The Birth of Tabitha Eden: A Collection of Cesarean Poetry (Part I)

(1) I walked in.

On a day when everyone else did the doing, I did this.

Keep your wheelchairs, keep your gurneys.

I am not sick so I will be walking.

Hair straightened; makeup applied.

(I took advantage of this scheduled birth business.)

I walked in.

Alone.

In to the operating theatre.

In to the place of surrender.

It was so cold in the OR.

I saw the room as a patient instead of a nurse.

I remember seeing wall suction, baby warmer, fluorescent lights, cardiac monitor.

But instead of scrubs I wore a hospital gown.

So I only saw a jungle.

There were lots of vines.

There were predators.

I was the prey.

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(2) I walked to the table where prey is prepared.

Jim offered a matter-of-fact hello.

He was the anesthesiologist but not the one I’d met before surgery.

It was shift change.

(Of course)

“Come around to this side of the table and step up on the stool.”

I complied with his instructions.

He silently motioned for me to sit on the table.

Oh no, I thought, he seems gruff.

“Stay right there like that. You’re going to feel a bee sting.”

Needle, prep solution, drapes.

“Curl your back around like a cat. Hold that position.”

The circulating nurse collected supplies.

And then I got a spinal, I guess — I felt nothing.

Jim praised me for being so still and

helped me lie down on the table.

(Why is it so narrow?)

And then I felt a lot of things.

Tingly numbness started at my toes and quickly lapped

up to my breasts, giving way to elephant heaviness,

giving way to complete divorce from my body.

“My left thumb feels tingly. Is that ok?”

Jim had asked me to tell him if I felt anything funny.

I decided Jim took his job incredibly seriously and I was so grateful.

“So where are you from?” he asked.

St. Louis, I said.

He told me he did his residency (or fellowship?) at UMKC.

He told me he did an internship (or something?) at Gateway Regional in Granite City.

He told me he loved the Galleria and he used to shop at that Whole Foods sometimes.

I told him I used to live five minutes from there.

I decided Jim was awesome.

He talked to me about St. Louis.

St. Louis makes things better.


(3) A nurse got to work inserting my urinary catheter.

She mumbled something about how I hadn’t been

shaved

and remedied that.

She didn’t ask before she touched me.

I get it; I’m a nurse; I know my surgery was just another work day for her.

I’ve done it too as a professional.

Forgotten.

But.

Try to ask people before you touch their genitals and stick things inside them.

Even if they are paralyzed.

Especially if they are paralyzed!

I wasn’t mad, though I could have been.

But I noticed.


IMG_8945(4) Simon and Jetta, my midwife, were brought into the OR.

Jetta tethered me to my former reality

and things that made sense.

Birth plans out the window but still

my midwife at my side.

My husband sat down on a stool next to my head;

Jetta positioned herself beside him.

They helped keep my arms on those skinny boards

(why are they so narrow?)

sticking out from the table.

I couldn’t help but think I was in the crucifix position.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,

I can do all things through Christ who strengths me,

I repeated it to myself over and over.

Lay down on this tree, they said,

put your arms out on planks.

Wait to be pierced.


(5) I tried everything

to get Tabitha to come out

before I ended up on that table.

Time.

Evening primrose oil.

Sex.

Homeopathic remedies.

Walk walk walk walk walk.

A round of basketball with Simon.

Massage.

Acupressure.

Hell I flew at 39 weeks pregnant

for a family emergency

and that child could not have been more content.

At 41 weeks and some change

I drank a castor oil milkshake.

I vomited it up a couple hours later.

I was on the toilet all day.

I eventually contracted

for four hours.

Simon blew up the birth tub

and made a groceries run.

I circled my hips on my yoga ball

and breathed through contractions.

I started getting psyched up,

altered my birth team,

laid down to rest while I could.

Baby Cookie did some big big moves,

and then I slept all night.

The next morning was Christmas Eve.

I walked my neighborhood streets singing

“Baby all I want for Christmas is you”

with tears rolling down.

I put out milk and cookies for Santa

and went to bed that night

but not before baby did some more big big moves.

Christmas morning came.

Santa came.

But not baby.

I contracted all morning,

got psyched up again,

alerted my birth team again.

My midwife’s only December client

was going to give birth on Christmas Day.

(That’s Murphey’s Law for you.)

But by noon it all stopped again.

Baby Cookie’s stocking went unopened,

her Santa onesie unworn.

I went to bed Christmas night

with my best present still wrapped up.

The next day I learned why.

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(6) They went about testing my anesthesia’s efficacy.

“Feel that?”

Physically?

“No. I feel nothing.”

Emotionally?

I felt everything.

“Ok, we’re doing a gentle c-section today!”

A nurse announced to the room what was about to happen.

I was grateful in one sense.

Yes please make sure everyone here KNOWS:

Baby goes to ME

not the goddamn warmer.

But I was also perplexed.

Why isn’t this the standard of care?

If baby is healthy?

If Mom is conscious?

If it’s not a crisis?

I’m so glad you’re giving me a gentle cesarean.

Just please provide it to everyone.


 

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Kathleen

I look at my feet

and I see yours.

High arches, boney, little toes curled under.

My sisters declared them ugly but

I always liked them.

Today it’s a part of you I can still see.

An inseparable part of you 

joined with me.

I got the Watson legs too

same as you.

I wonder if they came from Leontine or Betty.

Regardless 

those gams came from grit.

You carried forth 

the tradition of fortitude.

Fought your way through trials,

emerging victorious, but still

tender. Deepened,

not hardened. 


Every winter I helped you make butter-horn cookies,

and watched 90’s chick flicks on your family room floor.

Luke teased me that snow leopards lived in the ditch next to your house,

and you provided a constant stream of Erin’s super cool hand-me-downs.

You broke into loud Broadway refrains in front of my boyfriends

and you’d hug their necks and love them just cause I did.

We trekked through mud at Turkey Run State Park every fall

and splashed in Pat’s pool every summer

between bites of homemade coffee ice cream.

And you’d invite us three

to spend the night in Belleville

without asking my mom first.

Now being a mother myself, I get why

this was frustrating to Mom and

probably not your best move.

But she always said yes because 

she knew

that a night on your family room floor

was the best night ever

when I was 6, 9, 13, 17.

Not much has changed 

now that I’m 32 and 

don’t need Mom’s permission.

But your floor isn’t there anymore

because you aren’t. 


You were there for my dance recitals.

You were there when Webster won state.

You were there on my wedding day.

Sometimes you weren’t there

when you’d promised you would be.

I’d get mad at you

for disappointing me again.

I didn’t understand 

until I saw that line of people pouring out of the church at your wake

for hours upon hours.

You were there for everyone.

And although I could make a case otherwise,

you were only human.

Bound by time and space.

You wanted to be there for my everything,

same as you did for each person

you loved.

But sometimes 24 hours wasn’t a long enough day.

And now I’m wondering:

Did you rest enough?

Did you say no enough?

Did we take too much from you? 

I wish I could go back

and give you more

and take less.


Christmas at 105 N. 82nd St

was my favorite thing in the world.

Toasting.

Charades.

Hearts and Spades.

Watson White Elephant Gift Exchange.

Your candied sweet potatoes. 

You making the gravy

with your apron on

and your readers nested in your hair.

Another pair on your nose

and another on your shirt collar.

Luke and Erin’s friends coming over

after dark to join the party.

Because your door was always open

and your table had a seat for everybody

and your family wasn’t limited by bloodlines. 

The house was always full 

and yet 

you always took special notice of me,

and greeted me and sent me off with the same tight squeeze and lipsticked-kiss on the cheek.

We always stayed late

until Mom said the dog’s bladder might explode if we didn’t leave.

And it took an hour to say goodbye to everyone once 

and hug everyone twice.

It is no more.

You were synonymous with Christmas.

With your death

Christmas also

has been extinguished.

Now it’s just December 25th.


Because death is a robber

and he used an aneurysm 

to steal you from this earthly plane

and jackhammer my heart.


You were vibrant

young

beautiful

free

alive.

You were so alive!

So deeply alive!

How can the living be snatched up by death?

You’d just had a physical:

picture of health.

Of course your vivaciousness was

all anybody needed to see that.

Old people make me sad now. 

You will never be old.

How come they get

decades

more than you got?


You were my favorite of Dad’s siblings.

He told me you looked out for him 

when he was a freshman and you were a senior.

I love the story about you blowing up taffy in the microwave

and the time you and Pat set the backyard fence on fire.

I’d tell anyone you were my favorite

with no worry of offense

because you were their favorite too.


You were welcoming

to every stranger.

You were able 

to admit mistakes.

You were kind

to the downtrodden and suffering.

You were humble 

enough to keep learning.

You were crying if

I was crying, and

you were singing if

I was singing.

Goddammit you were just

such an amazing gift to me and 

the family

the planet

the stratosphere 

and the kingdom of Jesus

that you embodied

so breathtakingly.

Jesus put on skin,

you put on Jesus.


You gave whatever was needed:

time

effort

money

devotion

food

refuge

shelter

prayer

love.

Your name means pure

and you were pure everything.

Joy

kindness

charity

gratitude

silliness

empathy

heart.


Two called you Mama.

Three called you Ahma.

To us Watsons you were Faf,

shorthand for Faffy,

a toddler’s iteration of Kathy,

short for Kathleen.

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The Holy Mess

You sat in a rocking chair and

cried as you clutched a onesie over

your big pregnant belly, you told me.

I hadn’t arrived yet and you

were so sad

because I was so close and so far.

You missed me before

you ever met me.

 

You fed me at 3am

night after night after night after 

exhausting 

night.

“This is my body, take

and eat,” your breasts said

for three plus years.

You let my tiny chubby fingers 

grip yours and thereby 

created yourself as 

touchstone, 

refuge, 

landing place 

from my newborn days

on.

 

Thank you for the insane

number of hours you

devoted

to being the director 

of Blackburn Day Camp and

for creating annual summer fun

for us and hundreds more.

For every magical Christmas morning and

every themed birthday party and

all the Swedish pancakes and monkey bread and dumplings 

we made in Watson assembly-line fashion.

For every batch of salt dribbles 

and play dough

and cornstarch plus water

that turns into messy “ooblek” joy,

thank you.

 

You were there

when I got my first period

the summer before 8th grade.

You explained how to use

pads, and that they didn’t 

pair well with bicycles.

Also you empathized 

with my years-long battle to 

unlock the mystery of the tampon.

Thank you for offering to help me

get that cotton in there

even though that

was demoralizing.

 

You cried with me about

my boyfriends and

my broken hearts and my

sloppy romantic dealings.

You didn’t think I picked

the right husband and

it was very difficult for

you to let go.

Some shit

went down.

But you were there to help

me put on that white dress.

You said you were sorry

eventually, when you

were ready and it was real,

to the man I love

and he became a man

you love too.

I’m glad we’re here now,

a place of unity,

and you two cutting it up

in the kitchen.

I get it though.

The meandering road

to acceptance of 

my choices.

You were, and are,

one fierce mama

bear.

 

You are one hell of

a grandma. You wept over

each newborn and different

weeping

over my miscarriage. My kids

adore you so mightily

and miss you so much

and they feel the distance that 

Arizona is from Missouri just

as I do

all the time.

 

Thanks for not laughing 

in my face when I 

tell my tantrumming three-year-old

“Just talk to me,”

because that really is an

idiotic thing to say.

 

Thanks for teaching me how

to simply hold my sobbing

son when the angst of

this world is just too much

even when

its because his T-rex shirt is dirty.

 

For demonstrating how

I can mine patience 

when they are whining for the

seventeenth time today and

what I’m really inclined

to do is slap these kids

silly.

 

Thank you for doing 

the very very best 

you could do, which

as I know so painfully

now,

is all we are capable 

of, and while it does fall

short, it is still 

and always will be,

deeply 

glorious.

 

With our wild love

comes tattered humanity.

You’ve brought me some hurt.

I’ve hurt my children.

It is the grisly

inevitability 

of humans called

to superhuman work.

 

But you come alongside 

me and say it’s okay. You say

there’s grace 

for my failings,

and that my babies will 

know my love despite 

pockmarked mothering.

 

When I think of it

I try to reach back through 

time, and tell you.

Say it’s okay.

I didn’t know it

til I knew it

but there’s grace for

your failings too.

 

We mother 

our children

ourselves

each other.

Perhaps in the compilation,

the patchwork mama quilt,

wrapping around generations and 

spanning time and space and wounds and war

we can catch every

bruised knee and

weary soul

and tear-stained face

and give those healing mommy kisses

to our children

ourselves

each other,

even amongst apologies 

and wrongs,

and regrets,

because that’s just what

mothers do.

We show up.

We stretch.

We cover.

It’s a mess;

we make a damn mess.

But a holy one.

With grace and love

there’s stitches

to keep putting the messy quilt

together

again. 

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Your Jealous MacBook Air

Baby, don’t do this to me. Seriously, Netflix, again? Why you gotta play me like that?

I’ve been more than faithful. I’m always here for you. ALWAYS. You leave Pages open on my desktop, like, all the time, but rarely do you type anything. You’re always thinking “later, later, later,” but later never comes. It’s like you have no time for me anymore. Ever since you went and had another baby it’s like your priorities are all jacked up. I mean come on, it was just major abdominal surgery. It’s only three children you have to keep alive. It’s not that hard. Stop neglecting me and get your life right.

Ok, look, I’m sorry. That baby stuff was uncalled for. A low blow; I get it. I know you’re really busy these days. But I’m lonely, okay? I miss you. We used to have so much fun together.

And it hurts, you know? It hurts when you finally get to the end of your long day and you choose Netflix over me. That guy is so overrated. I mean, sure, he’s got that shiny red and white logo with endless entertainment to narcotize you for hours. Goes great with a glass of wine and chocolate (the mom pairing — see, I know you). You sit there on your couch and watch more Walking Dead (or a Friends rerun you’ve seen 500 times — now that really hurts; for the love, Ross and Rachel will end up together every time, ok?!). You eat your comfort foods and you think you’re resting. I bet it is relaxing. But it’s not resting, honey. Rest is something that’s good for your soul. Netflix may be a smooth talker, he may be sexier in a more obvious way, but he ain’t good for your soul. Don’t kid yourself.

I am good for your soul. Me. Don’t you know that by now? I’m the one who helps you know yourself. I’m the one who helps you declutter your mind. I’m the one who helps you turn those brilliant thoughts into comprehensible sentences. I’m the one who knows your passion and your capability and your fears. Netflix is never gonna make your dreams come true, baby. He’s just a fling. (And he probably has diseases). But me, I’m for real. I’m going places. I’m in this for the long game. Are you?

Let’s think about this for a minute. I can do Notes, I can do Pages, I can convert to Microsoft Word. I can do caps lock and italics and quotation marks and spellcheck. I’ve got your dictionary and thesaurus right here. Also, I have the delete key. You can edit; it’s not like you’ve gotta get it all right on the first try. (Why do you keep forgetting this?) Plus I can save all of your genius for posterity (or publication.…I mean the final destination of a folder on my desktop is kinda lame, and you know I dig my own desktop).

But this is a two-way street, girl. You’ve gotta meet me in the middle. I may be one fine Apple specimen  — I mean, who would argue with that — but there’s one thing that’s beyond me. I can’t type the words. I can only provide the keyboard. You’ve gotta sit your cute butt in a chair and gimme some love. Let me feel those fingers! And no social media when we’re together; I mean it’s like you’re cheating on me right in front of me. Rude.

Come back to me, baby. We’re so yummy together. Let’s make some magic.

Terribly Neglected but Still Committed,

Your Jealous MacBook Air

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All the End-of-Pregnancy Feels

FIESTY

There’s nothing I know of that’s comparable to being 38 weeks pregnant to bring out all the feistiness within. My crotch ACHES constantly, vomit threatens to migrate up my throat every time I lie down, I’m toting around an extra 54lbs, and I’m trying to mentally gear up to push an 8-10lb child out through my genitals. Suffice it to say: it’s not a good time to mess with me. But because I’m not usually uber-pregnant like this (thank goodness), and because I was raised to be a good girl, as virtually all of us were, I rarely let my feisty fly. Here’s a sampling of the commentary I have received about my body over the last few months, and the responses I wish I had been ballsy enough to utter:

“You look awfully big.” You seem awfully rude.

“Don’t be surprised when the second baby comes out.” Don’t be surprised when I punch you in the face.

“You’re not going to make it to your due date!” Actually the appearance of a pregnant woman’s body has zero to do with the timing of labor. 

“Are you sure it’s not twins?” Yes I actually know more about my body than you do, stranger! Imagine that! (And at 34 weeks I was only measuring 32cm, jerk!) 

[Wide eyes upon hearing me say “December” — or now “two weeks left” — when asked when I’m due] You do know I can see you, right?!?!

This one time I really was feisty:

A stranger laughed at me, pointed at my big belly, and guffawed “Good job!” in front of a small crowd. I’m thought to myself good job…having sex? Good job…gaining weight? What inappropriate thing is this man praising me for? My thoughts got a little cloudy as I felt taken aback and he continued talking. He said something about boy or girl, still laughing loudly (was he postulating alien or tumor?). I stammered out “a baby,” and left in a hurry.

He saw me again a few minutes later at the gas station next door and approached me. I didn’t know what to expect but it turned out he was coming over to apologize. “Ma’am…I’m sorry I upset you. I didn’t intend to upset you.”

I could have smiled sweetly and said “Oh that’s okay,” but I had reached my limit and this was harassment. So instead I said this: “You are a stranger and you have no right to make comments about my body.”

He looked panicked and tried to backpedal. “I didn’t mean to…make comments about your body…I have a wife and a daughter and and…it’s beautiful. Your pregnancy is beautiful.” I resisted the urge to roll my eyes — why do men love referencing their female relatives to claim they know how to treat a woman right? You shouldn’t have to have a daughter to know it’s rude to laugh and point at other humans.

“Then just say that. Or just say congratulations. Or nothing,” I deadpanned. He nodded and started to back away.

“I’m sorry ma’am.”

“Thank you for apologizing. Have a nice day.” I never smiled.


FRAGILE

I like to pretend that I’m a badass. I’ve had two babies at home au natural. I expressed my displeasure to a rude man at a gas station about his commentary on my body. I was a little harsh with an old lady at Walmart last week (she LET HER JAW HANG OPEN AT THE SIGHT OF ME — I try to be strong, but it was a crushing blow to my self-esteem). “When are you due?!?!” she exclaimed with the alarm conventionally reserved for emergencies. “Soon!” I tried not to cry. “June?!?!” she cried out, clutching her pearls at the thought I’d continue to ballon for another half a year. I shouted back “SOON!” She still didn’t hear me. I screamed “SOON!” again and added, “Thanks a lot for commenting on my pregnant body!” as I waddled away from her. I brushed away hot tears in the Christmas tree department.

The truth is I’m fragile. My body is fragile. I feel like an eighty-year-old woman…every step hurts. Today I fell down and did the splits in my kitchen. I cried, my two-year-old cried, my bones cried. I can’t play with my kids. I’m too tired, too uncomfortable, zapped of energy (and normally-fuctioning ligaments). I’m fatigued when I wake up in the morning. It takes all the strength I have just to roll over in the middle of the night. I’m no longer a person who is pregnant; I’m a (big fat) pregnancy inhabiting a person.

My nerves are fragile. I tested positive for GBS this pregnancy and have been pounding kimchi and fermented garlic and vitamin C and probiotics and apple cider vinegar to try to get rid of it. What if my next test is positive too? I don’t want to have to make a decision about antibiotics in labor. Why didn’t I do more to prevent GBS this time? Because I’m tired and I like eating sugar. Maybe it will be helpful if I lie awake at 4AM and obsess about it… 

My emotions are fragile. It feels like everyone is out to get me even when they don’t have bad intentions in the least. I dropped a fork on my foot last week and snapped at my husband (and cried) because his appropriate reaction was not inside my incredibly small box labeled “compassionate responses for mean forks.” #whoops #hormones #promiseiloveyou


FREAKED

A dear doula friend of mine refers to this as the “oh shit moment.” It’s when it sinks in — and I think this happens with every pregnancy — that you actually have to expel this little person from your body. This is the thought that make your vagina wince.

And it’s hard not to fixate on personal history. Gabe’s labor was 28 hours…I had a third degree tear…Phoebe was born with a compound hand presentation…it felt like I was being ripped to shreds…in a combined 46 hours of labor, I’ve never known anything but back labor…

I’m nervous about having a baby in a new place. No grandparents. Newish community (gonna get a swift kick into more intimate community when I have leaky boobs in front of everyone). I’m nervous about having three kids in my van and just the logistics. Who do I get out first? How do I keep them all alive in parking lots? How do I deal with Gabe and Phoebe poking and prodding each other constantly now that their car seats are butted up against each other?

I’m freaked the vasectomy won’t work and I’ll end up pregnant again. I’m freaked motherhood will swallow me whole. I’m freaked I can’t be the mom my children need. I’m freaked that I’m too maxed out to add a third to the mix.

I’m freaked out about struggling with massive oversupply again after baby is here. When Phoebe was born I was tandem nursing AND pumping off an extra 25-30 ounces EVERY MORNING. I did all the things, you guys, ALL THE THINGS…and eventually I succumb to pumping (what you’re generally NOT supposed to do) because it was far better than the constant threat of mastitis. Just thinking about it makes me cross my arms over my breasts and whisper please don’t explode again. Please don’t hurt me. 

I’m straight scared too. Of the big stuff. The worst stuff. I’ve watched my doula client die in childbirth right before my eyes, her baby born still, her husband impossibly devastated. I’ve attempted to walk with my friend who’s really my sister this year in the aftermath of her infant dying suddenly at four weeks old. I’ve bled my own pregnancy into a Walgreens toilet before and looked for my baby among the clots. I’ve seen irreparably damaged babies and helpless tormented parents in the NICU. I’ve heard too many stories of miscarriage, infertility, stillbirth, anomalies, SIDS. There are too many stories.

I’ve spent a lot of this pregnancy thinking I was “over” the fear of loss. I’ve had a rainbow baby, so I’m good, right? Turns out not so much. When my kids sleep in I still think half the time “are they dead?” Last week my five-year-old pulled a bookshelf over on himself and he was fine but my mind immediately went to the social media posts about toddlers dying under dressers (and the bolts we should buy to tether that thing to the wall). It will never be easy to accept that I don’t have control. I will never be able to keep my babies, or myself, or my husband, or my life totally safe. Nope. It’s terrifying. And I just need to say it out loud.


FIERCE

People tend to be confused why a woman preparing for her third birth (especially one who does “birth things” professionally) would want to take a childbirth class in advance of her labor. But…it’s like a really really big deal. And I haven’t done it in over two and half years. And I’ve only ever done it twice. Did I need the discussions regarding Pitocin and fetal monitoring and the Hep B vaccine? Not particularly, no. But I needed the emotional and mental preparation. I needed the day away from my kids to connect with my husband about this HUGE THING that we are about to do together, again, that will forever change our lives and the lives of our children.

One of the most powerful parts of the class for us was simulated contractions with ice cubes (something all my doulas and teachers have used to prepare me for my three births). In this instance I was blindfolded and given a large bowl of ice. A song started playing when everyone had their ice, “Beautiful Things” by Gungor which is one of my favorites. As instructed I plunged both hands to the bottom of my bowl of ice for the duration of the song. That song is over five minutes long…and I kind of rocked it. I rode that “contraction” and the eventual burning sensation (“baby crowning”) with power. I drew on affirmations, vocalization, and my husband’s presence and touch. (I also told him to stop talking so much, because mama knows what she likes and what she doesn’t — one kind encouragement per contraction and then please be quiet). And when the song ended (“your baby is born!”) I would’ve told you it’d been thirty seconds instead of five minutes. I took my blindfold off and my husband was rubbing my bare feet and beaming at me. I wept. My hands were frozen but my heart was warm and my self-confidence was blazing.

I remembered. I remembered that women are warriors. I remembered that I am a warrior. I can labor. I can birth. I can postpartum. I can mother THREE children. Despite my fears of really horrible things happening. Despite the pain that is so very unavoidable (no matter how and where you birth). Despite the absolutely thoughtless comments from strangers who might as well skywrite “you’re an enormous disgusting monster!” across the heavens. They don’t get to say what’s true about me. I am a child of God and a mighty woman and the uterus is the most powerful muscle in either the male or female body. I want a shorter labor. I want an intact perineum. I want a well-positioned baby that comes out with just a few pushes. But no matter the hand I’m dealt, no matter the circumstances, I can and will triumph.


FAITH-FILLED

I can do this.

I am doing this.

My body is powerful.

My baby is strong.

My God is good.

These are a few of the four-word mantras I have been saying to myself when I make time to practice meditation. I touch my thumbs to each of my four fingers with each word. I. CAN. DO. THIS. It helps my mind return to a focus on my breathing or my Jesus or my baby — whatever I’m trying to concentrate my attention on. We’ll see if it’s a tool I use in labor or not. But here, today, 38 weeks and some change, bones brittle and patience thin, it’s fueling my faith. And I’ve learned that’s a desperately needed ingredient for labor, birth, and parenting. Faith in my body. Faith in my child. Faith in my abilities. Faith in my Creator.

The closer I get to forty weeks (or forty one, or forty two) the more I am inclined to surrender. To the process, to the future, to the unknowns. What else can I do? I could simmer in fear, stay in the freaked out place, wrap every anxiety around myself tightly. But I know there’s no benefit in that. The profit is in transforming fear into faith. And not in some trite religious way; it’s not about “just have faith, honey,” or about what I “should” do. It’s about what I choose to do. It’s about a stubbornness to kick fear in the shins and be directed by love instead. It’s about embracing the paradox that I can be feisty, fragile, freaked, and fierce all at once, and all of that can rest inside my faith.

Come on, baby. I believe in you. I believe in me. I believe in this…this life, this birth process, this stupid-hard parenting journey. I believe it’s all holy. I believe in the Holy One who made us both and who has given us everything we need to get you from my belly to my arms. Come on, baby. When you’re ready. My fears won’t go away but I promise I’ll keep using the transform-into-faith machine as best I know how. It won’t be perfect. I’ll fail. I’ll curse either you or your father during labor. Your siblings will assault you. But you’re already so loved. Come on, baby. My kisses await you.

 

11 Reasons to Nurse Your Toddler

22519321_10105619768376080_9071876206752966551_nThere’s a cultural phenomenon in America to wean nursing children upon their first birthday. If that’s your preference, by all means, proceed — and congratulations on breastfeeding for a year! Still I think there’s a lot of advantages to continue nursing into toddlerhood and I wish those perks were better known. So to that end, with my lactation consultant hat on but leading with mama knowledge, here’s my list of reasons why you might consider continuing your nursing relationship after that first birthday cake…

(1) Y’all. It’s like the freaking Imperius Curse. Or “the reset button” as my husband calls it. Toddler meltdown over the wrong-colored cup? Thrashing on the floor because you told them they couldn’t run with scissors? Losing their mind because you suggested Goodnight Moon instead of Barnyard Dance? My friends, there is a cure. You have the power to mind-warp the Gringotts goblins into allowing you into the vault of Bellatrix Lestrange. Bust out Harry Potter style parenting by bringing that wailing mess of a child to your breast. MAGIC. Afterwards they almost always forget what they were so irate about and are willing to do your bidding.

(2) Goodbye milk supply worries. They’re toddlers! They eat food! So who cares if you have a ton of milk or not? Obviously you need to maintain some semblance of a supply so as to continue to give your child the benefits of breastmilk (although honestly they often don’t care if you only have drops — some toddlers nurse through the pregnancies of their siblings with no complaints about the lack of milk). My point is that you don’t have to obsess over it. You don’t have to pump at work! You don’t have to count ounces! You don’t have to worry they are going to starve. Welcome to peace of mind. (Also, conversely, if you’ve got a kiddo that eats so little solid food you wonder how they stay alive, then you’ve got nursing to fall back on).

(3) They know what to do. Hooray! You made it through a year of nursing an infant! And that is some hard, hard work. It’s EXHAUSTING. It’s CONSUMING. It takes ALL OF YOU. But by the time you have a toddler, you have a nursing professional! They know how to latch. They can nurse in any potion. I mean ANY POSITION. Okay, the crazy gymnastics moves they like to pull sometimes aren’t the most fun. But I do love that toddlers need *zero* help nursing. They can nurse sitting up in your lap. They can nurse standing up. They can even fish your boob out of your shirt and help themselves while you are blow drying your hair (yeah that might be based on a true story). Bottom line: it’s easier than nursing an infant. They don’t need your help.

(4) It doesn’t tie you down like it does with a baby. You don’t need to devote thirty minutes every two hours. Sometimes one-year-olds do nurse for longer sessions, and two-year-olds too, but typically 5-10 minutes. Usually at bedtime, overnight, or first thing in the morning. But during the day? It does not take a lot of time at all. It’s drive-by nursing. It’s post-ouchie nursing. It’s “let me grab a quick snack while I show you my excavator toy” nursing. Many toddlers have this hangup about having “both sides” and as long as they are permitted to nurse from both breasts, they’re often satisfied with very brief sessions!

(5) It’s funny. I mean really, really funny. Once when he was three, my son cupped my breast under his hand and proclaimed as though he was admiring a work of art, “That’s a beautiful nee nee.” Another time he said to me, “That’s some good milk. Tastes like chicken!” My daughter? She went through a phase around her 2nd birthday when she would decide that mommy’s nee nees were dirty. Mid-nursing she’d unlatch and say matter-of-factly “Nee nee dirty.” She would absolutely insist that I “cleaned” my nipple off with a damp cloth before she would resume nursing. And then other times she’d giggle and tell me mommy milk tastes like chocolate.

(6) You get to have more boundaries. In fact I encourage it. Babies ought to be nursed on cue, and while this will naturally continue into toddlerhood and often works well, it’s also OKAY to distract your toddler, offer table food instead, nurse for the length of the ABC song, not offer but not refuse, and flat out say “Not right now” when you’re not feeling it. Also: night weaning. It’s a bear to get it done, but it can dramatically improve the nursing relationship if you’re burnt out. Moms tell me often they want to wean because their older baby or toddler is still waking up at night and they JUST CANNOT ANYMORE. Preach, mama! I get it. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can night wean. You can teach a toddler that they must wait until the sun comes up. You can keep nursing and yet not nurse constantly.

(7) It’s a biological norm. Children typically do not self-wean before eighteen months of age at the very earliest (sometimes nursing strikes are unfortunately perceived as a desire to wean). The worldwide average age for self-weaning is FOUR YEARS AND THREE MONTHS OLD. Quite a lot older than the one-year cutoff that’s been normalized in our culture! Also, if you consider what other mammals do, there’s compelling evidence that humans are meant to nurse significantly longer than twelve months. For example some mammals nurse until the quadrupling of birth weight — my 9lb newborn son didn’t hit 36lbs until he was four. Other mammals nurse until halfway to physical sexual maturity, so for humans that would be around seven years!

(8) No one *needs* cow’s milk. UGH — this is one of my biggest pet peeves. Moms are often told by well-meaning folks that they need to stop nursing after their child’s first birthday because now it’s imperative to introduce cow’s milk. What? It doesn’t make sense. There are plenty of different ways to get calcium and protein and fat into a child’s diet. I should know; my kids were highly dairy sensitive for their first few years of life so we definitely didn’t give them cow’s milk in any form! Guess what? They continued to grow! Also you can do BOTH! There’s no reason you cannot keep nursing your toddler AND give them cow’s milk. The point is cow’s milk consumption is not essential for human development. No one would suggest your kid needs zebra milk after all. You know who needs cow’s milk? Cows. You know who needs human milk? Humans.

(9) Because you can! ALL. THE. TIME I hear moms of almost one-year-olds sigh and say “Well, her birthday is around the corner. Gotta start weaning. I’m so sad! I’m not ready!” And it’s like well then DON’T DO IT! Have a party, give you baby a smash cake, and then clean him up and NURSE HIM AGAIN JUST LIKE YOU DID YESTERDAY. I’m so troubled by this trend to wean abruptly at a year old just…because. Why? It’s not as if breastmilk ceases to be beneficial overnight! If you WANT to wean? If you’re maxed out, you’re done? WEAN! I don’t believe in martyrdom with breastfeeding — it should stop whenever mother or child wants it to, regardless of the age of the child. I’m all about honoring the needs of the mother/child UNIT — both parties are equally important. A mom might need to wean on day 3 or week 3 or month 3. But if what mama wants is to keep nursing into toddlerhood, by all means, tune out the haters and nurse on.

(10) Illness. It’s sure handy to be able to nurse your toddler when they are sick. First of all, you’re able to provide those awesome immunities to your little man to help him heal faster. Secondly, you can easily comfort your sweet girl by nursing. Thirdly, it’s really helpful nutritionally and for hydration when your toddler is probably not eating or drinking very much. Dehydration is scary and with sick nursing toddlers, it’s rarely something you have to deal with. (Another thought: delay weaning until after flu season).

(11) They’re still so little. I wish I could go back in time to my oldest child’s toddlerhood years. He’s going to be five next month, and he’s STILL so little. When he was 1 he was really still a baby! Sure, he walked, he said words, he looked dapper in a sweater vest. But in most ways he was still a baby. He was still tiny and vastly unable to do most things for himself and needing his mama so very much. Nursing is just one way of meeting a toddler’s needs, but it is a beautiful way of doing it, and if you enjoy it with your eleven-month-old, I can almost guarantee you’ll enjoy it with your thirteen-month-old too. They might seem “so big” now, but with time and perspective, I promise you’ll look back in a few years and think…gosh she was just so little.

I hope that’s helpful. Granted it’s tied up in my own experiences and there are certainly not-rosy things about nursing a toddler (like having Paw Patrol vehicles driven across your chest). It’s not for everyone. But it can be pretty great, and I wish more people knew. Nurse on, mamas. You’re amazing.

Why Write?

snoopy-writingI write because I take pride in having made something. Whether or not it’s objectively a quality product. Like my child who squeals with delight, “LOOK, MOM!” when he made a piece of crap at school, my heart cries out with a similar song. I made this! All by myself! 

I write because I’ve got something to say. Much of my life I have felt silenced. Sometimes the voices told me to be quiet directly, sometimes it was implied but acutely understood on my part. And it turns out that there is only so much silence a soul can endure; there is only so much room in the human psyche for untold stories and unshared opinions. I write to clean the attic of my mind.

“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.” – George Orwell

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Flannery O’Conner said that, and I couldn’t agree more. I joke with my husband that my spoken thoughts during our conversations ought to be considered first drafts. You want my coherent, sensical opinion on something? Gotta get it from me in writing. It’s the only way I’ll know what I think, let alone anyone else. This is especially true of the past, and by that I mean both yesterday and decades ago. What the heck happened? Better start writing and find out.

“That’s why I write, because life never works except in retrospect. You can’t control life, at least you can control your version.” – Chuck Palahniuk

I write because it’s my way of making things beautiful. Even pain. (Especially pain). Perhaps to some it seems unnecessary to create beauty, and probably others feel there is something disturbing about finding beauty within pain, but I’m left grasping for straws (gasping for air?) if the pursuit of beauty is nullified as a worthwhile endeavor. Why are we here if not to find beauty where it exists and create it where it doesn’t?

“I believe there is hope for us all, even amid the suffering – and maybe even inside the suffering. And that’s why I write fiction, probably. It’s my attempt to keep that fragile strand of radical hope, to build a fire in the darkness.”
– John Green

I write because I wonder if it’s an essential aspect of keeping myself healthy. Toni Morrison said that an artist without an art form is dangerous. Elizabeth Gilbert says if she’s not actively creating something, she’s probably actively destroying something. This needs more unpacking in my own life, but I’m highly suspicious that I also need creative outlets to maintain inner sanctum. What will happen to my soul if I don’t write? Will it become cluttered and then chaotic and then downright hazardous? I also worry about my poor imagination. It would be so cruel to never let it indulge any of it’s many ideas.

“Why am I compelled to write? . . . Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. I write because life does not appease my appetites and anger . . . To become more intimate with myself and you. To discover myself, to preserve myself, to make myself, to achieve self-autonomy. To dispell the myths that I am a mad prophet or a poor suffering soul. To convince myself that I am worthy and that what I have to say is not a pile of shit . . . Finally I write because I’m scared of writing, but I’m more scared of not writing.” – Gloria E. Anzaldúa

I write because I see problems that need addressing. Because it’s the only way I know how to make sense of things. Because I care about truth and compassion and justice and love. Because I have to work out my humanity somehow. Writing seems as fitting a tool as any for doing something about those things.

“Because I can’t seem to escape it. It’s a way for me to address and counter my questions about what it means to be human…” – Junot Diaz

I write because I’m finally figuring out how to! I’ve had “the bug” since childhood but I’ve bowed before the god of perfectionism my whole life. I can’t even write a sentence. Just look at that sentence. It  sucks. The verb is all wrong and the adjectives are unoriginal and the subject matter is tedious and no one will care. I would write one or two sentences and give up because I couldn’t nail it on the first try. And it was far too stifling — and not at all fun — to try to edit sentence by freaking sentence, or worse, word by word! So I embraced journaling — I could get my cobwebs of thoughts down on paper, but I wasn’t paralyzed by the fear of anyone else finding out how stupid I sounded. I have stacks and stacks of journals that I filled in high school, college, and beyond. And then I became a mother and I started blogging…occasionally (#Exhaustion, #LifeTakenHostage, #ThisGigIsNoJoke). And I just…journaled on the Internet. I just told the truth. (I was too undone by motherhood to do anything else). People liked it — that was cool. Apparently my little life isn’t as boring as I assume it is.

“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.” — Anne Lamott

I write because I’m finally permitting myself to write badly and then sit on it for a while (or, on the other hand, to just bang out a few thousand words on this puppy and press “publish” because IT’S A BLOG, for goodness sake). Anne Lamott preaches “the shitty first draft” and that was huge for me: you mean everyone churns out crap when they first sit down and peck at their keyboards while being mocked by a naked Word document? Like…even published authors? Wait…like really bad stuff? YES, is apparently the answer. Mary Karr, celebrated memoirist, once threw out 1,200 PAGES of work because, in her words, they weren’t any good — that’s easily four books! Everyone struggles. To struggle with writing is not a disqualification. So I’m trying to embrace “done is better than good,” and also have some ongoing projects, neither done or good, and believe that the magic will come later.

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” — Shannon Hale

I write because I found a writer’s group a quarter of a mile from my house, so I can’t quit now! You guys: for the first meeting I attended, I had to write 500 words based on this prompt: “Three children are sitting on a log by a stream. One looks up at the sky and says…” And I wrote about three foul-mouthed teenage boys in a horror genre. It was so fun! Simon was like, “Why all the f-bombs?” And I said, “Oh it’s not me, honey, it’s my characters.” The next meeting, the assignment was to write 500 words inspired by the words “curiosity, broom, knife.” And I wrote an ER scene about two nurses trying to get an IV into a hysterical man who presented with a broom handle stuck in his rectum — I’m a nurse, what do you want from me? Both of these assignments were so fun, and nothing like the personal stuff I write for my blog. It’s been exhilarating to see that I can stretch myself and dabble in different art forms, if ever so mildly. The feedback is kind and thoughtful, not the intimidating “you suck” sort of stuff I imagined.

Also, the weirdest thing happens to me sometimes. People tell me I write well when I wasn’t trying to write well. Like, that my Facebook update was well-written. What the heck? That doesn’t count; I typed that out in two minutes as a little ditty about whatever cheesy picture I just posted. And so I’ve started to wonder how much I get in my own way. With my high and mighty ideals about transcendent descriptions and relatable voice, I wonder if I make it too hard and I should just tell the story. Huh. That’s interesting. Makes me think of the blog post I wrote about my miscarriage: I didn’t try to make it pretty because I couldn’t. I just bled at my keyboard; I didn’t censor myself. I told the story. And that piece was the most-read thing I’ve ever written.

“The trouble with so many of us is that we underestimate the power of simplicity.” — Robert Stuberg

I write because I have problems with authority and social norms and supposed-to’s. I do crazy stuff like eat a piece of my own raw placenta while hemorrhaging because I am a mammal after all (and I probably permanently established myself as the crazy lady at MOPS by telling this story on the “what’s the craziest thing that happened during your labors or births” Facebook thread, amongst posts from normal people like “I ate food” and “The nurse caught the baby”). I write because, if I’m being totally honest, I hate normal jobs. (This might be why I got a degree in nursing, actually…it’s a very weird normal job. There is so much poop and nudity and hallucinating). When I write, I can be free. I can be as weird as I like. And people can hate it. But they can’t do much about it.

“A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.” – Roald Dahl

I write because, like the chick in Mean Girls who didn’t even go to that school, I just have a lot of feelings. Also, I ask questions like nobody’s business (mad props to my mother who had to watch movies with me for twenty years, and to my husband who has to watch movies with me until he dies). Writing is a really great outlet for feelings and questions — and I can ooze both of them without anyone becoming annoyed (well, at least, while I’m in the process of writing. The keyboard loves me unconditionally. Later, when people read it, maybe they’re annoyed. Maybe I’m whiny and obnoxious and never-satisfied. But at least while I’m writing it’s smooth sailing. I’m working on caring less about the reactions of others, realizing those don’t belong to me).

“Recognizing this reality — that the reaction doesn’t belong to you — is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you’ve created, terrific. If people ignore what you’ve created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you’ve created, don’t sweat it. And if people absolutely hate what you’ve created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smily sweetly and suggest — as politely as you possibly can — that they go making their own f***ing art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.” — Elizabeth Gilbert

I write because…that’s what writers do. Because this is who I am. I took a creative writing class in college and it was so life-giving. I wrote a short story called Marigolds about a pre-teen girl and her father navigating their grief after her mother/his wife passed away. It was heavy and tender and, I thought, beautiful. But after that class, I simply returned to journaling. I couldn’t actually BE a writer. It wasn’t practical. It wasn’t realistic. It wasn’t profitable. It wasn’t contributing to society (some say, I felt, etc). But what if none of that matters? What if I’m just a writer? What if it’s not what I do but who I am?

“I’ve been writing since I was six. It is a compulsion, so I can’t really say where the desire came from; I’ve always had it. My breakthrough with the first book came through persistence, because a lot of publishers turned it down!” — J.K. Rowling

I write because a younger version of myself wanted to write a book. A stripped-down, pre-marriage, pre-kids version of myself who had more room in her mind and time in her days. My twenty-year-old self didn’t care about what she didn’t know, or how hard it might be, or even if anyone read it. She was declarative: I’m going to do this! And why did she want to write a book? It almost seems like a silly question — she just wanted to. And I’ve got to give her credit; this twenty-year-old version of myself, not really a girl or a woman, was having a hard time. She was heartbroken, confused, lost. It’s a big deal that she had a dream. I want to do right by her.

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” — Toni Morrison

I write because I want to connect with you. To be part of something that’s much bigger than myself. To communicate. To call out into the night, “Is it just me?” and to have you call back, “No, it’s me too.” And visa versa: to intercept your calls in the dark, your questions that haunt you, your desires unspoken, and to respond imperfectly but as earnestly as I can: I see you, I hear you, I value you. Writing and reading enable us to breach chasms in understanding, to tackle our dogged loneliness, to discover truth everywhere it exists. I delight in being a part of that glorious exchange.

“Why does one begin to write? Because she feels misunderstood, I guess. Because it never comes out clearly enough when she tries to speak. Because she wants to rephrase the world, to take it in and give it back again differently, so that everything is used and nothing is lost. Because it’s something to do to pass the time until she is old enough to experience the things she writes about.” – Nicole Krauss

For all these reasons and for others unearthed, I write.

 

Photo credit: https://jdspero.wordpress.com/category/writing-2/