The Oxymoronical State of New Mommyhood

IMG_1328Women tend to be portrayed one of two ways in Hollywood. Way one-  damsel in distress.  (Mary Jane in Spider Man) Way two- kick ass heroine. (Diana Prince in Wonder Woman)  New “mommyhood” feels a lot like donning the role of Mary Prince in the new hit Spider Woman.


My water broke exactly 3 weeks and 6 days before it was supposed to. I was getting back into bed at 3am after getting up to go to the bathroom for the second time that hour. And at that moment Diana Prince took over. I hurriedly finished packing my hospital bag, surprisingly remembering everything I would need. We were admitted into Labor and Delivery immediately upon walking into the ER. I started dilating hours before expected, getting to 5 cm unmedicated; most of that time I was alone due to an error in judgement on the nurse’s end. I confidently demanded an epidural and began mentally preparing for the grand finale of the day. By 6:30 pm I was dilated past 10 and ready to push. Music was blasting. I was completely focused. My baby was ready to enter this world, and I was going to get him here safely.

I pushed for 2 hours. And then Mary Jane took over. My body failed me. I lost a lot of blood. I had some complicated repairing ahead of me. I didn’t realize this, but Scotty later told me I was shaking uncontrollably. I wanted to see my baby, but after hearing his first cry, holding him for just over 60 seconds, and watching Scotty cut the cord, he was immediately rushed to the NICU. I didn’t know his height or weight. If you asked me to point to a picture of my son, I wouldn’t have been able to. I was wrecked. And weak. And worried.

In the next few days, we got lots of good news. Logan John, although a premie, was doing well and did not need any machines to assist him earth-side. He could go home with us. My postpartum preclampsia was under control. My stitches would eventually heal.

And once we got home, I had to step into this world in which I would always be part Diana Prince, the heroine who my son would be able to count on, part Mary Jane, the damsel who would need someone to step in when I am too weak to carry myself, let alone my family. Mommyhood has built me up and torn me down routinely these past 9 weeks, and  I have learned that I have to be honest with myself and the people closest to me as I use the ruble to build the skyscraper.

The people-pleaser I used to be doesn’t exist anymore because everything I have is used up on my son and husband. Whatever is left, I’m sorry to say, has to be mine.

The planner in me. Ya, she’s gone. That person used to have social events scheduled months in advance. Now, if  I can shower, get someone to watch the baby, pump, find clothes that actually fit, and have slept relatively enough, I’ll maybe be there.

I like things the way I like things. I like my laundry to be done. I like the house to be clean. I like the groceries to be stocked. To make all of that happen takes a whole new level of dedication and energy. I have to give up precious, ever so valuable, sleep to make those things happen. Or I have to do them with a baby strapped to me. Or I have to ask someone else to do them for me. Or they don’t get done and I cry because, well, I want chocolate and all of my bras are dirty.

My life is different. I am not the same. And if you know me and love me, please get to know this new version of me and learn to love her. Because I am stronger than ever, but just as much weaker. And my life has gotten infinitely more beautiful, but endlessly messier.

Mommyhood, at least for me, has meant letting go of the person I once was and living in the tension of strength and weakness. Warrior and Damsel. Diana Prince and Mary Jane.





Taking It All Out

This is the first installment of a 2 part post. Part 1: Taking it All Out. Part 2 Coming Soon: Putting it All Back In 

As an expectant, working mama my life has been a tornado lately, much like the flips and twists and kicks my little growing boy is doing in my stomach every time I try to rest. I have been getting sick well beyond the anticipated first trimester “morning sickness” and find myself feeling as if I defeated Goliath just by making it up the three flights of stairs to get to my classroom where I teach over 150 of Chicago’s finest teenagers. Then I still have a full day of teaching. When I get to the end of that, I might as well have just slayed a dragon.

Fortunately, at the end of these Goliath-defeating, dragon-slaying days I get to come home. I come home to a dog who wants nothing more than to cuddle with her in utero human brother and a husband who cooks for me every night because my super-strength schnoz cannot even stand the odor of boiling water. Yes, it has a smell. Trust me.

Then, on the weekends, when I finally have a little bit of energy from a few extra hours of sleep and climbing way less stairs, I plan. This little human growing inside of me needs somewhere to sleep, right? He has to have clothes, I would imagine. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pretty much spells out that my baby boy deserves AT LEAST that, I assume. But herein lies the problem: Chicago condo.

Chicago condo means that there is no linen closet anywhere. It means garage storage is what dreams are made of. It means using your only three closets for linens and clothes and purses and shoes and hats and luggage and board games, oh my! It means you sit and ask yourself, where, actually, do I put the baby and his clothes and diapers and bottles and blankets and toys and bibs and pacifiers? OH MY.

So yesterday, I knew what I had to do. I called my sister-in-law/closet guru and I told her I saved up all my energy and was ready to expend it all on the great purge of 2017. I was ready for her help with all three closets. She warned me that it was going to be hard work. Since most of my week days were spent sling-shotting Goliaths and taking down fire-breathers, I felt I was up for the quest.

We were to tackle the crusade in two parts:

  1. Taking it All Out
  2. Putting it All Back In

My closet guru prompted me to remove every item from the closets. Every. Single. One. I was then to ask myself, “Does this item bring me joy?” For clothes I actually had to stop and think, “Does this item make me feel good when I wear it?” For more practical items I had to consider, “Does this item serve its purpose and do I use it for that purpose often enough to hang on to it?” I was told to live in the present. “Is this something I will pull out and look at to make me feel inspired today?” I had never thought about my stuff so intentionally, and what I realized in going through this process is how smothered stuff can actually make a person feel.

My stuff was getting in the way of me finding the few items that make me feel good about my roles as wife, teacher, friend, daughter, hostess, and now soon-to-be “boy-mom.” I was buried in old paper work, pens that didn’t work anymore, and clothes that make me feel drab. I was lost in my things. And to make room for the new little life that will be joining our Chicago condo, I had to say goodbye to things far, as far as the east is from the west far, less important than giving my son a safe space to grow up.

So right now, my stuff is in bags ready to be donated and sold. The items that bring me joy and use are organized and waiting to be placed in their new residencies. And baby boy has a clean slate of a closet waiting for him.

We took it all out. We removed the broken and torn, the lifeless and useless. And as sick as I have felt lately, and as tired as I have been, I felt more healthy and energized than I had in months knowing that I was able to do something so seemingly simple for my family in this time when everyone has so selflessly been caring for me.

The Great Purge of 2017 in process^^^^^^^^

Mary Filline, the closet guru mentioned is this post, is in the process of building her professional organizing portfolio. Please let me know if you are interested in her help and organization services. I can put you in contact and you too can feel the freedom that comes from letting go of the stuff that ties us down. I couldn’t recommend her and her process more highly. 




A Confession: I have PCOS Part II, an update

fillines-0610 months ago I posted this blog post: A Confession: I have PCOS and I had never felt more supported, and still vulnerable, in my life.

This is the rest of the story:

I am eagerly awaiting the fourth ultrasound I will have had in my lifetime, the one in which I will learn the gender of my first born.  The first ultrasound was not filled with quite the same anticipation. It was done well over two years ago because I was sensing some abnormal pain that I had not previously experienced. The doctor decided to “take a look” and found the culprits–100s of circles, cysts, all over both of my ovaries.

This news launched me on a quest to initially just “feel better”. I was 24 at the time and was not trying to conceive, but my sister-in-law especially probed me to stay on it. She kept repeating to me, “You’re young. You’re lucky. Figure it out now, so you don’t have to worry later.” Her gentle nudges, and sometimes shoves, coupled with the support of everyone around me, and my unwavering dedication to the guidelines of this book: The Natural Diet Solution for PCOS and Infertility by Nancy Dunne and Bill Slater led me to my next ultrasound.

I had changed everything about the way I ate for several months when I requested a follow up appointment with my OB. I was feeling better, shedding pounds, and doing something for myself that I had never successfully been able to do before. I wanted to know where I stood. This time, the ultrasound was scheduled with a technician at a separate facility. I was not allowed to look at the screen, and it felt as if those 10 minutes were the same  length as the 10 minutes before the bell rings for summer break. When she was done, she escorted me out and told me that my doctor would be contacting me with the results in a few days.

I never got the call. At least, I thought I never got the call. I checked my online portal about a week later and realized my results had been posted for days. I tried to read the results myself, and from what I could tell, it seemed the results came back normal. Nothing was found on the ultrasound. I called my doctor, spoke with the nurse, and she read the results with me.

“Yes, miss, that’s correct. The ultrasound shows no signs of cysts.” I started crying on the phone.

“None? You mean, there isn’t even one?”


I wanted to believe her, but it seemed too implausible. I saw all of those cysts on the first ultrasound. They were everywhere. And it’s normal to have just a few cysts. But to have none- it seemed like someone was playing a cruel joke on me. After all, the ultrasound technician wouldn’t let me see the screen during this test, so maybe they had mixed up my results? I was guarded about the results and continued with the new lifestyle I had begun as if nothing had changed.

Fast forward to mid October 2016, when I took a dollar store pregnancy test on a Wednesday morning at 5:15 am.

“Are those two lines, Scott?” I asked ruffling him out of bed. “Put on your glasses. Do you  see TWO lines? Because that second one looks really faint to me.”

It was faint. But it was there. And I spent the subsequent weeks taking pregnancy test after pregnancy test trying to convince myself it was true. We had only been trying for 5 months. And that didn’t seem right. “I have PCOS,” I kept saying to friends and family who had been in on this journey with us. “So I’ll give it a year, and then if I have to take other steps, I will worry about it then.” I continued, “I’m still young, so I am not too worried about it. Scott and I still have a lot of traveling we want to do.”

I had an appointment with my OB at the end of September and told him that my husband and I had finally decided to try to start our family. He told me from the looks of everything, he would be expecting a call soon to schedule my first prenatal appointment. I laughed my way out of his office thinking he was sweet, just doing his job to make me feel better.

I was able to make that call just 4 weeks later.

My third ultrasound took place when I was 11 weeks pregnant. This time, Scott was in the room with me. We watched the screen the entire time- our little baby was thrashing in my stomach. Tears dripped down my cheeks, and I couldn’t believe the picture on the screen. It was a baby. My baby, taking shape.

I can only end this by saying how incredibly blessed I feel to have been on this journey. I pray everyday for a safe pregnancy, but I also pray everyday, without fail, for all of you who are awaiting the same miracle, whether for yourself or for someone you love. I know too many people- too many people who would make the most wonderful parents– who aren’t getting the same news just yet. I know that my words are not ever going to be enough, and my prayers may feel insignificant when it’s not happening, or it’s not happening the way it was always imagined. But I love you. I love you through the mess of infertility. So many people loved me through my own mess and without them, I know I would not be here, dreaming up a boy nursery vs. a girl nursery, but probably going mostly gender neutral anyways.






Never Just a Green Light

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms further . . . And one fine morning—

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

It’s weird right now. American politics are super weird. Chicago’s education system, weird. My own life, with aging grandparents, and a husband and dog who keep managing to get hurt, well, weird. Life has been so odd lately, overwhelmingly odd, that I have had to take a step back and reflect on all of it.

My students finished reading and watching The Great Gatsby this past week. (Spoilers are coming. But the book was published in 1925 and became a great American novel in the 60s, so you have had your time…) When we finished the movie, the green light fading out on the projector screen, all six of my class periods sat as somber statues,  waiting for me to slice the sadness with my smile. But each time, I rode it out. I sat on my stool, staring at each student, searching their faces for permission to crack their hard mouths open by asking a simple question. When I felt they were ready, I would quietly ask, “How did that make you feel?”




Daisy sucks!



This ending is terrible!

And the negative speech kept flying.

I am trying this thing out where I let the students steer the conversations about books. They pick out what is important and then they talk about it, and I chill on that stool of mine and watch the literary geniuses geek it out. In one class period, a student looked at me and invited me into the conversation. He said something along the lines of, “Mrs. Filline, how do you feel about the ending of the book?” Usually I deflect these questions back on students, but I took the bait this time.

“I feel hopeful,” I said.

Blank stares, then squished faces of confusion.

“I feel hopeful because ‘tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms further . . .’

And then lots of students shifting in their chairs, getting comfortable, eyes locking with mine, situating into what some educators call a listening posture.This was one of those  moments that appeared almost movie-like. When the kids let me get up to the preacher’s podium. And so, I spoke to my students as humans who are growing up in this incredibly weird world.

I spoke to them about Jay Gatsby as a man who yes, was a criminal. Yes, he took another man’s wife. Yes, he fled his old identity and recreated himself. I spoke to them about a man who was taken advantage of, and who lived a complicated life that many of us would not envy. I reminded them of Gatsby’s never wavering hope. How his past made him and shaped him into a man who “beats on against the current.” Because this life is full of currents, people and situations that scoop us up, attempt to drown us, and leave us fighting for air. But, those same currents thrust us father. Those currents help us move toward the people we are being shaped into. Life isn’t ever going to be easy, I told my students, many of whom unfortunately already know that truth all too well. I reminded them that despite the tides we will have to ride out, we have to “run faster, and stretch out our arms further” because no matter how it ends for us, we have to have hope even in our last breaths.

Without hope, it’s just a green light on a dock that Gatsby was reaching for. Not a better tomorrow. Not love. Not goodness and truth. Just a light.May we always reach for the light, and may the light always be enchanted for us.


Dressing up as Daisy on Decades Day  during Homecoming this year! Repping the 1920s! 

Psalm 36:9





Our First Condo

Don’t let anyone fool you. The home buying process is stressful, but if it is right for you, it is oh so worth the hoop-jumping. Let me walk you through our journey. We were pre-approved for a place in January. … Continue reading

Wear Good Always

I use the word “good” as flippantly as I check facebook on my iphone. In fact, one of those ridiculous, yet addictive, facebook quiz analyzers told me one of my most popular used words on facebook was the word itself:good, right alongside the words “day” and “happy.”

If you ask me how my day was, my response, not ironically at all, would be “good.” What was the last word I wrote on a student’s final exam before summer break? It was the word “good” next to something I underlined. I probably also included a smiley face, because, well, I’m a teacher, and us teachers have been using the almighty colon and a parenthesis for decades. Why break tradition?

I throw around the word “good”as much as I throw my dog her favorite green football.

In one of the last few episodes of season one of The Good Wife, the question is asked: “Are you good, Mr. Gold?”

Mr. Gold’s response: “I am the best.”

And so here my heart breaks.

No, Mr. Gold. That is not the appropriate answer to the question. Jackie is not asking you how good you are at doing something, Mr. Gold. She is asking if your intentions are true. If your compass is forward. If your heart is malleable. If your life’s work matters. She wants to know if you are good. Do all your parts add up to goodness?

 I am tired of  stripping the word “good” of its worth by constantly tying it to an achievement.

I don’t want a gold star. I don’t want a title. I don’t want to check the box.

I want to be good. I want to live in a world in which other people want to be good too.

In this world, people kneel down and meet others where they are at, cracks included.

She doesn’t ignore the cracks. She buys the glue, sometimes she even makes the glue herself, and she helps her friend apply the adhesive substance in those hard to reach places. And then she comes back every few weeks to make sure the glue has held. And if it has, she reinforces the glue still, just to be sure. And if she hasn’t, she tries a new formula. And she re-applies.

In this world,  people slow down and connect with others when they are busy, time be damned.

He doesn’t keep walking. He stops to hear his story. And not the kind of listening that is also making grocery lists and thinking about what he will do on Saturday. But the kind of hear that wafts through the heart before reaching the eardrums. The kind of listen that lets him know his place is right there. Right then. For as long as he needs it to be.

The world we live in now- as far as I can tell- is becoming saturated with people who want to put the adjective “good” in front of any noun they can think of.  Good wife. Good runner. Good doctor. Good teacher. Good actor.

Delete the noun. Let’s all just be good. And if you had to add a noun, make it the word “person.”

Be a good person.

Because our world is full of mothers and fathers telling their kids they can be whatever they want to be. But many are forgetting to teach their children that they first must be good people. Then, and only then, can they be good lawyers, good chefs, good wives.

Good is something to be put on. Step into goodness. Wrap it. Layer it. Snap it. And don’t let the world take it off. Pull tighter. Zip it up higher. Wear good always.

Abraham Lincoln is often quoted by saying, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” We are all people.

Please, let’s all work on being good people.

1 Corinthians 10:24

“No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

For You- You Know Who You Are

It’s that time of year when I ask my students to practice writing an essay for their college common application. Last year, when I wrote the sample essay for my students, I wrote about failure. I shared with them how I failed them as their teacher every day. It was really reflective of the place I was in at that time. I was silently suffering from many insecurities inside of and outside of the classroom. Frankly, I was a mess.

That season of life led to a summer of confusion and doubt. I wound up accepting a new job one day before the new teachers at that school came back from summer break. I was still a mess, but I had hope that life would be less confusing and less “failure-y.”

So, here I am, almost exactly a year later. My new students are about to write this essay, and I am about to tackle a new prompt myself. I’m in a new place, reflective of my new stage of life. A lot happens in a year.

The prompt is as follows:

Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

Here goes nothing…

They say the older you get, the more problems you have. Whoever “they” are, well, “they” are right. The problems pile on: bills, responsibility, loss, heartbreak, money. I could go on. The real problem, though,the problem that no one really sat me down and said, “Jenell, you will indeed face this problem and you need to be ready for it.” The problem that multiplies itself seemingly in an instant. The problem that is inescapable–incomprehensible. This problem goes by the name of “change.”

As people, we are used to change. Our bodies change. Our situation changes. We even change our clothes every day. Every January 1st we set a plan for change. We read quotes about change.  People go to rehab to change, and save, their lives. People stop eating carbs to change, and shrink their waistlines. We believe at the core that change can be beautiful, that it is necessary, and that it is essentially good.

And it is.

The problem with change, though, is that we aren’t the only people changing. We may change our lifestyles, our jobs, our diets, but the people we love more than anyone else, those people change too.

. Those people have kids or move far away, or both. Those people, the people we would lay down our lives for, keep moving and growing, and sometimes, when they change, it changes our life in a way we thought we weren’t yet ready for.

We are happy for our people. “Congrats on your new job!” we say. “I can’t wait to see your new place!” we continue. But our hearts, our hearts say, “We are going to miss you more than we ever wanted to miss someone.” Or, “We’re not ready yet. It is good the way it already is, don’t you see?” We cling to what we know because it is safe for us. We want change on our terms.

The problem, we say , is change. But maybe, the problem is control. We like to control our changes– make our own choices and be the captain of our lives. But, there comes a time when there is actually nothing left to do but surrender, to let someone steer her ship a bit off your course. To let the map fly overboard. To smile as the wind catches their sails and guides them somewhere better, even if that better place is not where you anchored your own ship.

So how do we solve the problem of the people around us changing? We stop trying to control everyone. We stop commandeering everyone else’s ships. We let the people we love anchor their ships in new places, and we plan to visit as often as possible.  


This post is dedicated to you. You know who you are.




A Confession: I have PCOS

ImageI’m one of those people who still keeps a paper calendar. My husband makes a picture calendar for me every year, and it is one of my favorite items because I know I will use it every day, and, of course, there is a posed picture of my favorite pup, Bella, to represent each month.Bella and the umbrella for April showers. Bella in the bikini for July beach time. Bella by her Christmas stocking for the December holidays. You get it. We have been married for over 3 years and have no kids, so this is what our life has become: dressing up the dog by monthly theme. We’re cool. We know.

I am habitual about my calendar. Every day around approximately 7pm I slash a line through the current date. It is my acknowledgement that this day happened. I woke up. I lived. The day is nearing a close. And on to the next one.

Today, as I was sliding my pen from the upper left hand corner to the bottom right, the number caught my eye. 7. March 7. I immediately pictured my handwriting on the previous year’s March 7 box. It read “The day I changed my life.” Indeed, one year ago today is the day I made a change, and as a result, so did my quality of life.

If you are my close friend or relative you know that about two years ago I was told I have PCOS. Long story short, cysts grow on my ovaries causing all sorts of problems to my body. The main problem: with all these cysts, baby making is not so easy. When I found out about my diagnosis, I wasn’t trying to have kids and had no plans to do so in the immediate future. But I was devastated. I mean, sobbing, confused, what-the-hell-is wrong-with-me-why-God devastated.  Scott and I wanted to have kids some day, even if it wasn’t right then.

My doctor wasn’t super helpful. He gave me  some options, and much of which had the undertones of “see me when you actually want to conceive and then we will talk.” I left his office feeling like I was broken, like I had cracked into a million pieces, been scooped into a box, and stamped with the words “DAMAGED GOODS” in red letters.

My husband, family and closest friends, thankfully opened that box up and helped glue me back together. During this reconstruction process, about a year long procedure, a family friend, who is also a doctor, caught wind of my diagnosis. He asked me if I had ever heard of the PCOS diet, which is strikingly similar to the Paleo diet. I hadn’t heard. He sent me an ebook. I read as much of it as I could, and the very next day, I told my husband that March 7th was the day everything was going to change.

I stopped eating dairy, grain, and processed food. This gelato and gnocchi loving Italian was giving it all up for good. I went cold turkey. We bought a vitamix. We froze pounds of fruit. We traded our sugar for agave nectar, our wheat flour for almond flour. I traded my pinot grigio for pinot noir. I was going to do something because I was tired of feeling one upped by my diagnosis.

My husband did it with me at first. He learned how to make me paleo pad thai and coconut curry chicken. He meal planned and prepped. He never told me to be strong. He told me he knew I was strong, and he would be strong too. It took a lot of “no thanks” and “do you happen to have any non-dairy creamer?” But I’m here. One year later. I am still here. One year and 30 pounds later, I am cyst free.



Hope is the thing. With. Feathers.

Hope is the thing with feathers. At least that is what Emily Dickinson said.


Hope is the thing. 

Life can be unusually cruel. Life can knock you off your feet and on your ass before you even saw it coming. It can chip and chip and chip until  you don’t feel like there is anything left. But, you see, hope is the thing. Hope is the thing that extends a hand and slowly draws you back upright. Hope is the thing that picks up each chipped piece, squeezes the gorilla glue and carefully re-assembles. It is the thing that allows you, cracked and bruised, to keep moving, to keep going.


When life is ever so cruel and ever so confusing, hope is the thing with. It draws you out of your cave and into the light, into community. It makes you lean into others and reach out for others and take comfort in knowing you aren’t alone. It shows you that you are you and they are them and it doesn’t have to be you and them, but instead we and us. We can do life together. It is the man who reaches out his hand, the woman who squeezes the glue into the cracks. It is a togetherness that you didn’t know you wanted, but found is exactly what you needed.


Hope is the thing with feathers.  It doesn’t always walk among us, but often soars above us. It sticks it’s claws in our backs and lifts. Because sometimes, when we have fought the good fight, we need rest. So we soar on hope’s wings. We feel the breeze in our face and through our hair, and we can finally exhale for the first time. It then drops us off right where we need to be so our journey can continue. So we can grow wings too and be the hope for the person who fell down, who has the cracks.

Extend the hand. Squeeze the glue. Then grow your wings. Because hope is the thing with feathers.