good amount, but I doubt if I manage even 20 or 25. The problem might be that I devote some of my reading time to the Times, The New Yorker and Entertainment Weekly. That must count, right?! (Maybe not Entertainment Weekly. But I can’t give that up. It’s a drug. And I swear the writing is good! Hey, wait a second, Stephen King writes for Entertainment Weekly! He can’t fault me for liking to read it!)

I also tend to watch TV at night, a habit he he gets a bit snooty about. What can I say? I’m addicted to True Blood, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and I’m not the slightest bit ashamed to admit So You Think You Can Dance. 

I also watch movies. Hell, movies are my passion! I spent 10 years writing about them! Come on, Mr. King, can you let me off the hook for wanting—no, needing—to watch movies sometimes instead of breaking out my old Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf novels?

So maybe now you understand why the illustrious and beyond-prolific Mr. King is stressing me out. He’s setting goals for me that I feel unprepared to achieve.

But could I come close?

Could I, for example, write for two hours every day (or five days a week) and read for one? Wouldn’t that be a start? Is that a goal I could set for myself and actually achieve?

There’s one thing I’ve learned: Don’t set impossible goals for yourself.

When you are unable to achieve the goals you have set, you wind up beating yourself up and god knows I don’t need to beat myself up any more than I already do.

Mr. King, what do you think?

This year I enjoyed the kind of New Years celebration I hadn’t experienced since before Aidan was born. While my New Year’s Eves have been meaningful since I became a mom, they have rarely been boisterous or wild, and it felt great to drink, dance and dissolve into fits of laughter as much as I did on New Year’s Eve.

We got a babysitter and went to a small party at our friend Danielle’s house in Santa Monica (that happens to be the kind of Spanish villa I dream about). It promised to be a mellow evening surrounded by my sister, Katya, and her best friends from high school and college, who have also become close friends of ours. I imagined quiet conversation while sipping from elegant flutes of champagne.

Instead bourbon and red wine were flowing.

And our friend Jenni’s boyfriend, Guy, a talented amateur chef from the South, announced every half hour or so that a dish was ready—grilled octopus, shrimp and grits, thick steaks—and we’d gather ‘round to grab plates and head into the dining room.

And Danielle was blasting one of those radio stations I never knew existed, the kind you dial up with your TV remote and end up with an unlikely playlist from the decade of your choice. We went with the 80s and swayed our hips to the unlikely likes of Madonna, George Michael and Christopher Cross.

The combination of these ingredients and just the right mix of people led to a perfect evening.

Between courses, we watched massive slabs of butter melt in Guy’s pan, made lists of resolutions and, when a great (or too cheesy to ignore) song came on, we raced into the living room to shake our groove thangs. Jenni and I twirled each other around to Careless Whisper and Harlan and I slow-danced to Arthur’s Theme, a guilty pleasure when I was 15 that’s as earnest as ever and now an ironic masterpiece, to which I can still belt out all the words.

At midnight we gathered around the flat screen to watch the ball drop, counted down loudly and doled out the requisite hugs and kisses.

Afterwards, we burned resolutions in the fire. Did a single tequila shot (that I regretted sorely the next day). Ate chocolate with our champagne.

Earlier that night, before heading out, I wanted to do a ritual to mark the new year with Aidan. We lit candles on the coffee table in the living room at my parents’ house and Harlan, Katya, Aidan and I wrote our wishes for the year: what we hoped to let go of, what we hoped to invite in and what we were most grateful for. We read them aloud and burned them in the fireplace.

Aidan focused on gratitude. The first page of his list is below. In addition to Harlan and me, love and kindness, he wrote, “Gus (my mom’s dog), Grandma, Grandpa, Katya,” and, most surprisingly, “warmth.” Originally he’d said, “Sun,” then he changed it to, “Heat,” and finally he settled on, “Warmth,” which I loved.

I was touched and impressed by Katya’s resolution to let go of blaming her ex-husband for everything wrong with her life. And, as always, I was moved by Harlan’s thoughtfulness and love for our family.

As for me, I wrote a long, rambling gratitude list that ended with the week in the Bahamas that we would begin the next day. I promised to do my best to let go of sadness, jealousy and anger and a tendency to compare myself to other people.

My resolutions went up in flames, so I don’t remember them all, but I do know they were few and I spoke them as affirmations.

I am finishing my book and getting all my other writing projects off the backburners.

I am buying myself only beautiful things that I love.

I am treating my family with greater kindness, softness and love.

For Christmas, my sister got my mom, my dad and me “energy-cleansing” sessions with a reiki master. When the beautiful Nicoline and I spoke before my session, after I’d spoken to her about my desire to be kinder and softer with the people I love, she said she wanted to help me get back to myself, my true self. I think she nailed it.

Let’s see if 2013 can be about getting back to my true self.

Aidan's gratitude list

Aidan’s gratitude list

Alex, Jenni and Katya

Alex, Jenni and Katya

Our New Year's card

Our New Year’s card

LA sunset

LA sunset

I came to the computer prepared to write a glum post. It is a grey day in Boston. Not cold, but the air is heavy and the sky seems to be pressing on the top of my head instead of soaring way up where it belongs. Also, I woke up with a cold, or not quite a cold, but my usual early symptoms: swollen glands and a raw, swollen nose. I flushed my sinuses with a neti pot, took Emergen-C and dose of Kold Kare and Wellness Formula and said a prayer.

Mainly I was bummed because on Friday I took a yoga class at Baptiste that fired me up and I was looking forward to taking another one today. But my body told me that 90 minutes of intense vinyasa in a heated room wasn’t what it needed this morning, and I was crushed.

I left Aidan drawing “Angry Bird Star Wars” at school, parked the car near the library and walked over to Darwin’s coffee shop to get some ginger lemon tea and their yummy pear-blue cheese salad for lunch. I planned to plant myself at a desk and spend the next hour complaining here about the weather and my cold and how hard it is to come back to reality after vacation.

But then I ran into the mom of a kid from Aidan’s preschool class and we started chatting and suddenly I was telling her about our trip to the Bahamas and the words were spilling out of my mouth: I just wanted to take the kind of vacation where you can drink fruity drinks by the pool!… And we went parasailing and kayaking and snorkeling! And Aidan had so much fun playing with my friend Courtney’s kids everyday!

“And, God, just talking about it makes me happy!” I said.

And it did. I smiled. My cheeks flushed a little. I seemed to breathe more easily.

So here I am, sitting at my favorite corner seat at the library, and look at that: the sun is just starting to peek through the clouds.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

There was a Cambridge policeman stationed at the door of Aidan’s school this morning.

At first I was relieved to see him. Then, while Aidan was dutifully wiping rain off his shoes, I glanced nervously at the gun in the cop’s holster not three feet from my son’s head and got nervous, wanting no gun, not even a policeman’s, anywhere near my son.

On my way out of the building, I wondered if he would stay there all day or if he’d only show up for drop-off and pick-up, whether he’d only be there for only a few days to reassure parents or become a permanent fixture, a sign that security measures are shifting in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Since Friday, everyone has been talking about school security—on the news, on facebook, at dinner parties. (A knockdown drag-out erupted and as quickly dissipated on one of the mom listservs.) We’ve been talking and arguing and posting and tweeting about disbelief and rage and sadness and about gun control and mental illness and having the balls to change legislation for both. The president gave a moving speech. People everywhere have offered their prayers to the community.

And I have been lying awake at night thinking about the families.

The families whose lives were ripped apart on Friday never to be put back together. The parents who went out on Friday morning to shop for Lego’s or Barbie dolls to put under the Christmas tree for their kids, only to find out, in the instant that would change everything, that their children would not be coming home.

Those parents are not thinking about gun control or mental illness. They don’t give a shit about gun control or mental illness. They don’t need our prayers. They aren’t interested in how to avoid the next tragedy of this kind.

They want their children back.

Those families are never going to recover from this. They are going to spend everyday of the rest of their lives grieving for their children who were senselessly wiped from the earth, the children they loved more than they ever imagined loving anything, their sweet, beautiful children, who will never drive cars or go to college or have children of their own.

I can’t stop thinking about them, except when I’m thinking about the kids in Aidan’s classroom. There are 20 of them. That would be every single kid in his class. I keep picturing it. I can’t help myself. I wondered when I saw that policeman this morning if schools are worried about copycats. Oh my God, it’s too much to bear.

And then I think, Is this the day that the most horrible thing conceivable happens?

Part of me has been waiting for it to happen since Nina died. I’ve always been terrified by horrible, sudden tragedies of this sort that just make no sense. I blogged about it when Natasha Richardson died in a skiing accident. But this preoccupation intensified when Nina died, when I became a person who knows firsthand that the worst can happen.

Then again, part of me has been waiting since Aidan was born.

Parenthood is treacherous. From the moment you bring that tiny, fragile person into the world, you risk losing him.

Bob Dylan said, “When you ain’t got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.” And when you’ve got everything, it can be ripped out of your hands.

No warning. Just gone.

For thirty days writing was my top priority.

I was determined to reach the National Novel Writing Month goal of 50,000 words in a month, so I put my book first. Everything else came second (hence my absence here). I would drop Aidan off at school, go straight to the library and, after a half an hour or so checking email, etc., I’d turn on freedom and go! Most days I’d write for 3-4 hours. I’d bring lunch with me and take breaks only to grab another chai or browse the children’s floor for superhero or Scooby Doo books for Aidan. (He always expects a treat on days that I work at the library.)

On Wednesdays I’d do my spinning class before heading to the library. On Thursdays I’d write for three hours, then race off to 12:15 yoga. Some weeks I’d squeeze in another workout, some weeks I couldn’t, but I never did my usual 4-5 days.

On weekend days, I’d stake out an hour and a half or two hours, while Aidan and Harlan were at a museum or kicking a ball around a park. I even insisted upon that time when Harlan’s parents were in town (for four days) and mine (for over a week!) and freaked out only once, a couple days after Thanksgiving, when my parents were still staying with us and I realized I’d skipped three days and had a lot of catching up to do.

I threw a hissy fit, made dramatic proclamations about how I had to reach the goal and how much I would hate myself if I didn’t. And then I went back to writing, one, two, three hours a day, until I crossed the finish line—one day early.

Then I tried to write one more gratuitous day. Strangely enough, I couldn’t. On that very last day, I hit mad writer’s block for the first time. Couldn’t figure out what happened next. Couldn’t write a scene. Could barely write a word.

So, I did it! I “won,” as they say on the NaNoWriMo site. (When you verify your word count on the last day, a video pops up of everyone who works for the organization shouting, “Woohoo! You won!” It was surprisingly gratifying!)

And once it was over, man, did I have a lot of crap to catch up on. I had to return a sweater, two pairs of boots, a set of wine glasses and a pair of jeans! I’m only about halfway through the returning errands alone! I had to make dentist appointments for Aidan and me, and we all know how dental appointments beget dental appointments: I had one today and have another tomorrow and another the day before we leave town for the holidays.  It’s all boring crap that’s not worth mentioning, but the point is I’m barely finding the time to write anymore.

So how am I going to finish my book?

A friend on facebook said, “Too bad there’s not National Novel Editing Month!” How true. I need a deadline! I can prioritize the writing if I have to, but have a really hard time doing so if I don’t.

So, what do I do?

I wrote a lot of chapters, but now I have to do the heavy lifting: building a foundation, figuring out what my story’s really about, developing my characters, finding my story’s structure and its arc. I am truly excited about this part of the process, because I know this is when the book will start to become a good one. But I also know it will get written only when I convince myself that my writing is worth making the time for.

I went full-on crafty mom again this Halloween and made Aidan a fire-breathing dragon costume. It was absolutely adorable, but not the most practical costume in the world. He took it off pretty much every time he went downstairs and every time he dove into a bowl of candy, and sometimes he just wanted Harlan or me to carry it around for him.

The ooh’s and aah’s were nice. He charmed them all, even when he was so fixated on the Snickers and Kit Kats, he forgot to say “Trick or Treat” or “Thank you.”

It was also really nice to be able to finally put away the paint, cardboard, tape and paintbrushes that have been cluttering the kitchen counter for the last two weeks (and nice not to have to paint cardboard teeth or claws in front of the TV every night).

I told Harlan to remind me next year that I do not want to go the do-it-yourself route. He said I sounded like my mom who’s been swearing she’ll never have another Christmas Eve party for the last 30 years. She continues to have the party every year. We’ll see.

Anyway, here’s my little dragon!

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The user comments published in this website and/or blog are those of their respective author(s) and do not reflect or represent the official opinion of the blog's owner Andrea Meyer. Neither Andrea Meyer nor any person acting on her behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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