Author Archives: Johanna

About Johanna

We like playing outside, singing songs, and each other.

Tuesday

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I’m tired.

Everything sounds much worse when it’s being transmitted through a baby monitor. My daughter’s voice crackles, warbles, hits the limit of the transmission and blurs into static. I look at my watch. It says 7:23 am. It’s wrong, though. I never set it back an hour in November. She goes quiet. I drift back into sleep. Sometimes, I think, sometimes she fusses for thirty seconds and then nods off again. Sometimes.

I shouldn’t complain. It’s not a school day, and this is the first night she’s slept through the night in almost a week. She was doing it consistently before she came down with a fever over the weekend. Every parent fears the fever. Hell hath no fury like a sick baby at 3:00am. It’s harder, going from sleeping without interruption to swinging back into sitting up for an hour as your overtired baby throws a tantrum in your arms while you’re trying to nurse her.

She cries again. My husband rolls over. He and I have a schedule: whoever gets up with her during the night gets to sleep in while the other parent gets her out of bed, gives her breakfast, etcetera. It’s his morning, but she didn’t wake up last night, so I guilt myself into thinking that I should really get up and take care of her. I guilt myself into many things. I did it before I had a baby, and motherhood only exaggerated the problem.

He willingly offers to take care of her, and gets out of bed. I think about shutting the baby monitor off, and fall asleep before I do this. Time passes. I hear the baby crying again, and the shower running. He hasn’t figured out the trick of gating off the bathroom so she doesn’t feel shut out, and also gating the stairs so she doesn’t get ambitious and start climbing them. She starts slapping the bedroom door. She knows I’m in here. I get up and carry her back to bed with me. I try to doze while she nurses. She’s ill-tempered. She pops on and off, cries in between, bangs her hand on my collarbone. I blame it on teething. I blame it on the residual effects of being sick last week. Mostly, I wish she would lay calmly against me while I try to fit in another ten minutes of sleep, like the co-sleeping advocates talk about, except that my daughter never really liked co-sleeping, so the point is moot.

My husband comes back in to get her after his shower, apologizing. I tell him I don’t really mind. And really, I don’t. She seemed so sad and lonesome, out in the hallway, pounding on the door. He takes her out to give her breakfast, but I’m awake now. Listlessly, I scroll through Facebook, and then feel guilty again because my husband is caring for our daughter and I’m supposed to be sleeping. I get up. I start wandering aimlessly around the kitchen, taking care of randomly urgent matters and getting in my husband’s way while he makes coffee, gives the baby her breakfast, and gets his own. I feel dull and fuzzy.

He leaves for work. During yesterday’s weekly grocery trip, I forgot to buy myself some cereal for breakfast. She was fussing in the shopping cart, and I just didn’t think about breakfast until I was out of the parking lot, and there are very few things that would motivate me to find another parking spot, take her out of her carseat, carry her back in the store, buckle her into the cart, etcetera, etcetera.

“I’ll bake some sort of energy bar/muffin thing,” I promised myself.

She’s completely out of sorts today. Lots of leg clinging, arm-raising, begging to be picked up and then writhing like a madwoman once she’s in my arms. I eat cookies for breakfast, justifying it because they have peanut butter chips in them and peanut butter has protein, right? I distract her long enough for the really important part: coffee. She plays contentedly for about 6 minutes while I greedily clasp the mug in my hands and drain it down to the last gritty bits at the bottom. At least there’s that.

I go through the morning chores – making the bed, dusting the floor. She likes these chores. She watches them with rapt attention, and chases after the dust mop as I push it around the baseboards. It’s a bit late; her legs and the front of her pajamas are already coated in a black and white sprinkling of dog and cat hair. I fight a losing battle with the shedding animals and her fleece sleepers.

The floor is relatively clean. I haul her upstairs to get her dressed. My arms and shoulders are sore. I remember that I did yoga for fifteen minutes on Sunday. I should have done yoga today. I feel so much better when I exercise.

It’s fun to get her dressed. She likes it when I tickle her belly, or when I duck my face really close to hers and then pull away quickly. She likes the bird/acorn/pinecone mobile I made for her. We snuggle in the rocking chair when we’re done. She pulls at my shirt. I oblige.

She seems pretty happy after that. I sneak over to the sewing table to fiddle with a few projects. She changes her mind about being happy. She crawls over and wants to be in my lap. I put her in my lap. She wants to get down. She crawls away, and repeats the whole thing in five minutes. I feel sore all over now, in the joints in my hands, in my jaw. This isn’t from yoga. I’m probably getting whatever she had. I can count on one hand the times that I was sick before I became a mother. Now, I would need to borrow other people’s hands to keep track of it. Because I don’t sleep nearly as much as I should, and sleep deprivation means you get sick more often.

I open Spotify and turn on Tallest Man on Earth. She likes him. Well, I like him. She likes anything, even the really bad elevator pop in the grocery store. Normally when I play music she bounces up and down on her knees and claps her hands. She doesn’t do this today. I pick her up again. She pulls on my shirt.

While Christian sings about a woman smelling like smoke and honey in his arms, I think of camping. I remember how nice another person can smell in the darkness, in the tent, after a good campfire, and for the briefest moment, I wish it were just Jason and me again. I feel sad that the twoness, the comradery of being mere children ourselves off on an adventure, is simply not the same. Math doesn’t work the same way with families. It’s not two plus one equals three; its two plus some strange, infinite number equals the original two being all cut and scattered amongst the new sum.

I feel guilty because I wish I could go camping alone with my husband.

She’s so crabby. I don’t feel good. I’m tired. I nurse her again. She falls asleep. She wakes up as I’m laying her in the crib, cries for ten seconds, and then consents to an early nap.

The to-do list hits me with a vengeance. I need to call the school IT department because I let my password expire, and I already missed a minor assignment because of it. I need to order another textbook. I need to register for a workshop. I need to make breakfast.

Usually, when I have lots of small things to do, one or more of them turns out to be a large thing and I get very discouraged. Today, I’m in luck. I get it all done. As the breakfast bars are in the oven, I think about showering. I wonder if showering will make me feel better. And then, it occurs to me that I could take a bath with her when she wakes up. We like doing this together. It would be something nice for me, and something nice for her at the same time, and that’s sort of rare. I go to clean the tub. It’s quite grimy. The timer on the oven goes off. She wakes up.

You know that thing that mothers say? The “it goes too fast” thing? That plays in my head all the time. That makes me feel guilty, like there’s something really, really evil about me because I’ve never thought it goes too fast. I think it goes just right, and sometimes, just right can seem really long. The span of time between the end of her nap and bedtime overwhelms me some days, and I think, “am I the only one who feels like this?” I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not. Maybe we don‘t say it, though. Maybe we fear that saying it negates how much we love our children, how integral and fierce our connections are to them. Maybe we are uncomfortable with expressing the pain of motherhood because some women want to be mothers and can’t, or some women were mothers and now they aren’t. Maybe the best we can do is write something slightly humorous, something light, and easy to read, about being tired, about cleaning up someone else’s poop, and then quickly slap the bandaid of “but I wouldn’t trade it for the world!” on the end.

Or maybe I am the only one who sometimes misses not being a parent, or having the ability to catch up on sleep, or being alone with my husband, or just not feeling guilty all the time. I miss having space in my brain, because I went from being a person to being a radio tower, and she is the frequency that never turns off.

And after all of this, I’m going to run a warm bath, and enjoy the time with my daughter. I’m going to give her lunch and play with her and nurse her to sleep tonight, and before I go to bed myself, I’ll very likely pick up my phone and look at photos of her, and I’ll think of how I love her so much that it almost feels sinful to say it out loud, to strap it into the constraints of words and sounds. Because that’s what being a parent is like. It’s almost like being a superhero, like having the ability to simultaneously hold your frustration and your love in the same hand. And when I think of it this way, I don’t feel guilty at all. I feel mighty, and brave. I feel like I’m saving the world.

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Dreadlocks: A Brief History

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You are twenty.

When you mention dreadlocks, people smile thinly. They ask about things, like jobs, like cleanliness, like getting married, and how dreadlocks work in those contexts. “You wouldn’t really want to get married with dreadlocks, would you?” “You would have to shave your head to get rid of them, wouldn’t you?” “Can you have dreadlocks at your job?”

You’re working for a conservative non-profit. You’re the receptionist. You’re the first thing anyone sees when they walk in the door. You’ve already learned enough about expectations to know what set apply to you. You should be pretty. You should be professional. You should be well-kept.

You shouldn’t be rebellious.

So, on your spring break, on the night before St. Patrick’s Day, you and your sister and your dad drive up to Door County. It’s freezing. There is still ice on the Mink River. You bought a flea comb, and sticky, heavy wax. Neither you nor your sister really know what you’re doing, but you do it until five in the morning, and when you wake up, the sun is shining. The day is a little brighter. You have dreadlocks.

You deal with the mess. You twist, and rub, and pick, and wax, and tease. And eventually, after a couple of years, your hair begins to understand. It adapts to its new role. It starts to grow. You cut it several times, and still, it grows.

You see other people start dreads, maintain them, and cut them off. You see women with short, fantastical hair. You wonder if people think less of you because you are not orderly, and you struggle with this wondering. You think about how it would feel to close the scissors over the place where the knots meet your normal hair, and every time, it never feels right. You know you are doing it because you want to be accepted. You want to be easier to contextualize. You want less attention.

A man you know, the guy with the beard who lives in the room above you, passes by your desk when you come back from spring break. He tells you that your hair looks good.

You marry this man.

You marry him in an apple orchard, at the same cabin where all of this started. You marry him on a perfect day, with flowers in your hair, and on the trees, and in your hands.

You fight with him. You share a bed with him. You are shocked to find that some days, you hate him. You talk about leaving him, try on the idea. You decide to stay. Not because of all the work involved in leaving, but because of the work you’ve put into your relationship. You see therapists. You learn how to be honest. And one of the best physical feelings you know of is when he digs his fingers beneath the knots on your scalp and rubs away all the tension. You stay married to this man. You sweat with him, and travel with him, and laugh with him.

One day, you hold a positive pregnancy test in your hand.

You give birth. You have a daughter. She screams. She smiles. She laughs. She rolls over. She crawls. She stands. She holds on to your hand and walks. She talks in her own special language, and once in awhile, she breaks into the bland, universal tongue destined for her, and she calls you Mumma. She chases the pets; the dogchy, the keeety.

You leave one church, and you start another. You make friends. You lose them, and some, you get back. You see friends get married. You see friends divorce. You see friends become parents. You see friends move away.

You move dorm rooms. You move into your first apartment. You move into your first apartment as a married woman. You live in a friend’s house. You live in a duplex. You buy your first house. You paint the walls and till the garden. You meet your neighbors. You get a dog.

You write a novel. You sew your own clothes. You take violin lessons. You learn how to make pottery. You are a receptionist. You are an office manager. You are an executive assistant. You are a church secretary. And finally, you quit. Instead of a job, you go back to school to learn about plants, and you love it.

You see the mountains for the first time. You see the desert. You see the ocean. You leave the country. You camp on the side of a cliff in Hawaii. You wash your dreads in a waterfall. You watch the moon coming through the nylon veil of your tent in the red, ruddy deserts of Utah. You feel the sea breeze in your hair as you look at the green coast of Ireland. You go sledding on a glacier.

You change. You run. You have a baby. Your body rearranges itself. Your cheekbones shift, your weight redistributes. You grow smile lines around your eyes. You pierce your nose. You get your first tattoo.

And then, nearly nine years after that night when you were twenty, you sit there, feeling the pull of your hair, and the itchy, heavy feeling on your scalp, and you think about the scissors again. This time, it feels right. This time, you know. They are too much, now. Too long. Too omnipresent. And though you love them, though you still hold on to the dream of being an old woman with grey dreadlocks, you can finally accept that you are ready for a break.

You sit with the idea. You tell your sister. You tell your husband. You look at short haircuts, and a hot, nervous excitement begins to flare up in your bones.

You schedule an appointment, for after the New Year.

The night before, the man you married loving goes through each loc. He picks out his favorite, and asks if he can cut that one. In the morning, you wake up like you always do, like it’s another day, even though it’s not. You watch your daughter shred a piece of Kleenex and then pile the bits next to you on the bed. You play with her. You look in your closet and wonder what one wears for such an occasion.

You take photos. You look at them, and you can say that you love them, and you will miss them, and whatever will come next will be wonderful.

Your sister is coming to help cut them off. You get nervous. A strange nervous. You can’t figure it out. It’s not regret. It’s not fear. It’s not pure excitement. It’s a sick, shaking nervousness. You drink coffee. You frantically start cleaning. You decide that the Christmas decorations need to be taken down right that minute. You sweep the floors. And finally, you recognize it. It was the same feeling you had when you went back to school. That first day, when you didn’t know how it would be. When you wondered if you would be accepted. And that’s it. You don’t know. You don’t know if you will be beautiful. You don’t know if you will be something other.

Your sister comes. She takes one last photo. You take out the scissor. You cut off the first one, that awkwardly-placed one that always made you a little bit crazy. She cuts one. Her boyfriend cuts one. Your husband cuts off his favorite one. Your daughter plays on the floor with your discarded dreadlocks. And before long, your husband is cutting off the last of them. You are lightheaded. Your balance is off. Your scalp is a mess.

You wash your hair for the first time, it seems. It feels amazing. You put a hat on over the chaos, and go down to the neighborhood you lived in when you were married. You pull the hat off, and laugh, and say, “I just cut my dreadlocks off!” And you get a haircut.

You feel the wind in your hair. The world is cold and bright, and there is nothing in the way of you feeling it just as it is.

You wonder if people know. If, when they look at you, they can tell. They can see the lightness, the empty places where all of the weight used to rest. You try not to look at yourself in windows and mirrors too much.

At the end of the day, you nurse your daughter to sleep, just like you always do.

And you feel beautiful.

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A Girl Named Finn – A Birth Story

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This is a birth story. It is not a story of the zen-like labor-induced state of relaxation that some women claim accompanies the delivery of a child, where there is no mention of fluids or myriad of inescapable, agonizing tensions moving from front to back, ribcage to tailbone. If anyone tells you that labor is blissful, they are delusional. Labor pushes at you gradually, over minutes and hours and sometimes days, shoving you through the wall of muscle memory and pain threshold until you find yourself sprinting, sprinting through a long tunnel and at the end is…well, the end. And your child.

There is no limit to the advice one receives in regards to pregnancy, birth, and child-rearing. I sometimes think that even if a woman had no mothers or sisters or aunties or random female busybodies in her life, she could sit very still and hear the omnipresence of everything that has ever been said on the subject. In my case, let’s begin with examining Advice #1: Your first baby is never on time. This is actually supported by statistical evidence; fewer than 5% of babies are born on their due date. As a result, I anticipated a long, lazy week in which I would spend my newly-freed hours vacuuming a rug here and stitching another baby hat there until my daughter decided to make her entrance into the world.

That didn’t happen. Apparently, she knew that she was expected on a certain day and she made damn sure to arrive on time.

I woke up sometime around 4am on Tuesday, November 25, because no matter which way I turned or twisted, I couldn’t get comfortable. It took me a few moments to realize that this wasn’t a result of my bulging stomach, or a back that hauled around extra pounds for months, or legs that were tired of stairs and squats and stretches. This was something else. I got up and assessed the situation. The first thing that I noticed was that I was leaking fluid. Because I had tested positive for GBS early in my pregnancy, this threw a wrench into my original plan of laboring at home for as long as I could. That’s the downside of working with a hospital. It’s the price I knew I might have to pay for choosing to deliver in a more traditional setting instead of in a birthing center or at home.

Instead of baring myself to the ubiquitous eye of the hospital time clock, I woke Jason up. That man was ready. He whipped out his phone, booted up the contraction timer app, and gallantly sat with his thumb poised over the timer button while I texted Elissa, my doula. Still unsure of what to do about the pesky fluid leak and the impending hospital trip, I stayed in bed for another hour or so. Jason eventually went back to sleep, likely with his thumb still hovering. I timed my own contractions for awhile and came to the conclusion that I was going to follow Birth Advice #2: Women in labor should typically trust their instincts. I didn’t call the hospital. This was confirmed by Elissa’s responding text, which told me that I should do what I was comfortable with.

My contractions were very manageable for most of the morning. Although they were fairly lengthy, they averaged about 5-6 minutes apart. Ideally, we wanted to wait for the “3-1-1” to go in – 3 minutes apart, 1 minute in length, for 1 hour. I filled up the hours of waiting for this to happen by moving from room to room. While Jason continued to sleep, I went into the baby’s room and sat on the yoga ball, looking around at the yellow walls and the baby overalls on hangers and thinking of how simultaneously bizarre and beautiful it was that soon, my daughter would be here in this room. I migrated to the couch in the living room and did some stretches while bent over the arm. When Jason woke up for good, he offered to sit with me and help me work through contractions. I sent him off to his lists and laptop so that he could get some work done. Besides, I was doing well on my own. Our childbirth instructor had passed on several different relaxation techniques, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually remembered them. After showering, I spent a couple of hours in our bedroom, enjoying how clean and organized everything was and laboring on my knees with my head and arms resting on the bed. I went over my memories of canoeing the Platte River in Michigan; the white of the sand, and the absurdity of whole troupes of drunken twenty-somethings with coolers of beer on inner tubes, the sparkling tips of Lake Michigan’s wave flashing like a million tiny smiles up ahead of us…

Birth Advice #3 – labor never really goes how you think it will. At some point, my contractions moved into my back and set up camp there. Not like an overnight dirt-ball camp. More like a week-long glampfest complete with solar showers, pudgy pie makers, and elaborate tents. In other words, they got comfortable, and I got quite uncomfortable. I was starting to feel a bit concerned about the fact that nothing had really changed in terms of timing. I went back out to the couch to be near Jason, Googled the possibility of labor starting and stopping, read multiple online forums about women despairing their way through four-day labors, and timed another round of contractions. They were still long and spaced out, and I was still leaking fluid.

Sometime around two, I felt ready to call the midwife in triage and at least have a conversation with her. What should have been relatively simple – a call to the reception desk and a transfer to triage – turned into a fiasco. To begin with, we have terrible cell phone reception at our house. The receptionist kept asking me to repeat myself. Normally, this is a minor annoyance. When you’re trying to fit in a conversation between back labor contractions, it becomes a major stressor. I’m going to give said receptionist the benefit of the doubt and choose to believe that she must not have heard me accurately when I said, “I’m in labor and would like to talk to the triage midwife.” Because somehow, I ended up waiting on hold for almost ten minutes, only to have my call picked up by the receptionist at the midwife clinic. Again, in faltering, static-ridden, teeth-gritting bursts of words, I explained myself to another receptionist, got put on hold for another ten minutes, and had three or four more contractions. Thinking that a fresh start would solve the problem, I called the main desk again, spoke to the confused receptionist again, and told her that I was in labor, again. She had an uncanny ability for asking me questions at the exact moment a contraction would peak. At some point, Jason took the phone and forcefully said, “Look, my wife is having contractions. She’s IN LABOR. Can we talk to triage already?”

That’s why husbands come in handy.

I think it took me about thirty minutes before I finally talked to the midwife in triage.

“Come on in,” she told me.

This was easier said than done. Jason had to run out and pick up some grocery essentials – good labor food like beef jerky and fresh fruit and coconut water, and I had to finish packing a few last minute things. While he was gone, I managed to drop a mason jar holding Q-tips onto the bathroom floor and strand myself on the rug in my bare feet because the very last thing I wanted to deal with while in labor was cutting a toe on a broken mason jar. Jason had to break me out with the broom when he got back. We left the house just in time for rush hour traffic, and, ironically, a light snowstorm. We attempted taking side streets to get to the hospital and ran into the other 50% of the commuting population attempting the same thing. Somewhere in the run-down neighborhoods between downtown and the north side, while we were stopped at a light, a car went into a slide behind us and came quite close to slamming into our rear bumper.

And, well, contractions.

While we waited in the hospital lobby, a young mother with a six-month old had a lengthy conversation with us about having children, how to not spoil them, her natural-epidural labor, and the importance of using birth control after having a baby. Jason gamely kept the talk going while I stretched my smile over my teeth and tried not to think about the landmines going off in my lower back.

Finally, we were admitted back into triage. Gretchen, the triage midwife, strapped on the EFM, which our childbirth instructor had lovingly referred to as “the hockey pucks”. Jason kept telling me to stop watching the little topographical charts of contraction intensity and heart tones, and I kept peeking at them because it was mildly fascinating. There was my mayhem, right there on the screen for God and everyone to watch! The nurse came in and asked me to roll onto my side. I found the request preposterous, mostly because it was insanely painful to lay on my side and also because she offered me a cup of cold apple juice when I declined. I had no idea what the connection was, but I did enjoy the apple juice immensely. Eventually I concluded that they wanted to see some variation in the baby’s heartbeat. Along with creating a fond, comforting association with cold apple juice, the sugars did the trick. Everyone was much happier, myself included.

Gretchen checked me for dilation. She found quite a bit of fluid, but said that my bag was still intact, which was a relief. However, the bigger relief was when she informed us that I was five centimeters dilated, and that I was going to be admitted so that I could have my baby! I felt so productive. Despite the fact that my contractions were still keeping up the same rhythm, I had made a good deal of progress at home. Jason texted Elissa. I drank more juice. And then we moved up to the delivery floor to get the party going. Elissa showed up with her assistant, Claire. We met the nurse. I sat on a birthing ball, ate cashews, and felt pretty darn good. Erin, the midwife, joined us, and we all had a good time chatting about dogs and fleas and working through contractions.

Birth Advice #4 – women who want a natural labor absolutely need support. This is true. I had full intentions of keeping my labor intervention-free. No pain meds, no epidurals, no pitocin. Part of me wishes that I could say it was a purely noble desire to give my baby as healthy a start as possible, but the truth is that part of my motivation has to do with the fact that I loathed the thought of being hooked up to anything involving needles/IVs. I had to consent to two rounds of antibiotics, but my birth plan indicated that I wanted to have a capped IV when the medication wasn’t being administered so that I was free to move around as I pleased. Both Erin and the nurses were very supportive of my wishes. As soon as she came in and introduced herself, she also let me know that I could wear my own clothes, eat as often as I wanted to, use the whirlpool, and do whatever I needed to do in order to have a natural birth. It meant quite a bit to me to have support from her like that. I can honestly say that if I hadn’t had two doulas, a very encouraging husband, and a medical staff that was on my side, natural birth would have been nearly impossible.

We labored in the room for an hour or so. Elissa and Claire were magical. As soon as I told them about my back labor, they tried using counter pressure on my lower back by pressing as hard as they could whenever a contraction came on. It turned out being so successful that those poor women pushed on my lower back more times than I can count that night.

“Your hands must get tired,” I said to Elissa.

“I have really strong hands,” she assured me.

My shower earlier in the day had been fairly comforting, so Jason and I tried hopping into the hospital shower. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite as comforting eight hours later. It helped a little, but given the fact that I was trying to figure out what the temperature should be, trying not to slip, and trying to keep my dreadlocks dry, it was sort of neutral. Needless to say, that didn’t last long. We then tried walking the halls, stopping every ten feet or so for contractions. I leaned on Jason while Elissa and Claire pushed on my back. I remember the wooden floors feeling so nice and warm under my bare toes, but I also remember feeling as though I wanted to sit down and simultaneously feeling horrified at the thought of sitting down. I felt the same about standing. Or walking. Or squatting. I wanted to do anything that wasn’t whatever I was doing at the moment, and I also didn’t want to do anything at all.

Time during labor is strange. It just goes by, and you somehow stand completely still within it. It’s not that you feel it passing slowly, or quickly. It’s not that you feel it passing at all. It just is. Another breath. Another squat or lean. Hands pressing on my back. Cups of stale hospital coffee. The tongue-shrinking saltiness of cashews and beef jerky. Wanting the midwife to check but not wanting her to.

Eventually, in a small voice, I informed the team that I wanted to try the whirlpool. I had been trying to delay water therapy for as long as possible because the more time you spend in the tub, the less effective it becomes, but I was at the point where it was really the only thing that sounded comforting to me. It was just as good as it sounded; warm and relaxing and quiet. Jason got in with me. Whenever I had a contraction, we leaned into each other while the doulas did their counter-pressure. The nurse came in to check heart tones a few times, but otherwise the whole experience was oddly peaceful despite the fact that my contractions were very intense by this point. They were still quite far apart, and the water was so comforting that I dozed in between them. We sat in the tub room until the water got cold. I’d like to say that it was two hours, but I certainly wasn’t keeping track.

When we came back to the room, Erin checked me. I was eight centimeters, and fully effaced. She told me that if I felt the urge to push, I could start pushing. I think most women feel relief at this point. I, on the other hand, was starting to feel sort of wobbly and tired. I had been in labor for almost nineteen hours by then. I remember Elissa telling me that pushing was good; it meant that I would actually be able to use my contractions for something productive. I think I argued with her, insisting in a whiney voice that, no, they weren’t going to be productive and nothing was going to happen and this was never going to be over. While I had done a good job of keeping myself fairly serene throughout the day, sometime in the whirlpool I had started yelling during some of the worst contractions. Apparently, this is a tough habit to break once you start, and it’s not a very comforting habit to begin with. Screaming didn’t make me feel any better. I just couldn’t stay quiet anymore.

Good thing I was past the point of epidurals by then.

Birth Advice #5: pushing is great. This is a filthy lie. If you’ve never pushed before, pushing is hellacious. It’s a combination of feeling like you constantly need to pee or poop or vomit, accompanied by anvil-like contractions whipping your mind into a panicked frenzy where you start screaming because you’re convinced that nothing has existed before this moment and nothing can possibly exist after it. This was where the tunnel came in. I was draped over the back of the bed, digging in with my arms and fingers, and for all I could tell I was completely alone in the room. That’s how isolating the pain was. Occasionally, Jason was there next to me, and I remember recognizing his closeness, his scent, the color of his hair and beard and eyes. He asked me if he could go get something to eat.

“No,” I said sternly, and I didn’t find out until later that he asked me that because he was on the verge of passing out. Now when we tell that part of the story, I jokingly say that he shouldn’t have asked because anything that anyone asked me at that point was sure to get a “no” answer.

Did I want to try a different position? Did I want to eat something? Did I want some water? Did I want chapstick? No. No. No. I wanted to not be in labor.

This was where Erin showed her true self. My initial impression of her was that of a tiny, easy-going woman who would gently guide me through the birth of my daughter. Not so. Erin was intense. She barreled into the tunnel of labor without hesitation, came right up next to my face, and told me in much more diplomatic terms to get my shit together. Which, at that point, I needed.

“You’re in control,” she kept saying, as though she could somehow sense that in the middle of my yelling and gripping and whining that I felt completely out of control.

She was awesome.

It’s all brief snapshots from this point. Elissa tells me that Erin is changing into clothes to deliver my baby. I’m in the bathroom with what feels like six other people watching me labor on the toilet. I’m squatting next to the bed. Squatting on the bed. Laying on my side. My arms hurt from hugging the squat bar. Erin tells me that she sees a head, and the head has dark hair. Somewhere in the tiny cubbyholes of my thoughts that aren’t focused on hurting, I remember how I hoped for a baby with dark hair. Elissa and Claire and irrevocably kind in their affirmations. According to them, I’m still a strong, capable woman, even though I keep saying, “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.” Erin tells me to stop screaming in such a high voice, to try being more guttural because it’s more productive. She tells me that I need to try harder, that I’m still in control. My water breaks. There’s fluid everywhere, and of all things to worry about, I’m embarrassed by this. I’m sweating, sweating like the end of a long summer run at high noon. And then, something hurts more than anything has hurt so far and she says, “There. That’s it. You need to push through that. That’s the head crowning.” And all I can think is, “Oh Christ. Not that.

This was where I overcame. When it comes to pain, I’ve always walked right up to edge of the very worst of it and then gripped my breath and muscles and sanity as if to ward it off. Now, I couldn’t. Not only did I have to face it directly, I had to go through it with deep, productive breathes and focused muscles. I had to do this thing that my contraction-addled brain was convinced I was long past capable of. So I did.

She came out with her hand tucked up next to her head, but of course, I didn’t know that. All I knew was that something had changed, that the thing that had hurt more than anything hurt in my life wasn’t quite as bad. After nearly four hours of pushing and twenty-four hours total of labor, I pushed once more.

And then I had a daughter, moving towards my chest in Erin’s hands as the nurse threw a pink cap over her red, wrinkled forehead. Finavaire Andrea, named for my sister and Jason’s sister. A girl named Finn, born exactly on her due date. God, she screamed. She flailed her skinny, uncoordinated limbs and scrunched up her weeping eyes and now that I know her, I know that she was undeniably annoyed. Indignant. Appalled, at having been shoved so forcefully from the warmth and the darkness into the cold severity of my sweating arms.

Birth Advice #6 – you’ll completely forget about your labor as soon as you meet your baby. This was not entirely true for me. I wanted to enjoy her, to feed her and take in the wet, dark hair and the perfect wrinkles of new skin, but I couldn’t. Elissa and Claire helped me peel off my soaked birthing clothes and I fumbled with latching her on and I kept thinking that once I fed her, she would stop crying. I was so, so tired. I’ve never been that tired. Not after driving through the night on a road trip, or hiking the Napali Coast, or running my first four consecutive miles. I was so tired that I was actually relieved when they took the baby away to put her under the warmer because I was afraid I was going to drop her. There was quite a bit happening that I wasn’t completely aware of; Jason, taking off his shirt and holding our daughter so that she would have skin-to-skin contact from the start, Erin talking to me while she stitched me up, Elissa and Claire quietly gathering their things and leaving us to be alone, the weighing and testing and bathing.

As far as my birth story goes, there really isn’t much to tell after that, just hospital food and lots of strange, broken sleep and breastfeeding woes. And, of course, there was her, all heartbreakingly beautiful and peaceful and somehow perfect in her pink, shriveled newness. And while I kept meaning to write this sooner, I’m glad that I didn’t, because I know her now like I didn’t quite know her then. I know that she’s funny and brilliant, that she loves to laugh and that she smiles whenever she sees me. I would say that she’s exactly what I hoped she would be, but that would be a lie because she is a thousand times more wonderful than that, and when I write about the day she was born, it lays like a layer of dark, fertile soil beneath the garden of everything I’ve come to learn about her.

Birth Advice #7 – labor will empower you. Now, I see a woman in my reflection who has finally learned to accept that yes, pain is frightening, but it is not always destructive. It has taught me to trust myself, to trust my body and my instincts. It has taught me to lean into others for support. It has taught me that I’m strong and brave even when the most I can manage is a desperate chorus of, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” Pain is like the sea on a windy day. You can stand in it, let it push and pull around you like the tide, but you will not drown. You will grow stronger because of it.

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In Which I’m thankful for my sewing machine

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So, I used to really love Etsy. I would browse for hours drooling over flowey organic cotton tunics and saving images for future sewing endeavors.

Pregnancy has changed that.

Whilst looking for something simple and comfortable to possibly buy myself as a “treat” for after the birth, I came across the terrifying world of maternity shirts.

Behold.

But what about the days that I actually wear a real cardigan?? What if someone tries to unbutton it to get a peak at the baby? Can’t be giving people ideas.

This is just scary.

Oh, look! The inside of my uterus! I’ve always wanted people to be able to see right through me.

Well, no, actually its not. The last thing anyone needs to do while pregnant is worry about being skinny. This is the ONE time in your life that people EXPECT you to gain weight. Come on!

You know, just to avoid any confusion or awkward questions of “due any day now, aren’t you?” I might as well tell them where I’m birthing. That way they can mark their calendars.

Kids, it doesn’t work this way. I promise.

First of all…why does a woman need a shirt to communicate this? Why is it acceptable to just assume that someone wants to be touched because they’re growing a baby inside of them? How about you don’t look, either? Didn’t anyone ever tell you it’s terribly rude to stare? What is wrong with the world?

Yes, let’s let everyone know that we got drunk and sexy while on vacation. Great idea.

Jason will appreciate this one. Good reason to have a kid! (never mind that they thousands of dollars over the course of their young lives…)

Apparently, they’ve never heard of condoms. Or NFP. Or the pill.

And for the lads, so that you can make sure everyone knows that you knocked up your lady…

To summarize: I will likely be buying a few yards of organic cotton and sewing my own shirt. The end.

*Note: If my sarcasm and lack of good humor over the whole commercialization of pregnancy offends you, I’m truly sorry. I understand that every woman looks at this process through a different lens, and that what one woman finds unsettling another woman might really get a kick out of. Take this post with that grain of salt and hopefully it will bring out the right flavors for you!

 

Passing on the Pink

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Alternately titled: The Smiths are having a girl-squash.

It’s subtle, and it’s everywhere. The ultrasound technician who was photographing our baby’s head and made a comment about “Well, we don’t know whether it will be wearing a cowboy hat or a tiara yet!”. A co-worker who, upon hearing the news that we were expecting a girl, went out to look for pink flowers and apologized that she could find one. The racks and racks of frilly, sequined, bow-festooned clothing that I saw at Target when I went out after the Doctor’s appointment to look for something a bit more feminine than the jeans, striped onesies, and overalls I’ve been picking up. Jason’s question to me the next afternoon, about whether or not he could wrestle with a girl or play catch with her. And, I mean, he wouldn’t know. They wouldn’t know. No one means any harm. It’s just a nefarious lens positioned firmly on the way our society views girls as a whole.

When I first got pregnant, I had one of those woo-woo lady-intuition-type-feelings; I was going to have a girl. I tried not to think about it too much, and by the time we actually found out the gender I was ready for either one of them. Jason and I kept joking that we would either get a Hushpuppy (Beasts of the Southern Wild) or a Max (Where the Wild Things Are). Never did we have conversations about having a princess or a cowboy. When I envisioned having a daughter, I thought about a girl who would have the freedom to get dirty; to climb trees and collect bugs and make things out of mud alongside playing dress up with thrift store clothes, sewing, and having tea parties. I thought of it in this way because that’s how I was raised and to some extent, how I still am.

Parents don’t get everything right, and mine are not an exception (I can say that because I’m 95% certain they’ll agree. They’re not perfect. Thankfully, no one is). But one of the many things they did an amazing job at without even trying was raising two daughters with very balanced perspectives on gender. I did my share of “girly things” as a child – mostly in the winter, when it was too cold to play outside. But I never saw my place as being in the house vs. outdoors. I never saw playing catch or rollerblading or riding my bike or fishing as strictly masculine activities because neither one of my parents ever presented them that way. I loved going fishing with my dad. I loved learning how to work hard in the garden alongside my mom. I loved chasing after my older brothers on my bike.

I know, some of you are groaning to yourselves right now. She’s one of those new-fangled gender-neutral types who are going to never use the pronouns he or she and who will let her boys wears dresses and her girls wear suits if they want to. Typical post-modern parent.

So, let me specify: I take absolutely no issue with girls being feminine and guys being masculine. I take a lot of issues with how society has defined those two terms. I do not believe a woman’s place is always in the home, or that caretaking of a child should mainly fall on a mother’s shoulders. I do not want to raise my daughter with the expectation that the most she can aim for in life is to find a good husband and have a family. I want to give her opportunities to excel at whatever she sets her mind to – and that might be fashion design, and it might be sports, and it might be something that I don’t have any context for yet. It might involve marriage and a family it might not.

The bottom line is that it doesn’t have to be an either-or scenario. Dresses do not mean the subjugation of a woman, nor does a girl who can climb a tree mean the absence of healthy femininity. Having a girl does not have to equal pink. So, no offense Target or Kohls or wherever, but I will not be shopping your racks when I clothe my daughter. I want her to be able to choose a red shirt or a blue shirt or a green shirt, a pair of sturdy jeans or a skirt that makes her feel feminine and confident when she wears it and most of all, I want her to know that getting her clothing dirty and wrinkled while in the process of blowing up her imagination is totally, completely acceptable. Clothes are only clothes. The lessons you allow your children to learn with their hands and eyes and wild little minds are what’s really important.

Thank God for thrift stores. Thank God for my sewing machine. Thank God for the Ronias and the Hushpuppies and the Elnoras, for the Eilonwys and the Lauras and yes, even for the Katnisses. Thank God for a husband and father-to-be who is not too proud to admit that he struggles with emotional vulnerability. Thank God for a father who cried in front of his daughters and a mother who browned her skin in the summer sun from long days of hard work. Thank God for a wide-open backyard and acres of State Forest mere blocks from our house. Thank God for rivers and lakes and lightening bugs in the summer, for sledding and book-devouring and textile arts in the winter.

Thank God for green and red and yellow and blue and orange and purple. With so many beautiful colors to surround my daughter with, I believe I’ll pass on the pink.

DwtW – Two New Chapters

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Hey kids!

Sorry it’s been awhile since any updates. The editing that I was doing up through chapter 13 was mostly just language-type stuff – cleaning up the sound of things so it didn’t sound so old-fashioned, if you know what I mean. Needless to say, I’m basically caught up in that department and now I’m back to actually re-writing and developing the plot. Hence, progress is a bit slower.

Anyway, here are two new chapters. And finally, a bit of action, for those of you who were getting bored…

DWTW – Through Chapter 14

DwtW – Through Part Two

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Sorry for not posting any updates last week…I thought that the end of Part Two would be a nice, clean break and I hadn’t quite finished working through Chapter 12.

So, Part Two…it doesn’t have a lot of action, so if you get bored easily, you could just skip ahead to Chapter 11, ha. That being said, I enjoyed writing it, especially the process of adults remembering (or in this case, learning for the first time) what it means to be a child – how big the world can be, and how frightening it is when the people that we think of as invincible suddenly aren’t.

It’s also very entertaining to write about Lieb.

Anyway, as a side note, please feel free to point out any grammatical errors. I tend to speed-read, and this is often disastrous when it comes to editing.

Read on.

DWTW – Through Part Two