it was saturday night, i guess that makes it alright

I went back to fulltime engineering work when my first child was about two and a half months old. I remember speeding off in the still-dark in our “family car” – the little Civic hatchback – with my heart thumping and my stomach feeling dreadfully wrong. I put a Prince CD in the car’s goofy stereo Ralph had found for so cheap and installed himself (‘BLAUPUNKT’) and blasted “Little Red Corvette”. It helped. At work I think I made it a couple hours before I found a reason to phone my two at home. Again, my heart racing: I wanted to be with them so very much. I remember Roger – what was his last name? I can’t seem to remember! – the pulp mill assistant super stopping me by the tool room and asking with a big wide smile: how many times had I called home already?

For the record, as far as I know, my husband never once didn’t have a lovely, lovely and safe, safe day with our infant daughter. I remember he’d take a picture of her and I’d put it in a tiny waterproof sleeve on my hardhat. She was a badge of pride for me.

I remember walking past that same tool room a year later again with a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach: I knew I was going upstairs to tell my boss I was leaving. It was a different “horrible”. It was the feeling of not knowing what was to come and knowing I was doing something so many were telling me NOT to, something the women in my family didn’t do. Still, it didn’t feel “wrong”. It felt like something to get over and move on from, if I could let myself.

If I could I’d take up all those months I was away from my baby. If I could I’d give those months with our second child to my husband, who had to go back to work after two weeks off.

See, I’ve never been able to escape that feeling of dread, of “wrong”ness when I leave my family. Yes, this includes Ralph, not just the kids. I suppose that’s OK; it means I love them deeply, inexorably, completely. What’s important is the feeling of “wrong” wears off and I find I can be myself again.* – and of course, catch up on that time of privacy and self-soothing. It turns out they may so deep down in my bones feel like a part of me, but in another way they’re not.

Their removal does not diminish me; it just hurts a little bit, every time.

* Flash forward six hours from now when I’m wearing a beer garland on my head, shaking my ass on a stained table at the 101 and the other patrons are staring in belligerent disbelief.

happy birthday, Nels

I can’t believe it’s been – four years!

Nels David Hogaboom
a birth story

Born at home to mom Kelly, dad Ralph, and sister Sophia
1:20 AM Wednesday April 7, 2004
8 pounds 7 ounces
21 inches long

April 6th, 9 AM – is it or isn’t it?

A couple hours after I wake up on Tuesday I’m having mild contractions that are only a tiny bit more intense than the Braxton Hicks contractions I’d had throughout the last half of my pregnancy. These contractions are only slightly painful and certainly not too intense. Nevertheless, they are somewhat distracting and never truly subside, coming anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes apart. Ralph senses things are going to go into motion and comes home at noon, starting his two weeks off of work. He calls my mom at about 3 PM and tells her to head up to see us (she leaves about 5 PM). At this point I am hopeful of labor but also feeling somewhat silly at the thought I might be treating everyone to a false alarm. My mom arrives at about 9 PM time and she and Ralph start writing down my contractions, calling midwives, and cleaning the house up a bit.

April 6th, 10 PM – the real thing

My mom and I are watching a movie together and my contractions are still coming about 10 minutes apart. I still claim I am unsure if labor is going someplace. But everyone is noticing I pause the movie during each contraction so I can concentrate on getting though it. I’m undecided if I should walk around to “get things moving” or lie down and rest in between contractions. I’m trying not to be too fearful of another long labor like I had with my first child. Suddenly at about 10:30 PM I hop up from the bed and turn off the movie, since contractions have sped up to about 4 minutes apart. Naturally my mom and Ralph are very excited and go about making phone calls and preparations while I pace the floor and cope with each contraction. It is going quite well but I keep telling myself these are the “easy” contractions and I try not to worry about what’s to come.

Around 10:30 my midwives and my doula start arriving and I am focusing inward in the classic “Laborland” manner. I notice peripherally how efficient and friendly everyone is, setting up the bed, laying out blankets and birth supplies and getting snacks. Everyone is wonderful to me and provides me with water and encouragement between contractions, respectful silence and privacy during. I feel very protected and honored and so it is easy not to be fearful. My doula Elizabeth arrives and strokes my back and speaks softly to me. She puts me nearly to sleep in between contractions. I am feeling so grateful for the love and encouragement I am getting. I know I am coping very well and in fact since I am doing so well I don’t think I am very far along.

April 7th, Midnight – silliest labor quote

Things are intense but I don’t want a check to see how far I’ve dilated. I am somewhat afraid to discover all the work I am doing hasn’t gotten me anywhere. Laura (one of the midwives) suggests I get into the tub. I’d always thought of the tub as what you use as a last resort toward the end of labor so I tell her I can wait. After a few more contractions I decide to get in, hoping for some pain relief. I spend about 40 minutes in the tub with contractions edging up their intensity. Everyone is around me encouraging me and vocalizing though my contractions. Elizabeth holds my hands and breathes with me through the contractions, then puts a cold cloth on my head and neck in between. Everyone helps keep me calm and focused, as does the knowledge I have to take each contraction one at a time. Close to 1 AM I feel the urge to have Ralph hold and kiss me while I rest, and help talk me through contractions (he’s repeating something I read from Birthing From Within: “Labor is hard work, it hurts, and you can do it”). I don’t realize at the time but I am going through transition. After a few contractions I start to feel a little of that, well — grunting urge. I know it is perfectly okay to grunt and push a little to help with the pain and I instinctively do so. The midwives clue into what I am doing and are back in the room. Laura says, “Gee Kelly, it sounds like you’re pushing” and I reply (idiotically) “I’m not really pushing, it just feels good to bear down a little bit”. These contractions are pretty rough but everyone is helping me so much it is still very manageable.

April 7th, 1:10 AM – OUCH, OUCH, OUCH!

Kathy convinces me to let her check me and informs me not only am I completely dilated, but that the baby’s head has descended quite a bit. I am completely amazed at this (despite knowing I am feeling the urge to push) and even accuse everyone of just saying that to make me feel better! (I feel a little silly about this later). During each contraction I am feeling the pain in my hips, all the way to the bone, which my midwives tell me is a sign the baby is moving. Kathy tells me later I comment that it is like a crowbar prying my pelvis apart. Despite the pain I am coping well and in between the contractions I am still calm. I comment that I am not feeling any pressure in my bottom yet and I think to myself this means I have a ways to go. Oops, I speak too soon — with the next contraction I feel the baby AT THE DOOR, so to speak. This takes me by surprise and my labor sounds change from low and powerful and very alarmed and – well – a little screechy. Everyone is talking to me and trying to help me calm down and focus. I am amazed at the pain and pressure and overcome with an almost frantic need to push. I am pushing, pushing, pushing, before I can tune into my midwives telling me to ease off. I do the best I can and manage to ease off a bit and direct my energies more constructively. Despite the pain I am overjoyed to know I am so close and my baby will be here any minute. “I know I will feel so good when I see my baby”, I tell myself and this helps me. Kathy tells me to reach down and feel the head and after an initial hesitation I do, surprised again at how soft and smooth it is. I can feel each part of his head I deliver. It hurts! But I know I am close. The head is out and then I am surprised by the fullness and difficulty of the shoulders, which I do not remember from my first birth.

April 7th, 1:20 AM – Nels is born

With one final push I feel my baby being delivered and I am surprised it is already over. I have been kneeling in the tub and so immediately turn around and Ralph tells me later I am saying, “Give me my baby! I want to hold my baby!” to the midwives who are doing their thing. I have a vision of his long, smooth body floating in the water, the room lit by candlelight in a soft glow. Within seconds he is in my arms and I am crying and Ralph is crying and the whole room is full of a collective soft and surprised murmur. I am holding him to my chest and saying, “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it” over and over, feeling so filled with surprise and happiness. He is perfect and so soft and I feel wonderful. I realize I have done it, I have given birth to a healthy baby boy in my own home, with my own power.

April 7th, early morning – getting to know you

I stay in the water crying and holding my baby for several minutes before anyone thinks to discover the baby’s sex. I hold my child away from my chest and in between squirming legs and the umbilical cord I see we have a boy! Of course, this is perfect. Everything feels perfect! After a few more minutes I am ready to get out of the water and get cleaned up, but I know we have to wait for the placenta. I feel like this takes forever but it probably is only a fifteen minute wait. Another surprising feeling of fullness and then the placenta is delivered. Kathy has to pull the cord a bit and gently massage my tummy to get the whole thing in one piece. My mom is on the phone with my dad and has to pass the phone around so she can cut the cord. I am ready to get out and dry off and nurse my second child.

I am helped out of the tub and into some dry clothes. I am so happy to have so much loving help. I prop myself up on the bed and hold my son to my breast. He latches almost immediately like a pro. I keep asking my husband, “Is this really happening?” because it has gone like a dream and I am so happy. After some time of nursing the midwife eventually takes my son to the foot of the bed to weigh him and check his limbs and reflexes. Elizabeth brings me food — cheese, bread, apples and oranges. My pulse is checked and found to be high (100) so I am encouraged to drink a huge glass of water (this happened with Sophie too). My afterpains are intense, more so than with Sophie, but I know this to be normal. I breathe through them. Sophie wakes up and is brought into the room, looking cranky and confused. I kiss her and introduce her to her brother (she is unimpressed) and Ralph takes her back to the bedroom to settle her back to sleep. Kathy checks my bottom out and finds only two tiny tears, no need for sutures. The energy of the house is settling, people are packing things, Elizabeth says goodbye. Laura leaves too and I take a shower with Kathy’s help. She stays long enough to give postpartum instructions and asks me to page her when I can pee. I am a little anxious about this myself, for vague fear of a catheter. Kathy leaves about 3:20 and as her car is pulling out I am able to pee, feeling now finally that everything is alright.

My husband is looking dead tired. I am wired and unable to sleep. We send my mom off to bed. I hold my son who is still awake! He is drowsy though and wants to snuggle. At about 4:30 AM I finally fall asleep on the bed, Ralph on the couch, holding his son. We are awakened just before 7 AM to the joyful sounds of our firstborn running through the house talking excitedly to Grandma. Grandma looks like she really needs a cup of coffee.

the family whirlwind

Four years ago today despite the onset of faint contractions I’d taken a lovely, deep nap in the sunlight of my living room, waking as peacefully as I ever had. Deep in my bones this brief sleep felt like a ritual, a final act as mother to one child – before embarking on the New Adventure. I’ve heard it said any time you add a child to the family it’s as momentous as the first child’s addition. I knew this to be true that afternoon and time has not proven me wrong.

The family we dined with the afternoon I went into labor with Nels just left this morning – my friend Abbi and her two daughters who decided impulsively to take a trip and ended up staying three days and two nights (yay!). We spent a very active and rather foodie weekend cooking, playing, visiting the sights (including the farmer’s market, our fruit and veggie stand, the carniceria, our Salvadorian restaurant, and a local creamery), swimming, recovering (by napping – which saved my body and mind), cooking some more (raw milk cheese! strawberry rhubarb pie! roasted jalapenos!), and sharing gardening hopes, seeds, and starts (the Hogaclan being by far the primary beneficiary on the starts).

Goat Exodus

About thirty minutes after our guests leave we find ourselves at my parents’, serving up the pie I’d made the night before. My daughter suddenly exclaims in proud surprise, “I lost my tooth!” and reveals to us a bloody gap. A small flurry of excitement; my mother and grandfather in tears as they say to one another, “I wish Jean [my grandmother] were here.” Sophie’s sweet voice develops a slight lisp; now in talking her full upper lip catches a bit on the void her upper tooth left behind. She tells me later with cool confidence, “It fell into my sleeve.”

This evening I knead the dough for treat I’m bringing Nels’ class tomorrow (his birthday as well as his last day before moving up to the older class which he repeatedly points out, “Is full of new girls!”) while he sits at the table, licking the mixer paddles. I am tired but breadmaking is one of my favorite things to do. “This dough is so nice…” I tell my husband, pleased at the soft, springy, smoothness that warm milk, egg, and butter affords (this particular confection contains chocolate and brown sugar, too!) and Nels adds, “Uh-huh!” enthusiastically, busy wiping his fingers and nodding. I lean in and kiss him for being who he is, my golden child who shares my love of cooking (ingredients he’s chosen for us over the last week: cauliflower, cantelope, and a special red sea salt) and is forever coming up with the most imaginative games (tonight he was a pie bird and required I pantomime the preparation of a pie using his body).

The rest of the family enjoys the fireside and the warmth, contentment at the end of our Spring Break.

Just One In A Series Of Really Whorish Poses

six in twelve:

the number of children for the number of hours I cared for them without adult help. Depending on who I had and the time of day this may or may not have included mile-long walks with a backpacked baby cooing in my ear and four preschoolers in tow (and yes, a coffee in hand), then the bike with my own children after a circus-like ringleading of five kids in one diner (splitting steamed milks before we spent fifteen minutes just getting coats on for departure). During the day I employed several very smart Mama tricks (including holding the hands of the clumsiest or spaciest children while walking on HQX’s treacherous sidewalks so if they took a gainer I’d kept them from busting a kneecap) and a few I-thought-it-was-clever ideas that backfired (encouraging the children to each pick a wildflower and then: “Alison took my flower!” “Nels made a bad choice!” “Where’s MY flower?!” for about five thousand blocks). Another impressive stat – minutes of televised entertainment I employed today: twelve.

Taking care of children when things are going smoothly is extremely exhilarating for me; I never would have guessed this before. It’s like running a well-oiled kitten factory except the kittens are smart enough to talk and be interesting with what they say (OK, the baby’s kitten talk is the equivalent of, “Give me fish!” “Change my litter box now!” “Something’s WRONG and I am going to squall until you figure it out!!!” Speaking of baby T., I only hurt him once (by sad and freak accident, not on purpose or due to neglect; I told his mom to bring a helmet next time but instead we’re settling for a Pack N Play or what you old folks know as a “playpen”). If you see a really abused-looking little blue-eyed baby about town just know I feel worse about it than he does.

Apparently 2008 is the Year of Consumerist Lust for me? It goes deeper than wanting to buy something because I have actually been up at night worrying my quilt with my teeth wondering what the heck I’m going to do about my kids growing out of their bike trailer (a Burley with 100 lb. capacity and my children folded in as it is). Last night cruising around the inter-Tron I find BikePortland which leads me (back) to Clever Cycles for a lingering look at my cycling wet dream – and then, suddenly, I see the word “longtail” and read, with increasing interest, a (potential) exact solution to my family needs + my biking life. When I catch the picture of the fellow with two my-size-children and grocery bags to boot I almost throw up in excitement. And this matrix regarding transportation (yes, I’m aware this is basically an advertisement – and to give fair warning, xtracycle’s entire site is rather hype-y) is almost paradigm-shifting in and of itself. “90% of car trips do not carry passengers”; sounds ludicrous and wasteful but, look around and you’ll see it’s true.

In other news, last night my daughter and I watched most of Disney’s 1954 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and I was struck by three things: 1. it’s actually a pretty good movie, and we haven’t even got to the squid yet; 2. Actor James Mason as Captain Nemo (the first I’d ever noticed the acclaimed actor)* has the exact booming voice that I so loved in “Darkplace”‘s Sanchez / Todd Rivers / Matt Berry (huge crush on all three!); and 3. I’ll be stealing the lovely Technicolor look for my third issue of Sure Nail & Fire.

* He also co-authored a book about cats! How sweet.

and now something i’ve been thinking about

It’s true. I’m fringe.

I breastfed my children to ages three and two, respectively. In America, only 6% of children are nursed past their first year. That makes my children more fortunate than others and also risked the good looks of my boobs, which seem to have held out OK.

I had a baby at home, in a pool incidentally. Homebirthed babies in the United States are about 0.6% of births. OK, that’s pretty goddamned fringe.

But I am not a fringe person. I am a pretty run-of-the mill person, college-educated and in traditional Western science, I’ll have you know – physics, chemistry, not a single Chinese medicine elective taken. I shave my legs. I eat sugar and I watch horror movies. I believe in Jesus and not in that live-in-a-commune-away-from-the-rest-of-the-world way; in the more boring, reading-the-bible kind of way.

But if I could convince a breeding family of anything, it is that 1. they should seriously consider a homebirth, and 2. no, I am not insane.

I felt like I could have written this short paragraph from a recent article in [s]Mothering magazine:

“Looking back, my transformation from homebirth skeptic to homebirth advocate seems unlikely. In most communities, we are taught from birth that babies are born in hospitals. And because nearly all American babies are born in hospitals, alternatives are marginalized.”

Yeah.

One of the best choices I made, one I practically stumbled on, was to have a baby at home. I differ from the author’s wife since I switched my plan at about 38 weeks, not 20. And since I qualified as a low-risk birth like 80% of American women (and that’s a conservative estimate) this simple decision on my part (Ralph helped) was smart, fun, inexpensive, safe, exciting, easy (considering it’s birth!), empowering, energizing, and in a word, lovely.

Homebirth is safe. Six studies including over 24,000 births and long story short: planned, attended homebirthed babies do better than babies in the hospital. Period. Industrialized countries with a midwifery model have more favorable outcomes than the United States, which scores second worse in newborn deaths for all industrialized nations.

Even a discussion of safety is somewhat disingenuous, because for me that isn’t the entirety of the issue. But who started picking on the safety of a birth choice, anyway? Who started telling women and families that their choice to forgo hospital-as-rote was “unsafe” or reckless or all about a political statement? (I have yet to meet the parents who truly would put a “statement” categorically above the welfare of their child – most parents, whatever birth model they choose, are making the best choice as seems fit to them).

If I reference safety I am not picking on the choice to do something different than I. I am not looking down on a woman’s first, second, third dose of a planned C-section. I am responding to the many who said I was “brave” or privately thought I was reckless or worse; those who expressed no curiosity about my birth. The husbands who did nothing to educate themselves nor empower their females and later cited their females’ high-intervention births as potentially “near death” or the baby as “too big” – as if women dropping dead in childbirth was something that happened far more than it actually ever did (references cited in gentlebirth.org article):

“Obstetricians tend to emphasize that many women used to die in childbirth, implying that we should be grateful for current obstetric practice. However, even in 1900, the percent of women who died giving birth was only 7/10ths of one percent! One has to wonder how this percentage compares with our country’s current cesarean section rate of 22%.”

This isn’t about safety, or at least not entirely. This is about dignity. This is about rejecting the countless ridiculous, and I mean ridiculous imagery and concepts of birth in our media, in our folklore. How many births have involved puffy women grunting and yelling, lying on their back looking entirely overwhelmed, screaming for drugs and squeezing their husband’s crotch in a retaliatory fashion – their husbands near-fainting from the graphic or scary nature of the birth and the surgeon / OB “rescuing” the mother from her crisis of birth? Would that be such an irritating image to me if it was even slightly ameliorated by images and depictions of what birth can be (and often is) – without all that unnecessary fuss, drama, implied farce, and silliness?

One of the most realistic birth scenes I’ve seen in a film, despite stressful and overly-dramatic circumstances, was the one at the end of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. Without ruining details, I had no problem believing in the performance of the woman giving birth even though the situation in which she delivered was far from typical and one no one would want. Another realistic birth I saw recently was in Altman’s Dr. T and the Women – so convincing I looked into it after watching and discovered it was an actual life birth. I have to wonder why most births in television and film that have more typical “circumstances” (i.e., hospital births) often have silly, high-danger, undignified, I’m-going-to-squeeze-your-balls buffooneries played out.

My first birth I will be forever grateful to the medical professionals who guided me through it. They were part of a system that did things their way, but they honestly gave me the most humane and loving care they could under that system. However, I am not proud of that birth. I got through it; they helped. When I think of that birth I remember lots of fluids, many changes of clothes and lots of pain, hushed voices and beeps, walking in halls where people I did not know stared or averted their gaze, wires and tubes and I was just ugly and unwieldy and very scared and unwilling for much of it. After my daughter was born, and the minute after, I was in heaven and pain-free. And I went home.

Two years later at home while laboring with Nels I watched a movie. I started to get distracted and turned the movie off. I started pacing. People came over. The lights were low. People talked and laughed. I panted and sighed and in between contractions as my doula stroked my back I retreated away from her and everywhere else into somewhere so deeply internal I’d long to be there again. It got harder for a while. Then Ralph and I held one another and whispered things to one another and my blessed pain-free time in between contractions seemed to stretch out forever and I was in a lovely trance. Then it got tough again but within minutes I delivered Nels and I can still see him stretched out in the water, so beautiful and I cried over and over, “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it!” And I felt so strong the whole entire time.

When I was done I felt like I’d climbed a fucking mountain. I would love to feel that way again. There is no feeling like it I’ve had since I delivered my baby while entirely alert and under my own power.

I wished my father and brother could have been there to see my second birth. I think they missed out not to be there. It was bigger than me and as momentous as anything that happens on this planet.

Speaking of gratitude, I will forever be grateful
that I birthed both my babies in a microcosm of alternative birth choices, similar to what the author of this article writes on:

“Windy and I are fortunate to live in a neighborhood with a microculture that straddles the phases of acceptance and understanding, a neighborhood that has prompted us to learn more. There are surely other communities like ours across the country.”

Had it not been for a community like this one, I would have missed out on so much. It is easy to not pay attention; to not look into something that seems like a no-brainer – babies are born in hospitals. After all, why not? “Most babies” and mothers are safe enough in America, right? Birth is only the beginning of a long relationship – who really cares how it all goes down? And besides, it’s just unseemly to align oneself with the “wacko fringe” when at very least your family is going to exhaust you with pesky or hostile questions, judgment, and prejudice.

But I wish I could share my experience without people thinking I’m fringe, that I have something against hospitals (I actually adore hospitals), that I was reacting to the “victimization” from my first hospital birth (I wasn’t), that I did a natural birth to prove I was a woman (I already knew that). I wish people could listen to impassioned homebirth advocates and listen – not respond with their own defensiveness, baggage, or judgments.

Every expressed word in response to learning Nels was born at home was supportive. And I do thank friends, family and acquaintances for that. Sometimes I wish the ones who privately held judgments would at least speak up, so they could learn more about me and why I did what I did.

so I pushed a couple kids out my vagina a while ago

Years ago my then-boyfriend and now-husband remarked on a small tradition at his church he found troubling. Every Mother’s Day Sunday the church would purchase flowers prior to the service. At the conclusion of the sermon (usually rather mommy-centered or at least referential) the deacons would pass out blooms first to mothers, and then to the little girls and women in the congregation. There would be a special meal and lots of smiles and platitudes and recognition.

Let’s put aside for a moment the creepy implied dictum that all little girls will grow up to fulfill their lives as mothers, or the inference that older childfree women should have been mothers. My boyfriend’s complaint at the time was that a Mother was a Mother. He contended one is not an “honorary” mother simply by being female; Mother’s Day is not in fact – to be blunt – Pussy Day (although we really should have one of those).

Of course I didn’t see the big deal. Flowers are nice, we said lots of things about Mommy, who cares? Quit being obsessed with details.

But tomorrow is Mother’s Day and over the last handful of years it has become special to me. I have been a mother a little over five years and I already know I do deserve a special category – not one especially edified or canonized, but the recognition I get is welcome. Being a mother isn’t the same as owning a dog, babysitting or being “aunty” or “uncle”, being a grandmother or grandfather even. It is uniquely different than all those roles, as important and lovely as those other things are.

After I had Sophie, the minute of, I became a mother. I did not know what this was or what it meant in any way (except for the overwhelming emotional elation at birthing a child I loved immediately and intensely). And I was alone in this! Despite all the family and friends who have helped along the way there was no “backup” for me and there continues to be no real respite. People may babysit my children, offer commiseration or advice, walk my crying infant in the restaurant as I bolt down food, but I have never been able to stop my ears to my child’s cries nor believe anyone else could be truly responsible, not even for a moment. When I read about mothers or fathers abandoning their children I know that such an act is not on my personal radar in any way; I am glad for and humbled by whatever part of my human nature makes this impossible to consider.

My children will one day leave my house; I will one day leave them in death. I simply find the idea of this separation so emotionally difficult I choose not to think about it at all; I pray, I try to be in the moment as much as I can when I’m laying next to my son in bed or holding my daughter’s hand in the supermarket. My children are strong and larger than I (though they don’t know it) and it will likely be my privilege to watch them grow in strength and identity; strong enough one day to start their lives without me, to raise their family, and to help me die, if I am fortunate.

There are so many potential pitfalls to being a mother. These include the shallow and silly; the alluded-to fashion gaffes, the obligatorily-assigned loss of the self (not true, as it turns out – merely fleeting). Moms are simultaneously pedestaled – Mother’s Day is Hallmark Cards’ most lucrative holiday – and categorically disrespected as evidenced by the term “MILF” – an apparently radical concept that a mother is, actually, capable of being sexually attractive to males. Imagine that.

My children make me a mother. They make me their mother merely by their experience of me. I will always be a woman and (hopefully) always be a wife; the first category is what I make of it and the second is between Ralph and I. But my children and I have a dance of our own that I think of performed in parts of 1/3 love, 1/3 hilarity, and a remainder of harshness and humanity that I’m finding is unique to the three of us.

Mother's Day Card by Suse
Sophie’s card she made at school for me. Inside: “I love you because… you make me food to eat.” (narrated by Suse, written by teacher).

And as I type this, I find myself knee-jerk saying to my daughter, “Don’t run with scissors!”

Happy Mother’s Day!

happy birthday, Nels

I can’t believe it’s been a year.

Nels David Hogaboom
a birth story

Born at home to mom Kelly, dad Ralph, and sister Sophia
1:20 AM Wednesday April 7, 2004
8 pounds 7 ounces
21 inches long

April 6th, 9 AM – is it or isn’t it?

A couple hours after I wake up on Tuesday I’m having mild contractions that are only a tiny bit more intense than the Braxton Hicks contractions I’d had throughout the last half of my pregnancy. These contractions are only slightly painful and certainly not too intense. Nevertheless, they are somewhat distracting and never truly subside, coming anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes apart. Ralph senses things are going to go into motion and comes home at noon, starting his two weeks off of work. He calls my mom at about 3 PM and tells her to head up to see us (she leaves about 5 PM). At this point I am hopeful of labor but also feeling somewhat silly at the thought I might be treating everyone to a false alarm. My mom arrives at about 9 PM time and she and Ralph start writing down my contractions, calling midwives, and cleaning the house up a bit.

April 6th, 10 PM – the real thing

My mom and I are watching a movie together and my contractions are still coming about 10 minutes apart. I still claim I am unsure if labor is going someplace. But everyone is noticing I pause the movie during each contraction so I can concentrate on getting though it. I’m undecided if I should walk around to “get things moving” or lie down and rest in between contractions. I’m trying not to be too fearful of another long labor like I had with my first child. Suddenly at about 10:30 PM I hop up from the bed and turn off the movie, since contractions have sped up to about 4 minutes apart. Naturally my mom and Ralph are very excited and go about making phone calls and preparations while I pace the floor and cope with each contraction. It is going quite well but I keep telling myself these are the “easy” contractions and I try not to worry about what’s to come.

Around 10:30 my midwives and my doula start arriving and I am focusing inward in the classic “Laborland” manner. I notice peripherally how efficient and friendly everyone is, setting up the bed, laying out blankets and birth supplies and getting snacks. Everyone is wonderful to me and provides me with water and encouragement between contractions, respectful silence and privacy during. I feel very protected and honored and so it is easy not to be fearful. My doula Elizabeth arrives and strokes my back and speaks softly to me. She puts me nearly to sleep in between contractions. I am feeling so grateful for the love and encouragement I am getting. I know I am coping very well and in fact since I am doing so well I don’t think I am very far along.

April 7th, Midnight – silliest labor quote

Things are intense but I don’t want a check to see how far I’ve dilated. I am somewhat afraid to discover all the work I am doing hasn’t gotten me anywhere. Laura (one of the midwives) suggests I get into the tub. I’d always thought of the tub as what you use as a last resort toward the end of labor so I tell her I can wait. After a few more contractions I decide to get in, hoping for some pain relief. I spend about 40 minutes in the tub with contractions edging up their intensity. Everyone is around me encouraging me and vocalizing though my contractions. Elizabeth holds my hands and breathes with me through the contractions, then puts a cold cloth on my head and neck in between. Everyone helps keep me calm and focused, as does the knowledge I have to take each contraction one at a time. Close to 1 AM I feel the urge to have Ralph hold and kiss me while I rest, and help talk me through contractions (he’s repeating something I read from Birthing From Within: “Labor is hard work, it hurts, and you can do it”). I don’t realize at the time but I am going through transition. After a few contractions I start to feel a little of that, well — grunting urge. I know it is perfectly okay to grunt and push a little to help with the pain and I instinctively do so. The midwives clue into what I am doing and are back in the room. Laura says, “Gee Kelly, it sounds like you’re pushing” and I reply (idiotically) “I’m not really pushing, it just feels good to bear down a little bit”. These contractions are pretty rough but everyone is helping me so much it is still very manageable.

April 7th, 1:10 AM – OUCH, OUCH, OUCH!

Kathy convinces me to let her check me and informs me not only am I completely dilated, but that the baby’s head has descended quite a bit. I am completely amazed at this (despite knowing I am feeling the urge to push) and even accuse everyone of just saying that to make me feel better! (I feel a little silly about this later). During each contraction I am feeling the pain in my hips, all the way to the bone, which my midwives tell me is a sign the baby is moving. Kathy tells me later I comment that it is like a crowbar prying my pelvis apart. Despite the pain I am coping well and in between the contractions I am still calm. I comment that I am not feeling any pressure in my bottom yet and I think to myself this means I have a ways to go. Oops, I speak too soon — with the next contraction I feel the baby AT THE DOOR, so to speak. This takes me by surprise and my labor sounds change from low and powerful and very alarmed and – well – a little screechy. Everyone is talking to me and trying to help me calm down and focus. I am amazed at the pain and pressure and overcome with an almost frantic need to push. I am pushing, pushing, pushing, before I can tune into my midwives telling me to ease off. I do the best I can and manage to ease off a bit and direct my energies more constructively. Despite the pain I am overjoyed to know I am so close and my baby will be here any minute. “I know I will feel so good when I see my baby”, I tell myself and this helps me. Kathy tells me to reach down and feel the head and after an initial hesitation I do, surprised again at how soft and smooth it is. I can feel each part of his head I deliver. It hurts! But I know I am close. The head is out and then I am surprised by the fullness and difficulty of the shoulders, which I do not remember from my first birth.

April 7th, 1:20 AM – Nels is born

With one final push I feel my baby being delivered and I am surprised it is already over. I have been kneeling in the tub and so immediately turn around and Ralph tells me later I am saying, “Give me my baby! I want to hold my baby!” to the midwives who are doing their thing. I have a vision of his long, smooth body floating in the water, the room lit by candlelight in a soft glow. Within seconds he is in my arms and I am crying and Ralph is crying and the whole room is full of a collective soft and surprised murmur. I am holding him to my chest and saying, “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it” over and over, feeling so filled with surprise and happiness. He is perfect and so soft and I feel wonderful. I realize I have done it, I have given birth to a healthy baby boy in my own home, with my own power.

April 7th, early morning – getting to know you

I stay in the water crying and holding my baby for several minutes before anyone thinks to discover the baby’s sex. I hold my child away from my chest and in between squirming legs and the umbilical cord I see we have a boy! Of course, this is perfect. Everything feels perfect! After a few more minutes I am ready to get out of the water and get cleaned up, but I know we have to wait for the placenta. I feel like this takes forever but it probably is only a fifteen minute wait. Another surprising feeling of fullness and then the placenta is delivered. Kathy has to pull the cord a bit and gently massage my tummy to get the whole thing in one piece. My mom is on the phone with my dad and has to pass the phone around so she can cut the cord. I am ready to get out and dry off and nurse my second child.

I am helped out of the tub and into some dry clothes. I am so happy to have so much loving help. I prop myself up on the bed and hold my son to my breast. He latches almost immediately like a pro. I keep asking my husband, “Is this really happening?” because it has gone like a dream and I am so happy. After some time of nursing the midwife eventually takes my son to the foot of the bed to weigh him and check his limbs and reflexes. Elizabeth brings me food — cheese, bread, apples and oranges. My pulse is checked and found to be high (100) so I am encouraged to drink a huge glass of water (this happened with Sophie too). My afterpains are intense, more so than with Sophie, but I know this to be normal. I breathe through them. Sophie wakes up and is brought into the room, looking cranky and confused. I kiss her and introduce her to her brother (she is unimpressed) and Ralph takes her back to the bedroom to settle her back to sleep. Kathy checks my bottom out and finds only two tiny tears, no need for sutures. The energy of the house is settling, people are packing things, Elizabeth says goodbye. Laura leaves too and I take a shower with Kathy’s help. She stays long enough to give postpartum instructions and asks me to page her when I can pee. I am a little anxious about this myself, for vague fear of a catheter. Kathy leaves about 3:20 and as her car is pulling out I am able to pee, feeling now finally that everything is alright.

My husband is looking dead tired. I am wired and unable to sleep. We send my mom off to bed. I hold my son who is still awake! He is drowsy though and wants to snuggle. At about 4:30 AM I finally fall asleep on the bed, Ralph on the couch, holding his son. We are awakened just before 7 AM to the joyful sounds of our firstborn running through the house talking excitedly to Grandma. Grandma looks like she really needs a cup of coffee.

living, breathing lives

My parents leave at 5; time for a family walk. We bundle everyone up and take to the small trails in the woodsy areas around our home. My daughter gets a rare turn in the jogging stroller, bundled in a quilt sewn by my mother. My eleven-month-old son is happy in his backpack, looking over my left shoulder. This is his preferred mode of transport. His eyes are green, cheeks flushed in the brisk air, and I can smell his milky breath. I feel blissful. Accompanying us is our neighbor’s dog, who we are sitting for 10 days. He is a Naughty Dog at times, but I love him. He chases off a larger dog in the park; then is beset by (count ’em) three dachshunds and a whippet – turns tail and flees. Sometimes I think dogs don’t mind if it’s themselves who come out ahead, they just like figuring out who.

The Husband and I review our weekend so far. Despite the in-laws – and the dogsitting – and the morning full of babysitting our friends’ child – he and I have had a few moments to ourselves. A morning shower together while Nels napped and Sophie played on her own in the living room. Time in the car with three (relatively) quiet little ones, and now this peaceful, invigorating walk.

Arrive home. My doula friend has dropped off our voice recorder gadget which she borrowed for some of her birthing clients. In reviewing what files to keep and delete I hear the powerful, painful sounds of a woman in advanced labor. Her vocalizations are long moans, pained but in control. I hear whispers in the background. Long moments of silence, playful laughter – some of it by the laboring woman. Listening in feels intimate, almost sexual. What a beautiful sound track for one of the most amazing passages in our lives.

two wives, three kids, and a bun in the oven

So starts the first morning of a new partnership. For a week it will be Jodi and I corralling our three little ones and she’s knocked up to boot. Things are going well so far. The two girls are ecstatic to have a playmate their own age and are still high off the fun of a new friendship. Sophie is alternately bossy and helpful to the littler girl, much more scattered than usual and less of a help to Mama. Cyan is a willing accomplice.

The Man leaves for work a few minutes late at quarter to eight, toothbrush poking out of his mouth. Then it’s on to Jodi and I to get ready for the day. Changing diapers. Helping with the potty. Putting hair up. Dressing three kids. I get my brood ready and Jodi and her girl are at the table for breakfast #2. Michelle arrives to help with housework while we’re out, so I let her have care of my children for my 15 minutes to myself. I step into the shower and experience a few wonderful minutes of washing my face, scrubbing my scalp. The hiss and splash of the water obfuscates whatever the hell is going on out in the living room. By the time I am dressed and my hair dry Paige is here too. It’s time to go. The ratio of four adults to three kids allows us to get carseats, kids, diaperbags, etc all loaded up in the car in a timely fashion.

Stop at the husband’s work to pick up some cash. Drive through for coffee. Head to playschool. Kids run around; parents steal an hour for “class” in the next room. Normal chit-chat: how to get our kids to eat, unfairness along gender lines of parenting, sex (or lack thereof). There are two husbands there and they valiantly stick up for “their side” of the whole mess. Three of the women at the table are pregnant. All of us are looking for a safe place and strength in numbers. We head back to the kids’ room and sing, pack everyone up, head home.

Groceries and then home for lunch: sandwiches, pickles, carrot sticks, tomato soup, milk. Kids are winding down; lunch is cleaned up; children are changed, nursed, soothed, read to.

I figure Jodi and I have twenty minutes to talk with no distractions before it’s time to get back to work – wash diapers, do laundry, figure out dinner, do dishes, and get our kids to the grocery store again before heading home to cook. Foreseeing this brief respite we have stocked up on good coffee and some bistro cookies (carefully hidden from the kids).

Time to enjoy a break.

debunking the myth of Supermom

I never thought I’d be seen as the woman who “did it all”. I hate that phrase. Annoyingly enough, I have had more than a few friends and family pay glowing homage to what they think are my supernatural abilities to manage a home, create art, and raise beautiful children. In reality things had a darker side than they were seeing. I had become so performance-based I had lost the ability to enjoy myself. Here’s the real story of a SuperMom.

Last Monday at the tail end of a dinner party, a friend of mine hiked her cranky 6–month old baby up on her hip and said with genuine exasperation, “Well Kelly, I don’t know how you do it.” I was floored by her comment and it took me a moment to get my bearings. I knew, of course, what she was referring to – a humble but homey dinner party in a modest but tidy home, my recent success in putting out a zine, my sewing, my volunteer work for the Health Department, and my recent switch to cloth diapering my two children. In short, all of the items I struggle with and share with my friends. The fact that my friend would look at me and see a series of successes, a seamless life fully-lived and easily enjoyed, surprised me. I was being elevated to the title of SuperMom.

This episode was easily recognizable because it has been happening to me more and more in the last year. This almost makes sense considering the circumstances of my life lately. About the time my firstborn approached a year and a half, I found I had built a solid base of resources allowing me to enjoy and succeed at life as a housemom – to prepare meals, keep my home ordered, sew for my children and friends, enjoy my child, and tune into my husband. Not surprisingly, this latter development soon got me pregnant. Going through pregnancy and having a newborn while caring for a toddler certainly threw me a curveball in my routine, but with focus and help from friends and family I bounced back rather quickly into the busy life I’d come to enjoy. Referring to becoming a second-time parent, I told people, “I want to enjoy this time, not just survive it.” I asked friends and family for help, embraced my labor and birth, and enlisted my husband’s help in creating time for myself.

All of this has a dark side however. My second labor, birth, and early months with my new baby seemed almost too good to be true. They were. About six weeks into my son’s life I realized I had arrived in a dark place. To the outside observer, I probably seemed a relatively successful and capable woman. I felt a wreck inside. The most minor glitches in my day would seem insurmountable.

It took a few breakdowns before I realized no one was going to help me, and I needed to figure out a way to get the inner struggle, whatever it was, out into the open. I tentatively, oh so tentatively, suggested to my husband I might need a counselor. It was a tough call to make. What would happen? Would I find out? Or worse, that there was more wrong with me than I’d even imagined? The thing that made me determined to go was the realization that the only thing keeping me willing to survive was my love for my children. And if things got bad, really bad – and I lost my love for them – what then?

At about the time I started seeing a counselor, the fog began to lift. I began to see my moments of despair as being unreasonable. Life didn’t need to be so overwhelming.

And now I am wondering about my friends and acquaintances who appear to have a solid face to the outside world. I wonder what secret pain they hold, and how easy it would be for them to say to someone, “I am really faltering here. I need help.” For some reason, all the stories about women who need and get help seem to be about someone else. They can’t be about us. And maybe that self-imposed pressure is why it’s so hard for our friends to admit to one another that, for the now, it’s their story.