House o' Birth: A Journal on Becoming an Ama
By Joan Logghe
Issue 115, November–December 2002
I dreamed a baby was picketing the produce department. I don't know what she was protesting--maybe she was boycotting grapes. People are shocked that we don't know if the baby will be a boy or a girl. I tell the handsome Fed-Ex driver "No ultrasound," and you'd think I said, "No prenatal care." What I didn't say was, "Not even a wedding." My daughter Corina was named for the song "Corina, Corina" and the poem by Herrick, "Corinna's Going A-Maying." I went into labor on May Day, which used to be celebrated by taking a perfectly respectable tumble in the hay with a village lad. Corina met Chace two years ago on the main street of Madrid, New Mexico. She liked his looks and his sweetness and gave him her number. After my mom's death, when I told her friend, Libby, about the unwed pregnancy, Libby pronounced, "The baby will be a bastard!" She's 95. A few heartbeats later Libby added, "But people don't think that way anymore."
My Aunt Chuty calls during the baby shower. Her real name is Ida. She's the only one left. She says I am the mother and should tell Corina to get married. I think this is a novel thought, me telling a 28 year old what to do. My 17 year old, Hope, says, "Mom, I was going to come to that conclusion myself." I am all about family values but, like the times, they are a'changing. They live together, two neo-hippies, like "someone" and "no one" from the e. e. cummings poem, living in the "pretty how town" of Glorieta.
I am clear with Corina that this is her time to be in control, and that though she's invited me to the birth, if she doesn't want me there, at any time, she must let me know. One of her midwives, Ginny Erdley, was my midwife at Hope's birth. I run into her in town, and she says, "This is getting to be second generation homebirthers." I tell Corina, "You may lose your sense of humor during childbirth." That is code for how worried I am.
I think about the handing over of power in a woman's life. Just think of Snow White. The Old Queen has some major postmenopausal Mom issues about the beauty of the rising daughter. Who is the fairest of them all? My mother was so powerful, a beautician of movie star beauty. It took my father's death for her to hand over the scepter to me, though with the arrival of my kids her respect increased. This year, my mother has died.
Dream scene: a party at Corina's house. The midwife is demonstrating childbirth graphically with a doll. Corina is squatting as Ginny sings a song, "Hush a bye/don't you cry/go to sleep little baby./When you wake/you shall have/all the pretty little horses." For me, the times around a baby make a justifiable bubble of peace. All times should be this way, family as hotbed of peace. This week my husband, Mike, left his job. Not the best timing, as we may have to help out a bit--but hey, hey. We wind our way over to see Chace and Corina. Mike wants to see her again "before she pops." I deliver a Moses basket I bought and sewed bedding for. I sewed. Me--the one who used to sew on a treadle machine. This event is reuniting me with my feminine side, the old crafty side that my husband's Wisconsin people respected. As opposed to the artsy-fartsy side, which was always suspect.
Corina spoke to a friend who channeled the baby. This is New Mexico: we channel everything--dolphins, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and our unborn children. She told Corina the baby would be a healer and a visionary. I do an internal yawn. They never tell you your future child will be a mediocre algebra teacher.
My mother went to a fortune-teller who told her I would be a girl and a ballet dancer. She sent me to ballet lessons. When I was too clumsy to be in the recital she gave up, and I took tap. As an adult I studied belly dancing, and she laughed, "I thought she said ballet dancer, not belly." I wish we could laugh together now. I am laughing for two.
We go out to celebrate Hope's birthday, Mother's Day, and Corina's due date at India Palace. I'm not sure about past lives, but if so, mine was in India. The food feels just right. Corina says that spicy food may induce labor. I'm sure she knows that orgasm does also. My family is so beautiful. We all hang by a thread, and I have been learning to thank God for the thread. Maybe that thread is the line that people see when they have near-death experiences, an etheric umbilical cord.
I have a restless night after the spicy food. I fall asleep only as it gets light and dream the phone rings while I am balancing checkbooks all over the bed. It's Corina, water leaking. I sleep more and dream again that the phone rings and she's crying on the other end. Then the real and confusing daylight phone wakes me up. She asks me how to count when labor begins; she's been up half the night with light contractions. It occurs to me that being a grandmother has an aspect of tourism. I am taking the trip to the mother realms but I don't have to rent the apartment and live there.
I drive down to Glorieta, a nice place for a child to be born. An obstetrician I met recently reacted positively about the homebirth but said, "You won't enjoy the experience. A mother can't stand to see her child suffer." I teach my kids that you can't rely on another person's wisdom. Maybe I will enjoy. I arrive and they have things shipshape in their quirky little house, a super-duper vibe. My other two kids are there--Matt stayed over last night, and Hope arrived to do acupressure points. In my day we didn't know from acupressure points for childbirth; Lamaze class was the sine qua non.
Corina is so mellow and beautiful. I am having fun. She is in a good mood. For about four hours I just hang with them. Corina, yoga student and athlete, rocks on all fours, gets weepy, and is a hauntingly tougher version of me. The first midwife comes at six and, not to get too personal, Corina's cervix opens from one to five centimeters with the exam. She's so graceful and relaxed, as if this is a second child.
I always thought I was such a tough, femme, macho birther: "Look Ma, no drugs." Well, this child of mine is way beyond that, a quantum evolutionary leap, or maybe a leap back to the instinctive old ways. There is beautiful music on, lullabies from all over the world, and Corina leans over a stool, humming the raga of transition. She is a willow. She walks around, she and Chace breathe and tone, moving the sounds down into her body, and she takes a bath, smiling for photo ops. I am Paparazzi Grandma.
Around sunset, with sitar, it felt like India. Now it is nine, almost complete dilation, all three midwives here, water broken, candlelight, and it is Africa, everyone sitting on the floor. I am keeping a low profile, melting in and out of the scene, practicing the grandma dance to release nervous energy: you put your hands in a rock-a-bye position and shake your hips. I want to bust some moves when the baby comes. The cat, Maya, is acting the same way, doing elaborate poses in the bedroom. A midwife tells me it is not uncommon to push two hours for the first birth. I immediately become exhausted and have to go lie down. I recall that my pushing only lasted 45 minutes.
She's pushing now, the first two contractions. I am elated. The sounds she is making are harmonious and strong. My two other kids lounge in the greenhouse, the culmination of the post-beat familia. I snap photos of the crowning, by the light of flashlight. There are seven people in a small room. Then there are eight. Baby is here. Oh whoa-man, when that head came out and just stayed there like Aztec art, two-headed woman, it was wild. I refuse to be Cliché Grandma, so I will exorcise all my clichés at once now. Corina was all goddess. It was so beautiful. What is behind cliché is that the lives of women are stunning. The Power of the Hour, Sonja the midwife said. The baby is in his daddy's arms, son to a man from a family of six boys. She's getting stitches. Eight pounds two ounces--Sonja guessed closest, though Ginny is celebrating her 25th anniversary as a midwife, 900 births under her belt.
The baby is already calling me Ama, as he surely lived a past life in Nepal. Ama means mother in Nepali, not American Medical Association. We do a closing circle at the end of the birth. Ginny says, "There will be tough times in the future, but remember how much you loved each other today, and that will get you through." We express gratitude so future births will go as well. I doze off around 3:00 a.m., my latest social event in years. Do I dare say I enjoyed myself?
I wake in the morning with the new family. I want to answer the phone, "Holy Family." Instead I answer, "House o' Birth." Matt and Hope are so in love with the baby, they have to tug themselves away and back to regular life. I am honored with a day here. I ask what I did to gain this honor. Maybe it is my famous lasagna--I made lots of food and froze it for the birth. Maybe it's my fabulous poet's bank account, or the fact that I try and keep my mouth shut, though I don't always succeed. This is their show. I ask permission to visit, to run an errand, to help. Maybe I am evolving as a mother as sure as Corina is the Ballet Birther, dancing through the event on her toes.
Last night Corina said the birth was easy. Today she says they will be using a condom, diaphragm, Norplant, foam, and the Pill.
They choose a name, Galen Brook. I am so glad they didn't come up with some fruity name like Beansprout Pussywillow, as New Daddy Chace suggests. The midwife arrives for a checkup. That is our event of the day, that and waiting for a poop. We say all the birth words, "Placenta, meconium, vernix, perineum, bilirubin." I once read in Reader's Digest that a family was so taken with the beauty of the word that they named their baby Placenta. I am glad I don't have a grandson named Bilirubin, though I once dated a Billy Rubinstein.
I keep feeling I want to call the most important person and tell her the news, only my mother is not alive.
Galen sleeps with both fists up by his face. Corina says he looks like a flower. I think he looks like the seed packet, all swaddled and square. Then he startles. His arms rave wildly and his face makes itself over and over. I contemplate his face before he was born, that same face hiccuping inside my daughter.
His daddy is from Alabama and talks southern style to him. He tells him he'll teach him to drive tomorrow, not a stick shift, just an automatic. He says they'll go get tacos and jump on the trampoline, and to watch out for double bounces.
As Grandmother I am officially allowed to use the phrase, "They didn't have that in my day." This includes the electrolyte replacer Corina sipped during labor along with miso soup, the fabulous crescent-shaped nursing pillow, buying stuff on the Internet, phone cards so I can call friends from their house, and the CD-ROM, to zip off images of beauty.
I am contemplating how to display my Ama-ness without having the Granny Brag book. A friend whips out her photos so fast, people flee from her at parties. Some people suggest that I wear a sandwich board, but that seems bulky. I think the approach I will take is a few tattered and nonchalant photos tucked into my wallet that I bring out only, and I mean only, when begged. "Oh, this old grandchild," I will say coolly. I have to admit I have been showing my pregnant daughter photos around a bit, but I'm sure I'll get a handle on it now that the baby is born.
I am heading back into the civilian world. They got their sea legs as new parents, the sitz baths, the sunbaths against jaundice; the routine is shaping up. Today's anticipation is the arrival of MILK.
I learned mainly to keep my mouth shut as much as possible and hand over the power to the young couple. I gave the baby a small silver rattle. This is his tiny scepter, for he is the newly born baby king. From the Jewish perspective, any child could be the Messiah. And it is the Christ child each time, the stars, the animals, the gifts, and the wise men. I feel like the wise woman, the one saying, "Here, it's your turn to be the star in the East." For me this has been a major sacred holiday, like Christmas, Easter, and Rosh Hashanah rolled into one bundle. I got to rejoice in birth, feel the resurrection of parts of self, and experience Happy New life at the birthday of creation.
I knew Corina might get postpartum blues, but nobody told me I would. I am only an hour away, but all day I am weepy. The eighth day comes and there is no bris, the ritual circumcision of the Jewish covenant. I am hip to the cons of circumcisions, and yet find sadness here, no way to introduce the baby to community. I know about alternative rituals, but I feel it is the last thing they want right now.
I thumb through the photos I took and feel as if I failed Grandma 101. I took two rolls and sort of forgot to take a picture of the baby's face. I have labor, breathing, crowning, and the top of his head as he nurses. I realize I can't be a perfect grandma. What was I thinking? Make a note. None of us are perfect; but we got pretty close for a few days. Holy Family Hotel, Ama speaking? Two weeks today. I think a cake would be overkill. I haven't seen the baby for a week, as they have needed time to adjust. This is the famous minding-my-own-business I have heard so much about. The new father had a rough week. The baby seems wanky.
I think of the fontanel, the soft spot and the crown chakra, this baby still half in the other world. Angel talk goes on. I love the way emotions dance across his face like a mood ring. He is so colorful: smile to worry to scream in seconds. We grown-ups stay in one emotion all day. When I hold him I do not go to mush, but I do remember how much I have loved. Le fils de ma fille. El hijo de mi hija. Growing older, my heart has gotten a few good whacks, my moods swing less and sag more. But I have learned to love the moment; that is my soft spot. Right now.
These are the teachings of a new baby, bringing us all to center again. Being a grandma is a different kind of sweetheart. Fare thee well Femme Fatale, hello Great Mother. To find the soft spot is also our job. Maybe we should name the baby Little Lord Fontanel. Maybe we should name the day, Just This.
Joan Logghe worked for many years as poetry editor and reviewer for Mothering. An award-winning poet, she lives in northern New Mexico and leads writing workshops nationally.
Photo courtesy of the author.