Big cold sunless skies, tumbling down, down

Today I had one of those breakdowns… a good one. Hot tears that just came and flooded, no congestion or anger. Crying and crying but it was okay after the first surrender, I didn’t mind. Crying at first from confusion and despair and then of brokenness and then finally of healing, sitting in a living room and crying with people I knew to trust, who were there for me. Like a home I never had but would have been there for me had I found it earlier.

Yeah, today a few people saved my ass, and in a totally separate incident (or was it?) today I witnessed an act of anonymous generosity that was hard to believe but only to be experienced.

Today I live a different life than I used to. Life before seems a bit alien.

The kids played on a giant wooded hill and ran about with the hose to cool off; later they hit Grandma’s and harvested her carrots (she paid them). I came home late-ish and Ralph made Taiwanese spaghetti – delicious, if you’ve never tried it.

Oh, and as I’m typing and waiting for the kids to be ready for bed? I’m watching a live #twitterbirth. Fuck. Yes.

Life is incredible.

everybody’s working for the weekend

OK seriously, it’s 2 PM here PST and if you’re at a desk, it’s time to glaze your eyes surfing around at my assembled Friday links! The serious, introspective, serio-comic, and frivolous are all provided:

1. “Come On. Admit It!” Dial-a-Llama, or as one comment identifies: llamar una llama.

2. I’d previously seen images circulating of “The Perfect Body, As Illustrated By Olympic Athletes”; what an inspirational and informative photo-essay!

3. As a bisexual lady, I rather enjoyed this video primer: “The Bizarre World of the Bisexual” from MisterSharp.

4. Professor Kate Clancy pokes holes in evo psyche myopia in “Mate magnet madness: When the range of possible explanations exceeds your own hypothesis”; that last sentence in particular is a tangy zing! afterflavor following stellar sciencey radness.

5. This rant regarding Paper, Rock, Scissors reminds me of my brother, who I’ll bet has already thought about the logic (or lack therein) of the game.

6. Speaking of my brother, he sent me this “adorable cat image” (THE EYES).

7. For Cynthia and other fans: the Red Velvet Roundup via CRAFT. I currently have a triple-decker red velvet cooling on my counter. I’m told it’s not real Red Velvet Cake without the milk roux frosting. I’m just putting together cream cheese, butter, confectioner’s sugar, and vanilla though, and I’ll bet any purists wouldn’t mind.

8. I quite enjoyed these: “Surreal Photos of Subway Cars Being Thrown Into the Ocean [Slideshow]”.

9. If you already know what’s fun and exciting about the phrase Orange Mocha Frappucino! – well now you can make them up at home!

10. Ani DiFranco’s homebirth, in her own words. FUCKING CHILLS, because of teh awesomez.

11. “Equals” – making the rounds a lot this week, the IWD PSA featuring Daniel Craig & Dame Judi Dench.

12. The New York Times reports on an alleged gang-rape and rightfully gets taken to task for the horrific way it does so: here is commentary by The Stranger in Seattle; here from PostBourgie. I’m glad people are working and speaking out about this form of reporting; I feel sad and cynical and rather pessimistic that men and women will reframe our victim-blaming societal discourse. I’m also hoping this girl and her family have strong support.

13. Ouyang Dan provides some resources regarding the Japan quake and tsunami.

14. Face/Off in Hecklevision” priemered earlier in the week. Oh dear Lord how I would have loved to go. In a similar vein, Rifftrax is releasing Highlander any minute. w00t!

15. National Geographic created a real-life version of the Up house. Adorable!

16. The Secular Homeschooler is shutting itself down. I s’pose that means I didn’t get my subscription’s worth, but I don’t much mind – except I will miss the awesomeness of the magazine. Deborah did a wonderful job in this publication; she and it will be missed.

But my all-time favorite video, link, etc. this week comes from “That Mitchell and Webb Look” through friend and reader Paige:

Traffic Sign WIZARDRY


I was all busy birthdaying things up and I didn’t throw out my Fridays. Awkward! Here they are now – and yes, I’ve tried to cut back a little from previous weeks:

“Defending the Status Quo” by Jeff Sabo
Heck, I’ve probably posted this before. But I read it again and I can tell you – this post gives me the chills. I would like to have just ONE DAY where my choices and reality were status quo, instead of fringe or viewed as radical. ONE DAY where I wasn’t doing things differently than the mainstream. It would feel kind of incredible for other people to have to defend to me why they do the shit they do. Sure, it ain’t gonna happen. A girl can dream, can’t she?

I don’t know why, but I can’t be as frank as Jeff on some things. Even when I think he’s correct. Particularly:

“Instead of asking me to defend my decision to not spank my children, how about I ask you to defend the reason why you spank. Is spanking really the only way you can come up with to guide your children? Have you looked at other possibilities? Have you really considered what lies behind your need to have your children behave a certain way? Do you support hitting all people who behave contrary to your preference, or just the ones smaller and younger than you who have little or no standing in our justice system? How do you rationalize the difference between productive discipline and child abuse?” [emphasis mine]

And of course authoritative/authoritarian parenting doesn’t begin and end at spanking. But still. Yeah.

“Oprah Learns That People Don’t Grow ‘Gayer'”

Oprah impressed me here. She admitted she was wrong, in what was likely a bit of an embarrassing scenario – especially if one positions oneself as being “gay friendly” and having “good intentions”. I notice it seems that even staff who don’t personally know her well feel comfortable at being frank and openly disagreeing with her. If only all discussions on controversial issues went down like this!

By the way, I see red flags when someone says, “But I preferenced it by saying, ‘I don’t mean to cause offense!'” Reminds me of “with all due respect”:

“The Big Fat Announcement: I’m Live-Blogging My Homebirth!” from The Feminist Breeder
I can’t even get across how much of a good idea this is. We need people to have a concept of birth as it can be with good prenatal care and without medicalization – and without the “ew gross!” shaming typically attendant when discussing a body that is female. I’ll totally be tuning into this!

What have I watched this week? Not much, but (as I mentioned,) I did see Inception. It was fine. I like talking to self-proclaimed fans of this film. Because they cite the work as brilliant, then I ask, “OK, then what did you think ____ meant when ____?” and they usually don’t have a clue. But you know what, it’s OK to just like a film, even if you don’t know what the fuck is going on.

Last night I watched this (when will I learn?):

It was shite. Yeah, I say that, and that’s given I’ve got a soft spot for Duane Johnson (I dunno, the guy seems classy and sweet). In the film he looks bigger than ever – at times he resembled a huge grease-soaked slab of dyspeptic gristle.

Today in the mail I received The Art of Manipulating Fabric, sent by my lady Karen. This book? Is simply incredible. And intimidating if, like me, one hopes to attempt a technique. But it’s gonna happen!

Today I’m making a few Indian-inspired recipes, sourced from Of all the somewhat-elaborate spice blends etc. etc. the most rewarding bit for me is making paneer (droooool).

“I love how I am at the point in my life where I know that I can and am accomplishing everything on my own and I am for once doing it for me & [my daughter] and nobody else. Proving that I don’t need anybody…but I’m still lonely.” – from Facebook

Isn’t this the truth. Accomplishment, career, accolades, attagirls… they can’t keep loneliness at bay long, especially the existential type. Even family and friends can’t fill up (what some call) the God-shaped hole. And booze can only do it for a short period of time (trust me on this).


& *snicker*
Traffic Sign WIZARDRY

cuddle goblin

Today I delivered this little scrappage and my own sweet ass to a Mother’s Blessing for friend and reader Kat:


(And yes; Ralph and Phoenix named the bunting “Cuddle Goblin”, because all my one-of-a-kind baby things need names.)


The bunting was made from a lot of scraps – cotton canvas, silk, and linen – and the shell was made by Essex linen/cotton, a fabric sent by Karen as a Thank You for pattern testing. It was lined in a soft off-white fleece. Given the math, I figure it would be fitting the baby in late late spring so I did not underline for additional warmth.

I am beginning to really like the Essex linen/cotton and may buy some (since I’m all out, finally). It is lovely to work with, although I am still getting used to the fact it shrinks and shrinks and shrinks upon washing. It seems very rugged and stain resistant (I’ve made my son pants from it and they still look fabulous after much rotation). A bolt from Dharma would be divine; I could dye it in batches – I love dyeing fabric – any color I want! (Yeah, yeah, get in line with all the other supplies I need; my WIZARD sewing machine is still in the shop as I don’t have the funds to bail it out.)

I’m still experimenting with applique…


And employing both my stellar machine- and hand-sewing skillz (a bit of color on a hidden snap, plus PRICK STITCH and, for the lining, slip stitch):

Hand-sewn Snap


(You can see more detail shots and read about how I made this in the Flickr tagset.)

The Mother’s Blessing was a very lovely experience; I’ve been to a handful of them (though not for a couple years) and they suit me more than the typical baby shower content and substance. I brought a date, my friend Jasmine. It was a super lady-positive evening. Here we are all tied together, just before snipping ourselves apart.

Mother's Blessing

I’ve a length of cotton string around my right wrist and over the next few days will be holding Kat and her family adventure in my mind and heart.

it’s Nels’ birthday: he’s six

Last night Nels and I were snuggled up on the laptop watching “The Vicar of Dibley” (I adore that show and my son does too; he gets every joke and loves all the kissing!).  A little after 1 AM I suddenly looked at my son and said, “Nels, it’s your birthday!”  Up until that very instant I hadn’t had the date correct; I’d thought it was Thursday.  But I suddenly knew.  And he snuggled into me and we held one another.

I still remember his birth, so vividly.  I post the story every year.  Every year I get emails from those who appreciate reading it.  But anyway, it is written in my heart (and likely his).  A wonderful start for us.

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.

You can send birthday wishes to Nels at my email, kelly AT hogaboom DOT org. If you are so inclined.

Not coincidentally, I wrote about motherhood on Underbellie.

it’s boring, but only because of THE PATRIARCHY, and how we’ve decided certain issues are “women’s issues” and don’t matter

A few days after having my second child I brought him to the small group Bible study I’d been attending for many weeks. While my eldest played downstairs in the (excellent!) childcare setup the group had provided, my group of ladyfriends – about six in all – passed around my new baby and congratulated me and were very sweet to me.  I’m not a big baby-lovin’ mama, but new babies are pretty interesting – just another amazing facet in life’s mysteries. Fathers and (especially) mothers of little kids were pretty damned awesome to be around when I had a new kid; usually they really got it, they were there for me in an elemental and so wonderful way.

The women in my group asked me about my birth experience, preparing to sympathize or laugh or pity or shake their heads or hear something harrowing.  I can’t remember what exactly I said but I know that in those first few (days/weeks/months/years) whenever I opened my mouth about Nels’ birth it felt less like a coherent account than like flowers, blooms falling from my lips.  I couldn’t believe how wonderful it had been:  powerful, amazing, very quick (I was in hard labor with Nels from 10 PM to 1 AM – Sophie’s birth at the hospital two years prior had taken 18 very rough hours), unmessy, entirely dignified (it felt to me), no bother, non-disruptive (our oldest slept through the whole thing), pretty mellow all in all.  And no one saw my vagina while I pushed out a baby, which is actually pretty cool for me.  On Nels’ birth night an hour after having him he was nursing and the house was clean and calm and there was home-cooked food and juice and champagne (oh my gosh… I swear I would re-pregnate this instant just to have my nursing baby appetite back! Food and drink never tasted so good!).  There was so much to my birth that had astounded me, and I know now part of my incredulity had been the many, many years growing up in a culture where birth is, take your pick: scary, silly, high-tech, messy, ridiculous, dangerous, in need of instruments and experts or it wouldn’t happen, mysterious because it was gross so it was draped in shitty hospital gowns and pricked with needles and catheters and instruments and took place in sterile rooms where in your shame you suffered but if you had a (more or less) healthy baby at the end of all that then everything else didn’t matter and you should feel grateful!

So if I ever wax on about my second birth, it’s not just that it was a good one: it’s that it was the exact opposite of everything I’d been brought up to expect and, to some extent, experienced in my first birth experience.

So I don’t remember what I said in this Bible study, but I remember words flowing and just so much gladness and joy and I couldn’t suppress it.  And after I spoke there was a silence. The women were clearly pleased and happy for me, but they were just damned confused. “I’ve never heard of a birth like that before,” one of them finally murmured, and the rest agreed.  My honesty and happiness and giddiness (and post-birth hormones!) shone through and I was evidence that it was real, yet they didn’t know how to frame what I’d just purported.

In the above video I particularly appreciated the following:

1. The description Dr. Declercq (from the Boston University School of Public Health) gave of the “cascade of interventions” (04:08 in the film) is apt and so relevant to many women I know. In my first birth I went to the hospital believing I’d have a natural birth, but I was unaware of just how unlikely this would be; unaware of how much self-advocacy I’d have had to employ – while birthing for the first time! – in order to avoid a huge amount of interventions. Birth professionals told me, “You’re taking a long time, take this medicine, it will help with the contractions”. One thing the drugs helped with was creating more agony: Pitocin-induced contractions are painful and intense but not necessarily effective.  Let me tell you, I was begging (or broadly hinting, rather) for an epidural after having that drug (fortunately, I managed to avoid one). Compared to the Pitocin contractions with my first birth, my second birth work was so much easier I remember telling my midwives they were lying when they told me I was almost done. In my first birth I labored a long time and avoided a C-section, for which I’m grateful – knowing what I know now.  I’m less grateful I was advised to have drugs, and I’m sad I was raised to believe doctors know best and thus had more or less put the whole business in their hands without being willing to do the work of making my own decisions.

2. Judy Norsigian, the Executive Director of Our Bodies Ourselves (06:42 in the film) delineates the fact that the vast majority of those who choose homebirth aren’t fringe or “hedonistic” or wanting a “spa-like experience” – they have carefully reviewed safety concerns. Oh my goodness. Every time I read or hear this sort of thing, that homebirthers are silly hippies – and lots of people profess this stuff – it makes me crazy.  Ralph and I (mostly me) read up like you wouldn’t believe when pregnant with Nels, and homebirth seemed the safest and most appropriate choice (interestingly, many people think of hospital as “normal” and anything else being a weird choice departing from normal; but of course, once you and/or your partner is pregnant, you do make a choice, wherever you end up).  The reality is as an American woman in good health, all my choices were pretty safe.  But homebirth was the safest choice (and seemed easiest on me and the baby) of all – based on facts available to us.  We didn’t choose this route because all I cared about was a frou-frou or spa-like or mystical fly-up-the-arse experience and that makes me Crazy Angry to think anyone who knows me (or doesn’t) would assume those kind of superficial concerns would comprise my primary motives for one of the most important events in my life.

While we’re at this “spa experience” bullshit,  let me point out it isn’t homebirthers or “natural” birth proponents who barf out the “spa” birth crap.  Pick up any mainstream parenting magazine (homebirth isn’t mainstream – last I checked it represented 0.6% of births in this country) and you see all sorts of, “buy this candle or this aromatherapy pillow or this birth mix CD or this-or-that to make your experience all fluffy and frilly”.  The “special snowflake spa birth” mystique is a product of marketing much, much more than single-minded pursuits of individual women.

3. I remember being surprised at how inexpensive my homebirth was – the statistics on Massachusetts indicate a home or birth center birth is 7 times less expensive than the C-sections (which were 34% of the state’s births in 2007!).  Even should a couple avoid a C-section, the way we’re doing birth in this country is expensive.  When it comes to the healthcare debate and individual choices, many in our culture like to pick on some people (fat people! poor people! smokers!) for costing us in health dollars spent but wouldn’t dream of spouting their ire on you know – most people who breed – for participating in normalized (and as it turns out, overly expensive) birth practices.

Our country has the birth-crazies. That is, our culture currently reports birth as dangerous – a medical event (in reality, no offense, birth is like taking a shit.  Normally things go pretty well and it is rare – but not unheard of – to need help).  Many people believe doctors are needed to make the decisions and any C-section by virtue of being performed proves it saved the mother and/or baby from something horrid. Forceps and EFM and inductions and epidurals and IVs and ticking clocks and repeated vaginal checks are necessary and God (or whoever) designed women totally different than other mammals – our pelvises are too small, our blood isn’t right, blah blah.

Yet with our experts and technology our country still has poor neonatal outcomes amongst industrialized nations (infant mortality rate ranks in the twenties), and even if you don’t stop and think Wow, why is birth outcome so dismal in our country? it isn’t all about if a baby lives or not: women are hurt and made to feel defective and wrong, men absent themselves from the discussion – I heard two pretty nice guys, husbands of my girlfriends, in private conversation basically saying, “I don’t know why she cares so much about this stuff, all I care about is that she and the baby are safe” – as if passive do-nothing-hope-for-the-best wasn’t the exact crucial factor keeping our status quo in effect.   Women make the best choices they can in the circumstances (I truly believe this to be the case most of the time) then feel defensive about their choices if they are in any way referenced or called into question.  Women who were smart and did their homework and did what was right for them and were fortunate to have good outcomes (like me) pick on the women who had more birth intervention, often villifying those women (not like me) and again – give male partners a total out on the conversation.  There is an emotionalism in the subject (discussed briefly by an MD at 03:38 in the above film) that prohibits honest, logical discussion – that is, to admit our C-section rate (in the low thirties) is way, way too high can’t be discussed without individual women feeling angry, hurt, defensive, and often attacking other women’s choices (again, giving the male of the species a total out).

And maybe the thing I’m most disappointed about: men are failing us when it comes to birth.  Most men don’t talk about birth (or rape, or women’s health, or cultural and institutional sexism), leaving the status quo to go on – leaving women to suffer.  Sure, everyone suffers when we have poor birth culture and poor practices; but women suffer more.  Our current state of things leaves women feeling grateful to just have a baby and glad they are more or less unscathed (although many women are more scathed than you might think and sadly those who aren’t happy with their birth experiences are often ignored, ridiculed, or worse).

So yeah, I don’t talk about birth too often.  I post my homebirth story every year at Nels’ birth (and if I’d thought to write down Sophie’s hospital birth story I would post hers – I’m sad I did not document it. Funny how I had so much less energy after being put through the drug-wringer); and I write about it now and then, and I’m passionate.  Because it really does matter – but only if you think women, families, human beings matter.  If you don’t, no worries.

Kids @ Grandmas

of sylvia and salamanders

Today it’s like gritting my teeth to take a day off; but we do, because I’d promised the kids a return to Lake Sylvia. This is a beautiful but not oft-visited location for us.  We’d stopped there on Wednesday on our way home from Olympia; the city was too hot, and the lake a perfect respite. As we were making way to get going I saw my doula, her husband, and their child pull into the parking lot, on the last leg of a roadtrip. Small world, I suppose; they live hours away. Yet the sight of her was familiar and welcome to me and we caught up for a few minutes before parting ways. Nels was in the backseat, tossing his hair out of his eyes and viewing this woman with quiet speculation – she’d been at his birth! – his long brown torso and his bright white underwear (the “swim gear” my children had employed; keeping them out of water is never an option) completing the picture.  Beautiful and fierce, the same child he was the day he was born.

So here we are again, at this lake, having this time packed a sizable lunch (grapes and dolmas with chard – delicious! Also, tomato sandwiches from the tomato abundance that is our greenhouse) and coffee for Ralph and I. The kids play, and play, and play. And play.  I almost convince Ralph to leave them to their swimming and come on a short hike.  Instead he and I play some frisbee in the water (I do rather impressive catches and the occasional comically poor throw) then go for a short walk across the bridge.  Talk to some tweens fishing off the dock (“Caught anything?” In unison: “No.”  “What are you using?” “Worms,” and so on.  The boys friendly, but muted).  Sophie catches a salamander and enjoys a brief bit of celebrity status among the children.  The kids perform coordinated stunt-dives off the old dock platform – the dock disappeared sometime in the last decade or so since I’d been out here.

Home from the trip and I’m already cooking and sewing like a madwoman. A grape and goat cheese tart and some homemade bagels to bring to a yoga retreat tomorrow. For our dinner: paneer fried in niter kibbeh, beet salad with ranch dressing, roasted garbanzo beans, and marinated kale.  Ralph takes the kids out – again – to a park, and I retreat to my sewing studio to trace the many pieces of a fitted coat pattern for Sophie.  The comforting space is now framed with long lengths of scarlet batiste and Bemberg rayon, awaiting cutting – the breeze ripples the lovely layers of fabric and a little kitten keeps me company.

Grandma has been watching the kids here or there; taking them out to her boyfriend’s place in the sticks, having them for the occasional sleepover:

Kids sleeping in; at my moms for the night
Kids sleeping in; at my mom's for the night

received via email yesterday:

“I wanted to tell you also that you don’t know but because of you I decided to have my baby at home instead of a hospital.

I’m really happy and proud that I did. I never saw you or got a chance to tell you that I read your birth story a few years ago and thought it was something I’d like to do when I had a kid. You’re one of the first people I’d ever known that had done that. After reading your story I looked into it further and found all I needed to know that I could do it too. I pushed that baby out right into my husband’s hands. It’s my proudest moment.

I hope this doesn’t seem weird that I’m just e-mailing you this out of nowhere. I thought maybe it would be nice to tell you that I admire a lot of what you do.”

This is perhaps some of the awesomest feedback I’ve ever had. I don’t need to say much more about it except, hooray!

"a nice eel who lost his mommy" – nels, on his swimming persona

Two years ago when we first moved here we threw our kids right into swimming lessons (after my mother repeatedly hounded us to join our YMCA; she even said she’d pay our monthly fee if necessary, although we did not take her up on this).

At first our oldest was only a wee bit more proficient than our youngest, but that has changed over time. This seemed in large part due to a setback for Nels: the ritual for kid water-readiness in the early swimming program at our Y is to dunk the kids (involuntarily and repeatedly). I don’t have much of an opinion on dunking except to say it seems like a douchey move. 80% of children are pliable or conditioned enough they don’t object to the lack of consent. The other 20% or so, like my youngest, dislike it very much. On Nels’ dunk he cried and protested intensely. I felt for him. Upon his vociferous objections, we didn’t return him to lessons. He has been water-clingy ever since, and only reluctantly tolerates his face being wet in the bath.

My mother has always been earnest in the endeavor to teach my children to swim. Nothing makes her happier where her grandchildren are concerned than to see them make headway in this. I’ve watched my mom with my kids and, like many other things, she is a “pusher” – often coaching or bribing the children to do the thing she imagines she must “teach”. This is Grandma’s way and the kids seem to be fine with that. I’m less fine with it, but by and large I let my children sort this out; they are fully capable of standing up to her.

I love swimming with the kids because our schedule (or non-schedule, as unschoolers) means we often have the pool almost entirely to ourselves. This creates a very peaceful, serene experience. In swimming with Nels today (Phoenix is off on their own, diving, hand-standing, cannonballing) I listen to what he wants; I listen to his body language. I notice he already grips me less than he grips his father. I don’t know if this is due to the more peaceful swim hour of the afternoons (as opposed to evening time, when Ralph can be there) – or if this is something unique between my son and I.

Today, some magical begins to happen. Nels starts to enjoy the water, rather than enjoy it reservedly. He begins to tell me to go here, or there, or leave him along the side to hand-walk his way around the pool. He lets me put him on his back to float. He requests water-wings and delights in being able to “stand” in the water, his legs free floating. Within about a half hour his hands are touching mine only lightly (as opposed to arms gripped around my neck). I move him over on tummy, or back, holding him only lightly. I repeat to him I will not let him go unless he wants me to.

Soon, he wants me to.

But his face – it’s hard to describe. His face simply opens up, his chin the bottom of a happy triangle, his mouth open and laughing, snub nose, his eyes wide and smiling. It’s an expression I often see when he tells a “joke” and makes me laugh unexpectedly. Today, he is the master and author of the swimming experience. We’d had good times in the pool before – away from pushy grandmother and crude swim instructors – but even I am surprised with how wonderful this feels.

About halfway through our (almost two-hour) swimming adventure I start to feel very emotional and out of time. I realize I am having a visceral body flashback to his waterbirth. The way his sleek form stretches out before me, the gentleness of the experience, his arms are just so, and of course although he had no voice all those years ago, it was still him. “Mama,” he says, peering at my face. “You have a little red in your eyes.” “Nels, I’m crying,” I tell him. In the small benched water oasis in the center of the current river the two kids move close to me, their hands gently encircling me, and ask me why. I tell them: “I’m remembering Nels, when he was born in the water.” This is a story the kids know very well, so they nod. It makes sense.

Nels and I move back out to the main part of the wading pool; he updates his waterwings to include two on his shins. “My foot is being carried!” he smiles. Thirty minutes of doing this and the lifeguard staff changes; the next lifeguard tells us the water floats aren’t allowed on kids’ legs.

By the time we are done swimming Nels is no longer gripping me and his body is fully relaxed. He has put on the new goggles I bought him and used them to look underwater a few times. And bittersweet for me: he looks older somehow, unfolding like a bloom. We leave the pool while his sibling enjoys more time in the depths; we shower together and he washes his own hair. I move slowly, enjoying the rhythm of our conversation, watching him carefully dress in his methodical way.

I was a good enough parent to babies and toddlers but I always felt I was bending over and helping them along. Today feels more like a dance.

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.