Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." - Isaiah 30:21

Thursday, October 11, 2012

We've Moved!

I'm happy to announce that this blog now has a new location: Crossroads Birth Care. If you are a subscriber (or if you would like to be!), then please visit the link to subscribe to the new feed. Thanks!

Friday, October 5, 2012

In Praise of Boys and Men (Yes, Really)

Delaney and Liam are playing spies in the next room. They are assigning themselves various roles, personalities, skills, and gadgets. Liam paused the assignments to say, “The boy spy is usually the stupid one.”

I am so frigging sick of this. The dumb guy trope should be over. It never even should have started.

My father has railed against it ever since my sister and I brought home our first Berenstain Bear books, with the goofy, clueless dad. The marital combination is a sitcom staple: The mom holds the world together. The dad goes along for the ride. Usually screwing up quite a bit in the process. Thank God the mom is there to swoop in and save everybody.

This isn't silly. This isn't a funny joke. It's becoming a cultural norm, and it has the potential to be very damaging to men and women alike. And now, with Liam's comment, I'm beginning to think that the same sentiment has wormed its way into kid's movies and TV shows. It's called “children's programming” for a reason, right?

Here's the reality: Men have as much duty to care for their families as women do. And you know what? Many of them are incredibly good at it. My husband keeps me sane. He's super smart, he works hard, and I wouldn't be half the person I am without him. He would say all the same things about me, too. My son is clever, funny, and capable. He's an excellent problem solver. It hurts to think that the “adventure” movies he likes would suggest he should be anything less.

This is not feminism. This is pure reactionary stupidity.

I think it's important to raise girls to be smart. To teach them that they are not objects, but complete, worthwhile human beings in their own right. I'm proud of my strong, smart girls. The idea of anyone turning them into sex objects infuriates me, just as it would any good parent. And I am equally offended and angered by the cultural insistence on turning my boy into the butt of every joke, the hapless little dude consistently rescued by a smart girl.

Can somebody tell me why we are all so completely freaked out by the idea of men and women getting along and actually liking each other? By both sexes being smart and capable? Because that's what I do in my personal life, it's what most of my friends and family do, and all in all, it's a pretty sweet arrangement. That's what I want my son to remember about his childhood. It's time to override the programming.  


In New Hampshire, “CPM” is the designation for a direct-entry, non-nurse-midwife. These are highly trained, licensed professionals who attend statistically low-risk births in homes and independent birth centers. Nurse-midwives can attend births in these locations as well, but typically work in hospitals. Both embrace, at least on paper, the whole person, midwifery model of care. To become a CNM, one must first be a registered nurse, then train as a midwife.

A year and a half ago, I began a two-part post detailing why I intended to be a nurse-midwife. The first part was meant to explain why I was pursuing midwifery, the second part, why I had chosen the nursing route to get there. Mysteriously (or not) the second half was never written. Go figure.

Switching to a CPM track has been a nagging idea that has popped up at inconvenient times for several months now. Wrapped up in it are many conflicts about the way I view pregnancy and birth, wondering what babies really need as they enter the world, what mothers need as they become mothers, plenty of struggles regarding the integration of family and personal calling, and an ongoing disgust with the mismanagement and impersonalization of healthcare. Oh, and that whole emergent birth, preemie care, NICU stay firsthand experience thing.

So yesterday, I wrote a long post detailing all my ΓΌber-logical, black and white reasons that I finally decided to make the big switch. I wrote for a good chunk of the day, yet I just couldn't seem to wrap it up properly. Yesterday I couldn't figure out why, but now I think I can.

When I was first working through my postpartum anxiety, my therapist asked what drew me to birth work in the first place - it almost doesn't fit with my Type A personality (my words, not hers). After a long pause, I shrugged and said, “It seems really chaotic and beyond our understanding, but it usually just works itself out. It's like chaos with an underlying order to it.” Whether birth is entirely straightforward or complications arise, both the mother's body and the baby's have an inner wisdom that goes beyond what science has been able to identify, and certainly beyond what medicine has been able to manage. It starts with conception – no, even with the cycles that precede it. Our bodies have an incredible, mysterious order that connects us to the whole earth, to the skies, even. And dare I say to God? Yes, giving birth made me feel a much deeper connection to the God who made the universe, and made me, and my husband, and my babies. Disagree with that all you want, analyze it to death, but it did. And birth gave me a deeper connection to myself, too, which is arguably just as important.

Science is amazing. I live in awe of the knowledge that's been obtained, of the nuances to these things that have been discovered. The hormonal cocktail that floods the brain, the physiology of the stages of labor, a baby's innate protective reflexes. The amount that we understand about this very mysterious act of making and supporting new human beings is impressive. But science isn't all there is. Direct-entry midwifery has been referred to as embracing the “art and science” of birth. And, as much as I take issue with any philosophy that claims birth works out 100% of the time - so  much so that really, who needs a qualified attendant there anyway (ARGH!) – I do believe that birth work involves a necessary element of trust in the process. Extensive knowledge, yes. But with a very, very healthy dose of trust.

In nursing school, I felt the art of care and trust in the body being taught out of me. This is not the case for everyone, and there are many, many wonderful nurses and nurse-midwives who are able to embrace both the art and science of traditional nursing care with ease. When I began the program, in fact, I was thrilled to learn that nursing is considered its own discipline, separate from medicine, and by definition it requires whole-person care. On paper, it looks like the perfect compliment to birth work.

But my experience thus far has been the complete opposite. My learning style is largely kinesthetic – I learn by doing, not by talking about it, so what the books say is less significant to my development than what I do in clinical. And what I'm required to be doing involves very little trust, and minimal appreciation for holistic care. The nutrition standards are out of date by decades; herbs are portrayed as dangerous things to avoid, rather than potent supplements to understand; and there's a med for everything (or rather, for every symptom). Doing poorly? Here, take pill. Oh, you're taking good care of yourself? You're not quite where we'd like to see you yet. Here's a prescription. Big Pharma continues to have a disturbing hold on healthcare, and nursing is no more immune than any other element. I'm tired of feeling so frustrated.

The evidence supports exercise and a whole foods diet as not only prevention of but even treatment for heart disease, Type II diabetes, and (of course) obesity. It's in all my textbooks. I have yet to see these recommendations make it into practice. We just tell people no salt, no fat, and no red meat. And for the second time I'll remind myself – you probably don't want to hear that rant. Suffice to say, pregnancy and birth are no more immune to this archaic approach than any other – ahem - “medical condition.”

So. Anyway. I'm not going back to nursing school. (Gee, that was rather anticlimactic, huh?) Instead, I am working toward becoming a CPM, a direct-entry midwife who attends low-risk births in homes and birth centers. I have not yet decided which route to take toward NARM-certification. There are a variety of options, all of which have significant pros and cons. Nor have a decided on my timeline. Anxious as I am to get started, I can't help but agree with the stance put forward by Elizabeth Davis and Carol Leonard in The Women's Wheel of Life, that midwifery, in traditional cultures, comes after motherhood – that is, there are significant benefits to waiting until small children are older. In the coming weeks, I'll be talking to some local midwives about what apprenticeship would entail, and whether it's something I can take on now or should put off for a few years. In the meantime, I'll be training and working as a birth doula. 

Nursing school was a valuable experience for myriad reasons. I'm grateful to have done it. But when I made the decision not to go back, I felt the proverbial weight lift off my shoulders. Nursing school was like a worthwhile detour that temporarily took me off the path I'm meant to walk, and now I am beyond thrilled at the opportunity to get back to birth work without reservations. I'm done with predicting the details of what this might look like – that never works out the way I expect. But getting back on this path is exciting, and I can't wait to see where it takes me.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Living Space

So I lost myself in the living room last week.

It started with the coffee table, a nondescript brown monstrosity with which Jake inexplicably fell in love. I'm not sure, something about the scrollwork. By nightfall on Saturday it was there, taking up every last inch of space, buffeted by an ugly green couch and unusually low rocking chair, anchored by a black shag rug. I despaired. We have lived here for three years and I have never been able to get the living room quite the way I like, despite my numerous valiant attempts and hours upon hours of manual labor on Jake's part.

48 hours later, glaring at the coffee table and lamenting the Patriots' recent loss with back-to-back episodes of Glee, came the revelation: Paint. Paint fixes everything. The next night, a dark, windy one worthy of Halloween itself, I rushed to Home Depot, returning home just in time for Jake to leave for work. Soon I was surrounded by pieces of wood furniture splayed out on various sheets, awaiting their magnificent transformations. I was utterly alone and it was lovely. I turned on some music and picked up the sander. Then the power went out and Liam started screaming.

By the time painting actually occurred the following evening, I had ordered two new slipcovers for the couch and commissioned the man who actually makes the money for this stuff to repaint the living room walls, too. We put the kids to bed and worked together over glasses Shiraz (me) and Jones soda (him), Smartfood, and pretzel M&Ms. It turned into a pretty sweet little date night. Jake and I truly like to work on projects together, which is probably on my top ten list of favorite things about our relationship. Also, it makes up for our disparate tastes.

By the following weekend, I was looking with pride upon a whole new room. What an accomplishment. It felt worthy of Better Homes and Gardens, I thought. I was a domestic goddess, I thought. And then, Ohmygoodnesswhathashappenedtome, I thought. Because I don't do domesticity. I thought.

My mother spent years trying to get me to cook. My sister and I made meatloaf for dinner one night when I was 10, which went so well that she's now a vegetarian for life. When I was 14, I made chili, coolly chatting with a boy I knew while dumping in approximately ¼ cup of basil. Yes, basil. In chili. For years afterward I avoided cooking expressly because older generations had considered it woman's work, and I intended to be above all that. (You might think sucking at it would come in to play, too, but no.) In truth, I didn't get into cooking until we made friends with men who cooked, and then I decided I could do so without being subject to traditional gender roles. By then I had developed an interest in nutrition and clean eating, too, so cooking felt like a healthy lifestyle choice, not a domestic chore.

The state of the laundry in our house is perpetually pathetic. The bathrooms are cleaned only when company is expected. Dusting doesn't even cross my mind. Ever. I think that deep down, I've always kind of liked that about myself. I have generally regarded domestic chores as petty, and low on the priority list. As in, there are bigger concerns in the world, and I have no desire to be bogged down by the very, very small ones like window cleaning.

Yet there I was, exulting in my newly light and airy living room, loving this corner of our home that I had made into something nice. Wondering, who is this person? And facing a dawning realization – again – that my motivations, my expectations, and even my life decisions are influenced by so many things I would rather not see factor. I like decorating. I like cooking. Yet for years I resisted either – and the reason was so that I wouldn't be a “type”? Seriously? Yikes.

Okay, actually that revelation came several days later, and was the point at which I began to reconcile myself to loving the living room – and myself – without reservation. I can't help but feel like I'm in the midst of a significant paradigm shift which has very little to do with the living room, and with much left to be worked out. The ramifications of it all are simultaneously exciting and intimidating. Yet incredibly - dare I say it? - liberating.

To be continued . . .  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Brainwashing and Other Responsibilities

“Religious indoctrination of children is child abuse.” Read this gem on, where else, a Facebook page yesterday. The discussion had something to do with circumcision. (Save it for another day, folks. One dogma-spewing topic at a time, K?)

Well, by golly, that offends me. Also, it's stupid. It's almost too stupid a claim to bother writing about, but what the heck, I feel like addressing it.

Personal opinion here, as one guilty of indoctrination or abuse or brainwashing or whatever synonym you prefer: It is far more damaging to raise your children with zero exposure to the spiritual than it is to raise them with a belief in a higher power. No, I will not tell my children they are nothing more than their brains and the rest of their bodies, and that this whole existence is a crap shoot. Oh, but, uh, be nice, because I guess that still kind of matters, at least until you die. Then, you know, whatever.

Pardon the sarcasm. I fully realize, and in fact greatly appreciate, that there are atheists and agnostics with a much higher view of humanity than the one described above. I count many of them among my friends. They are thoughtful individuals and not really the type for commenting with wild accusations on message boards, though. (Or if they are, I am unaware of it.)

I firmly believe, having been a child and known one or two others along the way, that children have a thriving sense of the spiritual. I also believe that as parents we have a responsibility to honor that spirituality and to respond to it, allowing them to develop it further. If I am helping my child become a thinking, caring, responsible adult in every other aspect, then ignoring their spirituality is tantamount to sending them out in the snow without pants: It's incomplete parenting.

I know enough children to believe they're innately spiritual. Soulful, if you prefer. I know enough adults to believe even more firmly that there is a right and a wrong way to teach your kids about religion. If you train up your children in a narrow way that dictates exactly what they must believe, and threaten to alienate them if they deviate from it - and then follow through when they do! - then yes, I could easily be convinced that such behavior is really bad parenting. Actually I would just say you are an asshole. I might even say that presenting religion in an overly dogmatic fashion deprives your child of the opportunity to develop their own personal relationship with God and therefore equates to spiritual abuse. I might.

I grew up in a deeply religious household. It was strict. With six kids and Bible study in the mornings, we probably qualified for our own reality show. However, what I love about my upbringing is that no questions were forbidden. Doubting God? Okay, we can talk about it. Thinking about voting Democrat? Less tolerated, but they gritted their teeth and got through those conversations too. In politics, in religion, and in everything else, I knew that my parents would always love me no matter what I chose to believe. Jake and I are raising our kids essentially the same way, and with the same emphasis (albeit less political): We will love our kids no matter what, and we tell them so. More importantly, God will love them no matter what. Our love is not contingent upon what they believe, whom they love, or what they do, and neither is God's. If it's abusive to raise our children in such a manner, with an understanding that the love of the creator of the universe is absolute and unconditional, then we're guilty. Imagine their suffering.

This morning Laney asked me, “How old is the world?” We had a long talk, and I presented my position the way I present most of the big questions: Some people believe it's young. Other people believe it's old. There is evidence for both positions, and personally, I find the evidence supporting the idea that it's old to be more compelling. That's what I believe. We can talk about it and research it as much as you want.

An hour later, Liam wanted to know if we would die when the world ends. We talked about the fact that our bodies will stop working, but our souls will live on, and go to be with Jesus if we love him and believe in him. Yep, that's some shameless hardcore indoctrination right there. I'm teaching it to my child not because I can prove it, but because I believe it and recognize that the best evidence, which I have critically evaluated, points in this direction. Could I be wrong? Quite possibly. Will he have to decide what he believes for himself as he grows? Absolutely, and I will encourage him to do so. In the meantime, I refuse to leave him floundering with nothing more than an “I don't know” or even a “here's what I think” because I can't tell him something that can be proven. Okay for the age of the world. Less okay for what happens at the moment of death. Some kid questions warrant a concrete answer, even if the details are fuzzy.

It's possible that the individual quoted above, and others who share his mindset, take the position that each one of us can believe what we want, but should let our kids decide for themselves. Or, to use the usual terminology, we shouldn't take our beliefs and shove them down our kids' throats. To which I respond, if your faith isn't worthy of sharing with those you hold dear, it must be a pretty flimsy faith. I teach my kids about faith the way I teach them about gravity: It's all theory. There's really strong supporting evidence. Therefore, I will present this idea to you as truth. Explore it all you want, and please, I pray, reach a conclusion that is personal and truthful to you. God gave you a brain, now use it to its fullest.

You still prefer the alternative, oh omniscient Facebook commenter? Okay, go ahead. Teach your kids only that which you can prove. Have fun talking about, um . . . uh . . . Oh. Right.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Goodnight, Dragon

“I'm afraid I'll wake up different tomorrow.”

He stood beside me at the dining room table, frowning. Before I could begin to guess at the context, his sister swooped in with an arguably comforting, “No no, buddy, don't worry. That just happens to dragons.”

Dragons, you see, transform when they get all the things they want, then turn nasty and greedy, and then they grow bigger and meaner. Or something.

Liam persisted. “I don't want to get different."

I joined in the reassurance. No, he would not wake up scaly or monstrous in the morning. (Well . . .) That was just dragons. I stopped before I got to the part that I really wanted to say, that he will wake up different. That every morning when he wakes up, he's different than he was the day before, and the rest of us are too. Every moment we're learning and growing and changing, each of us moving forward on our own path. It's beautiful. It's mysterious. And it makes me sad.

Jake often says he doesn't want the kids to grow up. That they're so cute now, and in a few years they won't want to cuddle, and they'll think we're embarrassing instead of awesome. But I love the idea of seeing them grow up. I can't wait to find out who they become.

At the same time, I agree with Liam. I don't want him to wake up different. This beautiful little boy, my middle child, the one I don't mention as often simply because I don't question myself with him. Unlike the other two, I just get him. He's a deep thinker and stubborn as hell and can barely control himself around ice cream. It's like he's a piece of my soul.

I dread him losing his sweetness. I'm already bracing myself for the moment he figures out superheroes are purely fictional, and for the day he no longer runs into the kitchen asking for something to help him stick himself to the walls. I wonder if there's a way to help him preserve the sense of magic, the feeling that the whole world is amazing.

When I kissed him goodnight I noticed how big his hands are growing. He is slowly, slowly moving out of little boyhood. He gave his two-year-old cousin the cuddly stuffed tiger he doesn't want anymore. He likes cars and tools and legos – even trains have become a bit passe.

I look at my family, and Jake's, and everyone else's, and the pattern seems so clear: Girls come back home. They grow up, and eventually, if you're lucky, become your friends. But boys, it seems, carve out their own separate lives. They're around. They love you still. Maybe a little less than they used to. At any rate, they need you less.

I can't help but note the contradiction here. For my girls, I'm attempting to model this mom as multi-dimensional human being idea. I want them to know there's more to me, so that they feel free to explore their own myriad roles and relationships as they grow. With my boy, it's so much less enlightened. For him, I would consider dropping all the ideals if I knew that I would just continue to be his mommy. But that would be wrong. That wouldn't be healthy. That's how Norman Bates' mother's bones wound up in a rocking chair in the basement.

So yes, I will let him go when I need to. But I hope he doesn't wake up different for a long time yet.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mommy is a Verb

I went running because I was cranky. And because some days, let's face it, kids are just annoying.

I happened to jog by a woman holding a toddler and speaking firmly to a five-year-old. Clearly a mom, her clothes said. You know. Mom clothes.

I've always had, like, this thing about looking like a mom. A friend once told me she took out her nose ring after someone assumed she was her son's nanny. My first thought was, Isn't that a compliment? I found my old blog recently, and apparently I've been dealing with this since Laney was a newborn and I cut my hair short. After a few weeks, I cut it even shorter so that it couldn't possibly be mistaken for a "mom cut." Somehow I didn't like the idea of having my hairstyle determined by the existence of offspring. I don't know, maybe it's weird. But there it is.

In the same way, I've always bristled at the whole stretch mark quote about being a tiger and a tiger earning its stripes. No, dammit, I don't want stripes. Shut up and stop trying to make me feel better about it.

So as I jogged past this woman, I thought, What is my issue with this? Why do I dislike the idea that my clothes or some other element of my appearance reveals me as a mother? It's not like I don't want anyone to know. I'm proud of my kids. Annoying moments aside, I like being their mother.

But it isn't about them. It's about the fact that when we talk about mom jeans, or mom haircuts, or mom cars, or when we refer to someone as a soccer mom (or, for that matter, a M.I.L.F.), we are defining that person. We are oversimplifying all the pieces of their life into the generic M-O-M, like there's some specific set of characteristics that accompany the designation.

So what?

So I'm starting to think it's dangerous.

When I have "mom hair" - which I frequently do - isn't that another way of saying it's my kids' fault I look like a slob? Isn't it an opportunity for me to blame them for my sub-par appearance? They aren't responsible for pulling my hair into a ponytail nearly every morning, I am.

What if instead, we shrug our shoulders and say, Yeah, a lot of mothers have messy hair. Funny correlation there. Or hey, maybe some women have messy hair and some don't, and nobody cares. That would be even better.

Of course, it's not really about appearance. But it causes me to wonder how we see ourselves. When Rowan was born, when I came home from the hospital knowing that for the next year, at minimum, I was neither working nor in school, my thinking was, Well, now I'm just a mom. I even said it a bunch of times: "I don't have to be anybody else. Just mom."

Well, no. False. If I am created as a multi-dimensional individual who is many things to many people, if I have a set of skills that are meant to be shared with the world, then why am I going to reduce myself to only one of those roles and allow it to consume my entire identity? Isn't that kind of, you know, wrong? 

To be clear: "Mommy" is without question the most important role I have ever played, and most likely will ever play. That is, it's the most significant thing I do. But it's just a small piece of who I am. And what kind of regard are we showing for the other people in our lives, the people with whom I honestly believe that God had connected us, if we define ourselves purely as mothers? Doesn't that mean these other non-offspring people don't count for a whole lot?

So here's my project for the next few months: I am going to avoid the use of the word "mom" as an identity. Instead, I'd like to think of it as an action word: To mommy. To mother. In the same way that Christians have - rightfully, in my opinion - emphasized that love is a verb, not a feeling, I want to forget that mom can be used as a noun. I will not use it to define anyone, myself included. My kids deserve better than that, and so does everyone else I know. So do I.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

First Grade

Dear Delaney,

I have promised the school district that next week I will begin to teach you formally.
Lately, the idea of me teaching you makes me smirk. When I think about your curriculum, and when I think on a deeper level about the reasons why we choose to educate you in your own home, what I notice is not the number of things I am supposed to teach you, but the things you have taught me in six years. What I am supposed to teach you can't even compare to what I've learned.

You have taught me that weird is good. Not just okay, but GOOD. I observe others interacting with you, and I realize that every decent human being actually likes your unique way of looking at the world. The few who don't are people who would make miserable company anyway. (The woman at the park walking the mean chihuahua? Seriously, what was her problem?)

But me, I was always afraid to be weird. (A tad ironic, I know.) Your mother is the girl who would wake up every morning of fourth grade and pray that she would not have to sit at the end of the lunch table. That she would not be just loosely affiliated with the cool girls, slightly in but also slightly outcast. You? You're the girl who would sit at the end of the lunch table and invest herself in a conversation with whomever sits beside her. You don't look at potential friends and decide how they might impact your coolness factor. You don't care whether your alternative-ness is trendy or just plain out there and freaky. You just ARE. And you let the people around you in, no matter who they are, and allow them to just BE with you. If they don't know how, you show them. I suspect you don't know just how great that is, but maybe that's best.  

Right now I exercise a bit of control over your peer group. I do that because I want to keep you, while you're young, with other kids (and adults) who see the world like you do. There will be plenty of time to stand up for yourself to girls who try to break you down. There will be girls who talk behind your back and who act like they're prettier – and maybe they are, though I don't think there are many – and there are girls who will be straight up bitches. (By the way, you aren't allowed to read this letter until you're, like, 12 or so.) THEY ARE WRONG.

Some day, there will be boys who think you should act like they're awesome even if they aren't. They might even think you owe them something personal or intimate, for no good reason except that they spent money on you, or opened your car door. It's a deeply flawed logic, I know, but somehow, they don't. 

Right now, your best friend is a boy who thinks your ninja skills are fantastic. You call him your boyfriend, which bothered me at first. But I've gotten over myself. If you want your boyfriend, at six years old, to be a boy who likes you for who you are, with your chronically messy hair, clashing clothes, and slightly clumsy karate moves, go for it. That's the kind of boy I want for you, for all your life. (Although if you want to start brushing your hair a little more often, I seriously have no problem with that.)

You've taught me the natural antidote for poison ivy. You've taught me that wolves are marathoners. You've taught me a whole new way of thinking about the concept of odd and even numbers, that Big Foot legends pervade most cultures, that a mongoose trumps a cobra nearly every time.

You've taught me that my grand plans sometimes don't amount to much, because they hinge on other people and extenuating circumstances. I look at our plans laid out, day by day, for the next month, and already I know that half of them will probably be out the window by September 15th. You have taught me not only to adapt, but also that I must adapt – and that when I do, everything else takes care of itself. You have made me just a little more fluid, just a little less stubborn. (Note to your father: I said a little.)

I love your mind, Laney. It terrifies me at times, because it's complicated and intimidating and sometimes I have no idea how I, of all people, am primarily responsible for honing something so complex. But the idea of leaving it up to someone else scares me even more. I will not, maybe even cannot, entrust you to even the most excellent professionals if they do not have the opportunity to know you as a person.

I promise to do my best to mold your spirit, but I will not break it. I want everyone who works with you to see your amazing potential, and help you become the best YOU that you can be. And yes, it does take work, and it does take discipline. I am going to expect you to perform school tasks you don't want to do. You're going to get mad at me, and you won't be allowed to fly under the radar like you might in a classroom of 20 or more kids. (Or 42 kids, like a local school district is dealing with this year.) Make no mistake - the fact that you are homeschooled means, in some ways, that you will need to work harder. I am going to push you to be better every day.

And I think that's fair. Because you have pushed me to be better, to be kinder, to be braver and more patient, every day since you were born. Some days I think it will drive me crazy. Many days you exhaust me. But I am so, so much better because of you; because of your insistence on you being you. 

All this stuff that happens on the weekdays between September and June - that's just filling in the gaps. We're going to do it, and we're going to do it well. But when you graduate, when you are an adult making your own amazing life, I don't think school time is what either of us will remember. I like to think what we'll remember is the conversations yelled back and forth from opposite ends of the car. Of the games you invent with your brother and of the way you entertain your little sister. Of the way you like to mediate when your dad and I have different viewpoints on an issue. I hope you'll remember a lot of snuggles and most of all a feeling of being loved and nurtured by all the people around you - not just by your family, but by your friends and your friends' parents. There are years ahead to learn how to deal with bullies and jerks. There will be plenty of time - more than enough - to stand up for yourself, your beliefs, your ideas. But it's my job to give you a solid foundation before you need to do that.

Every day I pray that I help you become the person God made you to be. If it were left up to me, I would be sorely tempted to turn you into the kind of kid who could just make my life easier. Your questions and your outlook challenge me to the point of exhaustion, and much of the time I have no idea what I'm doing. Very often I think the fact that God put you here, with me as your mother, means that God has far more confidence in me than I have in myself. So as I try to see you the way that God made you, I try to see myself the way God sees me. Because you have taught me that deep down, we both must be pretty amazing. 

School starts Tuesday, kiddo. I'm game if you are. Here goes nothing.

Love you forever,


Monday, August 27, 2012


I am a woman, and I think that's pretty damn amazing.

My body grows, nourishes, and sustains life. Yet this ability has been cheapened, spun, USED, in order to win the political upper-hand. No more. I'm insulted, and I'm taking my body back.

You don't get to use me to fight your battles. You don't get to take this sacred, mysterious ability, and the complicated decisions I make to manage its potential, and reduce it to something called “reproductive rights”. You don't get to tell me that what I carried within me was nothing more than my own tissue until the last few months. My body and its capabilities, not to mention my babies, deserve more respect than that.

You do not have my permission to paint me into a woman-hating, anti-feminist corner when I say that this ability to create life should not be taken lightly.

You don't get to take the daily roles I've chosen and say they're unworthy, just because they have no comparison in the world of men. For that matter, you do not have my permission to take the most fundamental, amazing part of what makes me a woman and turn it into a euphemism for cowardice and fear, while using your own to represent boldness. Because come on guys, we all know by now that real "b****" are just not that tough, so who cares what size they are? Multi-tasking, life-giving, world-revolving “p***” is a better compliment any day.

My body matters. I matter. Rape is wrong, wrong, wrong. And when you take scenarios about rape and argue about what can and can't be done to my body after the fact, you're still just using me as a tool in your own agenda. You don't get to do that anymore.

I am pro-woman. Which is why I am pro-life.  

Shadow Girl

The outline of a runner moves ahead of me.
Visor, ear buds, shoelaces. Strong shoulders and a narrow waist. No one I recognize. I struggle clumsily to keep pace.

A car slows for the crosswalk. I wave. Time to walk. She waves, but doesn't slow. So much for walking.

We reach the corner, and she runs beside me. Quiet, but good company. Together we count mailboxes.
She asks, Think you can make it to the stop sign?

No. There are too many mailboxes on this street. I don't know, I've never tried before.

Red and white move closer. S-T-O-P. A cramp in my side. S-T-O-P. And my foot. My chest tightens. S-T-O-P.
But we don't. Suddenly I am breathing easier. Muttering, "Wow."

We turn for home. She falls a step behind.
One hill left.
C'mon. Keep up.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

No Makeup

A good friend and I recently compared notes on our newborns. Or rather, under the guise of discussing our newborns, we compared our mommy skills. That is, we compared our fears that we might suck.

Okay, no. We both figure we're, you know, decent at it. ("Decent" pronounced with that shrugging overemphasis on the first syllable, the way your mother would respond when you asked what you should wear for Thanksgiving dinner.) Our kids have emerged from our foray into parenting relatively unscathed, appearing rather smart and pretty darn cute, too. But this has led the outside world to assume we're phenomenal parents. That we know exactly what we're doing, we have made informed choices on all elements of childhood health and well-being, and we are, above all, confident.

Which is kind of a joke, especially if you've met my kids. Have you ever had a conversation with Delaney? What exactly am I supposed to do with her? That's a kid who should have come with a manual. With a super thick trouble-shooting section.

Yet with each child, and with each friendship, I come closer to fully recognizing the dirty little secret at the heart of motherhood: None of us knows what the hell we're doing. Those moms who look like they have it all together? Yeah, they don't have a clue. (In my experience, dads don't usually know what they're doing either - but they'll just come right out and say so.)

Personally, I would rather spend the day with a mother who recognizes that the decisions she makes for her family are based on little more than best guesses. She considers the research, identifies the option that she interprets as having minimum risk, and inserts a healthy dose of intuition. I dread spending time with parents who honestly believe they have it all figured out. Seriously. They're annoying. Well, that and the fact that I don't believe they exist, so I count the people who present that way as extra fake. If I have ever presented myself that way, I would like to apologize at once.

So consider this me answering the door with no makeup, in an unflattering tank top with inadequate support. With my messy, un-sexy ponytail, let me say that I question every decision I make, strongly suspect my kids would be better off with someone who is nicer, and get annoyed all too easily. I overload on what I hope is unbiased research regarding nutrition, birth options, vaccines, child development, and education, and still get no further than throwing up my hands and saying, "Well, hope we made the right call on that one. Guess we'll see."

I'm coming around to being vocal about this, finally, because the truth is we all have to wash off our makeup at the end of the day. We all take off our bras when we put on our pajamas. (You do, right? Because you really should. Breast cancer risk and lymph flow and all that.)

So no, you are not the first parent to decide that the only possible way these enigmatic, precious creatures have been entrusted to you was through some great cosmic mistake. Nor are you the first parent to post Instagrams of the local, organic, superfood-packed dinner you just made, leaving out the fact that they had McDonald's for lunch. And can we please agree to not discuss remembering to brush their teeth in the morning?

support for new moms card
And then there's my all-time favorite gem from Hallmark

As if to highlight my point, the mail truck pulled into the driveway while I was writing this. The mail carrier handed me two packages from Amazon, containing most of our curriculum for the year, along with the acknowledgement from the school district that they've received our letter of intent to homeschool. I wish I could say that I gleefully snapped a picture of today's mail and posted it to Facebook with a comment like, "Take that, sub-par public education system." My reaction was more like, "Oh crap. We're really doing this."

Then I read the letter - and found a glaring grammatical error in the paragraph detailing the RSA regarding evaluations and reporting. The official letter from the school district informed me that I did not need to "turn the evaluation into the state" unless requested. Well, that's a relief, because that would be one hell of a transformation. Add one point to my homeschooling confidence.

Unfortunately, Liam just informed me that he never ate breakfast.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Home Practice

I am a mountain among the mountains of laundry.

I am rooted here. Press down, reach up to the drab dropped ceiling that one day we will replace.

Downstairs, he comforts the baby. She whimpers. He shushes. I smile.

Outside, a battle ensues between Thomas the Train and Megatron. A T-Rex joins in.

Boat pose feels strong, though my abs have looked better.

Shoulders tight from hours of nursing. Camel is not what it used to be.

From the kitchen, free samples of leftover breakfast. Just $1. She will be wearing her apron.

TV on. PBS, I hope. "Mommy will be down soon, guys."

My chest is closed, but my heart is open.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Scary, Secret Thoughts

When Delaney was two, I remarked to a friend, "I had no idea that after you have a baby you can picture the most horrific, awful things happening to them. And so vividly!" After a second of hesitation she said, "Isn't that a sign of postpartum depression?" I shrugged. Nah. She must have misunderstood me. I was so in love with my baby. Moms with PPD didn't feel that way. They were distant, and sad. I was blissful. I just worried about her a lot. Of course I would worry about someone so precious. Of course the graphic visual of something terrible and violent happening would make my heart race and my palms sweat. That was just part of new mom territory. 


No. No, it isn't. 

During my childbirth educator training, and in my subsequent work with Elliot Hospital's awesome Perinatal Mood Disorder Taskforce, I learned a lot more about postpartum depression and anxiety. I began to suspect that I had had moderate postpartum anxiety with Laney and also with Liam, although it manifested differently. Then I read this, and a few weeks later I read this, and I knew it. 

"Scary thoughts" were the worst part. If you, like me, happy to be link-lazy, here's just a little sample from the first one above:
"Scary thoughts are negative, repetitive, unwanted, intrusive thoughts that can bombard you at any time. They can come out of nowhere . . . Scary thoughts can come in the form of thoughts ('what if I burn the baby in the bathtub?') or images (picture the baby falling off the changing table). Scary thoughts can be indirect or passive (something might happen to the baby) or they can imply intention (thoughts or images of you throwing the baby against the wall).
I read that, in a handout given to me by the wonderful woman who just happens to be the director of the Taskforce above, and showed it to Jake. "This is what I had! This is what I went through with Laney exactly! It's, like, a thing!!!" There was something wrong and there was a name for it. I'm not sure I can describe what a relief that was. 

The scary thoughts returned with a vengeance when Rowan came, especially during her NICU stay, but by then I could recognize them for what they were. I could, as the first article suggests, remember that my brain was playing a trick on me. And this time, I talked to my midwife and got a referral to a mental health counselor. 

Now here's the thing. Birthworkers are getting better about addressing PPD and recognizing its various forms. But you know what else birth professionals like to talk about? The Law of Attraction. It was popularized by The Secret (and Oprah) a few years ago, and continues to make the rounds in the holistic-y, alternative-ish, kinda sorta new age-y circles I sometimes frequent. Most importantly, the ideas can pop up when we discuss planning for an unmedicated birth. 

From one forum site, here are a few basic principles of the Law:
  • Whatever is going on in your mind is what you are attracting
  • We are like magnets - like attract like. You become AND attract what you think
  • Every thought has a frequency. Thoughts send out a magnetic energy
  • People think about what they don't want and attract more of the same
  • Thought = creation. If these thoughts are attached to powerful emotions (good or bad) that speeds the creation (emphasis added). 
Please read those principles again and think about how they might affect a new mother struggling with Scary Thoughts. 

Admittedly, I can't speak to the specifics of the Law of Attraction, because I never got into it. (Never got into an ideology that tells me the mere fact that I repeatedly picture my eight-week-old being tortured in front of me by a member of Al Qaeda means it's going to happen? Shocker.) What I do know are the basic principles. And this gem, further down the list on the same site: "EVERYTHING in your life you have attracted .. accept that fact ..
it's true" (emphasis and deplorable grammar original).

The teaching on scary thoughts is to not obsess over them. Recognize them for what they are, and focus your attention elsewhere. But the reason for that is to keep yourself sane, NOT to prevent them from manifesting in reality.

When presented appropriately, yes, the Law of Attraction can be channeled into something positive. Hell, I've taught it. I've said to many women that we should not fear birth, that we should look forward to a positive experience, that we should expect it, even. I always have, and always will, stop short of suggesting that if you worry about it, it's going to happen. And you can bet I will never tell a parent who experiences a bad outcome that it's her fault because she thought about it too much. 

Duh, right? How obvious. Who would do that? 

But proponents of the Law of Attraction imply this, however unintentionally. (Ah, nice healthy dose of irony there.) When I read those principles, it says I made Rowan be born early, necessitating a month in the NICU, and it says that if I worry about her, I'm going to make bad things happen to her. You know what? Don't tell me that. Just don't. 

This is the closest I come to philosophy-bashing. My own evaluation of the Law of Attraction, at least the positive side, is that it's simply another way to express subconscious thought. You want something, you focus your attention on it, you're going to work for it. You want to get a Coach purse at the end of the month, so you wind up buying fewer lattes. Do you picture the Coach purse each time you brew coffee at home? Probably not, but the intention is still there. No vision board necessary. 

So. As a birthworker who has occasionally (or maybe not so occasionally) said something I shouldn't have, and as a survivor of PPD, I'm asking you to consider the way you present your ideas. If you embrace the law of attraction, how do you talk to your clients / patients / friends about bad outcomes? Do you ease their guilt, or do you compound it? Do you allow them to express their fears, or do you suppress them? 

I know why I was bad at teaching unexpected outcomes for so many years. It's because I was terrified of them. I shortchanged my students and did not do my part to prepare them adequately for Plan B, or C, or D. I didn't spend enough time stressing that, if they didn't have the birth they wanted, it WAS. NOT. THEIR. FAULT. For that, I am sorry. 

Thank God for therapy. And by the way, my therapist is nothing like I pictured. 

Friday, August 3, 2012


It's 1989. I'm getting a snack from Grandma's fridge, in the big house at the top of the hill. At the kitchen table, my grandmother is telling my mother and my aunts about a restaurant boycott. The daughter of a friend was feeding her baby, and was asked to do so in the bathroom. The manager backed up the waitstaff. The mother and baby left, and told the world about it. My grandmother was appalled, and spread the word further.

I'm filling in the details. What I remember most clearly is a story of a woman breastfeeding - as I had seen my own mother do for literally years at that point - and the words, "So anyway, they're going to boycott the restaurant." My mother and aunts immediately expressed their support. (I wish I knew which restaurant. Hopefully it's out of business.)

It's 2005. My journey toward birth work has begun as, six weeks pregnant with Delaney, it occurs to me: I have to give birth to this thing. I set out to be the informed mother, because that's just what you do. I think about the prospect of declining an epidural. As I chat long-distance with Grandma on a Sunday afternoon, she tells me how much she loved her unmedicated births, and how she hated the groggy feelings that accompanied the pain medication with others. (I believe my uncle's birth, her oldest, was under the influence of chloroform.) I start considering alternatives to conventional modern-day pain meds. Months later, Delaney is born into the hands of a nurse-midwife in a large teaching hospital, without a single drug in my system.

Three weeks ago, my sister and I sit nursing our babies at my parents' kitchen table. My mother's mother and my father's mother compare notes on 1950s formula recipes. Grandma mixed up a concoction that included condensed milk and molasses, on doctor's orders. Grammie supplemented breastfeeding with a similar formula. Breastfeeding was not the norm, and her doctor thought she was silly to bother with it, but it was important to her. It just felt natural. So she defied convention and did it anyway.

Both my grandmothers had complicated relationships with their own mothers. Both of them were, in many ways, a product of their time. They cooked for their men and did all the housework and, for the most part, embraced the traditional gender roles of the era. Yet they gave and they loved with a sincerity and, above all, a matter-of-factness that I think my generation has been hard-pressed to find.

A few days ago I had the opportunity to sit and chat again with my parents and Grammie. No big surprise this week, talk turned to gay marriage. My grandmother recalled a couple she and my grandfather befriended when my aunt was young. The nicest two men you would ever meet, she said. They were wonderful with my aunt. My grandfather - who was often compared to Archie Bunker - loved to stop along his milk delivery route and visit with them for awhile. They were just pleasant company.

The family into which I was born tends to be very conservative. They generally vote republican. This same grandmother once ran for governor as a libertarian, and my father likes to brag that he had "Goldwater '64" stickers on his first grade lunchbox. (Which are, evidently, still available for purchase. Go figure.) At this point in the story I interrupted with, "Wait, you're serious?" Grammie shrugged. "It wasn't an issue yet. It wasn't political. It was nobody else's business."

They may have been products of their era, but in other ways, my grandmothers were light years ahead of their time. My own mother nursed all six babies, even when breastfeeding rates in the US were dismal, and didn't give a damn if someone had a problem with it. Advocating for the right to nurse in public is a conversation I have been overhearing for my entire life.

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I'd like to suggest we take a moment to acknowledge the women who mothered before us. The women who gave birth to their babies and fed them the best way they knew how, regardless of whether they embraced convention or defied it. Thank you for bringing our culture to a place where nursing gets a week of worldwide public celebration. And thank you to my own foremothers, for celebrating it every single day when I was young.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Love & Light & Vibes & Prayers

Let's start with this: I believe in both the power of prayer and the power of reiki / energy healing. I don't understand either one of them, and in fact, I suspect they're closely related to one another. Maybe we can break that down - or build it up - in another post, but there's the basic fact.

When Rowan was born, we asked for prayers. Thanks to the diverse circles in which I find myself of late, we received a healthy dose of promises for prayers to Jesus, and an equal amount of promises for healing vibes sent our way. Depending upon your religious persuasion, I'm guessing you think one of those worked and the other was useless. Or maybe that neither one of them served a purpose, and all credit is due to Rowan's physiology and the capabilities of neonatology. Or, I don't know, maybe you think it was solely the breast milk. Like I said - diverse circles.

In the early weeks, I was most aware of the way our immediate, practical needs were met. Food, childcare, shift coverage, house cleaning. Every bit of it was wonderful and deeply appreciated and oh crap there's still a stack of thank-you notes that need addresses and stamps . . . hold on . . .

Now then. Having reached a very loose kind of equilibrium in our day-to-day life, I've started to ponder the vibes sent and prayers said on our behalf. In crisis mode, I did not take the time to appreciate them fully. It was, you know, "nice." But now I'm beginning to realize what an enormous gift it is to have others approach the force / Being that governs the universe - or the universe itself, if you prefer - on behalf of my family and my child. Seriously. And I wonder: Do we realize that's what we're doing when we pray? Are we fully aware of it with reiki, even? There is a profoundness and a depth to either practice that is all too easy to gloss over. Then again, if we thought about it too much, most of us would probably be too intimidated to even begin.

I sense that this goes back to what I pondered before, from a less content place, that making requests of a higher power is not a cut and dried, if-then kind of practice. Results are not guaranteed, and for good reason: Because we're just players (no, not pawns) in a story too large to comprehend with feeble earth-bound minds. Prayer, reiki, whatever way you commune with the spiritual realm - that's not a trite little practice. Yet in my world, it usually gets reduced to the mundane. Kids' bedtime routine: 1. Put on jammies. 2. Brush teeth. 3. Say prayers. Done.

As an aside, this is one area where I think more formal denominations have an advantage over evangelicalism. When I go to my sister's Episcopal church, or attend a Catholic mass, there is a sense of reverence and awe that I think we lose in our attempts to make God accessible. God is amazing. God loves me profoundly. God is not my buddy. Nor yours.

My new challenge for myself, as I sort through all the other changes life has so recently brought: If I say I'm going to pray, or send good vibes, or, for that matter, if I sign something "with love," I want to think about the gravity of what I'm promising. I want to take it off the to-do list and appreciate it for what it is. And I want to sense the privilege of it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Does A Body Good

These last couple days have felt challenging. And by that I mean I snapped at Jake over the half-unmowed lawn this morning and then made him listen to me cry for three hours over the unfairness and unpredictability of life and the inadequacy of religion at explaining it. Nope, not exaggerating.
Several times recently, just when I thought I couldn't take it, Rowan has hit a major milestone and given me a sense of progress. The timing has been uncanny. Getting rid of her PICC, moving to an open crib, no longer needing the feeding tube - these all happened just when I felt overwhelmed and stagnant. Yesterday, I drove to the hospital hoping for that same phenomenon, but it didn't happen. It didn't happen today, either. Things are pretty much where they have been. It's essentially a waiting game from now until discharge.
What did happen in the last two days were three conversations I desperately needed to have. Last night, with the woman who runs the parents' group here, during which she promptly diagnosed me with "NICU-itis." Which is, like it sounds, nearly identical to senioritis in high school or college: the state in which you've almost made it through, and just want to be DONE. Apparently it's common. That helped. Then Jake and I talked for a loooong time about what comes down to an acute existentialist crisis on my part. I'm pissed about the unfairness and most of all about the lack of control. I did everything to ensure a healthy full-term birth, and it didn't happen. It's a reminder that I'm not in control and that God promises a lot of things, but not necessarily perfect outcomes. Not for birth, and not for anything else on Earth, either. I'm cool with that, after a lot of thought and prayer. I'm not cool with many evangelical Christians pretending otherwise and a few of them leading me to believe it for 30 years. You could call it a crisis of faith, but God and I are good, so it's more like subcultural disillusionment. But that really is a post for another time. Or possibly another blog altogether.
The third conversation was my check-in phone call with the lovely Rebecca at Full Circle Midwifery Care. Once again, her intuition and emotional intelligence amazes me. Without my saying a lot about it, she observed that one of the most challenging elements of a NICU stay is the simple fact that "it's your kid" - that taking care of your own baby is subject to the expertise of professionals. Then she said a lot of other things I had ranted about to Jake hours earlier (minus the religion parts). It felt good to be validated.
I got here to feed Rowan and she took forever to latch on properly. So frustrating. I started to wonder if I should just ask her nurse for a bottle. Finally, after some snuggling and quiet talk, she figured it out and had her best, longest feeding yet. And then, for the first time ever, she unlatched and passed out on my arm with the contented, sleepy, half-smiling expression that I believe is officially known as the milk coma face. She looked so happy. Blissful. She takes a bottle well, but she doesn't look like that afterward. That face, that level of contentment, was something that only I could provide. I needed that realization today far more than I needed to cross another milestone off the progress chart.