Yearly Archives: 2011

On this dark night

“It’s later, you said we could have dessert later, can we have dessert now, dad? Can we have dessert now? I want a cookie dessert!”

“I am cleaning, when I am DONE cleaning, we can have a dessert.”

“But I want it NOWWWWWAAAAHHHHH!”

“The baby is sleeping: for the last time, be quiet!

I close my eyes, close out the bickering, bring the infant in my lap just a bit closer. Behind my lids, I picture a single flame, sparking and sputtering before settling to a steady, bright burn. No time to sit in the dark, no hands free to light a candle, no chance in this darkest night to commemorate the birth of light. My lips quirk; think, is there a more perfect metaphor for the first months of parenting?

The baby in my lap startles as my first baby slams a door, and I snap my eyes wide, imaginary light displaced by the artificial, neither one the quiet fire I’d hoped for. I bring my newest child back to the breast she is blindly rooting for, whisper “Happy Solstice” in her incomprehending ear, and wait for the sun to return.

A linguistic lack

I have a Thing about language, about communication, about fluency and ideas and the sheer joy of playing with words. I also am, shall we say, particular about having the right tools — right words, right punctuation, right sound and meaning and implications. So it bothers me when I discover a seeming lack in my toolbox, an idea for which, as far as I can tell, there is no word.

A friend and I were talking today about pregnancy, and the “making” of babies (that is not so much making as allowing to make themselves out of and using one’s self and substance), and the devaluing of the work of pregnancy, and it occurred to me that I couldn’t think of a word for the type of work it is.

Because it is work — perhaps the most elemental form of production around. It is draining, exhausting, and oh so challenging. It pervades (invades) every moment of one’s life for months, whether we are aware of its effects or not. Everyone who goes through it, every time, feels differently, but none are unaffected, and at the end the world is changed. A new person is born, or there is a gaping, grieving hole where a baby belonged. Either way, work has been done.

But it’s not the sort of work you clock into (though obstetricians are far too amenable to helping us clock out early), or set your mind to (though bookstores have shelves upon shelves dedicated to the idea that we can), or in any active, willful way do. And yet, forced pregnancies aside (by which I include any pregnancy without full and authentic choice, if not in the conception than in the continuation), it is chosen work, not work without agency. Not involuntary, not undirected (though that too), not passive (to the contrary!). Not unimportant, not insignificant, and not necessarily easy. Undervalued (though over-sentimentalized), unnamed, and thus unrecognized.

Grow gets closer, but it is the fetus who grows in us, and our bodies stretch to accommodate. To grow as in garden ascribes too much control of the result to the manure-applier (both in pregnancy and in gardening) — and besides, it is our bodies that passes the raw materials to the being inside; we only feed ourselves, and trust our bodies to feed the fetus. (And feed it they will, near regardless of what we eat; not enough dietary calcium? No problem, we walk around with a skeleton full; we’ll scrape some off there to pass to our parasites.)

Pregnancy is, in the imperfect language of metaphor, parachuting (and how strange that the most ready comparable activity is one utterly frivolous, to the inescapable seriousness of reproduction). We jump (or are pushed, and oh does that first moment determine the entire experience), and then, simply by continuing to be, we do. It is so very active, voluntary and willed into beginning at the best of times, and once begun, merely (as merely as can be, heading to an inevitable impact) a matter of survival, of daily, inescapable grind. It is not like anything else, yet not dissimilar to so many other endeavors — but without the right word, making those connections is so much harder.

I need this word.

Guest post: A Beautiful Birth

Amanda Llorens from Mommies are Light, Daddies are Dark, who previously shared her thoughts on planning a homebirth with us, recently welcomed her daughter to their lovely family. Although her birth wasn’t what she had envisioned at that time, here she tells us the story of how it was, still, a beautiful birth.

A Beautiful Birth

“I have to push, NOW!” I screamed to my husband as I refused the wheelchair he wanted me to sit in.  There I was standing in the hospital lobby in my husband’s shorts, a nursing bra and the only shirt I could fit over my very pregnant belly.  I stopped leaned against a pole and began to bear down.

“Go ahead and push if you have to.”  My completely supportive husband and partner figured there was no way I could really be in the final stage of childbirth already so he figured it would just help our baby along.

“Don’t you dare push!  Stop, take a deep breath, sit down.”  A male nurse who had been talking to the security guard when we came in came up behind me and made me sit down in a wheelchair.  A woman who was about six months pregnant grabbed her partner’s hand as they waited with us for the elevator.

We got in the elevator, and again, I felt an intense need to push the baby out.
“I’m pushing!  I feel like I need to go to the bathroom, I NEED to push her out NOW!”
The couple clung to each other.

We arrived on the labor and delivery floor and someone said to me, “You’ll need to triage.”
“No, you have my information, I was here two hours ago!  I NEED TO PUSH RIGHT NOW!  Someone needs to help me!”

“Wait, you’re the woman they sent home?”

A few seconds later, I was in one of the labor and delivery rooms, and one of the nurses took my shorts off.

“I swear to God if you tell me I’m still four centimeters…”

I could see by the look on the nurse’s face, the baby must have been crowning.  There were about six nurses helping out and someone ran to get our midwife.

“You’re going to meet your daughter very soon.”

The look on her face said she was wondering how it is that we ended up here like this.

Two nights before, I had thought I was in labor but it had fizzled out when I realized I hadn’t yet packed a bag for the birth center where we had planned to deliver our daughter.  We had originally planned to have a homebirth with one of the most respected midwives in Maryland, but our plans were derailed when at 33 weeks pregnant, I found out our midwife had received a letter of suspension from the Maryland Board of Nursing while they reviewed five complaints that had been filed against her since 2008. According to a website set up by her supporters: “[N]one of these complaints came from one of Evelyn’s clients or a client’s family.”

The Maryland Board of Nursing left us providerless, and so somewhere around 35 weeks after an exhausting search we settled on having a birth center birth.  It would allow us some of the flexibility and some of the must-haves I’d wanted for this birth.  Access to water to labor in and/or deliver in was key for me.  After my labor had fizzled out, I’d had to finally come to terms with the fact that my birth plan had changed and we were not going to have a chance to birth at home.

I spent Saturday walking through the woods near our house, talking to the baby and myself about why our birth could still be amazing and why the birth center was going to be a great experience for us.  I cried one last hearty cry over losing the ability to choose where I would have our baby.

Luckily, my parents had been in town for Thanksgiving when I had the false alarm on Friday so my mom extended her trip by four more days just in case so she’d be able to stay with our two-year-old if labor happened to kick off.

Sunday, earlier in the day before I was in the hospital lobby, I’d spent the day shopping and then chasing my two year old at the park.  Feeling contractions throughout the day but not timing them because they weren’t intense or close enough together.

By nighttime, I’d started to notice some blood while realizing that the baby wasn’t moving around anymore.  Concerned, I made a call to our midwives.  The midwife on call suggested we head to the hospital (that is, the backup hospital for the birth center) so they could verify that the baby was still moving around and healthy.

That night, I struggled as I cuddled my toddler to bed while managing through contractions.  My husband had tried putting him down, but he wanted Mommy.  I was nervous about the bleeding but luckily he fell asleep fast and my mom came over from her hotel to be with him.  We left our house around 9:15pm and headed out on the 40 minute drive to the hospital, chatting, blasting Big Pun’s “Capital Punishment” album.  The contractions were five minutes apart.
When we arrived at Labor and Delivery, we chatted with some of the nurses, noting to ourselves that the hospital was nicer than we expected. Up until that point, we hadn’t thought much about the hospital since the plan had been to birth at the birth center.  Our midwife examined the baby and the three of us listened to her heart rate increase and decrease in rhythm with the contractions.  She determined the blood had been bloody show and then she checked my cervix.  It was 4 cm dilated but still posterior and the baby was in -1 station in my pelvis which meant she’d have to work through 0,1,2,3 to be born.

Since the contractions weren’t yet “taking my breath away,” the midwife determined that I was likely experiencing false labor.  I let her know that the contractions were about three minutes apart at that point and they were feeling stronger and stronger.  Knowing that home was 40 minutes away, she’d told us that we should go to a hotel for the night.  That way we’d be in shouting distance from the birth center if “real labor” began.

We debated whether we should actually go to a hotel if they were sending us away from the hospital.  I mean, they clearly didn’t think I was in labor so why be away from our two-year-old for the night if we didn’t have to?  But something inside of me knew we should get the hotel room, so we did.

We headed to the Doubletree hotel that was about five minutes away and asked for the “hospital discount.”  Ash came back to the car offering one of the warm chocolate chip cookies that the Doubletree is known for, but I had no stomach for it.

By the time we got in the room, my contractions had increased in intensity and were two minutes apart.  Ash set up our iPod and the iPod speakers and put on some Norah Jones, then he dimmed the lights.  I went to the bathroom then I came out, instinctively getting in the all-fours position.  I’d decided to wing this birth. The Bradley class we’d taken to help with our son’s birth, had given us tons of useful information, much of which had stuck with us through this second birth.  However, I discovered in labor that the visualization approach to pain management wasn’t for me.  This time around I’d listened to a few hypnobabies tracks.  In fact, I had actually laid down to listen on three separate occasions and had fallen asleep each time.  I remembered from one of their affirmations something about childbirth not having to be pain-filled, and I remembered reading something about pressure waves or rushes and opening like a lotus flower in Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to childbirth.  So I got on all fours, and began the cat-cow yoga pose (or at least, my best attempt at it).  The baby had been in a weird position for some time so I thought it might help.  Though the process, Ash gave me support I needed which varied between applying counter-pressure to my lower back and staying clear when I didn’t want to be touched anymore.  The clip from the hypnobabies CD became my mantra: “Pain doesn’t have to be a part of childbirth.”  I remembered to try not to clench my jaw, my shoulders or my pelvic floor.  I pictured a flower opening up, and for a little while this helped me tremendously.  Until it didn’t and then I found myself wondering what to do next.

Ash suggested we fill the tub so I could change positions and get in the water for a while.  For some reason, because I was not allowed to labor in water during my son’s birth, I had built up water to be the end-all for managing pain during an unmedicated birth.  The drain on the tub didn’t fit snugly so we had to keep the water running in order for the tub to stay full.  I sat in the water, feeling a sense of completion after having been denied it during our first birth.  For a few moments it felt great, but the pain seared through the comforting heat of the water.

“If this is not labor, then there is something very very wrong with my body!”  I sat there frustrated, wanting to cry.  If my body was not in labor why was the pain so constant?  Why did it hurt so much?  I sent Ash away and then I cried for him to come back.  I kept urgently repeating that I wanted to change the plan – I wanted an epidural at the hospital, now.  Because if this is what 4 cm of false labor felt like, there was no way I would ever survive 10 of “real labor.”  Then I felt like I had to go to the bathroom so I sent him away.  As soon as I sat down, I realized I felt the urge to push.  It was time to push the baby out.

I insisted to him that I was about to have the baby and jumped back in the water.  Feeling more than a little confused, the urges to push kept coming.  Ash grabbed my phone to call the midwife.  He got the answering service.  About 15 minutes later we still hadn’t heard back. We’d learned later that the midwife had been catching another baby during those frantic moments.  I told him to call again, but that we had to get to the hospital.  Although the birth center had been the plan, the hospital was still fresh in our minds and, given the circumstances, the birth center seemed impossibly far away.  I screamed at Ash to call an ambulance.  Although he was playing along, I could tell that he didn’t really understand how far things had progressed.  To my request for an ambulance he replied, “I can get you there faster.”  Since it was the middle of the night with no traffic and we’d have had to wait for an ambulance to arrive, he was probably right as long as he didn’t take a wrong turn.  He told me to put his shorts on and I remember thinking he was the most ridiculous person in the world for suggesting I needed clothes right now. We were halfway out the hotel room door when the midwife finally called back.  Ash let her know that I’d requested to go to the hospital to which she responded, “it’s her choice.”

I pulled a pair of Ash’s gray athletic shorts on and we hobbled together through the lobby.  He told me he’d pull the car around, but I insisted on walking though the parking lot with him.  The whole ride there I held the bar above my seat and I stuck my head out the window. There was a chill in the air.  I looked at the lights from nearby restaurants and businesses pass by, feeling the pressure of my baby girl pushing against the birth canal.  Those few moments felt like a lifetime as I said “this is beautiful” over and over in my head.  Then I screamed out loud, “I’m about to have this baby in this car!”  Before I knew it, we were at the hospital and I was in the lobby threatening to bear down.

Somehow I’d made it into a hospital bed, my husband’s gray athletic shorts thrown aside.  I found myself face to face with the nurse whose expression told me that I had the baby had, in fact, already crowning when we’d arrived at the hospital.  “You have a kind face,” I told her.  My focus expanded as the midwife burst into the room, and I realized that I was surrounded by 6 or 7 women and my loving husband.  Every single person there was providing encouragement and guidance.  I asked if it was too late for get an epidural and the nurse with the kind face told me to focus on her.  The baby’s head was halfway out.  I yelled that I had to go to the bathroom and then apologized for yelling and then thanked everyone for being there.  My husband smiled from ear to ear as he watched me pushing our daughter out into the bright, crowded hospital room.  He leaned in close and said, “Amanda, you are doing this.  You are having the unmedicated birth you dreamed of.  You did all of this!”  A few seconds later, our daughter was laying on top of me.  I was still in the only shirt that had fit over my pregnant belly just a few moments ago.  I held our daughter and kept repeating to whoever was listening, “This is beautiful, she is beautiful.”

"...she is beautiful."

In Praise of Broken Things

Laundry basket, handles cracked apart

Kitchen rags, full of holes and fraying edges

Twenty year old shirt, now nearly see-through

Easy chair, stuffing exposed and lever missing

Dishes chipped from careless washings

And me

A question of pronouns: two conversations on gender

“Some of the kids from the apartments behind us kept calling the Boychick ‘she’ today,” his teacher tells me as we all walk back to the light rail, in various states of exhaustion and overexcitement after a long day of feasting, protesting, and — apparently — gender policing.

I seek out the blond curls of my firstborn, his bright red “girly” blouse now covered by his bright red “boyish” coat. My tired-tight shoulders tense further in anticipation of too-long-passed events about which I now can do nothing, and make a noise for the teacher to continue his story.

“It was really upsetting him; he told them to stop, but they didn’t. I told one of them ‘some boys have long hair’, and he thought for a second” — here his voice fills with humor — “and he said, ‘well some boys do, but not with such a pretty face.’”

We both laugh, the conversation continues past my — yes, pretty — child’s eccentric relationship with gender performance and the discomfort it regularly provokes in his peers, and we continue home.

***

“I heard some kids were calling you ‘she’ at the party yesterday,” I ask, so-carefully-light in tone, as I set his oatmeal in front of him.

“Yeah.”

Sullen or distracted? How do you tell in a four (and a half, he would insist on adding) year old? I persist, lightly, lightly.

“Your teacher said you didn’t like it.”

Not distracted now, but agitated: “Yeah, I told them to stop calling me that, but they wouldn’t. They should have asked before calling me she!”

What is this? Echoes of our conversations on namecalling (“always ask someone if you can call them a name first, and only do it if they say it’s ok”), or something new?

“You wanted them to ask before calling you she?”

“Yeah, but they didn’t. They should have asked.” Really worked up now, oatmeal forgotten.

“But your teacher got them to stop, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, he did.” Calming again. Picks up his spoon, takes a bite. So do I. Then:

“Would you have minded if they called you she if they asked first?”

“They could have called me she if they asked first, but they didn’t ask.”

“Oh.”

We munch oatmeal while part of my mind wonders if talking with all four year olds feels so much like a scratchy record, skipping to repeat imperfectly but ceaselessly. Probably, another part responds.

The rest tries to count how many times I’ve asked this, to guess how many times I’ll ask again and whether the answer will ever change.

“Do you want me to call you she or he?”

A pause.

“He. They could have called me she if they asked. But I want you to call me he.”

“Ok.” I stand, pick up my empty bowl, bend over to kiss his still-chewing head. “Well, it’s good to know.”

It is.