Hurricane Season

I have always found it amazing how easy it is to be defeated by your own thoughts, or on the contrary, built up by them. That’s when, of course, I am standing on either side of a storm of thoughts— the front or the back end— and am composed enough to assess my state of mind. This blog is about about my personal hurricane season which comes around every six-months.

The past two weeks were filled with a flurry of activity that left me little time to read or write. I was  leaving the US and heading back to Nigeria after what morphed into a nearly three-month stint in the States. Unexpected events cropped up to change the drivers and duration of my stay: a fellowship I was offered fell through, I got a dream job offer that I could not take because of the location, and then Tami needed a simple but unplanned procedure. Like every long stay before this one, I would be returning to Nigeria with no concrete plan for the next six months until I returned to the US with Tami for our twice yearly checkups, with Yinka joining us at some point.  Until I move beyond infrequent paid and unpaid gigs, this is kind of my life at the moment.

My storm winds start blowing about three weeks out from my departure date when I suddenly have to ramp up purchasing for the six months ahead of us. Yinka gives me a list of things I should not forget, then squawks when I give him the budget that does along with it. I narrate events on a sheet of paper to kick off shopping: Tami is starting playgroup, I may have job interviews, I need study materials for this certification exam, and I need to beef up my kitchen supplies—and then I populate a detailed list of items that stem from those activities. I have actually grown to hate this travel ritual which I call “Nigeria shopping”. This is when I become part hoarder, part fortune-teller, and part fashion buyer to ensure that all of my family’s consumable needs are met until we return to the States.  Could I buy a lot of these things in Nigeria? Yes, I could. But it would cost two to three times more and require plenty of hit and miss shopping trips, so it’s better to front load this agony.

I make trips to the wholesale club for diapers, wipes, and club-sized Nature Valley bars, gallon-sized storage bags, Tazo teas, vitamins…the list goes on. Weeks before, I had ordered what I thoughts was a 6-month supply of school and play wear for Tami from Carter’s, and then topped up her wardrobe with a visit to the Children’s Place and Walmart after seeing that we already wore third of the outfits and half of shoes that were supposed to take us into December 2015. In four suitcases and two backpacks, I masterfully fit dozens of items, electronics, toys, undergarments, even Tami’s favorite potty. Then I smiled at my caravan, which was completely packed 24 hours to departure. After playing the fifty-pound guessing game a few times, I didn’t have to play the shuffle-your-items-from-bag-to-bag game at the airport to distribute or reduce my carriage to meet the weight requirements; I had reached the 200 pounds of goods I was allowed to travel with. As annoying as all of this is, it’s not at all the worst part of my travels.

I was dreading the flight and my return as I checked in online, and I could almost hear rumblings of thunder in my head. This is when the heavy rains and threatening winds begin. After 16 hours of traveling on a British Airways flight that took Tami and me through London, I arrive in Lagos and am instantly beset by a fog of disappointment as I walk through the airport. My stroller isn’t waiting for me when we disembark (I am told to pick it up with my luggage), so I carry two backpacks, a duty-free bag filled with chocolate, and at times, my daughter, through to Immigration. Before I leave the airport more than two hours later, I am asked for money by airport workers on three occasions, have one of my bags opened by immigration officials when I refuse to give a bribe, and receive a $200 phone bill via email from my Nigerian carrier who had not honored instructions I had given to disconnect my data plan. By now, the winds are howling, stuff is flying everywhere, and my face was as long as it gets. Yinka hardly recognizes me by the time I come out with the caravan of bags.

I was pissed upon my arrival. It’s a bit of crass description, but apt to sum up how I’m feeling. Many things go through your mind when you leave a place where things generally work and return to a place where the airport hums of deep-set body odor, amplified by humidity that could easily be contained with powerful central air conditioning.

In the weeks before I travelled, I had conversations with Yinka where he would tell me about some of the things I had to look forward to. For instance, for the past six weeks, he said, the power supply had been uninterrupted for almost 24-hours each day, which is unheard of in a place where, just months ago, people had no power for weeks on end. So it was somewhat uncanny that on my first full day back, the power went off and we were forced to turn on the generator. My mother-in-law, who is visiting with us, marveled at why the steady power supply failed suddenly while Yinka stopped short of calling me a bad luck charm.

Bad luck because I had been more than a bit disgruntled since before I got to Nigeria. In the past, I would cry quietly the night before departure, on the airplane as the captain landed, or when I slipped into bed in Lagos on my first night back. This time, I did not cry because of Nigeria. Just marveled, much like my mother-in-law did, about how a place that used to excite me for all its potential had grown into such a place of scorn. This is the eye of the storm for me, where there is no place to run.  I can’t toy with the idea of missing my flight, nor can I reasonably pick up my things and fly back. I look at marriage, motherhood, and familial commitments and have to swallow my self-interested thought and do what is clearly right—just stay put.  I boil water for baths and add disinfectant, take steps to guard against Malaria, sit through hours of terrible Lagos traffic to get groceries, deal with fuel shortages, adjust our diets and eat what’s locally available, and make sure I am home by nine or ten if I go out, for safety reasons. I live life within a 10-mile radius and get very nervous at the thought that my vulnerabilities could be exposed easily if I venture beyond the island I live on: I can’t speak or hear a local language, can’t mask my accent, and would not know how to get home if ever dropped off and left alone in 90% of the city, let alone other parts of the state. I would be completely at someone else’s mercy. I war inwardly with thoughts like this, going through highs and lows—being ok one minute and manic the next.

It usually takes me a few weeks—no more than three—for the storm to pass completely. By the time I read enough devotionals and scripture, talk to encouraging people, and stop comparing where I am to what where I was, I adjust well enough and move into my routine just fine. I start to really enjoy my friends, appreciate fresh local foods, and plug into the local energy. There are even weeks where I actually love life. However, this feeling fades when something appalling happens in the news, or to someone I know. Or to us. And then it is time to travel again.

But this time around, I am two days into my three-week curve and I feel two weeks ahead of schedule. That’s because upon returning to Lagos less than twenty four hours ago, two things happened: I had two deeply profound conversations with my mother-in-law, and I stumbled across a website called Zen Pencils, which was highlighted in the response feed of an article I stayed up reading while battling jet lag.

The short of if is that Zen Pencils’ cartoonist, Gavin Aung Than, created inspirational cartoons based on famous quotes, poems, thoughts, and teachings from great individuals. I was instantly uplifted when I read the first cartoon about the destructive power of self-pity. I didn’t realize I was harboring self-pity! But it is true. I was—am—feeling sorry for myself, for missing out on so many opportunities because I can’t prioritize what I want out of life right now, and for having to adjust to a less than conventional life. Viola! My storm rains exist and persist not because all of the tedious shopping and packing, long-haul flights, and unpredictability in my schedule, but more or less because I loath it, complain about it, obsess about it, and throw myself pity parties multiple times a day. What a hugely uncomfortable truth to deal with.

I am very late in discovering Gav’s beautiful collection of inspirational cartoons, and do not yet posses my mother-in-law’s mental strength, so I came into these much-needed talks and good reads at exactly the right time. My self-pity revelation is huge news, and not at all easy to confront. How do you tell yourself to get over yourself, and actually do it? I don’t have a real answer yet because I am still testing out a few strategies.  Relying on God is where it starts, although I am trying to figure out what that should look like. I am challenging myself to rebound more easily from this recurring storm and leave the obsessing and dreading behind. The good thing is, when you’re of sound mind, it is difficult to make a very obstinate choice to continue to do something you know is unhealthy for you, like sulk and replay disappointments.  So I do know better, and therefore must do better. The more reasonable part of me is challenged to stop dwelling on bad smells, overwhelmingly street traffic, and the chaos that Lagos can be and just live without adding captions, and negative ones at that, to each experience that I have in this city, and in life in general.

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Are We really Good People? The Irony of Benevolence

I have worked in the non-profit and philanthropy sectors for close to ten years, but am only beginning to realize something quite powerful now that I spend much of my time at home with my daughter. And it all actually stemmed from not wanting to be a stay-at-home mom.

Just three years ago, I made a living out of doing ‘good’ work, which meant enhancing the lives of at-risk and vulnerable populations. I started out on the front lines, but after three years teaching middle school in inner-city classrooms and doing similar work at church, I decided I was much better off working behind the scenes and impacting the lives of tens of thousands of people, and not just a couple hundred kids each year. Besides, teaching in these communities was seriously difficult benevolent work. I had children who, at thirteen, were reading at a 4th grade level, and some much worse off. Others had parents who were incarcerated, in hospice, or being deported.  I had a 403B savings plan—a serious marker of adulthood that forced me to think of my career and what I would retire doing. Who could stomach watching yet another fourteen-year old bawling his eyes out when he learn he doesn’t get to participate in eighth grade graduation until retirement?

I found more comfort in working with education and social service nonprofits, and raising money for them to continue their work. So that’s what I did—I went into development and fundraising and was soon writing grant applications and compelling appeals to corporate foundations, bidding for publicly available dollars, and most interestingly, chatting to wealthy individuals to donate their hard-earned money to seriously benevolent causes. These experiences, unknown to me at the time, would later inform much of the learning I am now benefiting from.

Gaining the attention and financial support of wealthy individuals was a matter of strategy, effort, chance, quite honestly. Could you interest soccer superstar Didier Drogba in donating to protect the Florida Keyes vegetation? Possibly, but odds are you could get closer to a check by sniffing elsewhere, where it makes sense. And that was the basis for my work on the development team, starting first where it made sense. I searched locally, looked at the giving rosters of similar organizations and eventually found good suitors. In philanthropy, we knew that wealthy people gave for a host of public relations and legacy reasons, for tax benefits, or because of peer pressure. Few of them gave just because of personal connection or a die-hard passion for the cause. Even though I was successfully raising money for these good causes, I would often judge the intent behind my donors’ giving and conclude that a lot of these people weren’t inherently “benevolent”, although their donations would earn them that badge. If you care more about lowering your tax ceiling, why should the world know you as someone who cares desperate for poverty-stricken children and women?

Development teams worldwide have these arguments, I’m sure, when they think of who is giving to their cause and why: the World Bank, the IMF, the Gates Foundation, or a local newcomer to the Forbes rich list. Apart from the latest impact-oriented thinking that is driving America’s richest people to give away half of their fortune in their life-time, or upon death, the more traditional impetus for giving or being benevolent has always been questioned and usually answered with this response: it doesn’t mater why they give, it’s the gift itself that matters.

There are many flaws in that position: the first is if the gift is conditioned on a reward of some sort (be it recognition, tax benefits, etc), what happens when the environment no longer offers those incentives? Or, when you yourself, as the giver, decide those incentives are no longer enticing?

But what if this line of thinking, the question and the answer, is missing the point of benevolence altogether? What if the gift and the motivation behind the gift isn’t sufficient to describe the purpose of benevolence?

It has taken a complicated pregnancy and an extraordinary series of events in the first two years in my daughter’s life for me to discover, confront, and deal with the fact that benevolence is not an inherent quality of mine, despite all of my years of doing ‘good’. After her first birthday, my little one was more stable and thriving, and I was itching to get back to full-time work. I have just always been a workaholic with a purpose. But between my husband’s job and our home in Nigeria, and our daughter’s twice yearly follow up appointments with her specialists, I could not pin down a reliable schedule, I was traveling frequently and succumbing mentally to the reality that my daughter was now my full-time job.

Succumbing because for all the things I did for her with joy, or out of duty, there were just as many things that I did grudgingly. Mealtimes took so much effort, from cooking to deboning and serving, to freezing and cleaning up afterwards. And potty training, more recently, was the worst! The early days of being stuck at home to jump start the process, wiping up urine from the couch and carpet, and having open urinals in your kitchen and family room— no one warned me it could be this eventful.  So I complained about having to cook, clean, host guests, attend extended family functions, buy gifts for people I did not know and do a the domestic heavy lifting largely on my own. I simply did not want to do it. There were many days I would have rather been in an office working a 14-hour day behind my computer, or sitting in a movie theatre alone. Or just anywhere else. This went on and on for some time. But to the outsider who saw me traveling internationally with my daughter for medical visits,  sleeping in hospital chairs overnight, and sorting through medical bills and expenses, I was a hero. Much like those wealthy philanthropists, I was constantly being complemented for my big actions: people called me selfless, gracious, strong, and dedicated. Inwardly, I would smirk and go, oh honey, if you only knew I’m not any of those things!

It has taken almost two years for me to reconcile my actions, intent and attitude in my career, and most importantly, as a wife and mother. How can someone like me behave so benevolently with all the teaching, volunteering, fundraising, and mothering, without feeling benevolent in my innermost person a lot of the times? The answer hit me suddenly just a few weeks ago.  Struggling to do what was required of me did not make my actions less benevolent. Benevolence, like so many other qualities, is not a flat quality that you either lack or possess. Rather, it’s a dimensional one. It’s a process that works in on the giver, and on the recipient. It is part action, part intent, and part attitude. And for me, the attitude part is taking the longest to master.

But the truth is, as we mature and do sacrificial things that we really do not want to do— or ordinarily would not do— for the sake of another’s wellbeing, we become benevolent, good people. That’s why a benevolent wealthy person would still give deeply even if the tax law suddenly isn’t as handsome as it once was. We become benevolent by choosing to forgo our freedom to spend our money, time and effort how we chose to, and actually spend more and more of it as we ought to.

Benevolence is still forged even when the giver’s motivations aren’t the purest, and with time and constant sacrificial giving, it develops you into the person your employees, friends, students, spouse, beneficiaries, or children need. So while I wasn’t born inherently benevolent, I have learned that in slowly being transformed by constant activities that require me to trade my freedoms for others’ needs, I am becoming authentically benevolent. And it’s easier not to judge wealthy donors’ giving too fast, or anyone else’s for that matter, in our common quest to become and remain this way.

What it Really Takes to Find Solutions

Pain and Hope: The Stimulus for Solutions-Seeking

Years ago, I watched one of the most gripping films I had ever seen by accident.  And it was before the time of the fancy cable menus that tell you what’s playing, when it ends, and how many stars the program’s received. I didn’t even find out the film’s title until I frantically searched through the credits at the end. Lorenzo’s Oil, first released in 1992, took me from tears to joy, sadness to hope all along a powerful emotional and intellectual journey. Nick Nolte depicted the late, well-to-do Italian economist, Augusto Odone, who without a medical background, spearheaded a conference the led to a powerful medicine that managed a rare neurological disease, ALD, which his six-year-old was diagnosed with. The disease, doctors said, would almost surely take his son’s life in two years if left unchecked.

Susan Sarandon portrayed Michaela Odone, Lorenzo’s mother and the carrier of this ALD gene that is specific to boys. Sarandon beautifully displayed the shock, helplessness and then resolve that parents often pass through in the face of devastating news. ALD would end up taking their son’s speech, vision, mobility, and independence and forcing two well-placed parents to make critical decisions about the course ahead: prepare to bury your child by his eight birthday, or do everything in your power to see him live.

Lorenzo’s Oil struck up so many emotions in me well before I became a parent who could empathize; more than this however, it inspired me to ask questions about problems and solutions, maybe from a somewhat bleak perspective. Questions such as whether it takes deep pain and misfortune to bring about solutions to desperate problems? Is this sort of pain also a key driver in things like inventions, policy changes, treatments and medicines, and foreign aid? What is it about tragedy and pain that provokes change, and how much pain must be endured, and by whom, before solutions come?

As I write, I have the television’s volume on low for background noise. I look up to view a Restasis commercial—a medicine that assists people with dry eyes in producing their own tears.  The cynic in me shakes my head; the wiser, rounded me says that the inability to make tears is, in fact, a real problem to those with dry eyes. How many have suffered the physical and emotional effects of dry eyes before a pharmaceutical company’s research and development department took on the matter?

When I moved to Lagos, Nigeria a few years ago, I underwent a metamorphosis that enabled me to grow more in five years than I had grown in the twenty, or twenty five years prior. For the first time, I began to understand why Nigerians were a “hard” people. They endured frequent power outages, rose for work at abysmally early hours, provided for their own water, security, and energy needs, and made all of this happen without loans, government infrastructure, or regular pay checks.  When life is hard all around, you’re forced to discriminate about what is a big deal and what is manageable, and in order to survive physically and mentally, more issues must become manageable. Nigerians have generally mastered the art of “managing”, and partly due to that orientation, have grown to become the largest black nation with one of the world’s most educated populaces. Despite its GDP, it continues to be home to the world’s happiest people. Impressive.

What isn’t impressive is that this attitude toward dealing with problems by accepting them—a position that enables resource-starved people to adjust to life’s challenges– stalls solutions-seeking.  In Lorenzo’s Oil, the Odones were desperate for a cure to Lorenzo’s myelin deficiency. Augusto Odone abandoned his primary work, and with together with Michaela, became consumed with finding a cure. The couple persisted in studying the issue, testing their ideas, and formulating an oil elixir that extended Lorenzo’s life well beyond the predictions the medical experts rendered. What’s more important is that the treatment gave so many other young boys with the same type of ALD two times the chance of abating the onset of symptoms when taken early enough.

It’s not difficult to imagine my readers’ push back to some of my assertion so far. Some may think I’ve unfairly accused Nigerians of being complacent and focused on survival, while implying that those in the Western world are dogged solution seekers? That’s not the case, actually, although I do believe that context is an extremely important consideration in what enables solutions-seeking. Everyone knows that one’s personal financial standing, as well as her country’s GDP, not only affects but maybe even determines how she spends her time and money. Culture, religion and traditions also play huge roles in this. Citizens in developed countries simply have more bandwidth, disposable income, and other resources to go about solutions-seeking to problems, big and small. This is generally true.

Then I go back to Africa and apply this thinking. In Ethiopia, Zemi Yunus, a former model and cosmetologist turned into an Autism advocate after her son was expelled from yet another school in Ethiopia. Having lived in the US and UK before eventually returning to her native country to settle, Yunus found that there were no schools in Ethiopia that effectively taught children with autism, so she founded the Joy Center for Children with Autism in 2002. The entrepreneurial Yunus had founded other commercial and social ventures in the past, and has worked tirelessly to fund and grow the Joy Center through traditional entrepreneurial means, using include grit and relentless hustle.  Here’s a woman in a country where there are cultural norms for women and children, traditions to be addressed, and limited resources, yet she has a working solution that is currently serving kids with autism in Ethiopia.

Odone and Yunus differ in more ways than we need to discuss, but they share this: they both faced life-defining experiences that required them to decide whether they would manage the impending outcomes that their children faced, or, push back and go about the uncharted path of seeking out a solution. They had enough exposure (not so much education, although there is a correlation) to know that they could bring about change. They shared a problem-solving orientation. But most importantly, they had enough despair to motivate them, and enough hope to sustain them.  This balance of despair and hope is a necessary one—it’s the yin and yang, the secret sauce.  From my observations in Nigeria and beyond, where there’s too much hope and not enough despair, people chant ultra-spiritual epithets and continue along in life without producing the works to change their lives, or their children’s. Too much despair, however, and paralyses sets in. Everything becomes impossible, and it becomes easier to adopt a fatalistic outlook towards life and allow it to take you wherever it decides.  Pain is a necessary trigger to change in many cases, but hope moulds pain into something else. Sometimes that ‘something else’ is the courage to expect happiness again. Other times, it’s the determination to seek a solution.

When I taught writing to seventh and eighth graders in my former life, I would routinely teach this rule: do not introduce new ideas in your closing paragraphs. Central ideas are introduced early on. That’s just fundamental to good writing. But in a day and age where technology and social media have normalized text-talk and casual vignettes that we now call blogs, I will knowingly go against one of the mainstays of good writing, so here it is: I have crazy theories about why God allows suffering.  Without getting into theology, I like to think that suffering does a few things for us. Firstly, it continually humanizes the next person for us.  We need that, big time. We live in a body that limits our experience to an individual one. If you’ve never stubbed your pinky toe on a piece of furniture, had a migraine, or lost a relative, how could you respond to the situation when it happens to someone else?

Another thing suffering does for us is it makes us solve problems that we have God-given capacities to solve. It keeps us engaged in life, and keeps us eager to improve life for ourselves and others, whether that pain is coupled with egotistical, social, spiritual, or commercial motivations. These are all valid reasons for engaging in solutions-seeking, because they almost always positively impact people beyond the solution-seeker.  The despair versus hope dichotomy can never be lost in the pursuit of solution-seeking because it is the soul of the pursuit. There are so many global examples of how to forge ahead in the quest for solutions to dry eyes, to autism, to ALD.  So many more people currently undergoing painful, life-defining experiences that we can be sure of this: we’re all going to see and benefit from solutions that stem from someone else’s pain in the days that lie ahead.

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This piece is dedicated to Sandra Bland, the 28-year old woman who lost her life in a curious escalation of events stemming from a traffic stop in Houston, Texas on July 10, 2015. May your story, and those of the dozens of others boys, men and women who have lost their lives in unlawful encounters, further our collective resolve to seek solutions that demonstrate that Black Lives Matter through changes in social policy in the United States, and the world over.

Trusting my Daughter’s Brain with a Black Female Neurosurgeon

We have all looked at someone before and quipped “it’s not brain surgery” before snatching the whosit-whatsit and completing the task for him or her. But what if, for once, it actually is brain surgery? What if you are faced with deciding who operate on your child’s brain in order to give him the best future likelihood to walk, talk, feed himself, and think and act independently like any other average human being?

When I was teaching in Texas in 2005, I was hanging out with a group of teacher friends, all of whom were in there early twenties. We found ourselves talking about the cars we drive after taking note of our peer’s brand new Acura sedan, which glistened so marvellously amidst our Chryslers and Fords.  That prompted one of the teachers to make a statement about the cars we drive being extensions of self, individuality, and personality. But my brilliant colleague, Bryan, a huge man with curiously curly long hair, grew irate and retorted that the choices we make in cars, clothing, or anything else, are first functions of what we can afford and what’s accessible.

In 2013, I did not have many choices when it came to choosing a neurosurgeon that would place an emergency subgaleal shunt in my daughter’s brain. Because of a combination of factors—the type of insurance we had, coupled with the fact that we had accrued thousands in medical bills already for six weeks of care in a teaching hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)—we were all but assigned a children’s hospital with the facilities to care for Tamilore pre-and post-surgery. I felt a bit defeated at first, having done research about the top hospitals in a 70-mile radius. In the end, it came down to what my insurance would cover! My consolation was in the compliments that our outgoing team of doctors and nurses conferred on the Chief Neurosurgeon we would soon be working with. He seemed to be a local legend. Instead of continuing in defeat, I chose to be satisfied with this outcome.

So it shouldn’t be difficult to imagine why I was just about speechless when a slim-framed, tall African-American doctor in a white coat approached me, introducing herself as the neurosurgeon on call. She wanted to find a space to talk to me about my daughter. Until we had spoken, I had taken her to be another neonatologist–baby doctor.  This neurosurgeon (who I will call Dr. White, since as of right now, she is unaware I’m writing about her) came across as sharp but understated. She hunched over and held herself by her elbows, taking an inch or two off from her close to six-foot figure, and smiled, shook hands, and spoke at lightening pace about what she made of my daughter’s CT scans, and what the way forward could look like. Tami needed a subgaleal shunt placed in her head immediately—a reservoir to collect the spinal fluid building up in her brain. At most, we had a 12 to 24-hour window to do this surgery as fluid was weighing down on her brain and causing unknown side effects and damage in the process.  She must have carefully read the unamused look on my face. I was not sure about her, and I was barely comfortable with the procedure itself. After a series of questions about how often she had done the surgery and her confidence about handling this “case”, she politely made me an offer: the Chief Neurosurgeon would be available in the morning if I did not want to work with her. The surgery had to be scheduled anyway when all of the staff and materials were in place, so I did not have to decide to go with her right now. I did, however, have a decision to make—who would ultimately operate on Tami?

Months later, I reflected more deeply about why I was so initially hesitant to allow Dr. White to operate on my little one. For starters, I was not expecting her. I was expecting an older doctor—a man—and a highly regarded one, at that. Still, I would have asked him the same questions I asked Dr. White. And perhaps he would have come across just as confident as his background suggested. I doubt he would have hunched over, or been apologetic about his senior colleague being unavailable. He would have given me less room to be apprehensive. Why did Dr. White do that to herself, and to me?

The amazing thing is that Dr. White is actually an honors graduate from an Ivy League Medical School. She completed a long, competitive residency in neurological surgery, specializing in the less lucrative, under-served field of paediatric neurosurgery. When I met her, she already had eleven years of practice under her belt, which was impressive considering that the American Board of Neurological Surgery certified the first African-American female neurosurgeon in 1984. In a relatively short, 30-year span of time, handfuls of Black women persevered among the best and brightest of doctors nationwide to operate in one of the most difficult practices in medicine. This convinced me of one thing in the end: she had to be extremely good.

That day, and in the days that followed, I grilled Dr. White as thoroughly as I have grilled doctors before and after her. My initial shock and disappointment faded quickly. I used to wonder if I ever doubted her ability to do the job because she looked like me. But after replaying that day over in my head several times, I decided I was asking the wrong question. I’ve finally concluded that any new mom in her most vulnerable state would have been surprised to meet someone other than who she was billed. Getting over my shock was easier, actually, because I have a sister going into her third year of residency in Emergency Medicine. I grew up with a black female doctor who I would allow to stitch my finger back on, or anything else for that matter, without a second thought.

I have been working with Dr. White for two years now and I don’t regret going with her in the least. There has never been a voicemail, text message, or email that’s received an untimely response. And although I respect the physician assistants that support her, she knows when I need to hear from her directly and not her second. She used to rely heavily on medical jargon such as “case” when talking about my daughter’s life, but I have noticed her become more relatable with time. She celebrates good news with affirmative language. She manages expectations well, and is quite thorough.  And she quietly tolerates our lengthy speaker-phone conversations and family prayers in her consultation room, even though it is clear that she places more faith in things seen than unseen.

I have no doubt that choosing her was a good decision, although I may have chosen differently had I gone in with my initial list that was crafted in an imaginary vacuum where I had endless resources and no constraints. Not every choice is an extension of self and individuality, but often times of circumstance. This does not negate God’s sovereignty, but maybe even works to display it. I am thrown by the thought that some of the best choices are made when we have little to do with the choosing to begin with.

Turning in my leash for a lease

I’m not a big “cliche” fan, so I am finding it difficult to beg for my reader’s indulgence while I play with the trite “new lease on life” metaphor (and I hope to, one day, be just as forgiving and forego the side eye while reading your cliche-glazed thoughts).  My name is Efe Osagie-Odeleye. When I got married about five years ago, I told my husband that I was not giving up the surname that defined me by age 27, so I went with a hyphenated name. I haven’t told him this, but I get tired of writing all of those letters on presentations, applications and forms so these days, I’m increasingly going by Efe Odeleye. Romantic? Yep.  I used to fancy myself a prolific writer many years ago: I have started so many stories, finished plays, and authored poems that the grave yard would one day become the sole executor of.

That’s until a few hours ago when I decided that this did not have to be the case. For over a year now, I had started a very specific website that was supposed to become a hub of support for families dealing with challenging pregnancies, miscarriage, and babies born with developmental delays due to prematurity or other challenges at birth. That’s pretty specific, I know. But I was set on making sure I could be a resource to families who were shaken and challenged by these really disappointing, really unexpected outcomes in life, much like me and my husband were.  My daughter’s birth–more specifically– the challenges we experienced with her premature birth, have redefined my life, my faith, and my resume.  And over two and an half years, I have been figuring out what my collective, authentic response to all of this. Then then change, giving me more data points to plot in and consider. Jeez. As a believer of Christ, I have prayed, professed, and praised my way out of some dark days. But as a human being, I have cried and cursed and conjectured as to why I have to go through this. I look forward to sharing more about my journey with my persistently worrisome husband and our loveable, active, bright and beautiful little girl, who happens to be living with controlled hydrocephalus.

Getting back the this very specific website of mine that brewed in draft pages between two different sites over the past year, I finally decided to draw the shortest path to getting my voice heard and connecting with my would-be audience, which meant switching the format from website to blog and going with a low-frills design for now. I am a habitual starter: I have started more projects in life than I’ve finished. I used to be ashamed of that fact, except I have learned that few people have starting, managing, and closing capabilities, at least not inherently. A b-school educated friend of mine once told me that at a certain point in life, when you’ve reached a certain status in your profession, you should not bother with plugging in your knowledge gaps. Nope, he said. Just outsource those areas and let other skilled folks fill in the gaps! Good advice, although I’m not there yet. So while I strive to be able to afford avoiding future personal development (joke), I’ve worked on building up my managing and closing proficiencies. This means I should have regular stories, encouragements, challenges, and unfolding updates for you.

This blog will cover parenthood the first time around, parenting a child with health conditions, my marriage peculiarities, and my quest to find work that rewards socially and financially, especially as my husband and I try to shape a coherent life out of our time between two countries– one developed, one developing.  Up until a few minutes ago, (spoiler: cliché ahead) I felt like I had a broad, tight leash around my neck for so many of the reasons I just touched on. I hope that writing, keeping God in plain view, and interfacing with readers will continue to lighten that awesome weight of responsibility that life can often place on us.