Away

I’m experiencing internet issues and am typing this on my phone, but still want a daily post for NaBloPoMo. Here it is, with more tomorrow to make up for this.

– MD

Advertisements

It’s Sew On

Last week was a big week for me, dear readers. Not only did I go out on Wednesday to Meg’s for a clothing swap, I also went to EC’s on Thursday night for sewing. About a year ago she started hosting an information sewing night for the less-than-capable-with-a-sewing-machine-crowd. EC is mad crafty, but while I like to think I am, I really just read about people being crafty or buy their goods. Anyway, thanks to EC, her neighbor and Meg, I’m now about a C+ on the sewing machine.

Thread

Since I don’t take out my sewing machine except for these planned evenings, I generally spend a fair amount of time re-learning how to thread the darn thing, but then slowly work my way through a project for Miss Red. She’s worn a few wonky tops, but she’s little and can’t tell and little kid clothing is cuter and I think easier to work on than adult clothing. We took one of the tops I made out of an old pillowcase to Japan, and she wore it in one of my favorite pictures.

CH and Miss Red

Back to my non-story. I ended up doing my first clothing “hack” – I cut the top off of a sun dress that got too stretchy and decided to make it into a skirt. I am an insanely slow sewer and it took me three hours. But it’s comfy and I wore it all day Monday, when it reached 90 degrees in our little hamlet.

Hacked Skirt

What I love so much about the sewing nights is that it feels like stolen time. We meet at EC’s house after our kids have (allegedly) gone to bed. She makes great appetizers and we bring over food or wine. We catch up and I get to learn new things each time I go. I forget a lot of what I learn, but when I’m shown the next time I remember a little longer. I love that I’m learning from my friends. I love that there’s always a new person joining in, knitting or quilting or sewing. I love the swearing at machines and tangled threads. And I love that there is usually something produced at the end.

EC, finishing an awesome reversable bag

In my job I am lucky that I can often see the culmination of my efforts – a story placed, published, produced – but as soon as it’s done, it’s done. Sewing something for Miss Red, even out of an old pillowcase, or unevenly sewing a new-to-me skirt gives me a goofy smile. Each time I complete something I hold it up, and like I am five, show it to the group. With uneven edges, or threads hanging every which way, they cheer for me. I go home, often close to midnight, high on creation. I am proud when I hang a new shirt in Miss Red’s closet, or put new curtains on our windows. I am proud that I am learning a skill I can hopefully share with Miss Red. I am proud that I can learn from my friends. I want Miss Red to see her mama try new things and new experiences, and that it’s OK if you’re really only OK at something, as long as you tried and had a good time with your friends along the way.

Trusty steed

– MD

Old World Wisconsin, Ryukyu-style

Day two of our Naha adventures led to another beautiful day. One of the highlights of our vacation was the hotel breakfast buffet. Typical American hotel buffets consist of odd-looking “scrambled eggs” and “bacon”?, and while this one had those items on the Western side of the buffet, the Japanese and Okinawan sides of the buffet were a dream come true. More types of seaweed than a girl could dream of, along with miso soup and rice. Savory breakfast? Yes, please!

Grandma's breakfast

OK, enough with the food. For now. But what was also great about the breakfasts was that most mornings, 10 or 11 of us would converge around a large table, drinking coffee (better than any hotel coffee I’ve had in the US), eating our various plates of food, and just spending time with one another. Since we were with my husband’s side of the family, I hadn’t met everyone, or, in some cases, hadn’t seem people in two or seven years. And on vacation, how often is everyone up, showered and dressed at 7 a.m.? Here’s another example of where the time difference worked in our favor.

This day was the second day of being happily chauffeured and we headed to the Old World Wisconsin of Okinawa, Ryukyu Village. As in much of Japan, there is a rich history of the land, and the islands south of mainland Japan, Okinawa being one of them, was once part of the Ryukyu dynasty, which reigned for five centuries. Buildings transported and reconstructed were on site, with people in traditional dress.

A little redhead troll, icon for the theme park

We had a personal tour guide, with our cousin often serving as translator. We watched the water buffalo nap, saw live musical performances, and walked and rested along the way.

I find it difficult to read maps, no matter the language

The highlight? The theme park’s version of “old time dress up.” Instead of Western gear or yore, we were put into kimonos and robes.

Goofy? Yes. Fun? Absolutely.

Miss Red, while resistant, complied for a few precious minutes.

Miss Red

Murmurs of “kawaii” (cute, in Japanese) rang out.

Shisa

It was also here that Miss Red fell in love with Shisa, or as she started calling them, “silly monsters.” Shisa are on most buildings in Okinawa and are a common souvenir sold in shops. We happily let her pick out a tiny pair to bring home. For the rest of our time in Okinawa, she pointed out the “silly monsters” whenever she saw them.

Wishes posted on a hut.

After another full day, we retreated to our hotel rooms. Grandma, husband, Miss Red and I headed to dinner on our own. Tired, she fell asleep on the three-block stroller ride back. Tired, I fell asleep immediately upon putting Miss Red to bed.

How did Miss Red do in Japanese restaurants and a Okinawan wedding? More on that tomorrow.

– MD

The Unknown

It’s been nearly four weeks now since my husband and I sat speechless in the ICU waiting for our son’s bone marrow biopsy results. During the week prior we had watched S’s health deteriorate quickly and knew something was very wrong. His normally high energy level had disappeared and he had very swollen lymph nodes, an altered voice, fever and lethargy. Many tests were performed and none of the standard illnesses were identified, however, some unusual results and new findings suddenly caused great concern for one other possibility. My husband and I shared the dark suspicion that bad news was about to arrive. We tried to comprehend why this horrible disease would invade our baby. We were convinced our healthy, strong, happy, funny little boy was about to face an uncertain future and he had just celebrated his fifth birthday.

In the time before the procedure I immersed myself in countless Internet searches (not recommended), studied the statistics, traditional and alternative treatments, remission rates and any other information I could find. So many questions to answer. How would we explain this to S and get him through this? How would we put on a happy face for him each day and try to keep life “normal” for his little brother? How would we save him? 

After we had held our screaming, thrashing little boy down while the nurses inserted the IV and took yet another blood draw I also tried to imagine what possible explanation we could offer as to why we would help people hurt him over and over again? 

We waited and waited for the leukemia diagnosis. Finally, the pediatrician stepped in the room and smiled. Negative.

Mononucleosis was the culprit, though it’s presence had evaded numerous prior tests. S’s health has improved dramatically and most of his symptoms have since disappeared. His energy level will be low for a few weeks yet but he will soon start kindergarten. We are thrilled that we can share in the beautiful joy and simplicity of discussions surrounding his new school, swimming lessons and play dates with friends. 

I look at our children, and all children, a bit differently now. At odd moments, like while watching a group of kids happily running around at a birthday party recently, I get a rush of anxiety and fear that I have to wish away. There are so many things people told me about how parenthood would change me but no one could have prepared me for the realization that, in a moment, our family could have entered such an alternate reality. Now the experience is with me, my baggage of appreciation for one simple thing-health.

Happy S

We are getting back into our normal daily groove. I’m about to take the boys to the library and, merely because it’s a gorgeous summer day, we might stop for an ice cream cone afterwards.

To the friends that stepped in to help at a moment’s notice, and to all the others we knew would, Thank You. We are so grateful to have you all in our lives.

S and R

– RC

Busy Day, Busy People

I always thought I’d have a great little library for my kids. You know – the book shelf that is filled with great colored spines. Books that are tall and proud. Books that share the classics, the standards, interspersed with books that share my love of art, of the tangible, of the world. As an “ahem,” educated person, I’m supposed to be modeling my UNWAVERING LOVE OF READING with my little people. Good, beautiful books. Ones that we read over and over, ones that we all sit down and savor together.

After H was born, I did what a “good” parent does. Every day we’d pull out his board books. He’d chew on them, and I’d try and read them. Later on, I’d sit in a rocking chair while he turned pages faster than I could even tell what was on the page.  Then he’d whine and complain and squirm off of my lap.

Not that I was giving him the Best reading material. Big Beautiful Tall Books are Expensive. Our book collection was mostly finds from Garage Sales and Goodwill. Read – most of our books were (are) pre-broken in, dingy and a bit old. Some not even current titles. Some you can only find in antique book collections. Some that never should have made it to the Garage Sale.

You see, (oh, am I admitting this now to the general world?), I don’t really read fiction books.  This one reality has caused MUCH anxiety in my life.  If I don’t “read” books, will my kids? Will they grow up to love the written word?  Will I be shunned as a bad parent?  For Heaven’s sakes, will they be LITERATE?  

My mom is a voracious reader, and as a kid, I loved a good book. I read through the middle school paper back collection in my first year in that building.  I worked at a bookstore for several years.  It’s not that i don’t like reading. Given enough time and a nice long vacation on a beach or with a lot of train time and no children, I’m sure to finish a good solid fiction book.  

But here is the thing – I do read.  I skim non-fiction books from the library. I read magazines about art, architecture, and home living. I read sewing patterns and recipes in cookbooks and then follow their directions or sometimes make up my own. I read email, Facebook, blogs, and the newspaper online. I read out loud funny and ridiculous letters to the editor in my Food Coop’s Reader (gotta get a good laugh over the folks that complain about the Oatscream Machine being broken down). I read travel books. I read the signs at the zoo, and the menu at the bakery. I read signs on the street during our walks and bike rides. I read directions to the museum, and the little wall cards that describe the crazy art that we’re viewing. I read the bus map, and the calendar when trying to schedule fun things for our family to do.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise to me – or to any of you – that my FAVORITE kids book – one that I will read over and over and over – is an old copy of Busy Day Busy People by Tibor Gergely that I picked up at the Dig and Save.  Ah, Busy Day Busy People might be the best book of all time. Page by Page, the book describes the life of busy people from sun up to sun down.  As people are waking, bakers are baking, and construction workers are hauling dirt.  People go to work, go to the doctor.  People are taking public transportation and going out to eat, and news reporters are delivering the stories of the day while families regather at the end of the day. 

Busy People

The other day my husband and I were reviewing our shared Google calendars via Google chat (we were both at work). He was going here, I was going there.  He’d pick up the kids from daycare, I’d be home in time to swoop them up for lessons or a playdate of some sort while he went to the gym.  Then he’d come back home in time for me to meet some friends and then go grab some coffee while I worked for a few more hours and he put the kids to bed and did some needed chores around the house.  At the end of the chat, he said (ok, chatted) “Are we too busy?”  It’s a question we get frequently, and something we talk through alot, just to make sure.  

Go, Go, Go!

But the thing is – We aren’t.  Our family likes to go, do, be.  If we could be in the middle of it all, every night in the city, we would.  And on my days off I’d drive to the country and enjoy the trees, and then head back for some delicious food and an art show on a street where people bustle past midnight.  Or maybe I’d choose an evening on the lake with the kids looking at the stars and pointing out constellations, while inhaling enormous smores or counting fireflies.  The world is big, and we want to explore.  Some folks are happy laying low, living quiet in the trees.  We like to visit them on the weekends.   

Every person, every parent, every family has to figure out what makes them Go. I think about that book often, how every page, every person resonates somewhere deep inside my bones, my decisions.  It resonates in the spot that I suppose Walden and stacks of novels do for others.   

And at the end of our chat that day, my husband wrote to me “Busy Day, Busy People!”  I just smile and laughed. Impressed that he ended our conversation with a literary reference.

– EC

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Birth Center

{Editor’s Note: Below is a guest column from a fantastic woman I met a few summer’s ago at a Lynda Barry writing workshop. We’re like pen pals and keep in touch, even in this crazy digital age. But forget that and read her amazing story of birthing her son in the back seat of a cab. I am not lying.}

Yeah, so my son was born in the backseat of a vehicle. Before I go into the story I want to first clear something up. As romantic as it sounds, it was not a Yellow Taxi Cab. I know it would be so New York if it was, but this is not one of those “New York” stories. It actually is, if anything, a Brooklyn story. We were in what New Yorkers call a “Gypsy Cab.” Graham said that the more APPROPRIATE term is a Livery Cab. Gypsy Cabs are usually a town car of sorts or some other pedestrian vehicle contracted by a car service company. The one we were in was a minivan and driven by a Hispanic driver named Gladys.

So, as you know, I was a little ATTACHED to the desire to give birth in a non-hospital setting. We did our research and happily signed on with the only remaining freestanding birth center in the New York area, The Brooklyn Birthing Center. Now here is the thing about Brooklyn: It is HUGE. Just because you live in one area doesn’t mean you are ANYWHERE NEAR another area. BBC was on the way other side of Brooklyn from us. On the subway it takes an hour and fifteen minutes to get there. Our visits would last 15 to 20 minutes tops, but our commute was two and a half hours roundtrip. Not exactly convenient and it was something we wondered about when discussing what would happen on THE BIG DAY. So we took a car service to one of our appointments, just to time it, to see what we were really dealing with. It took 45 minutes. Not ideal, but doable. We discussed this with the midwives who said that this was a common thing and they would factor the time in for gauging when it was time to come in.

The car service driver we had for that trial run was named Gladys. Thirtysomething, mellow, agreeable Gladys. I liked her because she was a woman and didn’t drive like a maniac. The problem I have with Livery Cab drivers (actually make that all taxi drivers) is that they drive like maniacs, talking on their cell phones, listening to their radios full blast, and not giving a shit for much. I am almost always white knuckled in the back of the car, sure I am going to die (and still have to tip). When we had friends visiting from California this summer, Gladys had been the driver to help us transport five of them and their luggage to Manhattan. She drove a minivan and seemed calm and pretty friendly. We talked to her on the way to the BBC on our trial run, told her what was happening, and asked her what her hours were. Her English came and went at odd times, but she was very friendly about being our driver and gave us her card so we didn’t have to call through the car service, we could reach her directly. Great. Our transport was secured and now Gladys was part of the plan.

That was two months ago. Two months before I started daily complaints about my due date coming and going like some floating cloud that meant nothing to my body, but everything to my emotional state. I don’t know if you caught on, I mean, I think the majority of you are pretty DARN SHARP (no dull tools in THIS shed), but I was SICK OF BEING PREGNANT. I wanted OUT. I watched with desperate yearning as one by one all the babies that I knew were due a week before mine, came one to two weeks early. Then the ones that were due after mine came early. I was starting to think that birth was an elaborate hoax that I would never get to experience. We tried everything: sex, spleen six pressure points, walking, and eating spicy food. Nothing happened. I went to see the midwives two days after my due date and I was already at 2 cm, but I couldn’t be naturally induced by stripping my membranes because the baby was not effaced enough. So I went back to the waiting, thinking there was NO WAY I would go to the next appointment scheduled, a full TEN DAYS after my due date.

Yeah, I was a little depressed when I showed up the next week. Another way to describe it might be SLIGHTLY INSULTED by the fact that I still hadn’t given birth. I went in BALLOONING with fluid and HIGH HOPES that I was ready for membrane stripping or at least a bit of castor oil. So I got checked and I was at 3cm, but my other physical scores still were a point away from being stripped. I started to cry. The midwife said that she would just jiggle the handle of my cervix (my words, not hers) to see if it couldn’t be cajoled into another point towards inducement. As it happens, my cervix PUTS OUT. I went from 3 to 6 cm immediately. So I got stripped. Wow, did that not feel comfortable. It was like being the midwife’s big giant purse, while she rooted around trying to locate her keys. Graham held my hand while I gritted my teeth and did my best to BREATHE big breaths. I should have realized that this was foreshadowing of what was soon to come: the writhing discomfort, the need to practice big breaths, and that for the next little while my insides would be SEVERAL people’s big purse containing anything from a lost pair of keys, a ringing cell phone, or a cigarette lighter. I will tell every pregnant woman in the world, that when you get to that point, feeling like your health provider might be ELBOW DEEP in your insides, it is time to GET USED TO IT for the time being. There is only MORE WHERE THAT CAME FROM.

I left feeling hopeful, cramping, and tired with a plan of action. I had an appointment with an acupuncturist to help get labor started, and if neither the stripping or the acupuncture worked by the next morning, I could use castor oil and see what happened from there. If the castor oil didn’t click, I had agreed to be induced on Saturday morning, but my midwife thought this probably would not be an issue.

At about two in the morning those tell tale waves of menstrual cramps woke me up. Since I’d had some labor before, I was determined not to take these too seriously, but Graham started timing them and sure enough, they were like clockwork: Every 25 minutes, lasting 30 seconds. By the time we woke up they were every 20 minutes. I had a doubtful feeling, though. They just weren’t that strong and by a couple of hours after we woke up, smaller erratic contractions had started to punctuate the rhythm and finally, they seemed to slow entirely. So we went for a walk and found the only hill in our neighborhood and walked up and down it until we were so cold and the need to pee was too painful to ignore. The contractions had slowed to every half hour and were pretty weak.

Castor oil it was. And hours later, nothing happened. NOTHING. No runs, no change in contractions, nothing. I was beginning to think this kid had enjoyed his breakfast of pancakes and bacon so much that he was thinking of calling in supplies and staying the rest of the winter. So we called the midwife and she said it was time to help that castor oil out. I am not about to admit on the Internet what she suggested, but let’s just say it sort of rhymed with your aunt EDNA. So me and Aunt EDNA had some quality time. I came out of my quality time with EDNA and within a half hour the contractions rolled in at ten minutes apart and they were getting STRONGER.

Then my water broke and we checked the quality and thought, IS THAT MECONIUM? In case people don’t know, meconium is the baby’s first poop. I know, it sounds like a rare and precious metal or a planet Superman’s family might have summered on, but it’s really just poop. It’s supposed to be THE THING you check for when your water breaks. If it is slightly discolored with it, fine, but if it has dark matter or a pea soup quality, we needed to call the birthing center immediately. So we stood over a maxipad and kept asking ourselves is that it? Is that green or is it brown or is it anything? So we called the midwife and she said, “Well, it’s probably nothing, but just in case, why don’t you head in. I might send you back home if it’s nothing, or if it’s something I’ll send you to the hospital.”

The phrase I keep coming back to is I MIGHT SEND YOU BACK HOME. Remember, we were 45 minutes away. The midwife did not seem very concerned with time. I later found out they thought I had loads of time because I was a first time mom and first time moms don’t usually go very quickly. Well, ladies, welcome to Quickie McGee Pierre.

We called Gladys and this is where I think something in me knew that this was not going to go as hoped or planned. She had no memory of us whatsoever and was unclear as to when she would pick us up. Graham explained I was in labor and she said she guessed she could be there 10-15 minutes. Usually cars come in five. I still clung to the familiarity of her so we said we would wait. 20 minutes, another call to a different car service, and two contractions later, Gladys finally showed up. We hopped in, with me moaning. She asked, “What is going on?” As if it hadn’t already been explained to her. Graham reiterated that I was in labor and she nervously laughed, “Why aren’t you going to the hospital?” She meant the hospital that we were across the street from. “We’re going to the birth center,” Graham explained and then said, “You’ve driven us there before, remember?” Nope. No registry and it became very clear that she didn’t like having us in her van. The entire time she kept trying to dump us. “You should be in an ambulance!” She said, “call an ambulance they can give you a ride to the hospital.” But we weren’t going to the hospital, we kept explaining, and this isn’t an emergency.

Well, that is until we hit the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and it was slammed with traffic.

It is hard for me to even write these words. Even now, my body rings with memory of what it was like to have escalating pain in a small space. I was breathing through very intense contractions that were noticeably quicker. I climbed in the very back seat so I could somehow get more comfortable and to try to calm down. Meanwhile, Gladys was flipping out. She wanted us out of the van. During a stopped moment, she tried to get Graham to get out of the van to flag a private security van down to take us. I bellowed to just KEEP GOING FOR PETES SAKE. It was LABOR, not the end of the world. I hated her in that moment. I hated that I felt I had to fight her and the claustrophobia and the traffic and the contractions. I wanted her to just SUCK IT UP and GET US THERE.

Graham called the midwife to say we were still in traffic. She suggested an alternative route, but Gladys had no idea what she was talking about, so we stayed in the clogged river of vehicles. Graham started counting miles to the exit for me, while that horrible trapped feeling started to increase with the contractions. Have you ever seen a tiger or large animal pace a cage anxiously? That is the only way I can describe the feeling. I was an animal being held in a confined space and I had no choice but to start saying over and over, “I want out of this fucking car, I want out of this fucking car, get me out of here, get me out of here, I don’t want to be here anymore.”

The contractions were really rolling in at this point and I kept thinking as a way to get me through them, “After this one is done, I’ll have a break. Just get me to that break.” They were about 3 or 4 minutes apart at this point, but then something happened I’ll never forget. One rolled in, started to subside, and then another slammed me. I started sweating horribly. This was not good.

Finally, we exited and the relief in the van was palpable. “After this, just another ten minutes or so, okay?” Graham said to me. I could taste the relief of being safe for just a moment.

Then we hit another wall of traffic.

It was the most horrible thing I’d ever seen in my life. As far as I could see, a strip of red taillights stopping and going. Somewhere in my mind that small argument began to take place between denial and reality: “Don’t be dramatic and say what you’re about to say,” said one voice. Another voice said, “But I don’t think we are going to make it.” And that’s when another contraction slammed me so hard and a distinct burning sensation ripped through my groin. I have to say that at this moment I was grateful for any and all birthing classes I ever took, because this one sensation, the burning sensation, put to rest any and all arguments of what I was battling out in my head. I knew from every video that we watched that when a burning sensation comes on, the baby is coming. That and an utterly guttural desire to push. That’s when what I hoped I would never have to say, came screaming out of my mouth, which was, “He’s coming! The baby is coming!” I started frantically trying to rip my jeans off. Graham called the midwives, who said to pull over immediately and call 911. So that’s what we did. Gladys got out of the van and Graham was on the phone to 911 explaining what was happening while he ripped off my shoes and tried to help me pull off my jeans.

You might be able to picture the terror and helplessness that Graham experienced in the van, pulling off his wife’s jeans, and trying his best to get help on the phone. I have no memory of this, but at one point he dropped the phone in the darkness of the van and while he frantically looked for it, I calmly handed it back to him. He found the light in the van and switched it on. He examined me to see if the baby was crowning and informed 911 that I wasn’t, but that he could see it coming. I will never forget the look on his face when he said to me, “Baby, listen to me, they don’t want you to push.” That was like telling me not to have skin or to breathe or to yell. I don’t know if I can adequately express to you what the urge to push was like. It wasn’t an URGE at all. It was my body taking over completely and saying, STEP ASIDE, SISTER I GOT IT FROM HERE. I started to panic.

Then the cops came. The BLESSED COPS! All rosy sirens and flashing lights and TRAINED IN AN EMERGENCY COPS. But it was just one cop and he was TWELVE YEARS OLD. He took one look in the van, uttered the word, “Okay,” and then CLOSED THE VAN DOORS and STOOD THERE. Graham, still on the phone with 911, told them what the cop was up to. 911 was not pleased. They wanted to talk to him. So Graham opened the door and handed the phone to him. The boy cop looked at Graham and said, “Who is it?” Um, HELLO IT’S 911! Remember? THIS IS AN EMERGENCY! Thank you, Brooklyn’s FINEST. What was surmised from this exchange was that he wasn’t trained to help in any way at all. If I hadn’t been focusing so deeply on somehow dodging the next contraction my morale wouldn’t have been so hot. I would not have been immediately relieved when the fire department came. I was too busy living every second of that moment in the van, with my dress about my hips, dreading the next contraction because it wouldn’t be just a painful bystander. It would PUSH for me and since I was told directly NOT to push, I sat there feeling like a bomb about to go off. About four firemen peeked inside, asked about my contractions, to which Graham said I was about 3 minutes apart. One of the fireman said, “Oh good, she still has time.”

(Oh, ha ha. Maybe my midwife will check me and SEND ME HOME AGAIN TOO!)

A paramedic showed up—a nice bald paramedic, who laid out pads and paper on the seat and checked me. He had this great idea he was going to move me onto the stretcher and into the ambulance. That’s when a lady paramedic showed up, climbed in the back, took one look at me and said, “We are not moving her. This baby is going to be born now.”

That’s when the last two contractions hit and I screamed so hard it rang in my ears. What they say is true about the pain. A week ago, I could remember the pain and the screaming it created. Now, I only remember the screaming and that’s how I associate the pain. I’ve never screamed like that in my life. I felt that if I screamed loud enough my skin would rip off my entire body, like some popped balloon and that would be a pleasure. My eyes were closed deep into the screaming, but I remember distinctly the pop of his head coming and then another pop which told me he was out. I opened my eyes and there he was on the seat, pink faced, gurgling, looking wet and amphibious. I kept waiting fro the big cry, but he wasn’t crying, just gurgling. So I said, “Is he okay?” And that’s when the lady paramedic said something I will never forget as long as I live. She said, “Mama, he is BEAUTIFUL.”

I didn’t cry then because I was in shock, but since then I have thought of this moment over and over again and wept and wept out of relief and gratitude not only for the health of my son, but for the most perfect four words that could have been spoken to me in that moment of shock and confusion. He was more than alive. He was beautiful.

I remember looking up through the back window at Graham who was pressed up against it looking in on me just saying over and over again that he loved me and then back at my pink faced son, who looked a little stunned to be flat on his back on a car seat.

They clamped and cut Gus’ umbilical cord and then put him in my arms with one of those metallic “blankets” you see athletes donning after a marathon. I was still wearing my jacket and down vest, so I covered him up as best I could. He was warm and whimpered up against me. I couldn’t do anything but say, “Hi there, hi there, baby.”

Now is as good as any to tell all you people that I had one small fear about giving birth and that was pooping in front of my husband. I know it was a little neurotic shred of vanity that I held on to. What would he think? OH MY GOLLY, MY WIFE HAD A BABY OUT OF HER LADY PARTS AND DID A POOP! I remember Maggie Mason saying to trust her, you won’t care when it happens. Man, was she right. I did not care so much so that it also didn’t matter that there were about ten firemen, a policeman, Gladys, and about 20 onlookers seeing me SPREAD EAGLE in the back of an illuminated minivan doing MANY bodily things, including I am sure (but not positive) a little pooping. And maybe that’s why I can admit this to you, ye PUBLIC INTERNET, I just didn’t/don’t care. A friend asked me now that I’ve given birth in a car, do I feel like I can do anything? No. If anything, I feel even more vulnerable in some ways. In this other way, the shame, bodily way I feel FREE AS A BIRD.

They put Gus and me on a stretcher and carted us into the ambulance. When Graham was following us into the vehicle, Gladys apparently stopped him and asked if he could find out how her phone could take pictures. She wanted a picture. She apparently got WAY INTO being part of such an event once we stopped. He said no and got in the vehicle with us and we sped off to the hospital.

So I got my unmedicated birth free of interventions, I just did not get the sense of safety or the Jacuzzi tub I had planned on. And what have we learned through all this? Plans really ARE for suckers. Someday this will be a great story we tell over dinner to Gus’ true love. As it is now the trauma of it still has some lingering affect. For days afterwords Graham and I cried off and on having memories of it. Not the blissed out kind of memories, but the broken flashbacks of something very terrifying, chaotic, and miraculously okay. For me, I was in deep shock at the time of his birth, and it’s been an emotional process as my body tries to knit the memories to feelings. I remember what Shara, our birthing class teacher, told us about quick births. Sure, you have LESS time in labor (aka less pain), but some part of the process goes missing. I am still feeling as if I am looking for those pieces that got lost in the cracks of that backseat.

Then again, I am also reminded of something else Shara said: Women have babies. Not doctors or midwives or anybody else. THIS woman had her baby, dammit. I had my baby in the back of a mother loving vehicle while a ton of people stood by. Am I proud of myself? Yes, I am. But next time I am staying home.

SP and her Back Seat Baby

 

– SP

What to Expect After You’ve Expected

During pregnancy there is so much information available. If you want. In fact, there is often too much information, from anecdotal stories, to Web sites and a legion of books all telling you what you should and should not do or expect or not expect while pregnant and shortly thereafter.

In conference with my friends, I’ve summed up the 5 things that, thankfully, they passed along to me and I learned along the way:

1. Breast feeding is not a given. After five lactation consultants, we hired the best in town and it still didn’t work for us. All of the nurses and lactation consultants in the hospital told us that breast feeding is a confidence game. Well, if you haven’t met me, I am one determined lady and wouldn’t say that “confidence” is something I lack. The best thing our lactation consultant told me was, “breast feeding is something babies do. Moms set it up, but babies need to actually do the work.” My little lady wasn’t down for the job, so we had to move on. If you experience any difficulties or know of someone who does, contact a Lactation Consultant in your town. 

2. Hire a doula. Really. I can’t say enough about this. A doula is a birth coach that is solely there for you and your partner to have the best birth experience possible. Ideally, your doula will meet with you a few times prior to your birth to talk about your birth plan and get to know you and your family. Hannah was a life-saver during our 44-hour labor and delivery because she allowed us to focus on ourselves and the baby. Neither of us had ever had a baby, so we had no idea what to expect. We were tired, so she would help me while C took a nap or got something to eat. She helped me stay focused while I had to make decisions I didn’t want to, like when to agree to Pitocin and an epidural. She helped us stay strong, and after the delivery directed me to Adria and made sure we transitioned home well. There are doulas everywhere. Even if you’ve had a baby before, are working with a midwife or are having a scheduled c-section, I cannot speak highly enough of this service.

3. You have a voice in the delivery room. One of the benefits of working with Hannah was that her practice had classes that were really helpful. One of the best things one of her partners said was “you are a consumer. You have a voice.” I had never thought of that before, but from that position I crafted my birth plan tailored to what was right for our family. And this kept me strong in the delivery room when the fresh-from-medical-school resident kept insisting on checking me. Panting through insane Pitocin-induced contractions, I insisted I didn’t need to be checked and outlined for him the reasons why. When he pushed back for no reason, I asserted myself through gritted teeth. He walked away, never to be seen again and the two nurses in the room praised me for speaking up for what I wanted.

4. After the baby is born, the pain is not gone. I’m not talking about the fact that your privates might have exploded or the trecherous thought of going to the bathroom again, I’m talking about what they do to your stomach. Shortly after you deliver, the nurses will push on your stomach to make sure your uterus is returning to its normal size, which it does freakishly fast. You think, “oh, no biggie.” But ay, carumba, this hurts! Depending upon your care and stay in the hospital, or even at home for a birth, your stomach will be pushed on about three or four times. Each time, ask for a partner’s hand, squeeze it and use your breathing techniques. All I’m saying is that it really, really hurts.

5. Uh, we have a “new mom” mess. So, here’s the real kicker. The one thing that will let you know if you have good, honest friends is if they’ve told you this: After you have a baby, you bleed. Like, stucked pig bleeding. Like, they put you in mesh underwear and kayak-sized “maternity” care and even this needs to be attended to every hour. The nurses will check this, before or after they press on your stomach and you will see that after you become a mom, you lose all sense of privacy. And that’s OK. But back to the bleeding. It’s like A LOT. If it gets messy in the hospital, which it can, they call it a “new mom” mess. It can also last, to varying degrees, for up to 6 weeks. Take all of the items home with you, including the mesh underwear and make sure you have major backup at home, or your husband will run to Walgreen’s at some odd hour, but will thankfully return with some Recharge, Us Weekly and flowers.

There is, of course, so much more. Above all, make sure you have a few soft shoulders to land on. I called my mom and friends at all hours, cried in frustration on friends’ couches and also laughed with them at diaper blow-outs and other mishaps.

All of the planning, hoping and dreaming is in some ways a movie in our minds. The movie we create about what we think having a baby is like is just that, a movie. But what we get in return is better than fiction.

– MD

At a Loss

My baby girl arrived on March 15, 2009, exactly two years and five months after the loss of my first pregnancy. That first one came as a shock all the way around – shock to find out I was pregnant in the first place, and shock to find out, five days later, that I was going to miscarry. Having kids wasn’t the first thing on our minds in those days. Sure, we had been together six and a half years. We were married, we had a house, we had two dogs. We talked of kids, but that was in the future. We were having fun! We were spending our disposable income, going on trips, taking long naps on weekends.

Then, suddenly, pregnancy.

But it felt right. We couldn’t have been more excited. We knew this is what we wanted.

And then, it was over.

The next months were spent reflecting, considering, mourning. We knew what we wanted, and we set out to have our do-over. We were confident – it had happened on accident, right? How hard would it be?

The next year proved to us how hard it could be. Each month came. And went. Each month brought disappointment. And fear. Was it possible that this may never happen for us?

On our 12th month of trying, one year and two months after that first pregnancy, I was pregnant again.

I’ve always been a worrier. I’ve always feared the worst. I’ve always considered the worst case scenario and worked back from there. On an airplane, I consider everything that could go wrong. I think about the wing catching fire, the engine failing, a flock of birds, the free fall. Preventative worrying. If I consider it, if I worry about it, it won’t happen. Right?

The first weeks passed. I worried. We saw the flicker of a heartbeat. I worried. Had an ultrasound. I worried. Started our registry, planned some showers, bought our first little outfit. I worried.

I couldn’t get the pain of loss out of my head. I couldn’t get the fear out of my heart.

Halfway through, and another ultrasound. The big one. Fear was giving way to hope, to excitement. My husband was joyful, so excited, facing our future without fear. I clung to him, to his optimism.

And then. A fluke. An error on the very first cell division 20 weeks and 2 days ago. There was no chance, no hope. They tried to sooth us. Not our fault, nothing could have been done. “A biological mistake.” “Bad luck.”

Our hearts shattered, we made a choice that nobody should ever have to make.

We pulled ourselves together. We held up our heads. We told ourselves that this would not break us. We brought home a tiny urn full of ashes.

Then, two months later, two pink lines.

And again, shock. We were not ready. I was not ready. I had not picked up the pieces of my heart.

The first weeks passed. We saw the flicker of a heartbeat. Had an ultrasound. Had another. The halfway point came, and went. I soared with hope while my heart was gripped with fear. I knew early loss. I knew loss at 20 weeks. I knew I could survive those things. But at 24 weeks, 30 weeks, 37 weeks….I expected relief at each milestone and got none. I spent the last weeks of my pregnancy in a panic.

Finally, labor. She came out blue and not breathing. She recovered. I recovered.

She is beautiful and perfect and everything I hoped but nothing I expected. I am not the mom I thought I’d be. I’ve surprised myself with patience and flexibility, but feel disorganized, scattered. I don’t use the cloth diapers we bought. I couldn’t breastfeed. I am stronger than I imagined, but feel I am lacking in a million ways. I try every day to be good enough for her, to be everything that she needs and wants and deserves.

But the fear. The fear still grips me.

– ALW

ALW and Sweet Baby Girl

ALW and Sweet Baby Girl

The Many Personalities of Nursing

Breastfeeding is hard, exhausting work. Very little about it has ever felt natural to me. While nursing has transformed me, what is most amazing to me are all the personalities O has exhibited as we have engaged in the bizarre breastfeeding dance. I had read about the gourmet, the snacker, and cluster feeding, but I have a few more personalities to add to the list:

First came the little piglet. All meal times were accompanied with lots of snorting. Poor little O couldn’t eat without squishing her nose against my breast. Next up was the milk tiger. O stalked my breast, at first seeming indifferent and then quickly grabbing on for dear life. I had read that a pinkie finger could break the breastfeeding seal, but I needed a spatula to unlatch O. Then Groucho Marx emerged in my babe, my nipple her cigar. There was lots of chewing but not a lot of eating. All the chewing with not much eating must have made O hungry because soon the efficiency expert surfaced. If the milk was not flowing fast enough O would do breast compressions for me to increase the flow. Of course, all this milk was a little too much to handle and the most disgusting nursing personalities resulted in the frat boy. Just like a hard partying fraternity brother, a little throw up would not stop O from drinking, as far as she was concerned, she had room for just one more. O has recently discovered her hands and she likes to use them while eating and so most recently she is the hair dresser. She seems to think straightening my hair one very small clump at a time while she nurses is a good way to practice her fine motor skills.

O has struggled with some of those developmental milestones like rolling over and picking up a raisin, but she can pump a breast and unhook a nursing bra with one hand, so I think she is going to be just fine.

– ACK

At Least She Didn’t Break

I am not a baby person. I’m not the woman who, when a coworker brings in the new baby, immediately rushes over and wants to hold it. I don’t even really want to see it, since newborns tend to be rather red and squished, which makes it hard to sound sincere as I participate in the mandatory gushing about how beautiful it is.

I didn’t own baby dolls when I was little. I didn’t even baby sit much when I was growing up, and when I did, it was always for older kids. So when I gave birth to my daughter, I had basically zero experience with babies.

Was I worried? Not really. I’ve always prided myself on being a fast learner. I just knew I could figure out this baby thing right away, with little to no problem. Plus, I had read a few books and had taken some prenatal classes at the hospital, so I thought I had the basics down.

And the first week, it didn’t seem so bad. Of course that was probably because my parents were there all day with me, as was my Dear Husband, who inherited his extreme love of babies from his mother. (Yes, both DH and his mother are the type of people who immediately rush over and want to hold newborns and honestly think they’re beautiful. I’ll never understand it.)

So there I was, lulled into a false sense of complacency, when the next Monday morning rolled around. My parents were gone. DH went to work. And I was left alone with it. My week-old daughter, Sweet Potato.

The day started off fine, I think. (That whole time is just a blur of hormones and sleep deprivation.) SP and I just hung out. Watched some TV. I may have had a snack. She had a snack. In any event, the morning passed in a pretty uneventful manner. And then it happened.

She needed her diaper changed.

A tiny frisson of fear went up my spine, but I was still in the happy land of delusion, so I merely smiled and carried SP over to her changing table. I got the dirty diaper off, no problem. I picked up a clean little newborn diaper and attempted to wrap it around her. Hmmm. That didn’t seem quite right. It never looked like that when DH put the diaper on her. (Yes, my husband had been doing almost all of the diapering up to this point.) I tried adjusting the little tabs. Hmmm. Well, it looked a little better. I got her all put back together again, and we settled back down on the couch and resumed the strenuous task of flipping channels.

All was well for the next half hour or so, until I felt a suspicious wetness on my arm. No big deal. Back on the changing table, old diaper off. Hmmm. The diaper wasn’t even very dirty. Wonder why it leaked? Eh, new diaper on, let’s keep it moving. Still didn’t look quite right, but I was sure it was better than the last one.

And then I ran into another problem. The onesie she’d been wearing was the only one we had that snapped up the front. Which meant that whatever I put her in next had to go over her head. This time the fear manifested as a sharp burst in my chest.

I was terrified of putting anything over my daughter’s head.

Remember the “no baby dolls” part of my childhood? Yeah, I had no experience dressing things this shape and size. (Barbies do not tend to prepare you for the body of a newborn. Then again, Barbies don’t prepare you for the body of anything that actually exists.)

The ironic thing was that SP weighed 9 lbs when she was born and had been holding up her own head since Day One. So she was much less fragile than many newborns. And yet sliding, as gently as possible, a shirt over my daughter’s (admittedly somewhat large) head seemed like a task of Sisyphean proportions.

But she needed clothes. In those prenatal classes, they kept stressing that you should keep your baby warm. So I somehow wrestled a clean onesie on her without snapping her little neck. (Though I did have to tug, and she did whimper a bit.) And back to the TV we went. Until it was “nap time.”

We were trying to get SP on a schedule (Yes, I realize NOW the insanity of trying to put a one week old on a schedule.) So I carried her back into her bedroom, and promptly ran into another roadblock. Swaddling.

The prenatal classes also recommended swaddling, and, so far, SP seemed to like it. (Though she never, ever wanted her arms constrained, something that took us at least a month to figure out.) So, sweating just a little bit now, and mentally chanting “you can do this, you can do this,” I laid her gently on the carpet, and got out one of her swaddling blankets. I folded it carefully, just like I’d seen DH do every time we’d gotten her ready the past week, gently set her onto the blanket and proceeded to swaddle her. Or not.

I tried. I really did. I wrapped her and rewrapped her, and finally, maybe the fourth attempt, I thought I’d gotten it. She seemed secure. So I picked her up and placed her in the crib and tiptoed out of the room. (Yeah, no routine, no transition. Just plopped her in there. This was bound to work with my no-sleeping one-week old baby, right?)

Shockingly, she didn’t fall asleep. It only took her about 15 minutes before she started to cry in earnest (her favorite pastime her first year). When I went in to pick her up, not only was the swaddling blanket completely unwrapped, but because of her too-loose diaper, she’d managed to pee all over her onesie, her swaddling blanket and her crib sheet.

And that was when the tears really started. Mine, I mean. She stopped crying once I picked her up.

Somehow I got her changed and carried her back to the couch where she proceeded to sleep in my arms and I proceeded to cry as quietly and with as little movement as possible so that I didn’t wake her up.

What kind of mother WAS I? I couldn’t even put on a diaper! I couldn’t swaddle her!! She wouldn’t sleep!!! And it was all my fault!!!! (Apparently, the kind of mother I was? A drama queen.)

As 5 p.m. neared, I tried to pull myself together. I had almost composed myself when DH walked through the door. And then he had to go and ruin it by asking me how my day had been. That brought it all back out: tears, recriminations, accusations.

I’d like to say that DH had some words of wisdom to impart that somehow absolved me of guilt and magically taught me everything I needed to know about caring for a newborn, but, alas, that was not the case. It was, as most things are, a gradual process.

It took a number of days before I really got the hang of the diaper, and I never did learn how to swaddle her effectively. (And let’s not even talk about how long it took to figure out how to get her to sleep anywhere but in our arms!)

But despite my lack of hands-on skills, it all worked out fine in the end. SP is a happy, silly, creative five year old now… who just happens to be an only child.

She didn't break! SP and Mom.

She didn't break! SP and Mom.

– RBVH

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: