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

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.