Saturday, November 21, 2015

Regret, Regret

Darling Soji,

It's about 2 AM on November 21, 2015 and I have all this restless energy and racing thoughts, so I figured I might as well begin your birthday letter now.
My sweet baby. One year ago right this minute you were sleeping gently in your cozy tight water bed inside my belly, my heartbeat and blood thudding all around you. You shifted with my movements and were maybe dimly aware of my shrill bleating voice. Was it comforting, back then? Haha. I was 8 days over my "guess" date and a little dismayed because people from my birth team were going out of town for Thanksgiving...but my water broke right when I woke up, and I was jolted into birthing you, suddenly and wildly. Even though labor was fierce, I was relieved it was happening and so excited that the long expectancy was finally over and I could begin my new life with you in our family. I promise, our greeting was as joyful as it possibly could have been. We sang to you, when you were born, I cried the most pure, clean love to you straight from the open core of my being. Chai and Sparrow gathered around me and marveled at you. Chai was so excited to have a brother. Jon was so relieved you were safe and healthy. Sparrow doula'd me while I was in labor and greeted you so calmly and sweetly. Her shift from being the youngest was mostly gentle. She accepted and loved you but also didn't give up her place. You were surrounded by love! My friends and sisters were there. They love me and Jon, they love Chai and Sparrow, they held a place for you even though we didn't know you yet. You were so beautiful to us. We loved your soft, wrinkly skin and your cheeping cries and the gentle weight of your new little body--just made!--in our arms. We sang, "If I had words to make a day for you, I'd sing you a morning golden and true."

I'm hurting tonight because I don't think I really had these words for you, not during this entire year. I didn't sing you a morning golden and true. I feel you came to us the most innocent soul, just expecting love, and I haven't been there for you the way I would have wanted to be. I've always disliked memes and obnoxious platitudes about ignored third children and I wanted to give you everything; all the energy, hope, love and focus that I had. I don't know what it's like to come second, third, fourth, etc. I'm an oldest child and my hardships are different. Sojourn, I am so sorry that you came to a burned out mother who tripped over a new pregnancy before she had straightened up fully from the last one--twice. It's not your fault, it's not your fault. You deserved the absolute best of me every second of your life. You deserved my joy and not my stress. You were just all so young, and even disregarding my selfishness, it was so hard to have enough of me to go around. I don't expect you to understand that, and even expressing it feels like placing my burdens on you. Your only task is to be a child, to just be loved and cared for. I'm grateful for so many who swooped in and loved you fiercely (Mary especially) and took time to tickle you and make you laugh when I was rushing to feed you so I could move on to the next thing on the crushing list of the bare minimum I can never seem to keep up with. You ARE dearly loved. I have so many friends, your aunts and uncles, who reach for you every time they see you, who have cradled you and rocked you to sleep. You really haven't wanted for affection (I tell myself desperately hoping it's true). I just wish I'd had hours and hours to just adore you and look into your eyes, memorize your tiny hands. It hurts to realize how much less I recorded about your days and doings than I did before. I'm so sorry. I realize I'm doing what I dislike so intensely, making it about me when it should just be about you, but I didn't feel I could speak to you today on your first birthday without acknowledging that I wish your first year had been so much more than it was. I hope we will have a long time to be close and closer. I want this second year to be different. I want to pour my energy into connecting with you and learning about you.

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago: "My little boy's hand. How exquisite he is. We heard him crying after American Beauty and the monitor must have become unplugged because he was weeping heartsick and whimpering as if he had given up. I ran to him and called, My darling, my darling! I am so sorry. These first lonelinesses, I am causing them. How it must comfort his dear heart to lay next to me. He doesn't know how young and inept I feel, I am the center of warmth and light. My sweet little boy. He talks to us already and has started bathing and playing with the big kids. So much in one year. I can't wait to know him better. "

Poj, you've changed so much since you were my Very Quiet Cricket, since you lay so softly by my side during those first few weeks when I was so sick. You've been resilient and adapted to being in our family. You don't like being left out, you're always hobbling after the other kids and barking at them to include you. When anyone goes outside and doesn't take you with them, you swiftly pull yourself up to the window and bang indignantly against it. You talked the earliest out of all my children. You say several words clearly, "Mama, Dad, up, go" but your body language and noises are just as clear. We never have to wonder what you are trying to express. It has always been obvious to us that you are very, very bright. You seem older than you are sometimes because of how well you communicate. You are an early riser! Which also makes you different from the others. I used to get them to go back to sleep by just nursing for hours and thus sleep in as late as I wanted. Not with you. Once you're awake, you quack, grunt, or screech at me to get me up, too, and you pat my face vigorously and pull my hair. You are so eager for the day to begin. You have so much work to do. You are very quick-moving and determined. You are never still. You are committed to exploring, and cover a lot of ground. When we go to the park or anywhere outside you usually ingest dirt and rocks at some point. You seem like you know what you're doing.

It has been wonderful to see your relationship with your brother and sister develop. They've always loved lugging you around and adoring you, but in the last 3 or 4 months you've been old enough to play with them and be where they are. My favorite thing ever is when they create a baby role for you in their pretend games. "...and Poj will be the baby." Chai loves you so much that he often smashes you or hugs you a little harder than you like or pats you very emphatically on the back. When I remind him to be gentle he says, outraged, "I was just doing billa-billa!" (his name for when he feels overwhelmed by affection). He loves to roll over on you; sometimes you like it and sometimes you scream. But you do love Chai, I can tell. And Sparrow, too. She is often our companion in bed in the early morning, and you have the sweetest interactions as you greet each other. You sigh and pat her and say "Ahhhh deb deb" and she grins and chuckles and says, "Oh, Poj. Oh, Pojourn." And you embrace her in your thrashing, head-butting way. You are a love. You are our little love. As Jon says, "He likes to be active ON you."

You are very funny. We enjoy you enjoying things. You love to lay down on a soft blanket on the floor and move your arms and legs, feeling the texture. One of my favorite things about you is the little sigh you give right when you fall asleep and let me go. Jon says, "He falls asleep quite sweetly once he finally gets there, once he stops thrashing."

What comes to mind when I try to think about my favorite moment with you (besides watching you play with the other kids, which is lovely because it happens almost daily) is a few weeks ago, Jon took C and S to lunch and you and I were home alone. I turned on "Somewhere Only We Know" and slow-danced with you. You just cuddled up to me while I swayed and I felt so full of love for you. I told you I was sorry that things were so intense and chaotic, and that I loved you deeply. You clung with glee to my neck, tightened your busy little arms. I leaned into you and I told you, “You are my darling, my darling.” I held you safe. I loved him. I need to take time to connect with my boy.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

One in the meadow

Dear Chai,

You are four today, and the biggest guy in town! I kept looking back at you today when we were driving to Ogden and noticing how bright your eyes are. You have an anticipatory look forward to things so intensely. When we give you good news, you gasp and clap your hands. We’ve been counting down to your birthday for weeks and it’s finally here! You went to the ranch in Wyoming alone with Daddy this weekend. He wrote me that when he put you to bed you told him, “My gosh, I can’t believe I came here! I’ve never seen this before!” He said, “I’ve just been in awe of our Chai, Rachel...he is judicious, rambunctious, wild and kind! I’m missing you a lot. I wish I could talk to you.” You woke up to balloons and they made you feel so joyous that you jumped off the couch over and over again and asked for your best running song.. (You also love “Say Geronimo” and don’t understand why I can’t always find it on the radio). You were so excited to see Sparrow after a few days away and kept hugging her. I picked you up in my arms and took you into the kitchen and told you where you were born, how I lifted you and rejoiced over you, and then we walked to the couch and cuddled there and talked about my first experience feeding you and how excited I was to meet you. You LOVED it and I loved that you loved it. I hope that connection we have of me giving you life is something we can always appreciate in some form.

We celebrated you with a Big Dog Party in Ogden. I had planned games for all the aunts and uncles and it never quite got off the ground, but we had a shaving cream fight, you were the junkyard master in Car Lot and called forth the long-necks and t-rexes and tagged them all. Everyone enjoyed you so much. You played on the playground with Sparrow and Akane and you held Akane’s hand and announced that you were going to marry her. You ran and slid and jumped and danced under the parachute. Grandma Lolo made you spiderman cupcakes and you got a double-sided superman/batman cape and water toys for the splash pad! Doug and Emme also gave you another vase that Doug had sculpted to hold your “collections” since you broke the other one. We had a birthday wishes circle for you and you asked that we sing Tender Shepherd. Some of the wishes were about learning a lot in school and making new friends, Daddy wished for you that you would always tell us how you are feeling. I wished that your friendship with Sparrow always be strong, even if it changes forms.

Chai, it was so fun to watch you open your presents and be so happy. You are constantly voicing your thoughts, which maybe in a narcissistic way reminds me of myself. I see you engaging with the world in such a social and physical way and I love that you don’t hold back! Nothing has yet taught you that it doesn’t all belong to you. Although I hope that as you grow you understand the need for sharing space, for empathy and for letting others have their turn to speak and shine, I think your sense of your own magnificence is so beautiful. You are a vibrant, loud, and vivid person. You are fierce and have wild dreams and expectations that are sometimes crushed. I know that I yelled at you and scared you more this year than any year before and I am so sorry about that. It was a hard year with a new baby and you and Bahbo are still so young. I would have remained more with you than I was able to. I want to be a soft and safe presence in your life and no kitchen disaster or even precious broken things are more precious than you are. I know this, yet I still lose it, yet you still love me. The other day I was putting Sparrow in her bed right after I had yelled at you both and you told me, “Mom, I’ll always forgive you.” I asked you how you knew about forgiveness, and you said, “Because I know love. And I’ll always forgive my family.” It was such beauty to the ugliness I had thrown out. I want to be so much more careful with you. I regret that I haven’t found the time to write down every word you say. I like the songs you sing to Sojo about him being the little bro and you being the big bro. The other day you jumped on our bed in the morning and cried, “Oh, I couldn’t wait until morning came so I could see all of you again!” You are creating a world and a life and I am in awe of your quick mind, sharp memory and loving heart. You tell us how you feel, even the things that later people might teach you are unacceptable, and I am so glad you do. I hope that never, ever stops. You are constantly running up to me and saying “I love you so so so so so so MUUUUCH!” and throwing your arms around me. You love to help Daddy with anything and you trust him. He makes you feel safe. You call for him at night and he helped you when you were sick and vomiting this spring. I love that your father has always been a nurturer to you and that you see him as someone from whom you can receive that gentleness, affirmation and affection. You are SO loved and have some privileges from being the oldest, like the attention and focus of your aunts and uncles, getting Moh so much of the time, and your relationship with your grandfather Jay, that make me so grateful you got here just in time. You have a special playful relationship where you dictate the adventures and he willingly, patiently follows. You love your friends and superhero stuff and you often talk about being a good hero or a bad hero. I’m often quoting you on facebook and Laura says we should make a meme just for you called “Emotionally Intelligent Chai.” Everyone knows this about you--you express yourself well, creatively, and delightfully. You are funny and silly and sweet. I love the freckles on your nose and I love how seriously you take yoga at circle time at night. love reading with you! Some of our favorites are “all the world” (you love to point out you, Bahbo and Sojo) and “The Journey” (the girl with the red crayon).

You laugh for joy and it is holy to witness. Your laughter belongs to you and is internally felt and you don’t need to wait for anyone to share it or provoke it, it just spills out. You bring so much fresh delight to my life. You are protective and loving to your sister and Jon always says you are “thick as thieves.” You do often get into mischief together and it’s frustrating but sweet to see you plotting and whispering and running around together. I feel grateful that you are such good friends now, because no one knows what will happen tomorrow, and you will always have this time and this sweetness as a baseline for moving forward, your first best friend in your own home.
Chai, I can’t believe you are four! I can’t believe it’s been four years since I snatched you out of my midwife’s hands and howled and wailed at the early morning. You were so tiny and new, you filled up my entire world and heart bigger than anything I could have imagined. We fell asleep on the couch and bleated together for food. I had to get up and stagger to the kitchen to make my own, and slowly you learned milk. I was just a little girl learning, but I was there for you, I cradled you and you threaded through all of my thoughts. I love being your mother. It’s strange that already now you don’t need me in the same way, my role has shifted from caring for you with my body to making you food, planning activities and taking you on adventures. You run ahead. You will always run on ahead, and I know this. But I remember being the first one to hold you. I am so lucky to know you. There is so much ahead for us to embrace and endure. This may be one of the first years from which you retain some memories. It’s weird that the dawn’s early light of your life is just mine to recall. I will hold it close for you. Thank you for a wonderful, robust year. We both had some growing pains, me in my soul with yet another tiny baby pushing me to subtract and divide, and you in your legs that I rubbed out at night. I’m excited for FOUR and everything you will see and all we can see through you. I love you, my beautiful boy, my little son.

Love, your mother, Rachel

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Why we named our baby Sojourn

(this song is great with this post: The story of choosing the name of our baby isn’t complicated. Jon just suddenly said it, maybe the second or third day after the birth. We had some girl names prepared that made our hearts sing, but none for a boy, so we took it slow. I was curled up with my laptop, having resorted to baby-name websites, and Jon was listing ideas as they came to him. I suggested Soren (after Kierkegaard) and that made Jon think of Sojourn. I loved it right away and we plugged it into the equations we were working out of possible first and middle names, and eventually we solved for X and Sojourn was it! I really have no business using math metaphors. I just wanted to explain the context of why I love the name Sojourn, and share the narrative connected with it, which is one tiny piece of the much larger story of how we moved through a transition of our faith.
It came to pass a few years ago that my ideas and experiences caused me to question the gospel of Nothing Lost. This was never something I sought out or desired, but enough religious certainty had melted away that eventually I had to consider and confront my own mortality in a way that I never had before. Even as a child I was plagued by existential questions--"What if things change? What if I lose you? What if something bad happens to someone I love?" and I was gifted with confident reassurance like a calm hand on my forehead. I could keep everyone I loved, forever. I would exist, forever. Everyone who left found themselves in a place of beauty and healing. All pain had meaning, and there was no lasting cruelty, just trials we didn't understand yet. I clung to these ideas, believed in them thoroughly, rejected any challenge to them, pitied those who did not have my knowledge. But eventually, I no longer felt that my sense of joy and comfort at the prospect of continued existence, and devastation at the idea of Ending, had any bearing on objective reality. I grasped for reassurances that at one time would have seemed silly to me--what about near death experiences? Wasn't it a scientific fact that a human body weighed less after death, which could be implication of an eternal soul? I told my brother that I no longer believed I could receive an "answer" to a prayer about something as cosmic as life after death without feeling that my own hopes and desires would drive whatever feelings arose. How could I confidently trust that warm, pleasant feelings had any bearing on what existed externally of my own mind? This piece of my shifting faith terrified me. Suddenly the prospect of death opened up like a yawning hole in the floor in front of me, a horror. I remember laying between my two children, hands on their sleeping heads, and shaking and sobbing with the pain of my fear of losing them. I forced myself to imagine it, to feel the weight of the possibility. How could it be, how could it be? How could I feel so much and just go out like a light at the end? How could it be real that I might never live in my body again? I lived for a few weeks with this new sheer terror under my skin. I heard clients' stories and tragic news articles with more solemn ears. Questions I'd had resolved for decades and would have considered spiritually immature now floated up and were knocking at my brain. Why suffering? What is the purpose? How could human beings bear the devastation of loss? I told Jonathan how desperately I was seeking to feel comfortable again. "I feel like I've burned down my home, the only house I've ever lived in, and now I'm just wandering in the cold. And any other house, I could just burn that down, too." We were at a stoplight, he gazed out over the steering wheel, then turned to me. "Maybe we were never meant to live in houses. Maybe we were meant to explore." Between the bars of that metaphor was where I found the relief I was seeking--acceptance. Acceptance of the I Don't Know, holding space for hope, for mystery, but also for a possibility of a final parting, no unified purpose or plan for all the peoples who have ever lived. Rather than life becoming meaningless, as others had predicted it would if my faith changed, it was as though every thread of my existence and my conscious self became so much more dear and precious. An affirmation drifted across my awareness somehow and I think of it often "Accept that the present moment is all you will ever have." the practice of mindfulness I studied and worked on with clients became more than a coping mechanism, it was a deepening that showed me how I could more richly appreciate my life, more fully be "in" my life and "with" those around me. I began to feel the beauty of impermanence. One of my therapist mentors told me in the first months I was hired at the FSTC that the secret to happiness is three words, "Be Here Now" (also a Mason Jennings song). I have learned so much by attempting to live by those three words. I am my most grounded, most giving, most deeply loving self when I am able to be fully present in my life, recognize every moment as a sojourn, a short stay, and live it while I am living it. I can think of no reason that living mindfully and giving the present moment what it needs can be harmful in the event that we do continue to exist. Either way, our sojourn here on this "pale blue dot" is all we have for certain, and no one ever knows how long they will have before the seasons change again. 
The word "sojourn" reminds me that we are all strangers in a strange land, explorers, dwelling in a place for a time, then moving on. Childhood, the golden summers, the playing pretend under the trees, the dawning awareness, the loneliness and raw throat from yelling and running in the backyard--childhood is a sojourn. High school was a sojourn, the slow unfurling of courage and learning how to talk to other people. Sojourns, the short months I lived with roommates and companions, the four months I spent in Romania. Each apartment was a universe for awhile, the doors and rooms that held our conversations, our inside jokes and our resentment. I have sojourned through relationships, through classrooms, through jobs, through heartbreak that I was sure would burn forever. It did not. I hold friends in my heart with whom I now have little in common, but our time sojourning together bonds us. Pregnancy is a sojourn through an in-between place, from one steady shore to another. Even though it doesn't seem possible, my time raising children is a sojourn...even the brief time that they glow at their certain ages...the sojourn of two years old, the sojourn of three. A sweet stay, a bright day, feeling the sun of this stage on my face. My little boy's name reminds me to be conscious of the kaleidoscopic beauty and pain of every moment. It is always shifting, we journey on. I am grateful to be flanked by fellow travelers who I love so much. A few weeks ago I shed tears over our sojourn with two children coming to an end.       Jonathan held me and told me, "We'll have a good run, you'll see..." I wrote those words on my wall. That is my hope, to have a good run.
I held my dear baby tonight and kissed his little hands. I tried to focus on each of his fingers, one at a time. I thought how amazing it is that his tender little hand will grow to be as large as his father’s.
When he is old enough, I will read him this poem, and tell him that I was asking the question voiced in the last lines when we chose his name.

The Summer Day
--Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Karma Police: The Birth Story of Sojourn

One month ago I was laying in bed with a tight round drum of a belly, snuggling a sweet Sparrow and her far-flung limbs. 41 weeks, 1 day, and every morning waking up with a strange delight that I made it through another night still pregnant. I didn’t mind going “over” and despite my many despairings earlier in the pregnancy, I felt peaceful about relinquishing a year to change and finding a new rhythm. I loved the extra week I had to enjoy both of my already-born babies and to glory in the anticipation of meeting Baby Tarzan. I even got an extra week of work in! I was laying on my side cradling these two babies, one outside and one within my body, when I felt my water gently break. It was around 7:45 AM. The first thought I had was a pinch of disappointment that I was starting out with waters broken, but it also felt good to be waking up with fresh energy after a whole night of sleep. I sprang from my bed and dashed to the bathroom, crowing to Jonathan that something was finally happening. Getting up and moving caused more water fall, soaking my basketball shorts, and almost immediately I had a very sharp, jagged contraction that made all the weeks and days of gripping my tightening belly during a practice surge and declaring, "Oh my! That was a hard one!" seem like a total joke. When it's real, its unmistakably real.
I remember leaning over the bathroom counter and groaning, thinking I had to get my contacts in and find pants and text everyone! It was like one of those "choose two" diagrams. So I opted for contacts and texting, first apprising everyone it would be "Sometime today probably" and telling Katie to "get ready casually" and then shortly after revising the message to "if you want to be here GET HERE NOW!" There is some total silliness here that I wish were not part of my story, but I kept having to delete old texts out of my mailbox so I could read new ones, which was taking me forever because of course there are those texts I don't want to part with, so I was scrolling back through months of old texts so I could delete them and read my new messages, and meanwhile the surges were already rolling in and slamming me and I felt impatient; couldn't my body appreciate that I had to take care of some ward business before we moved on to the main speakers? I was using all my brief in-between surges time to text and I still hadn't found any pants and this became more and more distressing to me as I realized people were almost going to be there, and I didn't want to spend the next potential many hours pantsless. My phone kept chiming with messages and distracting me. It was absurd. I finally texted everyone one more time, a message I thought was clear and instructive, explaining that I couldn't find any pants, and to text Jon. I had meant to text Jon if they had any more questions, but hilariously, a lot of people took it to mean that Jon wasn't home and I needed his help. To find pants. Ha! So some of them began helpfully trying to locate him and inform him of my problems. “She needs pants, Jon! She can’t find any! Where are you?” I ended up just putting my wet basketball shorts back on, because I am hardcore, just like the pioneers.

I needed to be in my body and just with my body and stop trying to manage anything else. As soon as I tuned in I was surprised at how spicy the surges felt already, and I regretted my water breaking and removing the cushion that softened the edges. What I remembered from my surges during Sparrow's birth was this delicate crescendo, like a musical scale of building pressure, a sharp, shrill peak and an ebbing away with kind relief. Instead of a musical scale, these surges felt like gut punches of peak--peak--peak--like someone leaning on a truck horn, blaring. In a physical sense, it felt very loud, in my body. I remember trying to quiet my mind down, keep my body still, accept these sensations, but they seemed so strong already that it was difficult for me to connect with them. Part of me wanted to wiggle away and avoid them for awhile longer; not yet, not yet. Another wise part of me remembered that there was no way out but through, and I told myself, you can do this. (“It’s a unix system...I know this.”)

PHOTO CREDIT: Katherine Loveless

Katie arrived and I wandered out to the living room to greet her; tried to talk with her but I had mostly already gone under and I’m sure it was a pretty spotty conversation (heh). Chai woke up during this time and came out full of cheer and wonder when we told him that Baby Tarzan was coming today. He cupped my face in his tiny hands and told me he loved me, rubbed my back. My sweet boy! I always have a soft heart for my children, but when I’m in labor they just melt my soul and I want to cry warm buttery tears of pure love for their innocence and kindness. I know that sounds gooey, but it’s really how I feel towards them. They tenderize me with their tenderness. 

Richelle and Shanlee were there with their serene excitement and began the comforting bustle of setting things up. Richelle checked on the baby's heart rate and explained she didn't feel the need to check me because I seemed to be laboring well.  A few more gut-punch surges and I moaned that I thought I would get more of a break in between, and asked to be checked. 7. 5. Katie cheered for me. I started to feel perplexed about where my support people were; I'd made it this far completely untouched. I felt disoriented and confused. I wanted Jonathan to come be close to me, I wanted the fearsome swelling pressure in my pelvis to go away. I was annoyed that the vacuum cleaner was in the middle of the floor and  I disliked seeing it there whenever I opened my eyes. They told me that the birth tub wasn't ready and they weren't sure it would be in time for me to have the baby; I said in that case I wanted to go labor in my room and started to make my slow way there. The surges were so fierce. I remember hanging onto the back of the couch and swaying my hips, and the midwife's assistant Shanlee came and pressed on my back, and it felt so merciful! I managed to walk into my room, arms wrapped around Shanlee and Jon, and when I got there I dropped to my hands and knees during a surge, and remained there for the rest of my labor, just collapsed on the floor between the wall and the bed.

Sparrow had been sleeping, tilted forward with her mane of wispy hair face down on the pillow, but my moaning and humming woke her up. She was a little distressed and called out for me. I remember seeing her face pinched with worry to have all these strange people in her room, but she slipped off the bed and into my arms and I sat up against the wall and held her and submerged myself in that insistent tightness. Mary and Diana were suddenly there, and their presence made me feel like a bright light had turned on. I was comforted just seeing them. My dear friends and sisters were floating in one by one. Kayte was near my face, such a warm and graceful presence. Laurel hugged me when she arrived and even as deep as I was, I was so happy to see her! She was tearful and told me she had been sobbing in the car on her way to my house because she was afraid I would have the baby before she got there. I'm so glad that didn't happen...I still have an ache in my heart from missing the birth of Laurel's daughter, the only chance I could have had to support her as she has done for me so many times.

Magical doulas, knowing hands, they pressed against my knees and even at that awkward angle it relieved so much pressure! I felt like a broken doll whose limbs had come off and they were pressing them back into the joints. It was lovely, and I held my sweet girl against my belly; she was the perfect size to give me some counterpressure against my abdomen. I was so grateful for her gentle resting there. She was utterly calm and seemed to understand some kind of solemnity about what was happening, she just clung tightly to me and whispered, "Mama. Mama. Baby?" and patted my belly and snuggled me. Those moments are so precious to me. Whatever happens in the rest of my life and my relationship with Sparrow, if I never have another little daughter, if she grows up and despises me for awhile, whether or not I ever hold her while she has her own babies, we will always have that unbelievable pocket of time when she loved me and I absorbed her kindness with my wide open raw heart and it was so terribly sweet. My life, what an incredible piece of life to experience. I remember my sister Diana exclaiming, "I am never going to forget this! She is so beautiful!"  Sparrow was somber, and tender, and just rocked with me.

I was locked into labordrive by then. I held onto my girl and smoothed her hair and her face over and over again and when the surges came I just tried to sink into them and let them be what they needed to be. No resistance, just acceptance, just surrender. In my mind, I told myself, let them be, let them come. Sometimes I felt like vocalizing through them and sometimes it felt okay to be still. I let every surge show me what was needed to work through it. At some point someone gently moved Sparrow away to get her ready to go to her grandparents' and they helped me change into my skirt, which seems simple but in active labor that many movements can be overwhelming. Standing and moving my legs and then sinking back down took a lot of energy. Richelle (or someone) let us know that the water wasn't getting warm enough for baby and we wouldn't be able to use the tub. I was going to have a "dry land" birth. I remember feeling a little crushed that I wasn’t going to get to birth my baby next to the orange wall of my prophetic dreams, but it was all right; the creation of that space was still full of magic and healed me when I needed it.
I crawled forward and collapsed on my hands and knees again and my doulas circled around me. One of the things that touched me so much, looking at the photographs later, is that at every point of my labor there is a circle around me--whether it's one or two people curled around my body or six or seven performing those merciful acrobatics, I was completely cradled by these women. They are so powerful! Every single one of them believed in me, every single one of them brought an energy of confidence and joy. I felt encircled by their laughter and open hearts; I could feel them melting at my childrens' sweetness, feel them aching with me, especially those women who understand the poignancy of birth, I could feel empathy from their hands, strength from their muscles. I realize that my experiences giving birth are probably the times I have been most able to release my concerns about reciprocity and social balance and just accept touch and holding and rescue, maybe that is why those moments are so dear to me, it's not a natural space always in my life. Such kindness! Everyone deserves such kindness. I needed every single touch, every single hand. They talked to me, vocalized with me--which always makes me feel absurdly and childishly special--and laughed at my “labor jokes.” I wish I could remember some of them.

I remember being there on my hands and knees and seeing Sparrow's dear little feet in front of me, as she hugged me, rubbed my neck and patted my head. She was my Littlest Doula. The pressure in my belly and pelvis was tremendous, this heavy pressure that sagged and stayed between surges. I tried laying on my left side, which I've never ever done in labor before, to see if that felt better, but it made me feel confined and a little panicky. My body wanted to be upright and grounded.  I twisted a piece of my back in trying to get up and clever Moh and Laurel or Laura rubbed it out. I asked if there was any way someone could support my belly and some lovely gracious person found a rebozo. Oh sweet rebozo! They took turns standing and pulling up while the others squeezed my hips, pressed down on my shoulders and back. They had hotpads on my back and cold cloths on my neck. I was still present enough to describe and ask for what I needed. Such is the skill of my doulas that there were whole increments where they were working with such precision and energy that they took the entire brunt of a surge away. There were whole delicious spaces of 20 or 30 seconds I felt completely normal--even while experiencing surges.

Even with all the support, it was a fierce labor. I could feel every surge so hard in my belly and my hip bones. At one point I vomited in an act of desperation. I murmured, "I can't" and Laurel told me, "You are." I kept breathing, kept hanging on. I was missing Jonathan. I wanted him close to me and I could hear Chai squawking and I felt impatient. They kept holding up a water bottle with a straw in it but the straw was tucked too far down for me to drink. The surges were so ragged, and so rough, at some point I asked for another check and Richelle declared that I was complete. What?" I said. "How can that be? Don't I still have to go through transition?" "You already did!" Everyone rejoiced but I was despairing because I didn't feel like pushing at all and I was still tensing my body against that enormous swelling pressure. I pushed slightly hesitantly just to see what it felt like, if I could help my body along, and pushing felt so wrong and awful. So there wasn't anything to do but wait. Finally, finally, Jonathan came in the room and he said "Hi Racher" and I bleated "Hey, Jon," and I remember people laughing at this casual greeting in this dramatic scene. But I didn't feel casual and I didn't feel histrionic, I just needed him. I put out my hands and he dropped to the ground near my face. I grabbed his hands and squeezed and squeezed and he let me do it as hard as I needed to, and it was simple but it helped me so much.

I felt suspended,  it was so hard to stay there, knowing I was close but having to endure being on pause until it was time to move on. I kept saying, I don't feel pushy, I wish I felt like pushing. I blew air out slowly and suddenly remembered my playlist. Someone ran to turn it on. We listened to the first four songs, I'll never forget. Coldplay's The Scientist was the first song, and is connected to some deep hurt for Laurel. She said "This song pwns me" and she cried there at my side, wiping away her tears while she continued rubbing my back and stroking my hair. I said, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I love you. Her pain and my pain. There was nothing to do but be in it. I remember Diana saying blithely, “This is a perfect song for birth! ‘It’s such a shame for us to part.’” The next song was The Mother We Share (Chvrches) and then Karma Police, which filled the room with some kind of fresh, confident energy. Everyone asked if they could sing and I said, please, please do! While I was making this playlist and for the days before the baby was born I felt like I was craving Radiohead like some women crave food, the songs were physically nourishing to me. I murmured and mouthed the words while everyone belted them out. “This is what you get!” That song carries just the right attitude for the emotional space I was in. I loved listening to Jonathan sing, "I've given all I can, it's not enough..." "For a minute there, I lost myself, I lost myself..." Letting myself focus on the words grounded me a little bit. I think singing at births is so powerful because it's simultneous support and self-expression. Holding the space can feel so heavy and it helps release tension and lets the birthing woman hear your voice and feel so aware of your presence. It was good and even though I was in such a physically challenging place of waiting for the baby to move down, it was one of my favorite moments of my labor! I told everyone that Karma Police was the theme song of this baby's conception.
The next song was "No Surprises," which is a pretty cynical song to be born to, although the line “this final bellyache” is pretty great. At some point I tried pushing again and felt that familiar but still shocking sliding, widening feeling of the baby sliding down. Warm, insistent, relieving. It was so vulnerable to be pushing out a baby with everyone clustered around my body, no water to shield me. But I also felt comfortable enough (and ready to be done) to do it! I felt like an animal. A purposeful, quiet animal. I felt steely and determined, quiet and blank. I told myself I would push through a count of ten in my own mind no matter what it felt like and then I would pause. I got the head out by the count of seven and took a rest to breathe; I heard gasps and cries of “Slow down, slow, slow, slow!”

Then I pushed again for less than ten seconds and felt the baby's slimy floppy body move through me and drop and then I was free and I came back to life! It was such a sudden shift to be sprung from that deliberate, shuddering place into soft rosy euphoria. I heard a creaky little cry, I sat straight up and was instantly flooded with giddiness and joy. I don't remember reaching for the baby but I must have, I remember hugging them close and crying "Oh, my baby, I have another beautiful baby! Oh!" I feel like I must have been shaking, I saw Laurel and Laura holding each other tightly and both crying, I was holding the baby already wrapped in a towel and I asked if everyone had already seen the baby's sex and they assured me they had not. I leaned over to take in this new little person. I touched their tiny fingers; "nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands." In that moment just beholding that little face, I couldn't tell whether this baby was a son or daughter. My heart was pounding, I was nervous, I was meeting such an important new person. A new soul! A new soul was there in the room with us.

Someone was exclaiming they had no idea I was pushing and someone else was saying, "That's how she always does it." I said that I like to be a stealth pusher and not tell anyone what I'm up to so I don't have to manage their expectations, I don't have time for that. Jon crawled over closer to me and we embraced, he kissed my face. I asked for Chai and Sparrow to be brought back in, and they were so beautiful to me, my little sacred children of my body. I kissed them and kissed them and showed them the baby. I felt dizzy with not knowing.

We had decided to wait a few minutes before checking the gender of the baby. I had a conversation with my supervisor at work about the expectations and assumptions we all make base on perceived gender, and she had told me about a couple who chose to wait awhile even after birth before checking the baby’s sex. They spent some time interacting and getting to know the baby just as a new human and not as a son or daughter with gender informing their perception. They even wrote a song called “the first five minutes of life” and sang it to the baby. I loved this idea so much and had talked to my midwife about wrapping the baby in a towel immediately after they were born (providing there were no complications),  so we could welcome this new person mindfully and when we felt ready. We decided it would be fun to sing to welcome our baby, and I spent months teaching Chai the song from Babe at bed-time so he would be all ready to sing to “Baby Tarzan.”
 “If I had words to make a day for you, I’d sing you a morning golden and true. I would make this day last for all time, then bring you a night deep in moonshine.” I rocked with the baby and my doulas sang with me, then I pulled back the towel and in a heart-thumping second understood that it was a baby boy who had been my Very Quiet Cricket all those months. I felt a quick pinch of loss for the dream girl-baby possibility (as I would have for the dream boy-baby if it had been a girl) and I said, “It’s a boy! Chai...Chai, you have a baby brother!” I cried. It’s too astonishing of a feeling to suddenly not be pregnant anymore, to hold a child you created in your arms, to be in the presence of such powerful newness. It’s brutally beautiful.

The hours after my baby’s birth are so warm in my memory. My friends and sisters climbing on the bed with me, talking and laughing, processing the experience. He was born at 10:28 AM, making the total labor from first surge to the placenta being delivered a little under 3 hours. He weighed 8 lbs 2 oz (my tiniest baby, and my latest baby!) and his aunt Diana cut the cord. I felt delighted, and relieved. I wanted to talk about how rough and all-encompassing my experience was, I wanted to talk about all the women who have ever lived who have given birth, how I worried and ached for them, and I wanted to explain how my heart was exploding with love. Laurel, Laura, Mary, Diana, Katie, Kayte, Sarah, you are and always have been so dear to me. Thank you for being connected forever with this sweet day. Thank you for holding and creating sacred space, for singing, for your comforting words. I heard or felt every one.  

It is overwhelming to give birth three times in less than four years. I know I'm far from the first to experience so many pregnancies in quick succession, but it has taken a lot from me. I also know how lucky I am. I feel so grateful to have three healthy babies. I don't want to take it for granted. I don't want to pretend that I'm immune to devastating experiences. I don't know why we have been so lucky and why each of these times I got to wrap my arms around a healthy, squalling infant, but I honor all those women who felt every sensation that racked my body, some for so much longer, and without kind hands on their backs, and never got to hear a cry, never got to feel the relief because even after all that enormous work their bodies were flooded with panic. I thought of the women who are abused while giving birth, who birth with injured bodies, who are insulted or shamed or alone. I felt humbled to the core of my soul that my body had worked mercifully, for the kind humans who flocked to me and threaded their fingers through my hair, pressed with all their strength on my heaving body. There was a rock of horror I didn't fall off of, I was held, I was cradled, I was honored. I believe every woman who goes through this process deserves that, even if they would feel overwhelmed by the phalanx I had in that tiny space, too many hands, I believe everyone deserves gentleness at that time. And my heart was pierced for those who didn't experience gentleness, but the opposite.
I talked with Katie about the photos she took...I told her they have a National Geographic feel, probably because we actually are creatures being photographed in our natural environment. They are different from my other homebirth photos, more chaotic, all this sheer emotion and intensity smeared against our wall in this tiny space, my kids wearing motley clothes, the hair I slept in. Everything about it was sudden. There is something glorious about capturing the unpreparedness of that day. There was nothing posed or staged, just this collapse into the labor that completely captured me and the good souls who swooped in to help carry me through, and then at the end we met this baby who lived in me an extra week and hopefully will be with me and Jon in all of our days of this sojourn together.
We were unprepared from the beginning to accept this new life. I never thought I could possibly feel good about it. But just like his birth, I worked very hard, I went through something transformative, and I was healed and uplifted by friends swooping in to hear me and support me I am thinking of so many, but especially of Sarah and the blessingway/kitchen remodel she organized. It changed my heart from famine to feast. I also realized (again) during this pregnancy that Jonathan is my truest friend. He knows me, and he accepts me. I love my newborn son. He is Good. I love my life even in this time of transition. I feel very young, and very old, very strong and very human. “How strange it is to be anything at all.”

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Your ex-lover is dead

I am constantly thinking about whether Tarzan is a boy or a girl. I'm glad I don't know, I'm not sure what I'm hoping for right now. I love my little son and daughter so dearly and I hope to feel the same way someday about this constant presence pummeling my belly. Today was Chai's second day of preschool--so far those mornings go so smoothly; I get him up and he's excited and cooperative and I feed him and we talk in the car on the way, I hold his hand and he beams at Miss Tina. It's such a positive thing for him, he loves showing us his papers and art when he comes home, and no potty accidents so far! And what a lovely boy, cooing, "It's my mom!" when I picked him up and telling me "A story, too," when I asked him about everything he did. He is so bright and articulate and expresses his feelings so well. I love the extra time to snuggle Sparrow and hang out with Jonny while Chai is at preschool and I just hold and kiss my girl while chattering at his back. Despite my many dolores, things have been so sweet with Jonathan. I think Recent Happenings have made us cleave more deeply together in some ways than ever before--we also spend so much time trying to work into the little headspace of how it happened, and how can we avoid it? No one knows how they will feel in 8 years, 20 years, but we are hoping that being honest will help.

Efficiency was my name, variety was my name today--I gave the kids lunch and took them to Doug while I went to report to a CFTM. On the way home I stopped at the creamery on 9th for brownies and noticed happily that I was pained not at all to recall that histrionic goodbye in the corner of the parking lot while his mother watched with cold eyes. I didn't belong with them, although at 18 I desperately wanted to be the kind of person who did. My freshman year: brownies, grape juice, taquitos, the perverse bliss of $4 appearing per day on my ID card and all this freedom to eat hideously. Jealousy and misunderstanding and listening to music all night long. I don't miss that piece at all, I'm glad it's over.

I took the kids to the splash pad and marveled at how much I really do love to watch them play. They are so fascinating and sweet to me. Chai tends to flock to other kids and instruct them "Friend? Friend? Come this way" and Sparrow wanders around, dreamy in her own world. Every once in a while their paths cross and they hug. They squeeze each other several times a day and Chai says things like "this is my sister!" I love them together. We came home and I saw Jon had left me a note on the door...he loves me..."I don't think that will leave." My smile almost split my face off and I ran back to the car to tell Chai about it, "He loves me! And I love him, too!" He had cleaned the kitchen and I took that in with such relief and joy. Sometimes Jonathan is just so good, so good to me, I feel I don't want for anything in the world. I am so well-befriended and so kindly partnered. I am lucky! He is more than I was ever wise or creative enough to yearn for. Even our vicios are at home, maybe too at-home, with one another. Doug and Emme came to the farm with us and the sun was in everyone's eye and we had ableskivvers and eggs and talked conspiracy. It was so warm and comfortable and nice to just be us. I said I was feeling better about dying eventually and Doug said he was feeling worse...I'm most concerned with my own consciousness and if I ease out of the genome eventually, that doesn't bother me so much as having a good long time being sentient and experiencing what I can.