What I'm Reading: And Now We Have Everything, by Meaghan O'Connell

This post is part of a weekly series on "What I'm Reading."  I'll be talking about whatever book I happen to be reading, and you can look for this series every Friday. 


In the months after Hardy was born I didn't really do a lot of reading.  I often didn't have hands to use, and it was more fun to watch my baby and try to keep my home and body clean than to escape into a book.  Once he was sleeping mostly through the night with just one 2am snack, I read LOTS of books on my iPad: Little Women, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, The Call of the Wild, The Last of the Mohicans, Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, O Pioneers!, Peter Pan, The Scarlet Letter, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Grimm's Fairy Tales.  Admittedly, I probably stayed up in the rocking chair holding him and cuddling with him much longer than I needed to, because, well, stories.  And then Hardy's 2am snacks ended (what a blessing!), and so did the reading.  We'd put him to bed around 7 and then I had quiet evenings to myself after a long day of work and parenting.  I was too tired to do anything of substance; I remember painting my nails and watching TV while mostly unconscious with exhaustion.  Slowly, very slowly, things started to change for me. 

One Saturday we went to the library, and I ventured into the adult section alone and browsed through the familiar stacks.  Atwood, Austen, Bronte, Forester, Greene, Hemingway, Marquez, Oates....  Sometimes I feel like I've read a lot of books, and then I go to the library and.... whoa, there are so many books left to read.  People are so creative! And so dedicated to what they are inspired by!

Anyway, I picked up a book, checked it out, and over the next few evenings while Hardy was asleep, I READ IT.  And since then, I've been reading.  I had to find that part of me again, though.  While I was in the midst of my mom-transition, I felt so overcome with my child and breastfeeding -and being back at work didn't help- that the ideas of "self care," which is so big right now, and "my identity" were completely overwhelming, the thought of doing something extra was going to push me over the brink.  What I didn't know what that it just takes time for things to settle.  Time.  Simple as that.  And suddenly, slowly, I began to find myself again.  I was different; the same, yes, but different.

Last week I went to Boswell and bought myself a couple books for my birthday (32!).  With my second mother's day coming up, I was drawn to books that touched on the experience of women and mothers, and I ended up buying two books: one, a collection of poetry called She Walks in BeautyA Woman's Journey Through Poems selected by Caroline Kennedy; two, And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I was Ready by Meaghan O'Connell.

O'Connell's book begins with her feelings about parenthood, plans for married life, her life as a cool lady in NYC, and then she finds out she is pregnant.  Whaaaaat!  She and her fiance stuggle through what they imagined their life would be like after they get married versus where they found themselves, and ultimately she decides to have the baby.  So they do.

Week by week of her pregnancy, O'Connell takes us through funny, sad, strange and confusing moments of being a pregnant woman out in the world.

11: Prenatal yoga is a lot like regular yoga except the teacher talks about Kegels and has us walk around grabbing our pubic bones just to get us thinking about them.  The new utility of our private parts.  [...] Whoever is the most pregnant wins.  At eleven weeks, twelve weeks, thirteen, I am apologetic, a chubby imposter, merely bloated.  Each body is a revelation.  I wish I could put the women nearing forty weeks behind glass and ogle them properly.

Her perspective is great, and so, so real.  As readers we are in her head, experiencing things with her as the thinks through it and hearing her candid responses.  I had my own experiences which were funny and complicated and sad, but it's so affirming to read another woman's story.

She also touches on the process of learning about childbirth from people who have or haven't gone through it.  For example, she, like the rest of us that aspired for a natural childbirth (at home, for me), holds in high regard Ina May Gaskin, the Queen of Midwives, while she takes childbirth from a teacher she describes as "a chipper blonde woman who has never had a baby."  She also touches on the expectations and plans made from reading and watching other women's birth stories.  Of course we read and watch these experiences because we have no idea what is coming up for us and we want to have some idea of what it looks like.  Just like you watch people on a roller coaster, and review the track while you're in line so you know that the big turn comes after the second loop, we pregnant women want to know the path we will be strapped onto.  The thing though, is that each woman gets her own path, and its in the dark. So, good luck.

Next we experience her labor.  Start to finish.  It was emotionally challenging to read, but funny at times because she's a funny lady.  Obviously I was thinking about my own experience birthing Hardy while reading her story, and while these are two very different stories, they are similar in that they are hard.  Labor is hard, and giving birth is no small feat, no matter how long any of it lasts.  Pregnancy, and often birth, leave lasting marks on a woman's body and soul, so while we can come to terms with what we've gone through (and even look forward to it again!), an important part of moving on or embracing our story is often forgiving ourselves for our not achieving our high (and often unreasonable!) expectations.  (Again, the roller coaster no one else has been on and is in the dark.)

Washing dishes one night, she listens to an episode of The Longest Shortest Time podcast where the host interview Ina May Gaskin.  I want to summarize this, but it deserves to be read in full.

The host confronts Ina May, telling her that the books made her feel like a failure when her birth didn't go the way she'd envisioned.  "I was under this impression," she said to Ina, "and maybe it was the wrong impression, that you believe that all women could have, if not a pain-free labor, then at least, like, a relaxed labor?"

"No," Ina May says. "No! Not everybody has a great time.  Someimtes it's really rugged, it's really hard. You're not alone if you felt like you experienced a lot of pain and you felt like you failed." When I hear this I put down the bowl I am scrubbing and brace myself against the sink and sob. I'm a little horrified by how much her words affect me and how much I needed to be forgiven by this woman I've never met for what I think of as my poor performance. 

Then Ina tries to explain.  "What if we just told people that it always really, really, really hurts?" she asks, and then she answers herself: "Well, that wouldn't be very good, because you'd get everybody so frightened."

This meant something even to read second-hand in this book.  Like, seriously.  

She also has to share her trauma with her fiance.  In my experience, I wanted to move on and be cool, but my midwife encouraged that Ben and I discuss our birth story, the highs and lows.  I, like many other women, often internalize my experiences and often just can't find the words or the right time to share my fears.  After struggling to resume their sex-life post-baby, O'Connell finally opens up.

In a week or a month from this February 13, we'll find ourselves in bed in the middle of the day, and after another botched attempt at sex, I'll confess to him about the birth flashbacks I get sometimes when I'm on my back, pinned down.  We'll cry together in bed and it'll be the beginning of the end of my avoiding him and avoiding difficult conversations.  I'll know, soon, that just because something is hard and takes work and doesn't come naturally, doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile.  It doesn't mean anything.  I'll know that as long as we can talk to each other, we aren't doomed.  But we have to do it on purpose. We have to try now. Ugh.

The final section of the book, Extra Room (1 to 26), will be everyone's favorite.  Well, probably.  It was for me.  1-26 are short, maybe weekly, moments shared with the reader.  I felt like their baby was growing so quickly before my eyes, and her path as a mother changed overtime in a path I can recognize.  Moving, childproofing, starting a daycare, leaving the house for the first time ALONE, sleep training, successful sleep training (#19: I am not sure what to do with my newfound free time in the evenings.  I hide out, paint my toenails, watch TV.), ending breastfeeding, celebrate a fun night out without the baby, pressure from other people to have another baby.  Gosh, it's fun to read, and it was fun to go through myself.  

For all the birth stories I read, and birth videos I watched, and plans we made for our baby's birth, nothing could have prepared me for the labor and delivery I went through, or how completely I would be changed by it and motherhood.  I'm not sure if reading this book prior to having a baby would have changed my expectations at all. Or if I could have learned anything in advance about myself potentially in labor or as a mom.  Even surrounded by women and moms that I love, it was special to read this woman's story in the privacy of my own home, without having to give advice or share my thoughts.  O'Connell is the queen of her story, I am the queen of mine, but to feel her story the way a reader often internalizes a good story was, at this specific point in my life, oddly ideal, it was vindicating.

Domes!

Since my schedule revolves around Hardy's sleep these days, we go on short outings in-between his naps on my days off of work and on the weekends.  We packed up and drove over to the Mitchell Park Conservatory for a couple hours.  Did you know construction on the domes started in 1959?  No, I had no idea.

Milwaukee's first conservatory and greenhouses were built in the late 1860s, and were attached to the home of Alexander Mitchell.  When Mitchell died, his house was sold (now the Wisconsin Club) and a portion of the property was purchased by the Board of Park Commissioners.  Some of the land was donated by the Mitchell family, more was purchased from the Burnham estate, and by 1906 Mitchell Park was 62 acres.  The conservatory idea didn't fade away, however...  In 1898 construction began on the Mitchell Conservatory as designed by Henry Koch. The current domes were built to replace the Milwaukee Conservatory which was in place from 1898-1955.  The domes were dedicated in 1965 (by Lady Bird Johnson!), but they opened between 1964-67 (Show in '64, Tropical in '66, and Arid in '67).   In 2008 the domes were temporarily closed for improvements to the non-dome areas (I enjoyed this article in the Shepard Express about that).  They closed in early 2016 for repairs (concrete falling!) and reopened again in late October; in March 2017 they were designated as a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

That's enough for history, we go to see the PLANTS, right?  As a plant lover, visiting the Domes is a really fun experience, romantic, even. 

Visiting the Domes is like going to a small museum since you just walk around and look at things. But these are living things just doing their thing: growing. Creating air.  Making babies.  

I love the unexpected colors and flowers displayed by many of the plants in the arid dome (which is my favorite of the three).

For me, a visit to the domes isn't about talking.  It's more about pointing out awesome textures and colors, and ideally enjoying the presence of my Love.  So if a picture is worth a thousand words, here are the highlights according to Laura:

In the show dome right now was COLOR.  I love the first spring flowers that are starting to pop out of the ground before you even think something could be growing.  My tulips and daffodils surprise me every year, and there is already so much life in my roses that I know they will bloom one day and I won't even know when the buds arrived.  The process of life creation is really too incredible for my mind to comprehend.  And plants really put it all out there, too.  "Pollinate me, pleeeeaaase" they seem to beg!  (This is relevant!  There is a Pollinator Week at The Domes June 19-23.)

The more I read about the Domes, the more I'm excited to go back.  This summer the display in the show dome is called Ultra Violet Summer Floral Show; who wouldn't be excited to see what that looks like?  EVERYTHING WILL BE PURPLE.  See more.


  1. History of Milwaukee's Mitchell Park Domes 1795-1955. Accessed June 6, 2017.  https://milwaukeedomes.org/early-domes-history
  2. History of Milwaukee's Mitchell Park Domes 1955-2008.  Accessed June 6 2017.  https://milwaukeedomes.org/late-domes-history
  3. Milwaukee's Mitchell Park Domes.  Accessed June 6, 2017.  https://savingplaces.org/places/the-domes#.WTdkOXKZOi4
  4. Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory.  Accessed June 6, 2017.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitchell_Park_Horticultural_Conservatory

On the Eve of 30

I've always been into my birthday.  My family always put a little effort into make a birthday into "Your Special Day."  As I've gotten older, my birthday is still one of my most important days, and if you were a loved one of mine who choose to include me in your own birthday, I would do  my best to make it special.

For a while when I was little I had a beautiful canopy bed.  The sheets and the canopy itself were white and pink, and my bedroom on a sunny morning would just be so bright and cheery that it was never hard for me to wake up.  To this day I like a bright, cheery bedroom, and sunny mornings are just the most beautiful.  Anyway.  I was maybe in second grade or something, and I woke up to the brightest sunny morning.  My parents and brother brought me breakfast in bed (pancakes, of course, probably chocolate chip) and sang me the Happy Birthday song.  We use these "It's Your Special Day" dishes on your special day, be it birthday or other equally good news, and it really does make the day extra special.  I think that was the birthday I got roller skates.

Eventually May 12 became a rainy day.  I no longer wake up to the sun, no one is singing me the birthday song, there is definitely not anyone bringing me breakfast in bed, and the Special Day plate is at my parent's.  Even if I had all those things happen, it would never compare to that sunny morning and the pleasure I felt as a child.

So, 30.  It's here tomorrow.  It was bothering me quite a bit, the milestone, you know?  Then I realized that entering my 30s means I get to say "g'BYE!" to my 20s and that actually sounded pretty good, it's been time to move on for a while.  Goodbye to all those lost friendships and relationships.  Goodbye to now long-gone furniture, clothes, apartments, things.  Goodbye to lingering stress, embarrassment, shame, and guilt.  Goodbye.

Out with the old, in with the new, right?

Hello to getting my floors refinished instead of buying...stuff.  Hello to overpaying my mortgage.  Hello to simplifying, cooking at home, nurturing relationships. Hello to honesty, commitment, generosity.  Hello to parenthood and this new Laura I haven't yet met.

Hello, 30, I'm ready; Let's GO.


I've written about my birthday before here and here.

hi :)

First off, hello!  How are you doing?  Probably good but busy, right?  Everyone is just so busy these days...  I think I read an article about how people describe their lives as busy, but in reality we have an amount of work that is equal to or less than in the times past.

I am also good!  I won't say that I'm busy (if I did it would include the word "super" first, but let's be honest, when I'm done writing I don't have cows to milk or something, I got a TELEVISION to watch while I am sitting down), but I will say that I have been kept occupied.  Fortunately I can definitely say that I have not stopped doing fun and interesting things since I last posted....eight months ago....but I obviously have not documented those things here!

In January 2015 Ben and I bought a house.  That is still incredibly crazy to say.  What other times in life do average people spend tens- nay! -hundreds of thousands of dollars at once?  That is overwhelming.  That purchase is spent with hours and hours of painting over other people's paint choices, and then that is followed by the agonizing process of "Making Your House a Home."  Is agonizing the right word? Eh, maybe, maybe not?  Obtaining and placing the correct item to the right place is wonderful, it's the process of obtaining that is perhaps agonizing?  Whatever, it doesn't matter.  The point is, I bought an adorable little house, and I love it.

So that happened.

Then lots of other things happened, like concerts and great meals and even a road trip out west (driving from San Francisco to Seattle up the coast--breathtaking!), but I guess the other big thing that happened is that I got pregnant.

....was that surprising?  Yeah, it was for me, too!  It probably shouldn't have been, but I since I didn't have to pay any doctors or undergo any procedures, it was a little surprising!

So we've got a little bébé coming late this summer!

"How are you doing?" says everyone all the time.  

"GREAT" I non-sarcastically reply.  "Seriously!"  My two most noticeable symptoms have been exhaustion (first trimester 1 and part of 2) followed by this:

 Don't even talk about my messy messy bedroom.  I am selling so much stuff on CL and eBay right now..and don't even talk about my bear claw hands...

Don't even talk about my messy messy bedroom.  I am selling so much stuff on CL and eBay right now..and don't even talk about my bear claw hands...

And my third symptom that is fun but makes me crazy is NESTING.  It's real, and I've got it bad.

That bell didn't just pop out, btw, that is six months of baking in there!  

So, let's talk about you, what are you up to? You super busy too?

The Good Land

Now that I have a Monday through Friday job, I love filling my weeknights with Things To Do, whatever it may be, to help move the week along.  Sometimes it's a little exhausting, but if, on Sunday, I wake up and feel like I just completed an AWESOME week, then I forget about the exhausting part.

A few weeks ago I had my friends Kevin and Erin over (remember them from skating at Pettit?) for dinner.   When I was in Nashville in May, my dear friend Maiken made falafel for dinner, and since I idolize her, I decided to make that for Kev and Erin.

I used this recipe, and it actually turned out GREAT.  (I skipped the cilantro due to a cilantro/spaghetti sauce debacle several years ago that has apparently ruined my voluntary taste for it.)  Erin brought a quinoa/olive/cilantro dish, which was the perfect compliment to the meal.

In my opinion, the best hummus in the city is from Shahrazad on Oak&Loc, so that was the finishing touch.  For dessert, we all shared a Mast Brothers chocolate bar (the cocoa nib one) (which I also got in Nashville).  


Food and friends are two of the best things in life, so it may not surprise you that the activities continued on Friday that same week, when Erin, Ben, and I marched ourselves down to Fish Fry and a Flick to combine food and friends with something else I love: a good movie!  Wayne's World was the move de la nuit.

My company does Summer Fridays, so I get every Friday afternoon off May through October.  It was a beautiful day (insert cliche photo of tree, cloud, sky, taken from hammock), I had a restful afternoon, and I was getting excited to see Cassandra wail on the wall of Discovery World.

The crowd at the movie was fantastic.  No one was disruptive, I think everyone had a good seat, and while the food was mediocre, the beer selection was on point and Angry Orchard cider was on tap.  Happiness for all those GF people out there.

The entire crowd cheered when Alice Cooper talked about Milwaukee.  Everyone laughed together and quoted the most quotable parts together.  To me it was almost the perfect Milwaukee night.


Birthday Part 2

Remember how I mentioned that I'll often celebrate my birthday for days on end?  This year was one of those birthdays.  

I generally take off from work for my birthday.  I've spent the previous weekend camping, so on my Big Day, I like to do something personal.  Last year I went to the gun range.

Afterwards I went to watch my niece Julia's soccer game, and met my friend Ryan for dinner.  It was a good one.

This year I wandered Lake Park.  For hours.  It was perfect.  Lake Park was beautiful and nearly abandoned.  I only saw one other person while I was there, and I bet that man was doing the same thing I was: enjoying being outside in the best company the globe offers.   You know, birds, trees, a cool breeze.


Birthday Part 1

For the past five years I've gone camping over my birthday weekend.  My mid-May birthday often falls on Mother's Day, but sometimes it'll be a Tuesday and I'll celebrate from Friday through Tuesday and I have no shame about it.

My first Birthday Camping trip, I camped alone.  I drove up to Kohler-Andrea outside Sheboygan.  I had with me the tent I received for my birthday in 4th grade.  

Side: my fourth grade birthday was fine.  I think I got a bookshelf or something and that was all well and good, but what I really wanted was a tent.  The night of my birthday, with a big sigh with a hint of disappointment for not receiving my tent, I removed myself from my typical spot on the couch and went to brush my teeth.  I came back down to join my family for our nighttime prayer and to say goodnight, and my mom asked me to fold my blanket or something.  I picked up the blanket.... and underneath was my Tent!! Joy!  We all went downstairs and set it up immediately.  I used that tent for many camping trips, often with my best friend Adrienne, whom I am fortunate enough to still be celebrating my birthday with!

I packed the sleeping bag that I had been using since memory begins.  I also packed a chair, a book, my journal, some food (about three heaping servings of campers stew/hobo dinner, whatever you call it), and two 40s of high life.  

The wood was wet.  It was cold.  I think it rained.  I slept on the ground and -surprise!- it was not comfortable!  I got drunk.  I was reading The Time Traveller's Wife and so I cried a lot.  I got really drunk.  I was so drunk that I called my mom while drunk.  (Who does that?)

Does this all sound pretty miserable?  Because this trip was truly miserable.  I was miserable.  I needed to say goodbye to part of my life that needed to be deleted and "empty trash," so when I say I was miserable, I mean actually miserable.  So I went camping.  Alone.  For my birthday.  And through all the misery, I was able to reconnect with myself.

I made a hot albeit smoky fire (granted with help over the phone from my dad and uncle who were at a different campground on my brother's bachelor camping trip).  I successfully cooked my three heaping servings of campers stew, and I ate it all.  I washed away all the bad with my tears.  A cardinal quietly visited me.  I was alone and happy.

The next year I had a new sleeping bag.

The year after that I had a new tent.

The year after that I had hiking shoes and wool socks.

The year after that I had a rain jacket.

And I'm not camping alone anymore on my birthday.  I surround myself with the best people in my life.  We hike.  We eat.  We drink.  We laugh together, and we get a little deep.

My dad isn't in this pic- he was taking a little nap!  And Adrienne and her bf Mike had already left, boo.

Every year I am grateful to have amazing people to share my time with, many of whom are not in this darling picture.

The Last of Color

NOTE:  I started drafting this post in mid-December 2014, and I finally finished it today, June 14, 2015.  It's not an important post, but because I started it, I definitely wanted to finish it. 

It was two months ago, before I started my new job, when I came down with an awful cold that knocked me off my feet for a little under a week.  The boredom of illness was kicking in, and even climbing the stairs in my house was exhausting.  That is the time I find I need some fresh air, something to revive me and tire me out thoroughly.  

Ben dragged me down to my favorite Milwaukee County park, Grant Park.  And we wandered.  It was crisp and chilly, clouds rolled in and we hustled out when it started to rain.  And not in a misty way, and not in a downpour, just in a polite way: infrequent big drops rustling the leaves and making splotches on the pavement.  A rain for which I could have no complaints except for the exhaustion which was taking over my body.

Anyway.  Let's go for a walk!

To me, there is nothing like stepping outside for a literal breath of fresh air.  After this outing, I had an excellent nights sleep, and felt better in time for my first day at my brand new job.  

Have you been to Grant Park?  Within it is the most amazing Seven Bridges Trail, which does cover a bunch of bridges and goes past several former bridges (RIP).  At the trail head is a covered bridge with a head trimmer upon which these words greet your experience: Enter this wild wood and view the haunts of nature.  I looked it up and discovered this is a quote from a poem entitled Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood by William Cullen Bryant.  I really don't know much about poets, and you guys know I'm more of a fiction reader than literally any other type of reading, so....this is all I have to say about that.  :)

There was some relandscaping project happening at the park when we were there, and I really loved the dark clouds contrasted with the equipment.  The unexpected can be so cool.

I hope you can make it out sometime this summer!