May 09, 2010
Following are nine stories from a writing into motherhood workshop taught by Tanya Taylor Rubinstein on the MotheringDotCommunity forums. Enjoy.
Sitting there in the birth tub I remembered the disbelief when my husband suggested the nausea I was feeling was probably because I was pregnant. I remembered the sinking feeling I had when it began to dawn on me that he wasn't so far off base. I remembered swearing when the pregnancy test that I took in the middle of the afternoon didn't take long to come back positive. I remembered crying for a long time about it all. I remembered the sound of the deep, long sobs that were so hard to keep down, almost as if it were coming from someone else. I remembered being annoyed when my husband told other people and desperately wishing that he had kept it between us. I remembered being annoyed at all the reassurances from others that everything was going to turn out all right. I remembered hating all the discussions and the excitement and wishing everyone would stop talking about it.
I remembered wanting to avoid people because it was all so much easier if I just didn't think about it. I wanted to ignore everything going on around me. If I could pretend that it wasn’t happening then I could smile with the rest of the world. When in private all I could do was cry. I cried for myself and my dreams. I cried for my family and our future. I cried for the loss of what seemed so perfect and complete.
I remembered feeling badly because I felt like I was asking too much of Lilly. She was only 15 months old. I remembered mourning the loss of our breastfeeding relationship. I had plans to do so for as long as she was interested. I remembered feeling guilty when it all got to be too much. She wasn't sleeping through the night and nursed as often as she did when she was a little baby. I remembered feeling so guilty over her frustration when my milk supply diminished. I remembered moving her out of our bed and into her own not because she was necessarily ready but because I couldn't take it any more. I remembered thinking that if I was going to have to do this all over then I needed some space to myself.
I remembered being disappointed when my husband asked me several months in when it was that I was going to get excited about the new baby that would join our family. I remembered wishing on the one hand that he understood and on the other that I could just get on board with everyone else.
I remembered mostly being hurt when my family declared their excitement. They didn't understand and they wouldn't have to live it. They would come into our lives as a visitor and go home shortly there after. They wouldn't have to give birth, or breastfeed, or take care of the baby. They wouldn't be home alone with the baby, Lilly and Josiah for hours on end. They wouldn't ever have to face the decisions I would about the future.
It wasn’t too long and I found myself needing every ounce of concentration for the task at hand and let my doubts fade from view. With Lilly I labored and birthed in a stock tank in the kitchen while the January sunlight streamed through the window on an unseasonably warm day. I was filled with anticipation over what seemed to me to be my “do over.” Josiah’s birthday was another sunny winter day, though my memories are far colder. We piled into the car and headed to the hospital in caravan with my parents and sister. I was filled with a sense of anxiety and fear as I wondered what surgery would be like. The sense of anticipation that lives in my memories of Lilly and Josiah always seemed to fit well in my mind with what birth and parenthood is supposed to be. This time around it all seemed a bit off kilter. I wasn’t really excited about birth or joyful about parenting a new baby. I was mostly relieved that my last pregnancy was almost over.
It was pitch black outside, cold and windy. A physical representation of my inward experience. The only lights on were the ones in the soffit above the kitchen cabinets. The midwife and her assistant sat in the living room. I could hear their soft conversation from my spot in the pool while my husband sat in a kitchen chair next to me.
Not much for conversation with all the thoughts swirling through my head. Instead of being filled with nervous anticipation over the journey ahead I was mostly filled with a sense of urgency to get it over with, so very glad that this was the last time. When Lilly was born I relished in the experience. It was so very healing to have my midwife believe in me. It was a triumph to give birth when the Obstetrician from my son's pregnancy told me I couldn't - that he was too big to birth before I ever went into labor. Vindicating when she was only a couple of ounces lighter than her brother.
This time around it seemed like everything was progressing quicker. I guess all the on and off again contractions had taken care of the vast majority of it. All that was left was transition and pushing. I remember when the midwife came in to check things and we joked about the vasectomy my husband had after finding out I was pregnant for a third time. It was a bit of a relief to know that there would be no more surprise pregnancies. Maybe things wouldn’t be as bad as I feared.
Zach informed our family that the baby was on the way and they all were surprised as it hadn't been that long ago that we last talked with no sign of baby's impending birth. There were still a few hours left, would she be born on my Mom's birthday? I struggled to find a comfortable place in the tub. It was too short for me to be comfortable sitting as I couldn't get my legs stretched out enough. The water? Not warm enough. Half of the water is pumped out and then more came in. Some from pots boiling on the stove and the rest from the faucet when the water heater finally recovered. Fine time to find out that the water heater is probably on its last legs.
Out of the tub and to the bathroom to empty my bladder. I chose to do so in between contractions only to be hit with one in the middle of trying to get out of the tub. I made it back into the tub after the short walk to the bathroom and back. From there it's all a blur, but it isn't long. The first urges of needing to push made themselves known. I was on my knees and leaning against the edge of the tub hating that it wasn’t solid like the stock tank last time. Hating that it didn't feel like it came up high enough. It felt like I was on a runaway train. Everything felt like it was out of control. When would it be over? Our other children awoke with my cries. In less than 10 minutes she was out. With Lilly things were much slower. Out and in and out again as she eased into the world. With Maya it's just out. Head first and face covered in the amniotic sac. Born in the caul. The shoulders and then she slipped out into the water of the tub covered in vernix just like her sister. "Yuck," I thought.
I looked at her and began to cry. She looked like a stranger to me, but I found myself filling with love for her scrunchy face. It's a girl and I was a little bit disappointed as I was hoping for another boy. Text messages went out and our children joined us in the kitchen. "You were yelling," Josiah told me, " and you woke me up." They sat on the kitchen chair once occupied by my husband. He was somewhere near me taking pictures. There weren't enough pictures last time and my mom, who was supposed to take pictures, is out of town. It was after midnight so they don't share the same birthday. br />
Now there are five of us. I lay on the bed with the exhaustion of a labor that came fast and furious and from having passed out after losing quite a bit of blood. The other three members of our family sat beside me and watched with adoring excitement as the newest member got a once over by our midwife. I was just plain exhausted and basking in that oxytocin induced glow. All of my worries and sorrows were far from my mind for awhile.
It wasn’t until one month later when my husband returned to work after his paid leave that any of those thoughts came back. Sometimes the tears flow again with the remembrance of a surprise pregnancy, a third child. I have laid awake at night sometimes in spite of my exhaustion and worried over what I would do and if I’d ever get past how I felt. The pain has faded some as the months go by, but I worry that I’ll never be able to look upon her sleeping face, this child who wants only me and barely tolerates anyone else, and just love her without the shadow of what was.
Mornings lately seem to come too soon. We used to be greeted in the morning with bouncing. “I bounce on Daddy,” Lilly would proudly proclaim. I’d encourage her to continue and her face would light up with glee. My husband would groan with that slowly creeping realization that the time for sleep is ending. Lilly would begin to pull his covers off. “Get up, Daddy,” she’d cry with wild abandon. Our five year old, Josiah, seemed to prefer the direct route. He’d grasp onto his father’s arm and try to pull him out of bed unsuccessfully. There would be a brief moment where I would consider sending the kids out of the room. I would feel guilty because I knew I should protect his sleep as he often gets so little of it. On the other hand, they got such a kick out of it. Our volume would increase with laughter and many giggles. Josiah and Lilly would ask me to help them and I’d focus doubly on helping the kids extricate their Dad from his cozy, warm nest. We’d have him just about out of bed and the giggles would multiply like crazy. It was so much fun to watch their love for their father spill out all over.
We do less of this now because there’s another child in the mix. She’s too small to help and I’m afraid she’ll be kicked or hurt in some way. “Shhhh,” we say now when the children come in, “You’ll wake your sister.” The kids head off to play after stopping for a brief cuddle. As I look over on the sleeping baby next to me my heart fills with love for her. It’s at that moment that it dawns on me how much I miss those rambunctious days and it reminds me of how much having a baby changes your life.
It was 1982 and I was six years old. I would turn seven in October, and I was in kindergarten. We lived in “The Projects” in Denver. At that point I was old enough to understand that the things that were happening were not good. I didn’t know they were abnormal, but I knew something wasn’t right.
Our apartment seemed huge. It had a basement, a back patio with a yard area and an upstairs level with four bedrooms. People were always over. Drinking, laughing, and listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival and Steely Dan albums. The air in that apartment was always heavy with cigarette and marijuana smoke. When people were coming over I was sent to my room and told to stay quiet all night. At bedtime I’d be called downstairs and I’d have to hug and kiss everyone there- even if I didn’t know them. Sometimes I’d have to sit on the laps of strangers and smile sweetly while they talked with their stinky pot breath in my face.
Some nights I would wake up to the record player scratching the label of the album and people passed out in naked heaps. I would step carefully over and around the bodies and lift the arm off the record, flip off the switch and gently remove the little ball of dust that had gathered on the needle tip. Other nights the eerie silence would wake me and I’d go downstairs to find I had been left all alone with my four year old brother. The first time that happened I was too scared to want to move, but I made my way downstairs on liquid legs. The whole apartment was dark and empty. My heart pounded so hard I could hear it beat in my ears. I just knew I had been abandoned forever. Clearly, I hadn’t been a good enough girl so they left me behind, just moved and didn’t bother to take me. We had moved and left our belongings behind several times, so that night I figured I just wasn’t important enough to pack. I went back upstairs and felt a rush of relief when I saw my brother asleep in his own room. I knew they’d never leave him behind forever. He was my mother’s favorite, her baby. I was still afraid, but at least I knew they’d come home eventually.
So many memories from that time flood me. Verbal attacks, beatings, strange men, my mother’s tongue in my mouth, making peanut butter sandwiches for my brother, being passed from stranger to stranger, my mother telling me to take a hit off the bong, and fear. Always fear, even on the pleasant days.
I was in a field in the mountains. There was a creek nearby and across the creek was an old, rusted out car that looked like something out of a gangster movie. My brother and I were in the car when I heard the shouting. My dad and teenage step brother were yelling for us. Dad’s voice was frantic, a way I’d never heard it before. We scrambled out of the car, splashed through the creek and ran through the flowers back to our truck. As soon as we got there, Dad told us to get in. His eyes were red, it looked like he had been crying. When I got into back seat of the Blazer I noticed that Scott was in the cargo area with my mother’s head on his lap. He was crying too. A white goo rimmed my mother’s mouth and she was drooling. Her eyes were closed and I thought for sure she was dead. My dad started the truck before we were completely in and tore through the field. He threw one arm over the seat and turned toward the back. “Hold on, Darlin’ I’ll get you to a hospital…Hold on!” My brother was crying and I climbed into the cargo area with my mother and step brother. I laid my head on her stomach and cried. I thought that if I cried enough, if I loved enough, my tears would be magic and she’d wake up. It was a long, scary drive to the hospital. At one point she threw up in the car and Scott had to turn her head so she wouldn’t choke. I don’t remember what happened when we got to the hospital, but I’m pretty sure my grandparents came to get us and we stayed with them for a few days.
Now that I am grown and a mother myself, I look back and wonder why my grandparents didn’t take me away. Why didn’t they rescue me? I look back and am filled with so much hurt and sorrow over the loss of my childhood, and I am so damned angry that so much was taken from me. My number one priority in life right now is protecting Ethan’s own innocence and childhood wonder.
Ethan was a good baby, great even. His temperament was even and he wasn’t prone to being colicky. Of course that doesn’t mean we didn’t take our share of midnight drives or that sometimes he just cried and I couldn’t figure out why. But it wasn’t a big deal. Babies cry sometimes.
He said his first word at nine months and by the time he was a year old he was speaking in three and four word sentences. He could verbalize, to some extent anyway, his needs! I believe his verbal acumen got us through the “Terrible Twos” with few displays of toddler bull-headedness.
Then three hit and my perfect baby became something of a despot. Everything had to be his way, on his time and he discovered that hitting me and pulling my hair helped him feel more in control of the situation. Neither of us could know that hair pulling would be a powerful trigger for me. When I was a little girl my hair was long-to my waist- and always in a ponytail. My mother liked it that way so she could always have an easy handle by which to grab and throw me. I thought I had processed all of that hurt, fear, and anger long before I got pregnant, but when my three year old grabbed my hair and wouldn’t let go, I was suddenly six years old again and I just lost it. I screamed and cried and pushed him away from me and hid, sobbing in my bedroom, while he pounded on my door. I hope with all my heart he didn’t feel the fear of abandonment that I felt so many years before in the empty apartment.
Instances like that happened fairly regularly for about two years, and when he was around five or six he calmed down some. But now that he was the age I was when I started remembering my abuse, parenting him got harder. He would throw a fit over something small-like hating green beans- and I would try to stay calm. But the louder he got the more the little girl inside me would freak out. My boy would throw something and Little Me would cry and curl up into a ball. I felt like she was begging him to stop before something bad happened. Sometimes that little girl would get angry and scream inside my head that he is lucky to have a nice mommy who never hits him and he should just be good. I can’t describe how it feels to have all this happening silently inside me, but it became clear that I had two children who needed love and safety.
Around the time my little self started making herself known, my mother came out from inside me too. It was this horrible feeling of being divided. Ethan would be pulling my hair or spitting; Little Me would be crying or getting jealous; current me would be trying to keep my cool, and in would pop my mother. I could see her doing to Little Me what she used to do. Hitting, screaming, pulling hair, spitting, kicking- all in the name of “giving me something to cry about” or “making me tough”. All the time this was going on inside, I still had to be present and parent my flesh and blood child. I thought I was crazy. Not just a little off, but certifiable, send me off to the nearest padded room and keep a thorazine drip running constantly, insane. I spun down into depression and felt like dying. Clearly, I reasoned, I was much too fucked up to be the mother Ethan deserved.
I know, no matter how good I am or try to be, somewhere inside me is my mother. When he is having a rough time I can feel her in there, pacing back and forth like a lion in a too small cage. I can feel her reacting to him. She wants to teach him a lesson, show him who’s the boss, and give him something to cry about. I know what she wants me to do. I know she needs me to continue the cycle and I can almost listen to her. I never have. I’ve never thrown him into a wall or smacked him until he saw stars, but god, I can imagine it because it’s what happened to me. And what the hell kind of mother can even imagine doing that kind of thing to her child? In those moments, I can’t see straight, I can’t think straight and I start to believe that the best way to break the cycle is to remove myself from it. I feel like no matter how hard I try, I can’t help but do more harm than good in his life. I know on some level that all of my fears and pain is just the tape my mother played to keep me submissive. When he’s out of control and my mother is pacing, hungry for destruction, I grab on to the little moments, the little memories that remind me that my son loves me and that I am a good mother. Those little moments are what keep me from feeding the lion.
Ethan was not quite two and a half. It was a hot, hot day in the middle of summer. The tree in the front yard drooped and the little window unit swamp cooler worked overtime to blow air just mildly cooler than outside. Our house was hot by even the most conservative standards, but at least there was some airflow inside, so it was better than outside. I was in the kitchen, sweating and making dinner in my blue bathing suit. My bathing suit was one of my favorite outfits because it didn’t drip much after I let Ethan hose me down…which he was delighted to do anytime.
My husband, Stirling, was outside, mowing the lawn and Ethan was helping-following along with his little mower. The sound of the mower stopped and I thought Stirling would come in, so I poured him a glass of water. After a couple of minutes he did come in, carrying a dirty, pink, sweaty two year old in his arms. He looked frustrated.
He set Ethan down on the kitchen floor and said “You deal with it. He says he has grass in his butt, but I can’t find it.” I gave him his water and he went back out to finish the yard work. I gave Ethan some water and tried to look at his little toddler rear. I asked if there was grass there and he said yes. “Can you put your hands on the floor and pretend you’re a bear?” I asked. He did. I looked carefully for grass and just couldn’t find it, so I asked “Sweetie, how did you get grass in your butt? Did you sit down in it?”
“Uh-uh. I put it there. I can feel it.” I carefully spread his cheeks apart, looked closely and saw it. The very hard tip of a weed, poking out of his anus. I was able to get him to be still while I removed it, and he was no worse for the wear. “Ethan, why did you put grass in your anus?”
“It was an experiment. I wanted to see if grass can go in like poop comes out.” Ugh! How do you respond to that???
“Well, please remember not to experiment with your body. Especially your anus, okay?”
“Kay. Go put on some undies and wash your hands. It’s time to eat.”
As he ran off to the bathroom, I opened the fridge and pulled out a beer. Parenting is not for the faint of heart. In that moment, I realized that being Ethan’s mother would be an intense and often surprising journey. It is this sweaty, dirty, golden memory that anchors me when I feel like I’m losing myself.
Mothering my son is a journey with unexpected twists, turns and detours. There is a world of unanswerable questions regarding the right things to do for him or how to help him be the man I know he can be. But what I do know, what I can control, is the kind of mother he has. I know that the saying goes “The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree”, but in my case it has. Just because I am an abuse survivor of addict parents does not mean that I am destined to be a lousy mom. It does not mean I have no choice but to carry on the cycle, mirroring the anger and hate of my childhood. In my case the apple fell off the tree, rolled down a hill, into a creek and floated down into a peaceful lake far, far from the crooked old apple tree. It is on the calm bank of this lake that a new tree grew, taller and straighter than the original, with apples red and sweet instead of sour and stunted. I am my own apple tree now, and my son is the apple. One day he will fall from the tree and he will have to make a choice to roll away or stay near. Whichever he chooses, I will know that I have done my job; I will have given him a solid foundation of love, respect and safety, and that foundation will make his journey into adulthood easier.
My babies’ father, the father of all four of my children, has been in my life since I was 5. We joke that we met in kindergarten, which is true, we were in the same class, but we don’t remember each other from back then. I first remember Rob from fifth and sixth grade Art. He sat across from me. Then, in eighth grade he asked to hold my hand during our field trip to the Children’s Museum. I said no. He was crushed. He tried again in ninth grade. Rejection. One more time when we were seniors. I said yes.
We’ve been through a lot. A marriage when we were still in college, living in an old trailer on a horse farm in exchange for rent, having a baby in our early twenties while Rob was still finishing his degree. Trying to make ends meet with credit card debt, student loans, car payments, and a very small income. We’ve had some tumultuous times. We’ve had to heal from past hurts—hurts inflicted on each other and hurts inflicted on us. My husband was abused as a child, both verbally and physically. We have both worked to overcome the urge to hurt when we’re upset. He laments the loss of a happy childhood. I tell him he is lucky and a great dad. Lucky to not repeat the mistakes of his parents. Lucky to be on the other end and making his children’s childhood special. I think about how I never knew, growing up, the torment he suffered at home. I wish I could have eased that pain for him back then.
This man has grown with me. We were both so young, so immature. We’re grateful we’ve stuck it out and grown towards each other and not apart.
This man is a solid rock in my life. He has been right by my side through the births of our four children. The first two were born in the hospital, and the second two? He caught their hot, slippery bodies as they came earthside.
My babies father is my best friend.
The year 1982 I’m upstairs in my room with yellow carpet, stretched out on my twin bed with the Holly Hobbie sheets, reading. The line dried sheets smell crisp and clean and like sunshine. The dual window fan whirs and blows over my hot legs. It’s summer and we have no A/C. I’m in second grade, well, just finished second, and the summer stretches out before me. Third grade feels far away. The first sew days of summer I played ‘school’ with my sister, but she was only two so it didn’t last long. Soon I go will stay with my great aunt, who lives in the country. She has a big garden and we eat from it. She takes me to the library and at night we go upstairs to her room. I crawl in beside her in her double bed, propped up with a reading pillow, and she reads picture books to me. ‘What are you going to do tomorrow?’ she asks. ‘Ride Speedy’ I say. Speedy is my purple bike that takes me where I want to go. It’s a boys bike, but I don’t care. My parents thought I wouldn’t want it, since we couldn’t’ find a purple girls bike. It didn’t matter. It was purple and that’s what I wanted.
At my aunt’s I can ride up and down her country road. It’s much different than the busy highway I live on. I have to ride in the grass at my house. Here, I feel free and powerful. Brave and courageous, too. I try to let that feeling sink into my bones. I feel far removed from the timid, shy child I have been labeled. People seem to think that just because I’m quiet, I must not be that interesting. Well! If they could see me now, riding down to the river and concocting stories in my head. I try to imagine what it was like when the Indians lived here. I look around at the sandy hills where my aunt has found arrowheads. I wonder when they had to move. I get off my bike and walk to the rail on the bridge. Scrape, scrape. I kick pebbles into the water. Scrape….and there goes one of my flip flops (we called them ‘thongs’, but that word has a different meaning, now). I watch the brown and red flip flop glide off the bridge and into the water. I have a fleeting thought to try and get it, but I know it’s gone forever. What will happen to it? I climb back on my bike and ride up the hill to my aunt’s house, the spiky pedal clawing my bare foot.
I’ve been slowly transforming myself my whole life I think. It’s been very slow, painfully slow, to create this person I want to be or to allow who I really am at my core to make herself known. It’s been good. Now, in my thirties, I feel like I’m getting somewhere. Some people look back at their carefree youth and college days with nostalgia. Not me, not really. Some things I miss, but mostly I felt trapped, like a caged and wounded animal. I was seemingly free, but not really. Trapped by the limitations I’d built up in my mind. I was too shy, too timid, too quiet, too gangly, too awkward, too ugly. The world wasn’t mine. I didn’t belong in it at all.
My junior high and high school years were awkward and not much fun. For a long time one year, rather than sit alone at lunch, because I was too shy to ask to sit with anyone there, I hid out in the library and didn’t eat at all. I told myself I’d rather have that dollar anyway, instead of eat. Most of all, I wanted friends. It wasn’t all terrible, in fact, it did get better. My senior year I pushed through some boundaries and joined the Jr. Miss program. That wasn’t exactly ‘me’, but I did it anyway.
Now, I feel like I have worked through a lot of those fears. I have done things I never thought I could do. Though I still have fears of inadequacies and fears that I’m an imposter somehow, my children have helped me learn and stretch and grow. They have helped me heal.
I remember the day I found out I was pregnant with my first child. I was 19. It was a cold, blustery fall day when I finally gave up willing my period to arrive, and I had to know. My boyfriend and I bought a pg test. We dutifully waited the full 3 minutes without peeking. It wasn't necessary to wait - the lines were dark pink and fat. I cried. Why, why? My boyfriend suggested we wait before deciding anything. As sound as that advice was, the next day I said we should call and make an appointment. He knew what that meant. Christmas break was in 2 weeks, if we waited till after that...it might be too late. We got the phone book and found the listing. We made the appointment and waited.
For those few weeks I tried to pretend everything was normal. It wasn't. My breasts were tender and I was always aware that there was a baby. A baby. I took vitamins, I didn't drink. I didn't see then that there was no point in being cautious, was there? Why would I do that if I was going to have an abortion anyway? I was torn and confused. I wanted to have that baby but was scared to. Scared of judgment, of disapproval, of disappointing. And so now I hold the same fears, having had an abortion - fear of judgment, of disapproval, of disappointing.
We went to the clinic right after I dropped off my sophomore project I had worked so hard on. See, I thought, I can't give all this up. What future would our baby have if we did? The procedure itself was easy. It didn't really hurt, but there were tears. Many tears, that came much later.
The day my baby was born was bright and clear. It was chilly and there was fall in the air. It was the day after Halloween, a Saturday. She was to be my firstborn. We didn’t know yet that she was a ‘she’. I picked up my hospital bag that I had so dutifully packed and we drove to the hospital. There were no contractions—I was going in for an induction. The last few months had been full of uncertainty and fears. The doctor told me my baby was small for dates. That my placenta was likely the problem. That we should induce, that my baby would be better off outside than inside.
Oh. My body didn’t work right. I’d read every pregnancy and birth book at the library and planned and practiced and dreamed about going into labor and birthing my baby without drugs—now I was being told that I needed to have my baby ASAP—which of course would require drugs. I desperately needed support. I knew no other mothers I could turn to, except for my mother. All my friends were childless. I called my mother. She advised me to listen to my doctor. I resigned myself to the induction. I just hoped that the induction would start my labor and I didn’t end up with a cesarean. We checked in at 8am.
Nothing happened until 6pm, when my water broke on its own. When I told the nurse, she didn’t believe me. I went to the bathroom, fluid filled the basin and she realized I was right. I was right. A small victory.
I had an epidural after that, and my baby was born between my numb legs into the hands of my doctor that I would never see again, except for once. I cried and touched her wet skin. The doctor had announced she was a girl. She was perfectly healthy and seven and a half pounds. I never saw the placenta and no one offered to show me. I would have liked to look at it and touch it and whisper ‘thank you’ for growing my baby so well.
My son was born blue and still in the early afternoon of a November day. Instead of me kissing his cheeks, the nurse put an oxygen mask on him and took him to the baby warmer. I asked ‘is he ok?’. We were so scared. It was a rough transition for him, due to a nuchal cord that was cut when just his head was out. He did not have oxygen for those few seconds and he was deprived of the blood in the umbilical cord that belonged to him too. He came around, my sweet boy, and then was taken for his bath. My husband was an observer in this, though he would have liked to have given his son his first bath.
I was alone then, thankful my baby was ok, but lonely in the cold hospital room. It didn’t seem right to be alone, without my baby. Without my husband. What were they doing now? I wanted to be with them. I was grateful I’d had the med-free birth I’d worked so hard for, but I still felt somewhat defeated. It was amazing and beautiful, and most importantly, I had a healthy baby. I knew though that if there was a next time, it would be different.
Two and a half years later I was about to birth our third child. I had taken a pregnancy test in the fall, right after my son’s second birthday. I took the test with shaking hands just after Rob took our other children for a walk. Positive. I threw on my shoes and chased them down the alley. The leaves blew through the parking lot of the old church down the street where I caught up with them. ‘Rob! Rob! I need to tell you something!’ I breathlessly gasped that I was pregnant. He said ‘oh, is that all?’ calm as he could be. ‘I thought someone had died.’
I decided to go with a birth center this time. I tried to ignore the fact that it was attached to a hospital, and even though I saw nurse-midwives, I knew that OB’s oversaw the practice. I tried to ignore my doubts, ignore that it was still a hospital, when what I realized I really wanted was to just be at home. Finally I became restless enough and listened to my intuition enough to seriously look at homebirth.
At 28 weeks we transferred care to homebirth midwives. My good friend Jane was going to be at the birth. We got everything ready for a mid-July birth. Except, my daughter didn’t wait and instead arrived a week and a half before we expected her. By the time I realized this was it, there was no time for the midwife or Jane to arrive. My daughter was born into Rob’s hands on a perfect July evening, with the breezes ruffling the white curtains and purple coneflowers blooming outside the windows. We were triumphant and in shock, all at once. Euphoria filled our yellow living room. This was the fulfillment of the experience I had been seeking. We did it together, all of us.
The day my last baby was born was hot and humid. It was early morning in July and I had labored hard since 11pm. My fourth baby was born into Rob’s hands, by candle and flashlight, in a bedroom. A bedroom that is my daughter’s. It’s next to our bedroom and has a soft wool rug and is small and cocoon-y. I feel safe there. Safe and far from the hospital and any fear or unwanted interventions. Here, it is peaceful and safe.
My midwives are watching, helping, guiding. I lock eyes with Marisol, who held my hands as I lean over the birth ball. She is my lifeline through the waves of hurt. My sister takes pictures, my firstborn crouches in the corner and watches. I don’t ride the waves for too long, my baby is born with his left hand across his cheek and in the caul at 1:30 AM. My husband hands him to me so quickly I hardly know what’s happening. He’s so slippery I can barely hold on—I grip tighter. I realize as my daughter takes a peek and announces ‘it’s a boy!’ that the pain is gone. Gone—dissolved into this atmosphere of peace and love.
At 2 o'clock in the morning sometimes I'm lying in bed awake with your sleepy warm body next to me. I caress your buttery skin and hold your chubby hand. I wonder where this life will take you, will it be easy for you (I hope so) and wonder where my life will take me. I think about where it has taken me so far - it seems like there are lots of twists and turns I never would have dreamed - but I also wonder what my life might have been like had I made different choices. I was a shy child (I don't like that word, shy, and so I hate to use it even now) and it was very hard (impossible almost) for me to speak up for myself and take risks. I have done more of that now as an adult thankfully. But growing up that way was hard, so I hope it's different for you, my love. I hope to impart to you the knowledge that it's ok to take risks and the courage to do so.
Please follow your heart - this is what I whisper to you in the dark - follow your heart and do good. Do good for others, serve others, love others. This means yourself, too. In doing so, you will become a better person. I have learned this and am learning this lesson again and again. Partly by being - becoming - a mother have I learned it.
No, it isn't always easy. Maybe I don't wish for you an easy life after all. But it's worth it. So take risks, too. Follow your heart, your dreams, and take risks. Know that I will always, always love you. Don't live, or try to live, to please me or another, as so many people do. Live your own life, follow your own bliss, find your own way. I feel that so often, growing up and even now, I second guessed myself and stuttered and stopped doing what I thought I might want to, because I felt disapproval from others. Don't worry about that. I hope I don't make you feel that way. Go with it still, it will be alright. You can change the world. Sweet dreams, little one.
The taboo is pole dancing. So many pre-conceived notions and beliefs that its sole purpose is giving pleasure to men in strip clubs. Wrong. I have a pole, I’ve never been a stripper, and I dance for me. My pole is my partner. I love the feel of the cool metal spinning under my grip as I lift and fly. Poling is ethereal, it takes me another, deeper place. A place where I leave my ‘normal’ role as mother, wife, cook, cleaner, this, that—and I get to access my deeper self. I move my body in luscious ways unapologetically, with big hip circles and outstretched legs. I feel powerful. I know that I am powerful. I am reinventing myself, conquering tricks, flowing in the dance, becoming more of me. Or, maybe, making myself who I want to be. I carry that out into the world with me. Most people don’t know I have a pole. I wish I wasn’t afraid to hide it. But there’s that old taboo thing again. I don’t want my sacred space to be marred with ignorant comments. So I keep it to myself for now.
How Motherhood Came to Me
by Julia Mangan
The first time I saw her face I didn't believe it. Maybe I still don't in a way. She swam up to us and I turned around, looked at her father, my husband, in disbelief. She's real, she's here, she is the most beautiful human being I've ever seen, and I can't believe she's mine.
Through the years I had told myself that I really would never have a child. Even all through my second pregnancy, even after we had passed through the time our first child had died in my womb and we were in unchartered territory, I still wouldn't, couldn't believe this day would come. And I guess, in that raw moment, my first emotion was shock, disbelief, even in spite of all the facts and evidence to the contrary.
The moment I knew my first baby was dead was almost not real, but at the same time very real. The doctor who performed the ultrasound wouldn't tell us. He knew, but he wouldn't tell us. What he did tell us was he hoped everything would be okay.
We were in the car when we found out for sure. My midwife told us over the phone. We were parked right in front of the building, where anyone coming out the double doors could see us. We cried and cried and grabbed onto each other feeling the grief full on. Then the numbness set in, the reality, the phone calls that had to be made that were too painful for me to make. I couldn't say it outloud to anyone yet, couldn't admit it. I had my husband do it. He broke down on the phone.
My baby, the baby that was still inside me, no longer had a tiny beating heart. It was still.
I cried every night for weeks, clinging to my husband, his arms always around me. We stayed at my parents for a couple days. It was the place we drove to after the ultrasound, needing to drive somewhere but unable to go home. I couldn't go home yet. The books, the stretch mark cream, all those reminders lying around, would torture me. There was no way I could face them. My husband kindly removed the evidence before I went back home.
And then there was the waiting. When would my dead baby leave my body? It was 6 hours of the most horrible pain I had ever experienced. The pain was like a vice grip around my uterus squeezing and there was so little time between each squeeze; 6 hours of unrelenting pain and still nothing. I remember feeling so -- I can't even describe it -- like I wanted to come out of my body, telling my husband to make it stop, make it stop, make it stop. We were up all night. I had gotten about an hour's worth of sleep when the alarm went off. My mind said "need to go to work", and so I did. It seems insane now, but I needed something that made sense because my world was falling apart. They graciously sent me home with a week's worth of bereavement pay. I'll never forget that kindness.
I ended up needing 2 surgeries. The miscarriage went on for 2 months. It was a living hell. But God provided us with a beautiful miracle in between the 2 surgeries. My baby, my teeny tiny, not even-as-big-as-a-penny baby, did come out naturally and we saw him and we got to bury him. I still don't know how it happened, but what a rainbow! What a merciful and loving God to give me the desires of my heart in that raging storm. The worst part of the surgery, the part I abhorred, hadn't even occurred. My baby was whole, not ripped from me as I had thought.
That year, the year 2006, was one of the worst of my life, but it was what I had to get through to get to the birth of my baby girl 3 years later.
If you would have asked me in my teen years if I thought I'd have children, I might have said no. I was just not maternal in any way. I'd never changed a diaper or babysat. I didn't hold other people's babies simply because I never had a desire to. I just didn't get the way other women loved babies.
I was also terrified of childbirth. I once said, "Why can't they just knock me out and take out the baby?" How I got from there to here took many years, but started with the pill. I always knew I didn't want to take the pill, but was never really sure of an alternative. I remember thinking that there had to be a natural way to prevent pregnancy, but all I had ever heard of was the rhythm method and I knew that that didn't work. So I starting taking the pill in the months before my marriage.
I stumbled upon some information about the Fertility Awareness Method and finally found what in my heart I knew had existed all along. I found a group of women online who used this method and formed friendships with these women I still have to this day. It was through them that I discovered a different approach and attitude toward birth.
They led me to Henci Goer's A Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth, and my life was changed forever. It was the catalyst I needed to finally make the decision that my birth would not be the conventional hospital experience. My birth would be just that: MY birth on my terms.
And it was. I loved her immediately. I was in a swirl, a fog. as she was laid on my chest, as I cradled her tiny, vernix-covered body. This little girl was very real and she had been wanted for so long, even before I knew I wanted her myself.
She came out screaming, which was unexpected, but makes perfect sense now. I always heard water babies were calm, but calm has never described my daughter. She came on her due date, right in the beautiful sunny spring morning hours. I had labored all night without even realizing it. It felt like time stood still.
Labor was smooth, steady, quiet, peaceful. Warm water, dim lights, soothing voices, calming hands. It was the aftermath that was unpleasant. The bath water was red, too red, and our hour together felt too short and not as private as it was supposed to be. Something was wrong. There were needles. Why where there needles? Why weren't we alone?
I remember telling my husband I wasn't done yet. I knew I had to be stitched up, but I didn't really have any idea how true that was. One moment my midwife and my husband were lifting me up to walk to the exam room. The next, I was back in bed, but had no idea where I was. Is that my husband? Why is his face so close? I asked him where I was. And then I started to remember. I had had a baby. I was at the birth center. Something was wrong, but I didn't understand what. I heard the midwives say they needed to transfer me to the hospital. I told my husband I was scared. I still didn't understand. Later I was told that I had passed out and had a seizure when they tried to move me, but to this day, I have no memory of that. My husband didn't leave my side. We rode in the ambulance to the hospital.
I didn't get to hold my baby much. I wasn't with her and this fact still kills me. The ambulance ride was strange and not part of the plan. I had had too much blood loss. In the end, I needed 2 blood transfusions. Barely holding my baby for her first day of life was beyond horrible to me. It took me awhile to bond with her and to nurse correctly since I didn't hold her most of the day. If only I could do that part over again, I would have insisted that I hold her.
Breastfeeding was rough at the beginning, but I am so glad I persevered. When I heard my baby cry, I dreaded the pain of feeding her. I dreaded the struggle of teaching her to latch correctly. Thank God for my mother, Jack Newman and the La Leche League. They got me to the place where I am today. Now nursing my baby is one of the joys of my life.
Night nursing is especially precious to me. I love having her so close to me at night. Sometimes I gaze at her sleeping and try to soak her in. I know soon that she will be across the hall, sleeping on her own. But for right now she needs me. She wants me. I know too quickly she won't be my baby anymore. Already she's toddling around, terrorizing my house. But at night, she is still. She is quiet. She still enjoys turning around after nursing and snuggling next to me. I always thought by now I'd want her in her own room, but instead I find myself dreading that inevitability. I treasure this precious gift God has given me.
Sometimes I have a hard time remembering before my baby girl, but I do. I remember my baby in heaven, buried beneath the Kwanzaan cherry tree, the baby that my husband makes sure to tell our daughter about every night. I remember that I should have a 3 year old this spring, too but that wasn't to be. That baby will always be asleep.
Maybe losing a child that you never got to meet makes you more attached to the one you have or maybe this is how I would feel even without the miscarriage. I will never know. I do know that I want my lost baby but there's no bringing him back, and that another baby can never replace the one you lost. I know I love my baby girl with all my being and don't care if that means I'm more "mother" now than anything else. I won't apologize for "losing" myself to motherhood. On the contrary, it is with motherhood that I have found myself.
All In Good Time
by Amy Queen
I came across my old workbag the other day. A lovely maroon leather piece with everything still intact from the day I went on maternity leave . . . and never went back. A flood of emotions, memories and sensations came rushing over my body and mind.
So much has changed in the last year. So much of ME has changed in the last year. Occasionally, when I see a woman dressed in business garb, I long for that particular rush of purpose, of authority that my past jobs gave me. Before that big birth day, I served as the Assistant Administrator of a non-profit retirement center. It was honestly some of the hardest yet also most fulfilling work I’ve ever done and ever will do. I was a young lady in her late 20s. In my seniors’ eyes, I should have already been married with kids. They’d frequently ask, “When are you going to get married?” More often to save my sanity than as a matter of telling the truth, I’d casually reply with “All in good time, all in good time”. This seemed to satisfy most of them, at least for the time being. For some, they’d forget our exchange and ask me the same thing all over again . . . a few hours later! See what I mean about responding to save my sanity?! Deep down, though, every reply was accompanied by my own intense longing to be married. Some days I felt like “all in good time” couldn’t come soon enough! Then it did!
Hot, sweaty, thirsty . . . July 14, 2007. It was 104 degrees that day. That month was the hottest one on record in the state of Montana. July 14, 2007 . . . it was our wedding day! Matt and I stood at the altar smiling into one another’s eyes. Despite the heat, I was trembling from head to toe as if an arctic wind had blown in. Our friends and family wondered if those were tears of joy streaming down our faces or beads of sweat or both! Our four measly box fans were not doing the trick. It was one of those rare days in Montana when your really do need AC. After the bustier, slip and this layer and that layer (really, what are all those layers of a wedding gown for?!), I determined I had on five layers of fabric! It was 104 degrees, probably 110 in the church, and I had on five layers of fabric!
Our pastor, seeing the beads of sweat rushing down Matt’s face, kindly handed him a tissue from the folds of her vestments. He furtively and quickly mopped his face. With the benevolence that marks Pastor Audrey’s life, she held out her hand for that sweat-drenched tissue then placed it back inside her vestments, all while never missing a beat in her sermon. Giddy with excitement and near delirious from the heat, most of her words never even reached my ears, instead rising up like incense into the hot air around us. When she referred to our pre-marital counseling sessions, she drew me away from my feverish ecstasy, and into the discourse. “Matt, you’re a thrill seeker,” she began. “You like to push the limits of your own abilities. You enjoy skiing, mountain biking, rock climbing. You crave adventure!”
She paused then turned her gaze to me, “Amy . . . you, on the other hand, have made it clear that you prefer consistency and quiet evenings at home. You like to feel settled and secure in your surroundings.” Again, she paused. Then in a firm voice, loud enough for even my severely hearing impaired grandfather to hear, she said “Well, Amy, I’m gonna tell you right now, marriage is an adventure and there’s NOTHING you can do about it, so you better be ready for it!” I joined my husband & the whole congregation in a hearty laugh. Beyond the humor, though, her stark yet powerful statement snapped me to attention.
No sooner than I was married, my dear seniors begin pressing a new issue. This time they wanted to know, “Sooo, when are you going start a family?” As before, I’d give them my good-hearted reply of, “All in good time.” Of course, many of my residents came from an era before today’s plethora of birth control options existed. As such, many a resident followed my rote reply with the sly wink of a crinkly eye. Heaven help me! In reality, though, there was nothing I wanted more than to be a mama. Once again, I felt like “all in good time” couldn’t come soon enough. Then . . . in the blink of an eye . . . it did!
My water broke at a quarter to 5 that morning. The initial gush immediately woke me from a sound sleep. I wobbled to the bathroom to confirm my suspicions. Giddy with excitement and a little apprehension, I rushed back to the bedroom to wake Matt. It was time! Our baby was ready to enter the world!
Because I was only having mild contractions, I decided to take a shower. Afterwards I felt refreshed, ready for the big day and HUNGRY! Matt proceeded to make omelets. As the delicious aroma of breakfast wafted through our home, I thought to myself, “He really is the best!” We casually enjoyed breakfast, sharing in our usual banter. Every time Matt made me laugh, more water would gush out. I swallowed the last, scrumptious bite of omelet then wrote in my journal, “It looks like it’s going to be a sunny day & I can hear birds chirping. Spring is on its way and so is our baby!”
By late morning, not much had changed. Our midwife Michele gave me the option of waiting it out or taking a special tincture every half an hour in an effort to move things along. Because my bag of waters had already broke, I worried that if I waited too long without much progression I would lose the opportunity to birth at home. I opted for the tincture.
My sister, Ivy, arrived with a giant grin on her face and a canvas bag full of food ~ roast beef sandwiches & the makings for miso soup. Mmm, more food! I was so very hungry again! After lunch and a couple of rounds with the tincture the three of us - well, really 4! - went into the back alley to walk. I liked the privacy back there. Every time a contraction hit, I clung to Matt. Together we swayed in the cold breeze. My soft moans occasionally disappeared beneath the thunderous clanging of the rail cars stacking up behind our place.
Somewhere in the midst of timing contractions, Matt either became confused or somehow they just snuck up on us ‘cause the next thing I know, Matt’s saying, “Crap! Three minutes! We were supposed to call Michele when they got five minutes apart!” I took a deep breath as my heart filled with the thrill of anticipation. I still had enough of my wits about me to pause in wonder at the birthing process. With Matt on my one side and Ivy on the other, we hurried inside to make the call to Michele.
Michele arrived and began filling the tub. Still in my blue nightgown, I was so relieved to throw it off and climb into the warm water. It felt delightful to be naked and in the warm water. Between contractions, I could find deep relaxation in that pool of water. I found myself even joking with my gang of birth attendants. Matt would reassure me and encourage me, as the experience grew more intense.
Hot! God, I was suddenly so hot & my stomach churned! “Michele, I think I need to either eat or puke. I don’t know which.” I heard myself saying from some distant place. “Well, you can’t eat at this point,” our midwife Michele said, and then instructed my sister to grab something for me in which to vomit. Yes, I must be getting close now, I thought, “I’m feeling nauseous. But am I? Am I really close? Is this ever going to end?” I turned to my husband and mustered a light-hearted remark. “This really is the hardest work I’ve ever done. They were right! It really is like running a marathon!”
Some time had passed when Michel informed me that my cervix was caught between my pelvic bone and our baby’s head. This was preventing me from fully dilating. Oh, such blinding, excruciating pain when Michele attempted to push it back. I yelled, “Michele, you’re killing me!” She graciously accepted my insult. With thirty years of experience under her belt, I’m sure she’d heard worse. She continued to gently, yet firmly, ask me to lie back further and tilt my pelvis upwards. I just could not position myself, though, the way she needed me to be. With a great deal of effort & a whole lot of assistance, I moved from the tub to the bed. I felt like a beached whale except that I was trying to get out of the water rather than into it!
Lying on the bed, propped up on pillows, Michele finally pushed open my cervix. At last, I was fully dilated and able to push. As I pushed, though, that insistent pelvic bone emerged again! My baby’s head was now stuck behind it. Pushing with all my might didn’t matter because the baby just could not get past it. Michele encouraged me to move to the birthing stool. Ah yes, the birthing stool. That’s where I’d anticipated birthing my baby all along. I was certain this would be a good move. Moving, however, was a challenge, to say the least. The contractions were coming on fast, so fast! I’d attempt to get off the bed and bam! A contraction! I’d take one step towards the stool and bam! Another contraction! I felt suspended between locations, unable to reach my destination.
Matt sat behind me, cradling my body. He tried everything to comfort me . . . words of encouragement, guided meditation . . . but that stool was awful! I’d attempt to lean forward into the contraction then lean back into him when they passed. I felt I could neither push adequately nor relax fully. There was no time to catch my breath and definitely no time to relax. My world was spinning out of control! Michele sensed my despair and knowing the baby was still stuck behind my pelvic bone said, “Let’s move back to the bed” Oh, my heavens!” I thought. I didn’t know what to think. Hell, I didn’t have time to think! Moving sounded like a horrible proposal yet staying seemed just as bad. I then remembered our birth class training & knew I HAD to move!
Back into the bed I went. Immediately, I found some relaxation and relief. Lying on my side this time, I clutched both my husband and sister, certain I was going to break one or both of their hands. At Michele’s instruction, someone pushed one of my legs back. Matt? Ivy? Maybe I was holding my leg? I don't know. I just felt like a tangle of legs and arms and intensity. It was time for that baby to come out! Now!
Finally! Our baby was making his way past my pelvic bone because I heard from some far off place, “Would you like to touch the baby’s head?” Here I was in the midst of full on labor - excruciating contractions and extreme doubt that I really knew how the hell to push out a baby - when the midwife told me to touch my baby’s head . . . for the first time! “What?! What did she say?!” I thought to myself. “Touch my baby’s head?! Is she out of her mind?!” My body is being rent in two and she wants me to move my hand from it’s tight clench on my husband and reach towards the pain?! She must be crazy!” But I did! Then I REALLY felt the pain! Yes, I felt my baby’s head & it felt oh-so-strange but not in the way our birth instructor had said it would. The head didn’t feel squooshy or wrinkled. By touching our son’s head, it brought me only more in touch with the powerful pain I was desperately trying to deny.
Originally, Matt planned to catch our baby but there was no way he was leaving my side now. When my midwife suddenly told me to stop pushing, I was certain I couldn't. She kept repeating, "Don’t push, don't push, breath through the contraction!" My sister fearing something was wrong with either the baby or me, got right up in my face and with wild eyes yelled, "Amy, STOP pushing!!!" Well, that's what did it! I was crushed between my sister's roaring face and our bed. I was crushed into this small mental space where I suddenly understood how to stop pushing. The next thing I knew, in the blink of eye, our baby had arrived! Our little one was screaming and everyone, including myself, was babbling, "It's a baby! It’s a baby!" Like most laboring women, I'd clearly forgotten why I'd been working so hard all day long!
I rested my head on a pillow and began cooing to our new baby. His umbilical cord was short, so he only reached to just below my breast. I comforted him from that position until it came time to cut his cord. Seventeen minutes after his birth he was voraciously nursing at my breast and I was euphoric! I was holding a baby, my baby! I was holding pure joy! Love incarnate! He was alive! He was beautiful! He was screaming his head off and his giant yells made me simultaneously laugh and cry. “We’ve been waiting to meet you for so long, little one,” I whispered.
What a wild ride! I stood in the shower a while later and marveled to myself, “My God! I just birthed a baby! I can do anything!”
For days and weeks and even months afterwards, every time I touched his small head, I’d feel the mystery of that moment all over again. It transported me back to that first time I touched our dear Abraham’s head, that moment when I lingered between two worlds – the world of being a pregnant woman & the world of motherhood. Every time I felt the crown of his head, it felt so sacred in my hand. Some days I’d place my hand on his head multiple times, just so I could close my eyes and be transported back to that life-altering moment when our son began his entry into this world.
A few weeks after Abraham’s birth, I began venturing out into the world beyond our little home to try out my new job title - “professional mom”. I was in the new Missoula Safeway on Broadway when I first realized this was my new identity, my new job, a new daily existence and purpose! Oh, how it struck me! The moment simultaneously filled me with wonder and fear.
All in good time. . . It HAS been a good time! It's been a phenomenally good time! And, not to mention, challenging and frustrating and sometimes just downright disheartening. I am now married. I now have a child. Right now, I’ll try to enjoy the present . . . those baby than toddler milestones that come and go so quickly, those fleeting but tender moments when my husband and I feel like more than just two ships passing in the night. But always, never without fail, more dreams and plans and prayers emerge that still warrant the reply, “All in good time, all in good time”.
Writing into Mothering
by Heather Lennon Vieiro
My daughter just turned five on Friday. I try to give her a magical childhood, and make her feel like life is full of possibilities. To instill a sense of wonder. Not to see that she gets everything she ever wants, but for her to know that there’s no reason that she can’t accomplish anything she sets her mind to. That dreams are meant to be big and that there’s satisfaction to be found along the way of pursuing them.
I had an imaginary friend named Jane Sparkly. I remember getting my own dog one Christmas time—she had a little green and red vest on with a bell and she ran around the house until I caught her. My dad played the guitar and sang songs. I want my daughter to have memories and traditions and to know that I have always loved her more than anything. And I want to remember everything too…I’ve reached the stage where life seems to be flying by so fast. Madeline used to be a babe in arms, now she does activities like swimming and ballet. Kindergarten starts in the fall! Stop the world, I want to get off…but it all just spins faster than the day before.
I waited so long to have a child—until I was almost thirty five. Before I had my daughter, I was a yuppie. I rode a ferry boat from a small beach town in NJ to Wall Street, NY every day, to and from work. The ferry cost over $500 per month but I was single with no kids and a reasonable mortgage on a tiny condo, so why not? The ferry took 45 minutes to get to Manhattan, where the train took 90 minutes. The ferry had bagels and coffee in the morning, and a bar and snacks on the way home. The train was just loud, crowded, and miserable. I had girlfriends on the ferry to gossip with on the way home and drink cocktails and just have fun. Once the boat docked, sometimes happy hour would continue at the restaurant in the harbor.
Spirits were high. Everyone was making money. The people were glossy and shiny and looking back now it feels like the roaring 20’s. I had a great job in Manhattan, working for an incredible book publisher, selling one of the best accounts—and my account loved me and my numbers were good. Good times on the water, good times on land… I was just thirty years old, thin and pretty and in a relationship with the man that would eventually be my husband.
And then September 11th happened, and everything changed. Most obviously, a lot of people that I commuted with died. The boat went right to downtown Wall Street and many of my fellow commuters worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, the firm in the very top of one of the buildings that had been hit first. Some of them, I knew, and had gone to high school with. But a lot of guys, I didn’t even know their names, just their faces. I wasn’t sure who they were—I just knew that after 9/11 I didn’t see them anymore. There were cars left in the ferry parking lot for weeks. I didn’t like to speculate who they belonged to.
Everything turned gray. The economy started to tank. Shops downtown started closing. Everything changed. It didn’t happen over night, but first the joy was destroyed, the high times were no more…the fear took charge, my happy social drinking turned into something with a darker edge. I liked to say that Osama Bin Laden also made me fat, dammit, because I stress ate and drank so much that year. Some of my friends got divorced, I got engaged. I changed jobs so I wouldn’t have to fly so much anymore. Life moved on, but I do look back on those pre-9/11 days with wonder, there was just so much that I didn’t know then, so much I was taking for granted.
The world had turned grim, but I was in love and married in the springtime and had my baby two springs later…and the world became brighter again. I asked my husband last night if he remembers suffering sleeplessness when Madeline was a baby, and neither of us do. The first night home from the hospital we were up all night but that was mostly our own nerves.
Becoming a mother was a fantastic experience. I had a glorious pregnancy. We experienced an idyllic infancy, maternity leave meant long naps with baby nestled on my chest in the well of my couch cushions. Age one to two just got more delightful and charming each day. Could this baby be any cuter? Two to three she became clever and good company and so loving…those passionate baby kisses complete with chubby arms wrapped around my neck. So sweet I thought I’d explode sometimes.
And then, two weeks before her third birthday she
CAME INTO HER POWER
Or at least that was what my co-worker called it and it sounded like an accurate description of what was going on at our house.
Suddenly, Madeline had violent opinions about everything. She had powerful likes and dislikes. Precociously verbal, she spat out precise instructions at the top of her lungs like a tiny belligerent drill sergeant.
Nothing in our relationship had prepared me for this! My peaceful babe had turned into an angry little person and there was hell to pay if lunch was not served on her ladybug plate. Or if we ran out of apple juice. Or if I tried to redirect her from playing with steak knives.
I have my own business that I run from my home. I make difficult decisions every day. I solve problems and feel wise. I tell people what to do and for the most part, they do it and I never knew how good that felt until I had a three year old. There were times that year when I thanked God for my job, because it at least gave me one arena where I felt respected.
Everything came to a head when my mother was ending a week long visit that had been punctuated by “screamin’ tantrums”, as Madeline called them. Mom’s flight was early the next morning, so we were driving to an airport hotel to spend the night, so we could drop her at the airport the next morning at 5 AM. I knew, deep down, that this was a bad idea—but it was one of those parenting situations where there didn’t seem a way around it at the time.
Madeline kicked my seat and screamed for almost an hour on the parkway, in the pouring rain. I had brought the wrong juice box in the car and all hell had broken loose. My mom’s smile grew tighter and tighter. I contemplated pulling over to the shoulder, yanking open the door, and…and….well, I didn’t know what I would I do but the image of whipping open the door in a fury was satisfying. Instead, my mom and I ignored the tantrum and I kept driving and tried to keep my cool.
We made it to the hotel and checked in, had a quick and pleasant dinner at diner. Then it all began to disintegrate at bedtime in a too small hotel room with nowhere to go. Madeline didn’t want to go to sleep, she didn’t want to put on jammies, she didn’t want to turn out the light—even though we were all exhausted and sleeping in the same room. After 45 minutes of a screaming tantrum, the three of us trapped in the hotel room at 9:30 at night, it was over and she finally went to sleep.
Five a.m. came too quickly, and as soon as we woke up it went downhill. I didn’t pack her “hoody” sweatshirt and now there was hell to pay. She was only half dressed in pants and no top. Screaming erupted. At five a.m., in a hotel with paper thin walls. “Meet me in the lobby when you’re packed.” I said to my mom. I picked up Madeline’s tiny, furious body and grabbed my car keys. I ran with her out of the hotel room—but she wriggled out my arms in the hallway, screaming what my Irish granny would call “bloody murder” at the top of her lungs. I chased my half-naked child down the hall and grabbed her, wrestled her into the elevator, tore through the lobby and out to my car. Rain was still pouring down and I still had to force her into her car seat. Once we got out to the car I started screaming like the worst kind of mom—the kind that you see in the mall who make you think some people shouldn’t have kids. I don’t even remember what I screamed, but I know my fury, once I let go, was tremendous and horrible. I hate losing control. I pride myself on my patience. The fury had not been satisfying at all. I ended up crying in the front seat of my car once she was finally strapped in. Her screaming had subsided to choked sobs. She still had on no top. We still had to take my mom to the airport and then drive the 90 minutes back home.
I ran upstairs while my mom waited in the car and grabbed our overnight bag—we were late getting my mom to the airport now. Finally, my mom was dropped off and we were back on the parkway, headed home in miserable silence.
“Where's purple pillow?” Madeline sniffed.
My heart sank. Purple pillow was her lovey, a purple chenille pillow from my bachelorette days. Cushy and soft, it was a great lovey. Comfy at home or on trips, and portable, still respectable looking. Purple pillow was wrapped up in the blankets of the bed we had slept in, 40 minutes back down the road at the Holiday Inn.
“Maybe they can send it to us in the mail.” I said quietly.
She accepted that, all tantrummed out.
Finally, we arrived home and collapsed into her bed. I slept for two hours and woke up and felt human. I laid there next to her for another 45 minutes, waiting for her wake up, enjoying the silence of no tantrum and the feel of her tiny body next to me, peaceful for now.
And when we woke up, it was over. And to me, the central mystery is how my little girl can be so forgiving? How can she look through her mother in a crazy fury like that, and wake up a few hours later and just let it go and ask for a peanut butter sandwich? It just humbles me. And it inspires me because it’s so pure. There’s something about having a child that makes you want to be a better person, live a better life, make the world better for them. Motherhood is inspiring me to deeper things, after years of focusing just on myself.
I picked up a copy of a book about faith at the airport this week. Lately I’ve had a longing to bring more depth into my thoughts, cultivate more spiritual outlook. I’ve always been a surface person. Not exactly shallow, but if I had a mantra it would be something like “it is what it is” or “play the cards you’re dealt”—I don’t really believe in complaining and when I do allow myself to vent or really focus on my petty problems—I usually just feel worse and that I just wasted my time on self-pity.
I’m generally cheerful, not complacent, but I can definitely see how skating along in life without ever going deep leaves you with a shaky foundation. I was an English major, but for me it was always about the act of reading, the quality of the writing—not in deciphering some kind of dubious subtext that may or may not be there. Except that now, in my 40’s, the subtext of my life seems obvious and I’m constantly being poked by some kind of magical realism that can’t just be a coincidence?
Two years ago, I went through a stressful period that literally brought me to my knees. I found myself in church, with my daughter, attending a childs service each Sunday. Children’s service is great for me, as I don’t have a really religious background and need to start at the beginning to figure out what I believe. But I found that I took a tremendous amount of solace from church, being in that serene place for at least one hour once a week and feeling like a part of my community were all good things. I don’t even know that I prayed—I don’t know that I even know how to do that—but I do know that for that one hour a week, I felt comforted.
We live on a secluded creek, and that fall we had nine swans in the water behind my house. Everyday they would be out there, bobbing peacefully in the water. I work from home, and every day the swans would be there, and I liked to joke that they were my “spirit animal” except that…I actually wasn’t joking. I drew incredible comfort from those swans. Maybe they even protected me, since swans aren’t actually very nice creatures. I don’t need them anymore, and they’re gone now—swimming upcreek in back of someone elses house.
Could the swans coming and going be a coincidence of migratory patterns? Perhaps. Or perhaps they were really there for me. I’m more open to that idea now. I’m intrigued by the concept of the world being supportive of me and lifting me up when I’m down. And in turn, I’m more interested in supporting others. In mothering others, even people who aren’t my daughter.
by Anna Christie
Being pregnant with my daughter felt like coming home to me. I finally had a distinct purpose, and a motivation to feel all the happiness that I could. I've never laughed so much in my life. It was a newly born laugh, a woman's laugh and no longer a girl's, deeper and more rounded of tone, harmonious. I was proud of it, and enjoyed the blessing whenever it arrived. I loved seeing my body change, growing beautiful and round and full as it created life. I was filled with more patience than usual, on most days. I felt this strong desire to harmonize with my partner, to grow past the tensions we'd accumulated over the last 7 years together. I wanted to speak only gentle words, feel love and share this with the one growing inside my belly. I failed at this on many occasions, but I kept trying. I was in awe of my sudden ability to change patterns I never thought I could. Since high school I had been drawn to doodle this image of a full-breasted round-bellied super hero woman with wings. I drew her every where, it was kind of like my tag, my calling card. I finally understood why I was so captivated by her, and as my likeness became hers, I came into my super powers too.
My body was a temple of living cells, multiplying with tremendous intelligence. It was amazing to me that such marvelous work could be done under such a quiet surface. As I lay there resting, reading, or walking, talking, washing dishes, folding laundry, organs were being formed, swiftly, with perfect order and grace and with an endless diligence and directness of purpose. The greatest miracle to me is the fact that in this span of time, I grew inside of me, a human brain. An organ of such magnitude, that we are only beginning to touch the surface of understanding it’s capabilities, it’s daily functioning so astounding in scope and depth, it's presence so absolutely essential to human experience. And I grew one, from scratch! A hand, a foot, a leg, these are all miracles, but the brain, to me, is the crown jewel, the divine connection to cosmic intelligence, the very thing that may most exemplify and mirror that limitless potential and intelligence that we glimpse when we imagine the grandness of the cosmos or it's creation. Knowing that on some level I am capable of such a feat fills me with awe and I wonder how I could ever dislike my body, how I could ever be anything less than tremendously grateful for it's gifts. The greatest of which, is the lovely little being I am privileged to share my days with now.
It was late autumn the day my daughter was born; the time that feels like winter is here, but it has not technically arrived; when you can barely imagine the days getting shorter and darker, but you know that they will. We were snuggled into our home at the time and we had done our best to make the cheap place we found to live the kind of space you want to introduce a new life to. For us, that meant wildly colorful, celebratory things everywhere. Some people (as my friends have mentioned since we left the house) found the visuals of our decor overwhelming, but I was always comforted by them. I liked seeing every color in the rainbow, and art from all over the world, thrifted, made, found, rescued. In preparing for the arrival of our new baby, we had piled even more into our room. Christmas lights strung up in every direction, my solution for gentle newborn friendly lighting. Towels were stacked on a shelf we'd moved in, the list of birth supplies our midwife gave us carefully attended to and checked off, waiting quietly. The crown jewel of the living room, a beautiful blue birth tub, open and ready for me to crawl into her deep pocket of comfort. I had no idea then that the time for me to be in that tub would never come. There was another thing in store.
What began as an inspired and intimate home birth quickly became something much different. The moment I knew I would be taken on a journey requiring massive courage, was an almost silent one. It was the look on my midwife's face within moments of her arrival, followed by a speediness of action and an explanation I knew she did not want to give, but managed to deliver gracefully and with tremendous compassion. She knew how much I wanted a home birth, she knew that with every ounce of my being this was the way into the world that I wanted for my daughter, and I knew that she would not rouse me from this devotion without due cause. As she reached into me for the first time during labor, she spoke some of the most defining words of my life, the few words that set my first birth into the path of an even greater unknown, out of my imagined zone of comfort and into a whole other realm. "This isn't a head sweetheart, this is a butt, your daughter is breech."
Now, I understand that in another time and place, this reality would not have altered the location of my birth and many, many women have birthed breech babies at home over thousands of years, and I honor this reality and in a way I yearn for this. But we don't live in that time or place any more. We live in a more complicated system of legalities and hoops and red tape and statistics. I knew in a swift moment, that this birth was beyond the limits of my dear midwife and as much as it pained her heart to tell me, the delivery of this precious baby was now out of her hands. It's amazing the pace at which your heart and mind can change gears. I imagined for a moment the type of surgical birth that previous to this moment seemed so distant and assuredly removed from me, something I never thought would happen. I wavered momentarily and tried to wrap my head around the details, but I couldn’t last long in this mental space, as my body’s laboring journey jolted me with lightening force back into the spiritual. My head couldn’t grasp the change, but somehow my heart could. I could feel the most graceful part of myself taking the helm of all my responses. I had already shifted to this version of myself as the hormones and excitement of labor filled my body in the hours leading to this moment. I was on another level, communing with the protective spirits surrounding my home and family, and at this moment, I entrusted myself to them with this huge push forward.
So my husband and I began a few fumbling laps around the house to the gather the belongings we needed to take with us. The one bit of hospital transfer preparation I had done was typing up a list of things to pack if the moment arose, but I had never imagined preparing for cesarean. We did our best to gather our supplies, a few comfort measures and colorful things from home and then we braced ourselves for our journey out into the void, saying goodbye to the blue tub that had looked so warm and welcoming, saying goodbye to the place on earth that we had wanted our daughter to enter. For one brief moment as I approached the door to leave my home, I melted over and leaned on my counter top in the kitchen, tears filling my eyes, grieving for the loss of my ideal birth. But it was just a moment, and as quickly as it arrived, I felt some invisible hands of strength lift me up from the inside, and fill me with the power to keep walking forward in trust and with love.
The car ride to the hospital was like entering a spaceship. Our escort was our next-door neighbor, a kindly Buddhist nun from Taiwan who had been looking out for us throughout the pregnancy. She knew with other-worldy skill that we would need her assistance that night and she was there in front of the house, almost without us asking. We had been gifted with this kind of magical presence from her many times, and it felt right to be in her backseat; Taiwanese devotional music holding the space for my concentration. As each contraction swelled, my breath became free and uninhibited, it guided me through the waves of sensation like a steady hand held out for me to hold, but the hand was my own, and that felt powerful and reassuring.
I knew that the option still lay ahead to refuse surgery and insist on a chance to birth naturally. I could feel my mind pulled in both directions, and I wondered if I was supposed to stand up for my original hopes, or relax into the natural flow of the mainstream preferences. Usually I am a stand up kind of gal, but on this night, I didn’t have it in me to resist; but it wasn’t out of weakness or exhaustion, it was something else. I felt strong enough to manage the surgical unknown with grace, and I just trusted in that. Looking back from the present I deliberate a lot more about whether or not I should have refused, but in the moment, there was really not much of a question. I felt that my work was remaining in love and peace as much as possible, and creating more mayhem among the staff in the hospital by rebelling was unsettling to me.
As I stepped out of the back seat, my midwife greeted me and held my hand. I stood up, and within seconds, a hot rush of urine cascaded over the brink of my huge maternity pad and down my legs, soaking my pants and filling up my shoes with piss. Yes. I found this humbling and funny, and I whispered to her, “I just peed my pants”. What a delightful way to enter a building full of strangers!
Entering a hospital as a homebirth transfer felt like being in a foreign land without the proper attire. You can feel the hushed whispers, the gawking, the shock, the disdain, the “I told you so” lurking around every corner. I could sense this because it was a 5 alarm fire in front of me. I don’t fit in here, I’m a rare bird making an off course landing. I am a thriving, awake woman, birthing a beautiful being into the world right now. As you look at me, with my unwashed hair, tragically mismatched outfit and piss filled shoes, you are witnessing a connection to the greater cosmos. This message leached out through my pores and my eyes, and I smiled with pride as I walked through the halls greeting strangers with my entourage of other rare birds alongside me, my beautiful husband, my midwife and her assistant and a nun in traditional Asian robes. My kindness was my weapon for disarming the disdain. Instinctively, I knew that to be tremendously humble and loving, would protect me from whatever people placed on my path, seen or unseen. I remained in this space, unscathed, and insensitive and rude comments melted in my presence, and miraculously, I found the humor in every small minded remark. Reguardless of our tremendous difference in views, these white coated technicians in this strange room full of mechanical devices and beeps and monitors and blazing light were my new birth team. And underneath this alien exterior, I knew they were thriving, heart-beating human beings too. I felt the need to introduce myself, to be more than the strange hippy home birth transfer that ended up unscheduled on their operating table.
As a birthing woman, I was witness to the insane amount of chattery conversation that takes place in an operating room. The compassionate part of my brain, the logical compassionate side is telling me now that this chatter must help these people get through their day, but my noble idealist side says maybe that’s no excuse. Thankfully, I was protected by a sheath of love and forgiveness, but still lay witness. I even found some of it funny, in a detached comedy noir kind of way. Like, how could these people actually be talking about the latest Seahawks game while the have my abdominal cavity wide open? Is that really what they want to say into my uterus? The only words ever spoken directly into these precious tissues that just spent the last 10 months growing the beautiful magical child that now sleeps while I write? I am grateful that my spirit was cognizant enough at the time to cast a shield around me, I remember, as they stitched me up, wishing a strong blessing of healing into my womb, I think I may have even called upon the spirits of Vitamin C to protect me. Kooky right? Maybe genius? I think I'll always remember that moment, as clearly as I remember the moment of birth, the cesarean way of birth, when I used the powerful will and intention of my imagination, my energy body, to send as much love as I could muster, to say thank you with all my heart, to the daughter being pulled from my body at that moment. I couldn't physically feel the birth, I could feel the absence of physical feeling, the void, which may be why I was so able to clearly feel the non physical, the emotive, the spiritual, the invisible essence, and to channel all that I could manage into the intention of this shocking way of my daughter entering the world. A moment of divine humor reached me, and I think I had a smile stretched out across my face, hot tears of joy and loss streaming down my cheeks, behind my ears, tickling the back of my neck. I am having a pain free ecstatic birth, I thought. This was never the way I imagined it happening, but I always believed it was possible. My soul chuckled at the intense irony of it. If the cosmos has a sense of humor, I felt it at this moment. I imagined my ecstatic birth arriving in the wild warm waters of a tropical ocean, with dolphins as midwives, my beautiful daughter swimming up to greet me and her papa, and the clear blue of the sky and the ocean as her guardians, but now this is the form of pain free ecstatic birth I received; this modern medicated alien technology birth; this, I think I've been abducted and taken onto a space ship to deliver this baby kind of birth.
So, I had the invisible experience of my dreams, intertwined with the terrible grief of losing the beautiful gentle wave safety and love I wanted to greet our daughter with. I never wanted her to be handled in a gruff, uncaring manner, to be tossed around without love and compassion. Thankfully, from where I was laying, I could not see what they were doing to her, but I knew enough to imagine. I’m glad I don't have the fiber optics of it etched in to my mind. I think it would haunt me endlessly. Even hearing my husband describe it to our friends makes me tear up to this day. I am sorry that he had to take on that burden in his heart. I’m sorry that he had to be witness to my splayed open belly, stretched open so wide he thought I'd never be closed up again. He was shaken, for a long time, as much as he was blessed and gifted with the experience, I wish so deeply that it had been better for him too. I had the blessing of my cosmic hormones free flowing, assisting me every step of the way out of our peaceful colorful home and into the hospital, peeling back the every day limits of our perceived reality, and showing me something greater.
I felt so humbled and so brave, and so full of love, I wish I could have transferred even half of this to him and to my daughter. I like to think that she was shielded in some way too...my heart aches to think that she wasn't, that she was ripped wide open and handled with disdain in those first precious moments. I like to imagine that the infinite intelligence of out human physiology has a way of protecting newborns from a possible traumatic birth experience. At the rate our culture is going, if evolution is more than a theory, we had better learn this skill in the womb, and quick, because this is happening on a massive scale.
The first time I see my daughter my truest self is way beyond the conditions of my birth. I had just taken a journey that inspired every ounce of bravery that could flow through me, and I had felt more love and gratitude for every thing around me than at any other time in my life, before or since. In 3D terms, when I first looked into her eyes, I was strapped to an operating table, in a room full of latex gloved strangers completely unaware of the heights of spiritual states I existing in, the entire ceiling above me ablaze in unearthly white light. But saying it this way does not begin to do the moment justice. The important thing was that I had transcended all this, I had found my connection to the love that pervades every.thing. that is. That is where I was when I first saw my daughter. Her tiny face so familiar, I felt compelled to tell her everything right away, to explain to her what was happening. My words felt hollow but necessary. " I love you, thank you so much for coming we are so happy you are here. I have to stay here, but I will see you soon, I will be with you as soon as I can be. Your papa will take care of you. Go with him. " My mind wrenched with the thought that I couldn't hold her right then, that the first hour of her life I'd be removed, separate. I had spent the last ten months learning just how important this time was, and now irrevocably it was gone from me. But I had been so brave up to this point, so fearless, I had made the best of every single thing, and I was proud of myself. For once in my life I knew I had done everything I could to be my best self, to be so full of love that I could walk into a room full of strangers about to forcibly pull my surprise breech baby out of my womb and not hate the moment, but love it for what it was about to be. Inevitably, this was where my daughter would be born, and I wanted to fill this room with all the love I could possibly emanate. And so I did. And while this magic lasted, it felt wonderful.
Writing into Motherhood
My journey into motherhood was an unconventional one, much like the rest of my life. It was a journey that started with the search for a donor, because parenting was something I wanted to do by myself. Halfway into the journey that would end with birth, I boarded a plane, with a one-way ticket, to a new life and a new country. I was 20 weeks pregnant with my daughter, and we were in this adventure together.
Becoming a single mother by choice, or a choice mom (I prefer this “title”, as it takes the emphasis out of “single”, which is hardly my defining characteristic!) was not Plan B for me. It was not something I spent many agonizing hours thinking about after I failed to find a husband – since early childhood, I knew that I would love to have children one day, but that husband everyone talked about, I never did see him in the picture. I did do the whole relationship thing for a while, while I was studying. I have great memories of those years, and even of the man I spent them with. But I was not happy like that and, in the end, I returned to my original plan.
Finding a donor, and thinking about methods of insemination, was a necessary stop on this journey. It is not something I ever felt weird about. I am grateful every day that my donor helped make my children possible, and that he played an important role in their conception, but no more.
It’s something I learned from my mother, that DIY attitude. Moving on and pretending I didn’t just go through some rough years also came from her. Growing up, the stiff upper lip was all she modeled. “Your father did have some good things about him, and I have some lovely memories too,” I remember she told me, over and over again, because, presumably, she had read that saying such things to your kids was healthy, somewhere in some book.
Whenever I went deeper, and really probed, whenever I asked what those good memories were, then... ...She admitted there were none. She remembered the time she had to reanimate my father and his best friend after an overdose. She remembered how he used to hit her, and how she used to walk around with black eyes. She remembered how her father, my grandfather, called her for the first time in six months and how she was having the greatest trouble trying to make conversation and sound normal while high on magic mushrooms. Oh, and of course, she remembered opening the door to two police officers while holding me in her arms, a six-month-old baby. She knew immediately what they came for, before they even said a word. My father was dead.
It was a life she talked about often; the life they lead before my father died, and before I was born. Drugs, overdoses, domestic violence and poverty. Before I was born she had told my father, “OK, we’ll do it - the whole baby thing, but we are moving back to my country, and I will never, ever come back here.” She talked about the horrors they lived through so often, probably to keep me from walking the same path. I was fascinated by the stories in a disgusted way, and terrified of the realities of life in my Fatherland. Those stories that I listened to so often growing up were filed away in my mind, and stayed safely on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Me, I grew up in a different country, in my Motherland.
My mother must have told these stories to me from a very, very young age, because she told me later on how I enjoyed shocking kids in the playground at four by saying, “My father is DEAD! He died from DRUGS!” when they asked me why I did not have a daddy. I am very certain that these stories played a very important part in me wanting to fight for social justice, likewise from a very young age. When I first joined a political party, I was 16. I frequently caused trouble in school when I went to inform the director that: “I would not be in tomorrow, because I will be participating in a demonstration” or a party meeting, or a conference of some kind, or volunteering. I wanted to change the world.
Journalism appealed to me because it would give me instant power. Power to reveal the truth. Power to uncover the injustice that was going on all around, and power to make people stop and think. Perhaps, people would be more active if they knew the truth. Party activities fed my need for activism while I studied to become a journalist. Covering local court cases for the local newspaper never did give me any satisfaction though I, like many other young reporters, did do that for a while. I was frustrated by the lack of recognition from older and more experienced colleagues, and by being on the receiving end of ridicule for my party activities. I wanted more, and by nature I gravitated to everything that was extreme, everything that was radical, and most of all, everything that was inaccessible.
After spending a few years in developing countries and political pariah states, full of interesting stories and full of danger, I felt more disconnected from the country I grew up in than ever before. I felt the need to be somewhere else, more than ever before. The feeling of not belonging was one that had been with me as long as I can remember. I decided to travel around some more, spending money and enjoying the things that I had missed in the developing world - primarily freedom of movement and shops. Somewhere along the line I ended up working in Eastern Europe for a while, and I found a country I liked. I felt physically and spiritually pulled in that direction, and I felt at home.
A job I could do from anywhere in the world with an internet connection and my laptop found its way to me – a stable, at-home writing job that would enable me to stay at home with my baby while still providing, if I chose a low cost-of-living country. “Fresh Start Country” was the obvious choice for me. I had people who could help me settle in, and it met all my criteria. More than anything rational, it just felt right to be there.
When the final stretch of my journey into motherhood began, and the destination was in sight, I had a hard time believing this was really it. The contractions kept coming, possessing my body before flowing out of me again. They were five minutes apart. I know this, because I phoned my own mother to time them. She was at work, on the other side of the globe, calling me from her cell phone while I was laboring on the toilet. “Here’s another one, mom. Did you write that down?” It was an unusual and expensive, yet so real way to connect with my own mother.
When the contractions were three minutes apart, it was time to call the midwife - these were her instructions. She was the only homebirth midwife in this foreign country, and I was so lucky to have found her at 34 weeks. My midwife seemed like a kind and honest person, though I felt a clear distance from her. We did not speak each other’s languages, but on that day the ancient language of birth is all we needed, I thought.
The midwife arrived to find me 5cm dilated - the baby would be here soon, she said. I sat on my bed, quietly experiencing the contractions that were slowly growing stronger. What an interesting experience. Is this it then? I don’t know what the big deal is, but it really doesn’t hurt all that much. The streets were melting because of the hot weather, yet here I was strangely cold, shivering even. The midwife had mentioned that we could walk around the park in early labor, when we first met up. That sounded great to me when she proposed it, but now I just wanted to be in my bedroom, listening to my body, my baby and simply experiencing. People called to check how I was doing. I switched my phone off. This moment is one for me and my daughter, and the only person with the privilege of looking in is my midwife.
As the contractions changed shape suddenly, I realized that this must be where I push. My waters broke. “Olivia, jel’ ti sad pukao vodenjak?” What? What is she saying? “Voda, voda?” “Yes, my water broke!” I tell my midwife, assuming this is what she wanted to know. She checks my cervix, and tells me I am complete. The sensations I was having told me so already, and I was pushing.
The unbearable urge to reach down to feel my baby overcame me. I needed some extra motivation to finish this final bit. I reached down to feel a squishy skull, ready to be born. I looked down to see a tiny pair of scissors getting ready to cut. “No, don’t cut!” I yelled at my midwife. “Don’t cut!’ After a few more attempts, she finally gave up. I felt my daughter crown, and vomited. I pushed again, and vomited again. My urge to vomit was hindering my ability to push with each contraction, as my midwife was instructing. It was only a short 10 minutes since the urge to push overcame me, yet my midwife was already saying something about going to hospital. I recall her threatening me that I was putting my baby’s life in danger by not pushing her out NOW. I pushed harder, and trying will all my might not to puke. Finally, she slid out. I was naked, hot and not wearing my glasses, when I saw my baby for the very first time.
She was a white shape with and umbilical cord still leading to me. I looked at her face and saw my mother. This vernix-covered fresh, totally fresh, human being had something truly angelic about her. Looking into her deep blue eyes, I was humbled. I put her to my breast, and she nursed. This little squished creature with blonde hair, who was looking at me as she nursed, she was my daughter. I was a mother. My midwife took off soon after the birth, saying she had to go and bath another client’s baby. Thus, we were left alone. I put my daughter in her crib next to my bed, but she kept on looking at me. This little newborn, at a few hours old, was stretching her little hands towards me, through the edges of the crib. It is like she was trying to say, “I don’t want to be alone”. So I lift her up into my bed, folded my hands around her, and we fell asleep, together.
Unassisted Childbirth, giving birth without the assistance of birth professionals, was something that had appealed to me when I was expecting my daughter. It was the internet that gave me the knowledge that I wasn’t the only person who longed to birth in peace, away from everyone and everything, and I spent a long time reading Laura Shanley’s website before deciding that I needed to have a midwife at my first birth. I had no experience with newborns, and was not confident in my ability to handle the birth by myself. Never having been in labor before, I didn’t know what to expect. My second birth was different. I knew I could do it this time, and was much more informed about everything labor and birth related.
I didn’t really want another birth like the last one. My midwife was the only homebirth midwife in the whole country, and I didn’t like many of the things she did. I didn’t want an episiotomy pushed on me, and I certainly didn’t want to be yelled at again. I didn’t want to ask to cut the umbilical cord only to hear “Oh, I’ve done that!” and I didn’t want to ask where the placenta was and hear “Oh, that’s in the trash”.
I did make an appointment to see her again, and we talked for a while, about vegetarian food, yoga, and about how she now makes all her laboring women walk through most of their labors, because that is a great thing to do. Great if you want to walk through labor, yes, but shouldn’t that be my decision? I had already started researching UC and asked the midwife what her opinions were about the safety of birthing alone. “Oh, that isn’t terrible. I thought of doing that but I didn’t want to lose my hospital job so I decided against it.” By the end of that meeting, I was convinced I wanted to UC.
The next six months were spent preparing for my birth, researching all possible complications, and learning what the best way was to handle those. I also gained a lot of knowledge about the practices of the local labor and delivery hospitals. Laboring women are shaved and given an anema, and are not allowed to have anyone except their husband present at their birth for support – and that is only if they pay for it. Pitocin is given routinely to every laboring woman, either as a means of induction or to speed up labor. Every woman gets an episiotomy, and forceps and vacuum deliveries are still common. Laboring women are routinely shouted at and humiliated. If something happens to the baby, local OBs will yell at the mother that it is her fault. I was appalled. With every story I read, and every woman I talked to, I was more shocked. Oh wait, did I mention there is no such thing as informed consent of refusal here? And it is not uncommon for mothers not to see their babies, who are whisked off to the nursery, for days on end after the birth, after which the nurses bring the baby to be breastfed for 15 minutes every four hours. No thank you, was my conclusion.
If I opted to go to the hospital, my baby and I would have a rough and unpleasant birth at best, and a whole host of complications caused by medical malpractice at worst.
Instead, my second birth was an extremely spiritual and peaceful experience. Because I had to rely on myself exclusively, I felt every sensation, and was aware of the process every step of the way. I did ask myself whether I was doing the right thing, and if I should go to hospital, or call the midwife, but I knew, in my heart, that this was the best choice, the safest choice. Not just because of the medieval maternity system in Fresh Start Country, and not just because the midwife who attended my first birth did many of the things that they did in hospital too. No, this birth was so much more than an alternative to something unwanted. It was a rebirth for me, as a person, too.
My daughter, still so little, was sleeping next to me, her little body curled up peacefully. As my contractions increased in intensity, I remember crying. I love her so much. I held her tight, and hoped that she would enjoy being a big sister. I hoped she wouldn’t feel neglected, or sad. For a while, I watched TV and finished the article I was working on. I left my sleeping daughter and got in the tub to feel the hot water soothe my laboring body. I prayed. For a smooth birth, for the intuition to tell me if something was wrong. When the water grew cold, I got up, and went back to bed.
My son was born into my own two hands. He came out face up. My daughter was excited to meet her little brother. “Hello, little one. Hello, my little one,” I exclaimed, as I stared into his tiny but bright blue eyes, eyes that stared right into my soul. He was tiny. So much smaller than his sister. So fragile, and so perfect. The placenta came out with ease, very soon after my son did. After I was sure that the umbilical cord had stopped pulsating, I cut it. We bathed together and then got dressed. My daughter picked the clothes my son would wear for the very first time, and we went to bed. My children went to sleep peacefully. I couldn’t possibly let this precious moment go to waste by sleeping, and observed my two beautiful children for hours, just being. I felt at peace, yet energetic. For months, I was on a birth high. I felt euphoric.
Those first months, I remember with so much love. With a feeling of total peace, total harmony. I felt complete, perhaps for the very first time. My little family seemed so very perfect. I felt so very blessed. The country was in the middle of the coldest winter it had seen in decades. We snuggled up close under all the blankets we had. Just us, nobody else to disturb these first perfect moments. Whenever I remember that time, it puts a smile on my face.
Never once did I consider that this patriarchal culture would be one that would judge my family. I didn’t know that every single choice I made would be considered extreme. But it was a familiar song, and I admit that I was always the odd one throughout my childhood, and that unusual life choices always made their way to me. Controversy follows me, or I follow controversy. We go together. Now I know that – and I take the liberty here to generalize enormously – people here don’t like single mothers. People here don’t like homebirthers of any kind, let alone unassisted ones. They don’t like vegetarians, or women who like to do DIY around the house, or those who don’t vaccinate, or those who do anything differently to what their post-communist society dictates.
Now, four years and two kids later, I also know that this is not the right place for my family in the long-run. For my children, I wish a life free of the immense pressure to conform, free of pressure to fit into the mold. For my children, I wish the liberty to find their own paths, discover their own inner-selves, their own ambitions and desires. I don’t want to pre-choose the path that leads to most resistance for my daughter, in whom I already see the stubbornness and persistence, and the determination to follow her own heart that have accompanied me all my life. I want to give my children the gift of allowing them to be who they really are in their deepest fibers, and that is not something that this country can realistically offer them.
We, my family, have always been the International Traveling Circus in a way. The journey does not end here, that is something I know now.
Writing into Motherhood
by Jeanette Sebes McDonald
I remember lighting incense with intense conviction. Standing in the kitchen I’d pull a long strand out of the crinkly package, hit the lighter, close my eyes and pray for a normal and natural birth. Repeating it at least three times, my mantra, ‘normal and natural birth…normal and natural birth…normal and natural birth’ as the aroma floated upwards in visible streams the anxiety seemed to alleviate. Typically wrapped in a sarong looking for geckos and ready to sweep the floor for ants I’d start my day focusing on my normal and natural birth. Day to day as my belly grew bigger this was my practice, I knew that focusing on these words would help convince my mind to trust that my body knew what it was doing and all would be well. This was my mantra in preparation for my birth in the middle of an island in Indonesia far from anything I knew or so I thought.
We’d come to Bali for a lot of reasons, but mainly just trusting the path that seemed to be placed in front of us like stepping-stones. Each time a new stone was dropped at our feet, we’d pause, look at each other and then leap forward hand in hand.
I’m hearing comments about getting this baby moving and so they once again encourage the squat. I comply and squat again, this time on the bed. Taylor faces me and I grip his sides; it is getting harder and harder to maintain focus and direct my breathing. Taylor was like a rock-in front of me, behind me, to the side of me at all times, holding me up, encouraging me, praising me. At this point they are continually putting the Doppler to my belly to check the baby’s heart rate, I hear, “beautiful” consistently; he is doing well.
I start saying that the baby needs to come out, so Catherine pointedly tells me she can check me if I’d like, but only if I’d like. Yes, I’d like. Back on the bed she checks me and begins explaining that there is about half an inch of cervix caught on some sort of lip. I’m fully dilated, except for this piece that is caught. Good lord. She explains that she is going to have to manually move it and to do that she is going to apply pressure through the contractions for 3 solid contractions. I have no choice, here it is again…AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH my first real screams, my left hand hits the wall and I am not afraid of waking the neighbors. Taylor is holding me up and I am gripping his hands like if I let go I’m falling 20 stories down. Another…AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH and one more contraction to go before I can get my sanity back. Oh here it is…screammmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!!!! “There it goes,” Catherine reports, “now we’re talking, now your water is breaking, here we go.” A little mental relief with this movement. Later we would realize that I had more than likely been fully dilated for some time, with this one bit caught.
“Oh, you’re a boy,” I exclaimed and celebrated with a large meal, my new quiet baby lying skin to skin on my chest, me with no after effects, laughing and talking. It was over, I was done, and I’d accomplished the normal and natural birth. Weeks later I realized that my energy was turned so outward after the birth that I hadn’t given any of it to him in those few precious hours where we tousled together on the cot in that tiny room full of ants, mosquitoes and geckos. He was my new Bali-born baby boy and we had succeeded in living out the dream tailor-made for us.
But he was so quiet, never stirred, never woke to nurse. The worry, the regret, the guilt, the quintessential donning of motherhood everyone talks about had arrived. I was quiet; I up on one elbow peering at him so closely trying to see him in the moonlight, trying to make sure that no mosquitoes would bite my fresh baby. He was so sleepy, so tired, so beautiful. He needed his rest. I needed a ‘re-do’ button and this feeling innervated my nerves only hours after we welcomed him. My husband slept peacefully, having partnered with me in the true sense of the word
The moment I knew he would be my husband was very solid. There was no doubt, no wonder, no question; it was a very peaceful feeling. I remember waking up the morning I married my baby’s father with absolute peace and calm. My mom needing to bare the bad news had told me late the night before that they were calling for rain. This morning none of that fazed me. Everyone tippy-toed around me as if I would shatter when spoken to. I had planned an outside wedding with that same trust we would rely on time and time again and didn’t really have a back up plan. I didn’t care; I just believed that it would work out.
I felt serene…I felt calm…I felt beautiful. I was so excited. I put on my lucky shirt, one I’d had since I was in the eighth grade and everything was in place. It wasn’t like me to be calm, serene, feel beautiful or truly enjoy myself. Plagued by anxiety, forward thinking and a real difficulty for living in the moment this serenity was like my deepest breath inhaled and sustained. This day was different.
I slipped into my gorgeous dress with my friends and family gathered around and giggled with delight. I put my arm in my dad’s and we began the ascent that I had carefully planned to minimize the awkward exposure. My dad started to tell me a joke, a request I’d made to help shake off the nerves. I threw my head back and laughed with abandon. In that moment my love for my dad overflowed and the walk down the aisle was joyous.
We grabbed hands an electricity zooming through both of our bodies as I closed my eyes and tried to soak up the moment. We left in a boat. Once at our hotel the skies opened up.
The day of my wedding I could never have imagined there would be days where I would feel so separate from my husband. Chronic pain does it every time. It is a quiet, slow and devastating hand to be dealt.
My hip rocks forward and the rest of my body follows. My body slowly wretches over in bed and I come to a resting position. It feels like there is a steel pole from my mid back to the top of my head and my jaw is so tight I’m afraid to try and open my mouth. I can’t even conceive of being pregnant in this state. No one understood, I was alone and I sank deeper in to a black hole. It was me against the world.
“That car is going to stop right?” he said, then lights flashed he grabbed my arm; impact. I remember my arms up around my head and him asking, “are you ok?” “are you ok?” I wasn’t sure.
Headaches began to crowd my days when I was still a teenager. At the time a few Excedrin and a coke did the trick with some lunch and I’d skate through the rest of my day. They came day after day and I started looking for answers. ‘Stress’ people would tell me; ‘not enough rest’; ‘you are letting things get to you Jeannette’. Meanwhile, my jaw joint was deteriorating to a point of no return while I yet again let people tell me what was going on and let it seep into my skin. I would lose the joint completely in the next several years while people around me told me to just relax.
Each year I would have a few more doctor appointments and a few more aches and pains. Starting with the dentist, then there was the massage therapist, the dental surgeon, the acupuncturist, the physical therapist, the rolfer, the intuitive, the TMJ specialist in a far away state, the nutritionist, more dentists, an osteopath. Each new appointment brought new hope that was slowly and steadily crushed. No one could really tell me just what was going on and I grew tired of looking to others for an answer.
In my mid twenties everything came to a peak. I became dependent upon arthritis medicine in order to get through the day. Some days were fine; some days were not. I looked perfectly normal, but inside I was completely falling apart and that made it one of the most destructive experiences of my life.
As difficult as the physical pain was my relationship to the outside world was more debilitating. All those years I never had a neat and tidy answer to give anyone as to why I could not get out of bed in the morning; why I could not talk at dinner and why I just couldn’t make it to that party. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to. I had to carry pills in my pocket…worry if food would be served and when…would it be before my body began to pulsate with pain? I’d be left scurrying for something to put in my stomach so I could take the toxic pills that seemed to slow the throbbing in my face that would nearly blind me. My mind spinning constantly…’what about water?...I really shouldn’t have a beer…I can’t stand for long periods of time…I have to sit on a book in a certain way so my hip is elevated…I cannot turn my head.’ It was an impossible situation to be in and no one understood. How do you explain something you don’t understand yourself without sounding like you have the same pains everyone else does? How do you do it without crying?
In graduate school studying for my masters in public health I was taking a wonderful elective on women’s health. Squatting in the bookstore choosing from a list of books they ranged in size from a mere 200 to thousands of pages. This huge red book kept eyeing me and jumped off of the shelf into my hands…I set it aside knowing it was just not practical to choose the biggest book to read for school while I was working full time; but I could not deny the pull and I left with Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisdom by Dr. Christiane Northrup and my life would never be the same.
Devouring the book these words resonated with me in ways that enabled me to transform my body.
I changed my mindset, learned about the power of my mind and healed my body. By this point my jaw joint had deteriorated beyond repair, my back permanently damaged. I was certainly injured and in pain but I was able to move forward and not backward through it all. No longer did I need to take arthritis medicine and be dependent on painkillers and therapies.
As the years rolled by and the damage unclenched its grasp on me I woke up early because this day I knew I would pee on a stick and it would be positive. I wondered how this baby would change my body and how my body would react to being changed. As the baby grew inside me I felt blessed to have been able to be free of pain medicine and able to move more easily. My TMJ was in an unrecoverable state, but through the wizardry of dental folk they had managed to build me a splint that changed the way my teeth came together, which would enable the bones to stop rubbing together. This certainly alleviated some pain. My back is always in a precarious state, but we know each other well now and know how to ebb and flow with one another.
At times I think I’m in the clear just left to deal with the damage of years past. Then in my last trimester the middle knuckle on my right hand began to ache and swell and became red. I was going to see an acupuncturist in Bali at the time who needled it during my ‘happy baby’ treatments. Maybe the swelling would go down and all would be well again, I hoped quietly concentrating on the baby.
The swelling never went down and the pain spread. For years now I’ve been maintaining myself and now I’m terrified all over again. I have this baby now and he needs me. He needs me to pick him up without wincing and open his sippy cup without crying.
But I birthed that baby right there in a small room in Bali. There is plenty inside of me that is healthy and healing. That pain lingered in my knuckle as if to remind me where I had come from. With each movement of my left hand there is a weakness, no longer able to grasp. With each key I tap a pain radiates in each of my fingers. As I nursed my baby back to sleep at 4am the other morning I stood to go the bathroom and I wondered when it was that someone had broken both of my feet. In my groggy state this was my thought, how had they been broken?
But oh, my blonde baby boy…he shines light it seems that is healing. His quick little giggle sends healing power through my veins and his kisses soak me with optimism. Little chubby feet pound the floor in excitement of a newfound noise and the way he pats my side with love is powerful. Day to day his big blue eyes watch closely and seem to photograph as they stare. His army crawl always makes me smile and his sheer delight is contagious. He works really hard at play. He has a lot to teach me, so for now I think I’ll just sink in to the joy of this little boy and stay here…in today.