Perfection and apologies

It’s been awhile since I updated this blog, and part of that has to do with perfection–or the lack thereof, actually. I figure if i can’t write a “perfect” blog post, then I just won’t write one. But that’s stupid. There is no such thing as a perfect post, or a perfect anything–so why and how did we get so conditioned to think in these terms? And why are we so hard on ourselves??

I read something recently that called any explanation a hidden apology, and that really resonated with me.

I used to be the master of explaining. I could come up with a bunch of reasons why I did or didn’t do X, and would be fully prepared to explain each in detail to any random friend, stranger, or internet troll who challenged me. It was that way when I went veg. It was the same when my kids got older and the question of homeschooling and then unschooling came up. Even when I had a toddler sick with pneumonia, I was stuck in the mode of explaining, defending, apologizing to everyone about my choices. About what exactly the nurse said to me, and why I didn’t feel comfortable accepting their treatment recommendations, etc..

When I would encounter certain people, “interrogators” who would question my choices zealously, looking for any flaw to exploit in my reasoning, this would produce a fight-or-flight response in me. I’d either go into overdrive, finding internet links and research to back my response–or I’d just be incapable of responding–feeling that anything I’d say would be used against me.

What it really must have looked like was that I was wishy-washy, that I only had external, empty motivations for behaving and believing what I did.

The fact is, I can give you a thousand logical reasons why I believe what I do–but probably lots of people could defend the opposite position. Ultimately, however, none of those reasons matter to you. They won’t resonate with you, and they won’t convince you to change your own reasoning (at least, not on its own!).

Your opinion of my reality is not the same thing as my reality. It doesn’t define it, and it certainly doesn’t create it. I don’t have to feel responsible for creating a good impression of my reality in other people’s minds. My happiness is not contingent on other people sanctioning it–telling me it’s “okay” or “not okay” to feel happy. I can choose happiness and embrace fulfillment on my path, regardless of whether the rest of society tells me it’s perfect, allowed, or legit. And I am.

I am deleriously happy with the life I’ve created and the choices I’ve made–even the ones that don’t make sense, even the ones that might appear to be “wrong” from someone else’s perspective.

So if I don’t write out a paragraph-long explanation for every article I post on facebook, or be able to clearly articulate exactly why I do the things I do, it’s not because I don’t have my reasons. It’s just that I am too busy enjoying my life to want to spend so much time trying to bring others into alignment with my choices.

I am Who I Am. You are Who You Are. No apologies. That’s just as perfect as it gets.

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Success and the Myth of Grades

School influences one’s real-world success.  Now, this is true–but not in the ways that one would hope.  I grew up being pushed–driven–to succeed in school.  Even before I was old enough for school, my parents pushed me to learn, to read, etc.

In school, I quickly learned that it was absurdly simple to get the coveted A-grades that everyone pushed for.  Graded work–especially competitive graded work–creates an environment where the grade is more important than the work done to achieve it.

So rather than take risks and try something interesting, students are more likely to play it safe to achieve a higher grade.  This effectively curtails any expansive, challenging work undertaken by students on their own, beyond what is assigned to them.

As far as excelling at “grade level”–the very idea of “grade level” is bogus.  Who decided that multiplication was a 3rd grade skill, for example?  100 years ago what constituted 5th grade level work would stump a good deal of college freshmen today!

If a kid today is getting “good grades”, what it really means is that he’s good at jumping through the hoops of public schooling.  He might know how to write an A+ book report, but he might not be aware of how to think critically about the content of that book as it applies to situations outside of graded academia.

For the “smart kids” (however we’re defining that), getting straight As might translate into never taking risks or challenges, because that might threaten his GPA.  Even in college–how many students choose the easy, “safe” topic for their term papers instead of choosing what lights their passion–but might be controversial or harder to prove their point with research?

In my opinion, this has the danger (or perhaps, the socially engineered result) of turning out people who are more likely to uphold the status quo than challenge it; more likely to submit to authority or seek “expert” advice without question; more likely to passively wait for instruction than figure something out on their own.

In our society we speak admirably of the self-starter, the visionary, the go-getter–but these sorts are becoming more and more rare every day.  Those who truly seek knowledge will not be concerned with letter-grades or a culturally defined version of “success”–they’ll be out there taking risks–and most likely failing multiple times–to better their understanding and improve their results.

School does not teach people to succeed in these terms–only in terms of A+ and “good job!”  You have to be willing and able to fail–a LOT–in order to truly push the boundaries of what you’re capable of.

Oliver’s Story–A Healing Freebirth

The pregnancy:

Number five, unexpected, coming fast on the heels of my mother’s death–I was not in a receptive state of mind for being pregnant.  My due date calculations were also hazy this time.  I had a very short cycle in February, but chalked it up to stress.  Later I decided that must have been implantation bleeding.  I finally took a pregnancy test at the end of March, and I cried a lot in the beginning.  Working with all the data we could collect, we figured that my due date could be October 26th at the earliest or November 11th at the latest.  Basically a two-week window.  We went with the latest date, since I tend to have overdue babies (having once had a 43-week pregnancy), and assumed I’d go in for an ultrasound if I ended up making it to the end of that two-week window.

To say I was having trouble integrating the idea of another pregnancy, another baby, would be an understatement.  I had been looking for work.  The plan was that I would work while my husband finally got to finish school; find another, better job–something.  Also, and just as important–I knew that I had a lot of unfinished business to deal with mentally and emotionally, because of my traumatic third birth.  Even though I went on to have a perfectly lovely homebirth with my 4th baby, 2.5 years later, I didn’t feel like I’d processed what had happened to me prior to that.  My third birth was intended to be a freebirth, but turned into a hospital nightmare at the last moment.  As time went on with this pregnancy, I knew I couldn’t “just” have another homebirth with the same midwives in attendance.  I had to face my pain and fear, and try to reclaim some of what had been taken from me with my 3rd birth experience.

Luckily, my freelance work puts me in touch with a large number of people.  As I became closer with several midwives, doulas, and birth specialists in the area, I realized with delight that I’d found a tribe of women who felt similarly–and strongly–about birth empowerment, and freedom.  Several of these women were very positive and supportive of freebirthing, and said that if I wanted them to come to my birth, they were happy to be there in whatever capacity I wanted or needed at the time.  This felt like a wonderful balance–so we agreed that I might call any or all of them if I felt like I needed friendly support, midwifery assistance, or anything in between.

As for the actual pregnancy, I started showing early.  Then I was measuring ahead, even though I wasn’t gaining a lot of weight.  We started joking about twins, and then thought about it more seriously as I approached 30+ weeks.

My birthy friends palpated me and listened for double heart tones, and eventually we all decided that nope, it was just “a lot of baby” in there–and perhaps some extra fluid.  Also, I was carrying this baby anterior as opposed to posterior (facing forward)–the first anterior baby out of all my pregnancies, so it stood to reason that I’d look larger.

As usual, I started having prodromal labor pretty regularly in late September–quite a ways off from my “due window”.  I should have known that it was just “fake labor”, but every time it gets more convincing, and I was already tired of being pregnant!  In all, I had at least six “false starts”–in other words, times where I was really convinced it was real labor, only to have it fizzle out hours–or even a day or more–later.  I was dilating long before actual labor started–the last week and a half of pregnancy I was actually dilated to seven centimeters (yes it’s possible–especially in “grand multiparas”–women with 4 or more prior pregnancies)–and very impatient by then!  I had had bloody show multiple times, and even took castor oil twice, but to no avail.

I was also very hopeful and expectant of having an 11/11/11 baby, since that was at the latest end of my “due window”, and would be such a cool, spiritually significant birthday.  I was convinced I was in labor on the 10th, and well into the 11th, but then it fizzled out again, and I was really discouraged.  On top of it all, my “baby’s” 2nd birthday was coming up that week, and I was really upset to be “still pregnant” on his birthday!

During ALL of this waiting and wondering, I was so grateful to be free of the feeling of being a watched pot; having to submit to unnecessary, fear-driven procedures; or worse–being perceived as a threat to some care provider’s comfort (or convenience!) level.  I also allowed myself to go back and really think about my 3rd baby’s traumatic birth experience over these long weeks and months of waiting.  I finally let myself relive that experience, and I was able to write down her birth story for the first time.  It was incredibly healing and, I think, very necessary in killing those “paper tigers” that may have interfered with my having a peaceful birth this time instead of a fear-filled one.  I never doubted my decision to freebirth throughout this entire pregnancy.

Finally, finally, on the 17th, I was having my usual rounds of “annoying fake labor”, but somehow, my mental state was a bit different, a bit more balanced and calm.  I went to the grocery store and had to deal with some heavy contractions there due to the walking.  I’m sure people were staring at me–I didn’t even have to ask for help out at the register, the staff were on it!  That evening the contractions were not as bad–at times barely there–and I was still feeling oddly zen and calm.  At this point, I knew that castor oil had only a very mild effect on me, but I did think I could use a clean-out–so I took a very small amount, perhaps half an ounce, and continued to go about the evening.  We had fallen into a pattern of staying up late after the kids were in bed, so it wasn’t unusual for me to be reading or on FaceBook at 2 or 3am–which I was.

I think around 3, we decided to go lay down–my hubby to sleep (for what he later said he knew would be a power nap!), and me to read.  I’d been reading Starhawk’s The Earth Path, alternating with John Taylor Gatto’s The Underground History of American Education–both intellectual, non-fiction books that could effectively take my mind off whatever it was trying to obsess about in a given moment.  So I read, and dealt with contractions here and there by following the labyrinth pattern of a Celtic snake mandala on my wall, still not at all convinced it was labor–or if it was, that I had many hours if not an entire day ahead of me.  However, around 4 or 4:30, my husband woke up as if is alarm had summoned him, and started asking how I was feeling, organizing things around the room, etc.  I was a little surprised he wasn’t sleeping, and just assumed he was having insomnia–I kept reading.  After a bit, he asked if he could do anything for me, noticing that I was having to pause and breathe thru contractions here and there.  (Which had happened before during “fake labor”, so I still wasn’t thinking anything was different!)  I thought a moment, and said I wanted to take a bath.  He ran a bath for me, and hung out in the bathroom with me as I soaked in the tub.

Very quickly–maybe before I got in the water–things picked up in intensity.  I sat in the bath for about thirty minutes or so, and eventually I was vocalizing thru contractions.  Looking back at my last birth, I must have been tense, because I found myself having to yell through contractions for quite awhile–getting louder and higher-pitched, and having to be reminded to breathe and change my tone–keeping it low–to relax.  There was none of that this time–I was able to breathe and “ohhhh” and sigh my way through contractions.  At the time, I thought it meant I wasn’t that far along–but now I realize I was just in a much better mental state, and so was managing the sensations with more calmness.

Suddenly I decided I’d had enough of the water, and again, upon standing, things got even more intense.  My legs were shaking, and I could barely get wrapped up in a towel and back onto our bed, even with my husband’s help.  My body didn’t quit shaking for a few minutes, and as I was sitting on the bed, my husband asked if I wanted to call anyone.  I responded from “labor land” with a panicked, wild-eyed NO!  At this point, I knew that the act of calling someone and trying to explain or label the moment we were in would just derail the energy.  I started saying things like “No, no, no more….I don’t wanna do this anymore,” and “I just wanna go to sleep,” and then laughing with my husband in between contractions, because I knew how absurd I must have sounded and looked.  I kept reaching down, hoping to feel the effects of pressure that signaled that birth was imminent, but still mostly expecting this to be another “fake labor” that would soon end (!)

I think it was at this point that our two-year old woke up and wanted to see what we were up to, which made things a bit stressful for my husband–but I was only scarcely aware of anyone’s presence or absence at this point.  After handling about five contractions with the whining and shaking, I reached a momentary peak-point of panic–I grabbed my husband and looked at him wildly, saying “I’ve got to get a hold of myself!” or something to that effect.  He said something like, “Yes, just calm down, breathe–you are in control of your body”, and in that instant, I was.  The shakes stopped and I was able to take a deep breath and found myself back in a place of calm, heightened awareness.

He left the room for a moment, and this time, when I reached down, I could feel something that was definitely “not me”–it was the bag of waters bulging from within!  You have no idea of the relief and gratitude I felt in that moment–finally, something that proved I WAS in labor–this was it!  When he came back in the room, I clumsily explained that the waters were bulging, with a huge, blissful grin on my face.  I think it was around 5:45 or 6am at this point.

Another contraction with me in a squatting position, and the bag of waters practically exploded all over the bed–really forcefully!  They were clear, with small speckles of something that looked like vernix–I remember noticing that, because I was supposedly 41 weeks at the very earliest, and you don’t see vernix with post-dates pregnancies.  I only had a second to have that thought before I was absolutely consumed by the next contraction–I threw myself forward into a hands-and-knees position, and before I knew it, my body was pushing.

It was wonderful, without anyone to tell me to push or to assess my dilation, because the obvious thing to do was to just listen to my body and follow its cues.  I didn’t really push until I could feel the pressure of the head at the rim–instead I breathed and sighed and allowed the baby to move through me.  Instead of feeling this frantic, crazed need to “get the baby out of me!”, I felt that I needed to take it slowly and cautiously.  I felt the baby’s head as it put pressure all around, and I intuitively put my hand up to use gentle counter-pressure at the site of an old tear, concerned about it worsening.  I laughed inwardly as the absurd thought crossed my mind:  What if baby turned breech at the last moment, and hubby’s not telling me–because this baby feels HUGE!

My husband watched and helped from behind, making sure baby’s head came out gently and carefully.  AT this point I breathed a huge sigh of relief, but my husband encouraged me to keep going, that I still had to get the body out.  He’s excellent at knowing what to say without worrying me.  Later he explained that he was concerned that baby needed to get out quickly, because he had already started trying to breathe, but the pressure on his body from not being fully birthed yet was giving him trouble.  Another moment or two, and baby was born safely into Daddy’s hands!

Since I was on my hands and knees, baby and husband were both behind me.  I looked down between my knees and the first thing I saw was a pair of balls–“It’s a boy!”  I exclaimed!  Again, my husband knew just what to NOT say–nothing can compare to that feeling of seeing for yourself the gender of the child you just birthed into the world.  He gave me that joy instead of telling me before I saw–what an incredible moment!

I felt so incredibly blissful, empowered, healed, validated–I’d finally had the birth I always wanted–the birth that I scarcely believed was possible to have, especially after my 3rd birth.  The time was 6:20am–less than an hour after I finally decided it was really labor!

Hubby woke up the other kids, and we decided that now was the time to call someone!  It occurred to me that it’d be really great to have a midwive’s assessment of my bottom.  Even though we hadn’t weighed him, we both agreed that this was a really big boy, and I didn’t really know if I’d torn or not.   I called my friend Olivia, who came right over to check me, and we all happily chatted about our incredible birth experience!

As we talked, baby nursed, and let go of several large poos before we had a chance to weigh him.  He was 10lbs 14oz–over three pounds bigger than any of my other babies–and this was after the poo!  Then Olivia checked me, and to my delight, I didn’t have any damage that needed stitches–which was even more impressive considering I’d needed stitches with my last baby, barely an 8-pounder!  It really goes to show that your emotional state directly influences the capabilities of your body–even in moment-by-moment situations like childbirth.  Also, Olivia and I agreed that due to the vernix all over him, and other telltale signs of gestational age, that this baby was most likely a 39-weeker!  Certainly not even a day overdue–despite my crazy dates.  (Good thing he didn’t go overdue, or he would have been bigger!)

We didn’t cut the cord until over two hours had passed, so that baby could get all the benefits of the placental and cord blood before they disconnected.  I love the concept of lotus birth (leaving placenta and baby attached until they gently and naturally disconnect, anywhere from 2-10 days after the birth); however, the health benefits of placenta encapsulation were too great for me to pass up.  Placenta helps tremendously with postpartum bleeding, increasing your milk supply, and keeping postpartum depression at bay–and all three of these are things I’ve struggled with in the past.  So, we compromised with a partial lotus birth.  Olivia had sterile scissors, and we chose a piece of embroidery floss to tie off the cord (white, cold and limp at this point), and she cut it for us.  Neither of us wanted to do it!

For most of the pregnancy, we felt like baby was a girl, so we had several names picked out:  Delilah or Natalie, Emma or Catherine…but not really any boy names!  We had considered Oliver for our last baby, but hubby said he didn’t like it.  However, he immediately brought up Oliver for this baby, saying that our last one didn’t look like an Oliver, but this one did!  He has dark hair and olive skin, like my side of the family–quite different from our other tow-headed kids.  We finally decided on Oliver, with my maiden name as his middle name–honoring my family, since the family name won’t be carried on further.

This birth story was difficult to put into words, because so much more than can be described in words went into it.  It’s also not really a complete story without the consideration of my third birth to highlight the significance of this experience.  I feel so incredibly blessed, fortunate, and empowered–in love with my amazing husband and all of my beautiful children, in awe of my incredibly supportive friends, and filled with gratitude to be experiencing the dynamic energy of this moment with those dearest to me.

Love ~ Peace ~ Power ~ Oneness ~ Trust

Welcome to the world, Oliver!

November 18th, 2011

6:20am

10lbs 14oz

20.5 inches long

Processing Birth Assault: My Story

The birth of my third baby is something that, while amazing, is also haunting, painful and hellish to remember.  She was my truly unexpected child, the catalyst for a lot of upheaval in my life, which led to positive and amazing changes.  She is four years old now–beautiful and perfect, and I’m expecting my 5th sweet baby any time now….but I still have so much healing and processing to do from her birth.

From very early on, I knew that I wanted a homebirth.  I had had a birth center birth and a hospital birth before, and while they weren’t negative experiences, I always longed for the freedom of homebirth.  However, I had no way to pay for a midwife at that time, and even worse, I was living in a place where midwives were very few and far between.  I started reading, came across the concept of unassisted childbirth, and was instantly swept away by the raw beauty, power, and primalness of it.  Giving birth freely, without a midwife or doctor, without measurements or diagnostics, without bright lights and consent forms–sounded delightful.  Even the prospect of giving birth alone sounded amazing.  Raw woman-power and intuition ruling the day–the way births had been happening for thousands of years.  I read voraciously, and knew in my heart that this was already a time in my life for profound personal growth.  Of course I would give birth unassisted:  I would step into my own power and wholeness–with only my partner by my side, being supported by that ultimate knowledge of spirit and self.  The odds were against me–but I stayed strong through the whole pregnancy, stayed true to mySelf and my inner knowing…even in the face of almost complete opposition by those who knew me at the time.

I thought I would go into labor early–I was worried about my partner missing the birth (he was overseas at the time)!  34 weeks and heavy prodromal labor–already?  36 weeks, gosh, almost full-term–I was so thrilled when my partner came home!  Then 38 weeks, still staying positive, getting things ready.  40 weeks.  I felt sheepish, thinking about how convinced I’d been about going early…and here I sat at my due date.  Oh well, it couldn’t possibly be long now.  All labor signs were present, I was dilating, and soooo ready for this baby to come.  (Mistake number one:  Being overly attached to a particular outcome.)

I went to 41 weeks, and was feeling pretty distraught by that point.  Here’s an excerpt of something I wrote at the time:

How do i quit feeling like i have to DO something?  You know, to get labor started.  Logically i know there are mamas all the time who just wake up with contractions, or have their water break, etc…and then they just have a baby.  It should be that simple, right?  Yet somehow i can’t shake the feeling that i have to DO things to get the baby to come:  from castor oil rubs on the belly to sex to nipple stimulation to positive visualizations to walking to endless cups of RRL tea to homeopathy bla bla bla…. I have contractions that are SO strong and so regular for SO long…entire days’ worth….but sooner or later they just go randomly on their way and I always feel like it’s my fault for not “staying on top of things mentally”–like my back will be so sore, so I’ll lay down, or I’ll get distracted and lose my zen-mama focus, but really.  It’s not like it’s my “fault” that labor hasn’t come yet.  Right?  It’s not like i’m supposed to bring labor on and keep it going entirely with willpower or something.  Right?  The baby will just come when it’s ready. and my body will know what to do and when/how to do it…..RIGHT??

(Mistake number two:  Overanalyzing, and regarding labor as more physical than emotional)  At the time I thought I was keeping my cool, but looking back, I was already going mental at 41 weeks.  Would you believe I went to 43?

At nearly 42 weeks, and at the most inopportune time, my waters “sprung a leak”.  They didn’t break completely, but it was undeniably my water bag breaking (I now know that the bag of waters can heal itself from small leaks).  Oh happy day, I thought!  My last two babies had come within hours of the bag of waters being artificially broken–in other words, from practically zero-stage to holding-baby-stage in 3-4 hours.  But this was not the case with my third baby.

I was prepared for prevention of infection, etc (which is a concern once the waters are ruptured).  I started–or ramped up–every natural labor induction method I knew of, and I do mean EVERY one.  Not even downing a bottle of castor oil caused me to go into active labor.  I’d been having prodromal/pre-labor for almost 8 weeks at this point, and even bloody show for several days, but still, something was stalling me out.  The last time I had checked my dilation, I’d been 100% effaced and 6 centimeters–SIX centimeters dilated (at the time I did not know it was possible to be dilated that much and NOT be in active labor).  Now, however, it was unwise to check due to concerns of infection, and I also could not enjoy the one true stress relief that I had–sex.  (Yes I said it.)

The following week was a blur.  I don’t know what I did besides have contractions, obsess over them, and become increasingly exhausted both emotionally and physically.  I didn’t have any good support system, no family to rely on, and in the last few days I had given over almost completely to an altered mental state of panic and fear, but I was still trying my hardest not to show it.

The evening of the day that marked 42 weeks, six days, I made a grave mistake, and called my parents for support.  Yes, my parents, who had been emotionally estranged from me for months, completely unsupportive of my new relationship, and were more or less unsupportive of me as a human being in general.  Why?  Because I was not in my right state of mind, and I desperately wanted comfort, to hear reassuring words from someone, anyone.  They advised me to go to a hospital “for help”.  I talked it over with my partner and finally agreed to go.

I had kept meticulous records of my prenatal data and stats since the very beginning, and I’d even written a detailed birth plan, just in case we needed to go to the hospital.  (Mistake number four:  Giving too much energetic thought-flow to morbid “what-if” scenarios–I was unknowingly fueling the possibility that these would occur)

So we pull up to the hospital, and I’m walking in supported by my partner, and very, very fearful.  I dithered in the foyer and at the elevators, second-guessing if I should just go home and dealing with more contractions.  I had been walking around dilated to at least 6 centimeters for over a week, and at this point I think I had so integrated the discomfort and waves of contractions, that I didn’t even realize how close I was getting to the birth.

We finally went in, and clumsily explained our situation to the night staff.  It was about 1:00am at this point.  I did not want to consent to anything, especially not drugs, tests, or needles, and at one point I actually got angry and walked off from the desk, fully intending to go home.  My observant partner stopped me, and then told them that we needed a moment to talk alone, and that we’d be right back.  I was angry at him for saying that, and stepped around the corner towards the elevators.  None of us knew it, but I was clearly in transition at that time, and having a very emotionally charged scenario to cope with, all while standing up and trying not to yell!

My partner gestured around the corner, and explained that there was pretty much no going back now.  They didn’t have any records of us, and were probably assuming the very worst.  There was a lady in black standing with a clipboard just past the nurses’ station, watching us, and we realized she was a social worker.  I sobbed and sobbed, and finally agreed to walk back in.  I remember saying to the nurse in a defeated voice that was not my own, “I’m just scared.  I’m sorry.  Just do whatever you think is best.  I don’t care, I just want to see my baby.”  Five minutes prior I had been insisting that I would not consent to an IV, to pitocin, to internal exams, any of it.  I just gave up.  Their reactions said clearly that they thought we were grossly irresponsible, probably drug addicts who needed immediate intervention by social services.  It was overwhelmingly, terrifyingly defeating, and I surrendered completely.  I have never felt so low in my life before.  I didn’t care what happened to my body, I had let go of all fight left in me.  I just knew I was headed tor a c-section or worse–but that if I fought it, that I’d probably lose my baby.   They showed us to a room, and I obediently changed into a gown.  I just turned off all thought, cut myself off from emotion as best as I could, and lay there corpse-like, awaiting whatever would come.

They sent in a nurse who, among other things, measured me and said I was only 33 cm.  I said that wasn’t possible, because last week I had measured 42, just like I was supposed to.  I showed her my self-made chart, but she waved it away, told me I didn’t know what I was talking about, and that there was probably something wrong with this baby if I really was anywhere near 43 weeks.  I was angry, but much too afraid to tell them about my supposed water leak-and-reseal.  That was a week ago–surely they would section me immediately if I admitted to that!  I knew that I was on a strict herbal antibiotic course and had taken every precaution against infection–but they were not going to listen to me for anything at this point.  She sent for an ultrasound tech.

This guy was about the only person I’d interacted with so far who wasn’t completely dismissive and hateful towards me.  He came right into the labor room and turned on the machine, and we got to see our healthy, strong, 43-week baby for the first time.  I don’t even know if he told us the gender then, or if we didn’t find out until the birth.  This entire experience is like a muddy blur, with moments of dire clarity.

I don’t know what else happened, but eventually the ultrasound tech left, and a nurse came in and roughly checked my dilation.  She said, “oh, you’ve got a while, you’re barely even at 4 yet…”  I was incredulous, but again, too weary to question it.  I just wanted to be left alone–and finally, we were.  I just laid on my side, staring hopelessly at the pattern on the wallpaper, and my partner was there holding my hand, rubbing my shoulders…I’m not sure.  How could I be only 4 centimeters when I was 6+ last week?  Can your cervix shrink too?  I wondered.  But very quickly, I couldn’t really move or speak, and I just knew I had to keep counting the repeating pattern-shapes in the wallpaper.

I must have had that far-away look in my eyes that we both now know as “laborland”, but this was my partner’s first baby, so he didn’t know about it yet.  He asked me if I was okay, and I couldn’t speak to him.  He asked me several times, and also asked if he should go get someone…  I wanted to cry, to scream, to say, “Please, no, don’t bring them back in!  Just let me be for a second!” but my throat was clamped shut.  Before I knew it, he had run down the hall and called out to the nurses to come quick, he thought the baby was coming.  They didn’t come quickly; I think they didn’t believe him–but then the nurse came in, lifted the sheets, and yelled “Oh my God, she’s crowning!”

From this point until the baby came was perhaps 5 minutes..?  But it was the most hellish, traumatic, hateful experience of my life.  There were suddenly people everywhere, bright lights being shined at my privates, blue-gloved hands shoving my legs up into stirrups, lots of yelling and confusion.  I vividly remember screaming, crying, pleading with them that they were hurting me, I couldn’t get my leg up that high, I didn’t want to be in stirrups…sobbing and yelling, and they completely ignored me.  My partner looked on in horror, pushed to the back of the room, unable to help, and both of us stripped of our rights and dignity.  They made me push flat on my back, with my torso bent forward, and my legs cocked straight up, strapped into stirrups, despite the fact that I had SPD and joint issues with my hips.  They all were wearing masks and full surgical gear, as if I was about to get cut open at any moment, or I was contaminated with some horrible pathogen.  They doused my private parts with iodine, and there were way too many hands pushing and pulling on me and the baby as she made her way out into the loud, bright, chaotic scene.  They cut the cord as I was yelling at them to wait and let it stop pulsing first.  She was born “in the caul” with the bag of waters intact, perfectly healthy.

In spite of this fiasco, I was overjoyed to meet my baby, to have my intuition confirmed that she was healthy and that my body could “do birth” after all–and it felt like an eternity before I got to hold her.  I remember watching helplessly from the bed as they did all sorts of things to my daughter across the room, before I had even seen her face.  I don’t know what happened in those first moments, or how long it was before I got to hold her, but I made sure that my partner knew to not let our daughter out of his sight!

I was hooked up to a bag of fluids, and they switched it out for pitocin to deliver the placenta right in front of my eyes, precisely while I was saying, “Isn’t that pitocin?  I don’t want pitocin!  I’ve delivered two placentas before without it…stop, don’t….why are you not listening to me…..?”  Then the doctor cam back and started pulling on the cord–pulling on the cord to get the placenta to deliver!  As I was telling him to STOP, doesn’t he know that’s a great way to cause a piece of placenta to be retained, and for hemorrhage to occur??  He didn’t listen to me.  Acted as if he was deaf.  Defeat.  Utter defeat.  I did have a piece of retained placenta, I found out on my own–after constant heavy bleeding and trying to mediate it with herbals for seven weeks after the birth.

I think it was 15 minutes from the point that the nurse dismissed me as being “only a 4” and left the room, until this point.   What horrific emotional scars can be created in the span of minutes…

To top things off, in the middle of the night, they took her away to the nursery against my will for “just a moment”, which turned out to be over five hours.  I’m sure they gave her a bottle without my consent as well.  At least she didn’t get any vaccines without my consent.  They tested both of our blood samples for every disease under the sun, and I don’t think they really decided that we were NOT crack-addicts until the blood-work results came in the next morning.

I went home from that experience with a beautiful baby, and some very deep emotional scars.  This was in 2007, and this is the first time I’ve really written about these experiences, aside from my own briefly scribbled notes, just to document the audacity of it all.  My third baby’s birth was supposed to be magical, lovely, and transforming….not the terror-filled nightmare that it was.  For a long time, I thought that it wasn’t good to think about it, or write it down.  Better to forget and move forward, focus on the good things, etc.  But now, as I approach labor for one last time, I know:  I HAVE to let this out, I have to process it, to let it transform me..  I have to relive it to understand just how badly things can spiral out of control, to know that birth can be transcendental, or very nearly the death of the soul.  I walked out of that hospital as an assault victim–a broken and trampled human being.  I gave up my fight in that hospital’s threatening hallways, with Big Brother looking over our shoulders…and in some ways, I still have not reclaimed it.  I have lived in apathy–because I have known how badly it hurts to care too much.

For this birth-day, I am reclaiming what those bastards took from me.  I am not going to be subverted by fear, coerced by bullying, or shunted aside like cattle on an assembly line.  This is my birth, my body, my baby, and my reality.  I reclaim it for joy, love, empowerment, and transcendence–for women everywhere who have suffered assault during labor and birth.

A wonderful resource that I dearly wish I had known about back then was the Mother-Friendly Birth Initiative.  Then again, had I not gone through that trauma, I might not be the same person I am today.  Apparently there were crucial lessons for me within that experience, despite the pain it brought.

I send out love-energy to the source of my suffering, and the suffering of all women, in the knowledge that divine love soothes all wounds, and heals all travesties.  

I am so very blessed and thankful for Claire, my 43-week perfect girl, whose birth and life has taught me so much already.

Birth Affirmations for Peace and Ecstasy

I am the embodiment of the Divine Feminine, the Mother Goddess, the Bringer of Life Force to the Earth.

My body is imprinted with the wisdom of the ages, to birth babies as we have done for thousands of years.

I relax, open to feeling the energy of this moment in all its divine power.

I allow and welcome the waves of cosmic energy to swell within me, break on the shores within, and wash away any anxiety, pain, or fear.

The flowing life-force energy cascades through me.

I am a channel for this loving power-flow, opening a sacred portal between worlds.

I feel the power within me, surrounding me, and know that I am strong.

I surrender to the cosmic flow of the universe; feeling it, observing it, riding the waves of divine energy.

Fear and pain are washed away in the ebb and flow of these cosmic waves.

My body is wise and strong.

As the pressure builds, I feel my body opening, stretching, surrendering to the waves.

I am blooming like a sacred lotus flower, creating a space between the worlds for my baby to come through.

I am enveloped in divine wisdom and love.

My body is sacred, and I trust its ancient knowledge.

My mind is free, my heart is light, and my spirit is one with this child–with All That Is.

I trust in the rhythm of my body and my baby.

I am unafraid, at peace; and I welcome this experience with courage and strength.

I put my trust in the Divine Wisdom of the Universe–in all that is.

There is no way out but THROUGH.

There is nothing to fear–only LOVE.

Cracked Christmases of the Past

So it’s the holiday season, which highlights yet another way that I tend to differ dramatically from the average human being.  We’re not a Christian family, and yet not really a secular one either.  I’ve never encouraged my kids to believe in Santa, which tends to get a lot of raised eyebrows.  However, this year, I’m noticing that apart from all the differences that are just a part of Who I Am, I have actually always had a “different” sort of holiday season, even as a child.  This notion was recently inspired by various comments from others about their own childhood holiday memories, and now that it’s occurred to me, I can’t believe I wasn’t bothered by this as a kid.  One blog in particular, Alice’s, of From the Fox’s Den , posted an entry about her childhood holidays that sounded so appealing to me, despite the fact that it really wasn’t that kind of mushy, adoring post.  So why were my holidays so cracked?  Allow me to elaborate…

I am an only child, and have very little extended family.  Further, my parents have always been painfully anti-social, and now that I’m an adult, I’m pretty sure that both of them are textbook cases of at least one acute personality disorder each.  My parents did not “do Santa Claus”, and I think this was mainly because at age three or so, I cornered them and demanded to know HOW Santa could possibly get presents to everyone in the world all in one night, and anyway, WE didn’t have a chimney.  Caught off-guard, they admitted the truth, and thereafter I am sure I was *that kid*, ruining other children’s blithe illusions of Santa Claus.  In my defense, I was three.  And raised by antisocial people.

One of my earliest memories was pleading with my parents to set up the Christmas decorations.  I had no idea that other families had a tree up from turkey day ’til the middle of January, because ours went up whenever my father’s resolve finally cracked under my whining.  He’d get all the cool boxes down from the attic, usually a few days before the 24th (This is when we celebrated Christmas from as early as I can recall.  December 25th was mainly this annoying day on which you’d want to go spend your Christmas money, but all the stores were closed!).  Then my mother’s OCD would kick in:  everything was full of germs.  She’d argue with my dad about how we needed to throw it all away because it was hazardous, toxic, and probably full of bugs and dirt too.  The decor was always double-bagged (by my mother!), and carefully, air-tightly packed away in the attic.  But every year we’d go through the same weirdness.  I lived in constant fear that she’d throw out my favorite ornaments or garland.  Oh, and we couldn’t have tinsel because the cats would choke on it.

I never had a concept of a Christmas dinner until I was an adult.  We didn’t do that at all, because it was “a repeat of Thanksgiving” and therefore, too much work….?  Sometimes we ate out, at the Kettle…and if you don’t know what the Kettle is, think one step above a greasy-spoon diner in the middle of nowhere.  Not terribly festive.  Sometimes we’d visit my dad’s widowed mother, or track her down, more likely.  She was often found playing bingo at her usual haunts, and a little thing like Christmas Eve wasn’t going to deter her!  She always gave me gifts, and I was happy to get them, even though they were usually oddball items that made me wonder where she found them in the first place.  She did always buy the best European Christmas cookies though, in a blue tin.  I loved those blue tin cookies.  My mother, a self-proclaimed “non-domestic”, might have baked something five or six times in her entire life.  We never baked cookies for the holidays, and this is probably why that’s an important tradition that I have with my own children now.

The presents, wow.  That part of my childhood Christmases, looking back, was just unreal.  I would circle things from the Sears Wishbook  and totally expect to get the majority of the items.  Since I had dispelled the Santa myth at a tender age, my parents didn’t try to hide who the presents were from.  My mom was always a catalog shopper, and while she might have missed the mark in a lot of ways, she did put in incredible effort to get me the most mind-blowingly awesome presents I never even knew I wanted.  Sometimes I appreciated this, and sometimes, I would have rather gotten that Bob Mackie designer Barbie doll I’d circled….  However, I haven’t met too many other people who could say they got gifts like a pottery wheel, a concert-style keyboard, a telescope and microscope, a doorway trapeze bar, and multiple Lego sets.

I’ve only touched upon a few points of how odd our holidays really were.  (Not mentioning the traditional spectacular fights my parents had!)  However, I think it’s better expressed in terms of what we didn’t do…or maybe, what we didn’t feel.  Nowadays, I aim for a very simple holiday season with my children.  I loathe the commercialized, overblown nonsense that is pushed at us by the stores.  I don’t “do Santa” in the traditional sense with my children either (although my three-year old is really excited about the idea of Santa right now…we’ll see where that leads!).  I do, however, plan a Yule ritual with them.  We sing Christmas carols and do crafts.  Cookie baking is absolutely essential.  We pick one lazy December evening on which we all bundle up in the car with pajamas and hot cocoa, and drive around to see other people’s holiday lights.  I put up a nice tree as soon as the kids get excited about it (and I try not to let on that I really don’t enjoy setting up the tree!).  We have a nice dinner, with mulled wine, at least two desserts and several courses, just for the fun of it–even if it’s on some random day in December due to my husband’s work schedule.

Mostly, all these things I do with my own children are to give them memories of a holiday feeling….an emotional joy to the season that cannot be measured or isolated.  Family and love, generosity and selflessness, are not really the words I’d use to describe my own childhood holidays…but hopefully that’s how my kids will recall the season:  full of love for family.