14 November, 2011

Long-term Hiatus

I guess I should simply put up a post on the home page to mention I am in a long-term, unplanned hiatus from writing this blog.  I couldn't even quite tell you why I stopped when I did, but it's possible I've written all that I need to write, in the blogger format at least, about this one particular birth and being a mother and a writer. 

I do check here periodically to try to figure out if I'm really finished and, to be honest, I don't for certain know the answer to that question.  I see that sometimes people visit the old posts and I am grateful for their time and I hope the posts still help those seeking answers to their birth or other topics which are written about here.  Thanks for understanding and for being here at all.


54 Hour Mama

26 August, 2011

Women's Equality Day

It’s Women’s Equality Day, a fact I just found out about this morning, due to a friend on Facebook linking this link here.
Aside from my ignorance about this dedicated day, I’ve been a feminist for a long time, (which, by way of definition, I use the old “feminist is the radical notion that women are people, too,” version). Ever since I saw Jean Kilbourne’s “Killing Us Softly” in college, with my feminist roots having been growing long before that, I have voted, argued, written, and even marched for and about women’s inherent right to have all things equal (not the same, mind you, but equal) with men. And yet, today on a day I only just learned was dedicated to our equality, I’m feeling about as non-evolved, oppressed, and unequal as a woman could feel, like not much has changed for women (and when I say women, I mean me), since we got the vote in 1920. I am in a deep funk about this lack of equality between the sexes, (and when I say sexes, I mean my husband and me).
Allow me to elaborate. My husband has a job, one that he loves and is passionate about, which has him working long hours, every day including weekends, right now, from 6 a.m. until 11 at night on several nights of the week. This particular job is a seasonal one, one that also includes in that long time-frame, much adult camaraderie and, even in the case of last night, social dinners and drinks. When he’s off-season, my husband works other jobs of equal love and passion that also have long hours, plus which require travel, so that when he’s working, he’s often simply just gone. Me, I work from mostly from home, as a mother and writer, and, sometimes, a little away from home as a low-paid teacher – all jobs that I also love and am passionate about – but nonetheless am oppressing myself over this morning.
Before we had our daughter, my husband and I talked about being one of those couples who truly shared parenting responsibilities – who took turns putting our child to bed, or bathing her, feeding her, and disciplining and playing with her. We also talked about the unlikelihood of making total equality like that happen because he had jobs that took him away from the home, and as a family, we needed him to have those jobs so we could pay our mortgage and stuff. We talked about parenting time in relation to income earned, and dreamed about both being fifty-fifty. But, in our case, the real ratio is this: 90% to 10%; which means he earns ninety percent of our income and does about ten percent of the parenting, I earn ten percent of the income (in a good year) and do ninety percent of the parenting.
For a while, (note: during the time when I was teaching at least two classes and therefore making some money), I tried hard to make sure my husband, even though he still earned more income, did have a specific and consistent parenting job with our daughter, like giving her a bath and getting her into her pajamas, so that she could know not only mama does the nurturing and caretaking. I was trying to be a good feminist, see. But, with my husband’s unpredictable and inconsistent hours, even that one “job” was impossible to keep assigned to him, and since he wasn’t home, of course I did the bathing, and, now I do it almost all the time, even when he is home. (Note: this year, I didn’t teach or sell a word, therefore, no money).
I know there are families, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, who do a lot better at equal parenting than we do – they work hard at both, are conscious of their efforts and the hurdles to overcome like male privilege and internalized oppression. Still, I would hedge a bet that those parents make roughly the same amount of money at their work. I would also bet those families have more consistent, 9-5 type work, or at least work that can allow for routines and roles to get more firmly established. More power to them, but they are the exceptions to the rule of inequality.
In far more man-woman couples, work is not equally split (I can’t even get started about single parents). Even in couples who make the same amount of money at their jobs – or, even, in one case I’m thinking about, where the woman makes more – the bulk of the childcare when the kids are picked up from day care or the nanny, falls to the woman. That husband of the higher earning wife was out with my husband last night, drinking and eating dinner, while, I’m pretty sure, his wife picked up their two young boys from day care, came home, fed them dinner, played with them, gave them baths, and put them to bed. I also imagine she fell asleep soon after, knowing she’d be the one in the morning to get the children ready for their day while she also got herself ready to go to her lucrative and important job.
I recognize, in our case, the inconsistent and erratic “dad home time” caused by my husband’s work gratefully allows me to do my chosen life’s work as a writer – I started writing this piece in my pajamas while my daughter slept. At home, I have worked hard to create predictable routines for our daughter, and consistency in the things I can somewhat control, like the layout of our daily activities or meal and bedtime rituals. I believe, for us, me staying home most of the time with our daughter is best for our family, financially and otherwise, and that me getting a paying job I hated in the name of equality isn’t worth my heartache of leaving her in full-time day care or my husband’s headaches from me complaining about how much I hate my job (I’ve done that complaining plenty, by the way, before our daughter was born). Generally speaking, I love being a stay at home mom, especially as I see the payoff in our daughter’s thriving little self.
But, I have to admit in a very self-oppressed, victim-y, whiny voice, I sometimes hate the inequality between the sexes (again, my husband and me). While, my husband will be the first to say, “my wife does the lion’s share of the parenting and her job is harder,” and most of the time I feel sorry for him that he misses out on the day to day cuteness of our daughter and the joys of getting to parent her, none of those words or thoughts appease my funk today.
See, last night my daughter, yet again fought going to sleep with the tenacity of a wolverine. Her behaviors around bedtime are not new, they are the usual needing of a drink of water, another book, and don’t turn off the light varieties of many a toddler, which has been immortalized lately thanks to Adam Mansbach’s book for those of us whose kids don’t like to sleep. But last night, for whatever reasons, her begging, screaming, and crying got to me, and I was telling myself, as I started crying, too, that I hate how I’m the one to put her to bed and I just want her father to be the one to do it, at least fifty percent of the time!
I lamented about all this to my husband early this morning before he left for work. And I have complained plenty to him and others about how hard it is stay home rearing our child, or about how much he’s gone working, or about how underpaid teaching and writing is (not to mention motherhood), or that I haven’t sold my novel for a hundred thousand dollars and retained the movie rights for millions more. I’ve even, in weak moment, said to my husband’s face I didn’t believe he’d stay home with our daughter even if I did make that kind of money, (to which he replied, “test me”). I have mourned and cried and meditated and accepted a hundred times over the lifestyle we as a couple lead, which is to say, an unequal one, one that is 90-10.
In college, see, I had hope. Hope enough to fight, like women (and yes, some men) around the globe are doing today, and every other day. When I started writing this piece this morning, my funk about inequality stemmed directly from my lack of hope.
But later, when my daughter woke up, I heard her cute footsteps upstairs and then heard her yell, “Mama come upstairs and have breakfast with me.” I went up to have some food she’d “made” in her toy kitchen. As we sat and “ate,” I asked her calmly and with genuine curiosity why she gave me such a hard time last night about going to bed, a question I’ve asked before because I believe in getting my child to think critically about her actions, even if she’s only a toddler. You know what she said? “Because I wanted to see my Daddy.”
My daughter reminds me that fighting for women’s equality is not simply for the benefit of women. Equality is so we all, men and women and parents of all kinds, can have the human right to fulfilling, paid work and the joy of seeing our children grow in a fair and just world. I thank my lucky stars for my daughter: she gives me back my hope.

18 August, 2011

Telling Stories

A few months ago, one morning while avoiding writing, I was surfing the Internet and read a post written by a midwife about the link between hospital interventions and ensuing complications.
The title of the post was “’If I were at home, I would have died’ – The trouble with Extrapolating Hospital Birth Events to Homebirth,” and the author/midwife went on to argue that interventions in a hospital are actually often the cause of emergencies like hemorrhages. She discussed her double bind as a midwife – to be both empathetic to women and listen and say “hmm mmm,” when they discuss their hospitalized, intervention-ized births that then went awry.
I felt an urge to respond, in agreement, to her post even though I rarely post on other people’s blogs. I first wrote about my birth and hemorrhage experience with stoic, police-description (or, I guess I should say, doctor’s notes) details, i.e.: “After 36 hours of labor in the birth center with midwives attending the natural birth I so hoped for, after being 9 + cm dilated and pushing for 10 hours, I was transferred to a hospital, where I was given an epidural, antibiotics, pitocin, a vacuum extractor and finally a c-section to birth my beautiful 10# daughter. A few hours later, I hemorrhaged 4000 cc’s of blood and had 6 transfusions and 4 frozen platelet transfusions in ICU.” My point of telling all these details was to explain that I believe I wouldn’t have hemorrhaged so drastically if I hadn’t experienced all those interventions; if I could have, indeed, birthed my child naturally. When people say to me I would have died in the birth center, I’m the one who says “hmm mmm,” since I don’t feel I would have bled so badly had I not had all the interventions at the hospital. Of course, I’ll never know if my belief is founded and no one has bothered to argue with me and the foundedness of my belief is actually tangential to the subject of this post.
The subject of this post is this: the very next person on the midwife’s blog who commented after I had posted wrote in saying, “It is hard to say if all the stories are true or imbelished [sic].” Though her comment probably wasn’t directed toward me at all, I took it completely personally since mine was the post directly before hers. I felt angry. Pissed actually. As in pissy. I read her comment and almost posted back something to the effect of, “How dare you doubt if these stories are true or embellished – of course mine is true, each one of those details happened and then a whole bunch more stuff that I didn’t even write about happened – like the fight between the doctor and the nurse who held the pressure valve on the vacuum extractor, or the fact that my midwife’s assistant, and consequently my midwife, were in complete personal crisis while I was trying to get a giant person out of my vagina!”
At the time, I wanted to get that woman who commented (who apparently had a very difficult birth story of her own) to read all my sections on this blog about The Complications I had in giving birth. I wanted her to know I wasn’t embellishing my story at all. But I didn’t say nor do any of that. I didn’t because my higher self knew the woman’s comment wasn’t directed at me and I was just pissy because sometimes, lo all those 30 + months later, I was still pissy about the details of my daughter’s birth.
The reason why some women are “birth junkies,” who tell their birth story over and over is because they have to tell it. Birth can be both a highly traumatic and highly spiritual experience – traumatic in the sense of intense pain and difficulty, and spiritual in the sense of bringing something lovely into this world who is so much bigger than the individual self. And based on all sorts people who’ve had both traumatic and spiritual experiences, telling our stories is often the best way to get through to the other side. Whether we tell that story over and over to a therapist, a friend, or on the Internet, by telling, we can get through to a side where the story is ours, fully ours, not just something that’s happened to us.
I like to think I’m almost on the other side now; that I got through that last little bit of pissy-ness; that I’ve told my birth story enough times to have the story be fully something I own. I’ve talked about my birth to all of the above mentioned and I’ve had the bonus opportunity to write creatively about my daughter’s birth – in poetry and some in fictional form, and even have done some visual art around the whole thing. All of the telling has been helpful to me in terms of healing, and I’m glad for that (and so are my husband and daughter). The telling of my stories on the Internet has been particularly helpful because, through public discourse, I’ve found a community of people who share similar experiences, some of whom then mention that my writing has helped them heal, too. Helping others through my writing is all I’ve ever really wanted to do for work, as in, my life’s work with the capital W.
But this blog has slowed down considerably and any meager Internet presence I once had has only decreased. I cannot even call myself a blogger, really, for a real blogger, it seems, would post more often than once every two weeks. What I’ve found after writing about all this stuff over the course of 9 months is that my interest, nay my need, to tell my story about my “one particular birth, and about being a mother and a writer,” has waned. I try to get inspired to post new stuff, at least a little something about the daily struggle of being a mom at home with toddler who also works as a writer (a WAHM, I’ve learned I should call myself). But more often than not, like I was doing that day I posted on the midwife’s blog, I spend my time reading other blogs to find a way to enter into a conversation about birth and/or motherhood. The former example notwithstanding, I hardly ever do post replies – a lurker, I believe I should be called – and while I read and don’t write back, I think about how I don’t even have a clean, well-lighted place in the blogosphere, especially within the mom blog networks.
As far as the mom blogs goes, I categorize two kinds: the “I’ll need a big tumbler of red wine and a chaser martini when I’m done with my day” funny kind, and the “let me guide you in the ways of how to conscientiously and perfectly rear your child while also growing your own garden, knitting your child’s hemp diapers, and having time to write and post angelic pictures on a super-cool blog” make-me-want-to-barf kind. I’m neither of those kinds. In terms of the polarized, hotly-debated birth front of Home Birth vs. Hospital Birth, well I did both of those in one fell swoop and I don’t seem to have much opinion on the subject anymore other than being somewhat adamant to allow women to make up their own minds about where they feel most comfortable getting a whole person out of their bodies. So, again, to use an ill-advised cliché, I’m like a square peg in a round hole.
As far as the writer aspect of my blog goes, well, I don’t fit into that blogosphere either, but I have, at least, been writing and thinking more about my creative work. I’m even slated to teach a creative writing course again this school year, which has raised my hackles on several levels, straight down to my creaky creative teaching bones. The anxiety about finding appropriate childcare in going back to teach, and the guilt of leaving my kid for even a few hours every week has me quite preoccupied, far more so than the vague sense of guilt I feel about not posting on this blog.
I guess if I’ve learned anything in the last two and a half plus years of motherhood, especially this year as a mom to a toddler, it’s this: things don’t always go the way we hope they would and, at some point, that fact will be acceptable to us. The birth of my child, the trajectory of my writing and motherhood careers, even this whole effort of being a blogger – none of these things have gone down the way I had hoped. Why I have to deal with hope unfulfilled is a mystery, but, a million gazillion other people do, too. I’ve learned that when I’m done sorting through the aftermath of my dashed hopes, when I’m done telling my story as truly and non-embellished-ly as I’m constitutionally able, I’ll come out stronger on the other side.

05 August, 2011

My Two Cents for World Breastfeeding Week

It’s World Breastfeeding Week and I am weirdly ashamed to admit in public that I still breastfeed my toddler of two years and nine months. I’m ashamed only in the United States, mind you. If I lived in verdant hills of South America or the wilds of Africa, I would not be ashamed because no one would expect me to not be nursing a child this young. I wouldn't worry that someone would say, “you’re still nursing your toddler?” And no one would look at me like I was a circus freak whipping out my past-prime sagging breast. I wouldn’t feel shame, and I probably wouldn’t think for a moment about whether or not I should have weaned by now.
I only admit we are still nursing on this mildly blog to bolster my self-concept and be proud that I have gone this long helping my daughter build her immune system and give her the nutrients of life that can’t be found in any synthetic form, (I’m sorry to say to all those formula feeders whose decision I nonetheless respect).
But, this giant public confession aside, I rarely, in my regular life, let people know I still nurse my child. In fact, I’ve gone out of my way to avoid the topic with other parents of toddlers, or, when my daughter has asked for “boob” when we’re out and about (which is pretty much never the last few months), I’ve said “no, not until we’re home,” or distracted her away from the thought, and then I’ve felt terrible about denying her the one thing in her life that gives her the most comfort. She’s only asked for boob in public in the recent past if she’s feeling uncomfortable or extremely tired (like when we’re singing the lullaby at the end of music class), and the fact that I’ve been ashamed to give my body to her is my own shortcoming of self-consciousness and self-judgement brought on by our Western culture’s norms.
The truth is, we hardly nurse at all – usually about two minutes in bed, at night, before she sleeps. She’s never been an easy go-to-sleep child, and still, though she sleep better than ever now, every night is a challenging practice in patience and empathy for me as she suddenly can’t walk when it’s time to get on the pajamas, or her arm mysteriously won’t bend to brush her teeth, or she decides she needs another book, or a drink of water, or, or, or. By the time I’ve wrangled her to a prostate position, I’m right there next to her because being upright is far too difficult for this old body. And then, after the light is finally turned off, I don’t have an ounce of energy to wean or deny her when she says, all sleepy and smiling and adorable, “I want some boob, Mama.” I lift my shirt and pray the milk, what’s left of it, (if indeed there’s anything in there at all), will do the magic sleep dance and lull her to sleep. And usually, the boob does do magic. She nurses for a couple minutes, pops off with a sucking smack, and then rolls over, not quite asleep, but almost. We rest for a while and in a few minutes she’s snoozing.
Do I wish my child would go to sleep without my boob? Hell yes. Indeed, she can go to sleep without my boob because sometimes she forgets to nurse, and sometimes her father puts her to bed, though very rarely because he’s not home at night a lot, and never if we’re both home, because she’s known for a long time his boobs don’t work that way. She just likes the boob. She likes the comfort and warmth and nutrition and sustenance. And, to be honest, from our first very difficult days in the hospital, I loved giving her my body, nay sacrificing my body, to feed her and comfort her. Nursing her from the get go, I have no doubt, was the main source for creating the close and sweet bond we now have when we were in peril due to our birth circumstances of not bonding.
Do I worry that she’s over-attached? Hell yes. Sometimes when she gets super-riled about me leaving to go somewhere, like work or a meeting or, lord forbid, out with friends or for a massage or some other form of self-care, and she’s crying and pleading with big old tears rolling down her cheeks, “don’t leave, Mama!” I think, man I have screwed her up. I think she’s too bonded and that she sees my leaving as some form of boobs leaving and I am sure I’ve been the worst mother in all of history that my toddler cannot simply say “bye, Mama.” I have nightmare visions about her having oral fixation problems, fanatically chewing her nails or pen caps, or, worse yet, having relationship problems where she’s screaming at her bolting, suffocated lover to “never leave her!” and then beating at her own breast.
But sometimes, she does simply say, “bye, Mama.” And, like I said, sometimes her dad puts her to bed. She is quite able to go to sleep without me and my boob. And, while I’m sure I should go out at night more often (as if I have enough energy to do that), if I’m home at night, when I put her to bed, I never offer anymore, but if she asks, I still give her the boob.
I don’t want to infantalize my growing daughter or screw her up more than I’m bound to as a human being/parent, of course. But at the same time, if I’m really such a proponent of societal change, in particular for women’s rights to make their own bodily decisions, I must release my shame aobut nursing my toddler. I must stand up and be proud that I still nurse her. I like being able to comfort her, and, even though she probably only gets maybe an ounce a day of my milk, I like knowing she’s getting some antibodies and fat proteins she must still need on some level.
Recently, I met up with a couple of old friends at a park who helped me get over myself. One is studying to be a midwife and she’s interested in other cultures and countries’ habits surrounding birth. She has a five-month old and a toddler a little younger than mine. She’s still nursing both kids and told the amazing tale of how she nurses the baby on one side to give him the nutrients he needs, and the toddler on the other to give him what his body needs. (An aside: my daughter is mostly nursing on just one boob these days, too, which makes me wonder about what’s going on with the other still-larger breast and its milk. Maybe I should become a wet nurse...). Anyhow, my friend’s boobs are also are lopsided but she doesn’t care because she knows the fact that her body can self-regulate is downright amazing. And she has no shame. Indeed, the other old friend who was with us at the park admitted she also nursed her now five-year old daughter until that kid was three. She also said that fact outright with no shame.
Toward the end of this discussion, with the dappled sunlight on her as we stood under the great big tree, the midwife-to-be said this great thing about her still-nursing toddler in this great way. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Even though he only nurses a little, he’s still committed, so what the heck.”
Committed. My daughter is committed to nursing. So: What. The. Heck? As a parent, shouldn’t I be at least as committed to her?
Breastfeeding is a wondrous feat of the human body. I’m privileged to have had the experience of keeping a whole other person alive for many months just by the excretions of my boobs. I’m grateful I have built-in comfort providers and that I’ve been able to utilize them to their fullest extent. I suspect my nursing days are limited, probably countable on a few fingers and toes. Therefore, in honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I’m not buying any longer into my Western society-laden shame. I’m proud I’ve been able to breastfeed my daughter this long. And though I’m looking forward to having my boobs and hormones back in the near future, I’m sure I’ll miss nursing her when we’re done.

30 July, 2011


The other day I got another massage, my first one since Christmas, which is not a good track record in terms of self-care. The massage was from one of those group discount deals in a place I’d never heard of, located in the middle of nowhere and far away from child care. But this massage was a mother’s day gift from my husband and I was determined to use it and not let the group-online site make money off of him by never using their coupon. I dropped off my daughter at her grandma's, said goodbye as my girl wailed away while pressing her nose flat against the screen door as I drove into mid-day traffic to go get relaxed.
The place was in an industrialized part of the boonies, where there are oxymoron-named business parks and big box stores. The antithesis of my usual place of massage. Because of poor signage, I parked on the wrong side of the building where I was headed, then had to walk alongside the building and promptly stepped in a puddle of muddy water that I hoped wasn’t leaking from anywhere gross. The actual massage place smelled of too many essential oils to wrap my olfactory nerves around, had Muzak spitting from overhead, and housed a big receptionist desk that dwarfed the person behind it. The massage therapist who came to greet me was a perfectly quaffed large woman in a floral lab coat – the kind of highly-masked, very restrained woman with a quiet angel voice lilting toward a hint of Southern drawl, who my judging mind thought might actually murder people and bury them in her yard. But I followed her through the beige-painted corridors of the big building, for my muscles were tight and I was desperate for a massage.
I’ll cut this story short – bypassing the weirder details of the therapist’s super long explanation about my upcoming massage, the dark, colorlessness of the room, the fact that I upgraded to a deep tissue massage for $50, and the fact that she wouldn’t touch my feet – and get to what she said near the end of her elbow-digging, painful-to-the-point-of-wanting-to-throw-up massage, “Honey, your tension is not normal, every-day-tense people tension. Something is wrong with your insides.”
After a bit more conversation while she dug her thumb under my shoulder blade, in which I told her I did have gallstones, she turned me over and sneered. “Naw,” she said, her hairdo unmarred one strand during the rigors of her work, “Seems like something else. Your bladder maybe, or uterus?”
“Um,” said I, “Well, I did have a massive hemorrhage after a C-section two and a half years ago.” Then I started to fucking cry. Now normally, I don’t mind crying on the massage table, and indeed I have done it often, but in that strange environs, I was none to happy about the tears rolling into my ears. But to the masseuse’s credit, her mask melted a little and she patted my shoulder.
“Aw honey,” she said, “I see by your tears what I say is true. Your organs have feelings, you know. You need to lay your hands on your uterus every day, going to bed and waking up, and tell your uterus you love her.”
The pain of the massage and the soreness of my butt and shoulders afterwards were nothing compared to having to tell my uterus I love her. But, I have been doing exactly this – laying my hands on my still-swollen belly and saying, “I do love you. You carried our child, you made her so healthy, you helped her become who she is. I am sorry we had to cut you open to get her out. I want you to heal.”
I feel ridiculous doing this kind of healing work. But, that massage woman was just weird enough I figured her intuition must be right. I’ve come out of denial about some physical signs I’ve had in my uterus like cramping and strange, sharp pains. And, several months ago now, I got an abnormal PAP, which I’ll have to get checked out again soon. Until then, I am willing, even if reluctantly so, to do what I can to heal myself.
The uterus – or womb, as I like to call her because the word womb is so much gentler and kinder of a word – is women’s connection to creativity, according to many healing traditions. The fact that my creative life is in flux is no coincidental occurrence in light of new awareness about my womb. There is much work to do on both fronts. I start, besides saying these silly affirmations and deciding on which doctor and/or printing press to spend my money, by reading about the uterus’ connection to the body.
In Debbie Shapiro's book, Your Body Speaks Your Mind, the author says “the womb is the centre of creative life, the darkness from which light emerges, the female heart. Issues that can arise here are, therefore, deeply connected to our inner world, our darkness and most primordial feelings. These are particularly to do with being a woman and/or a mother. Feelings of doubt, guilt, failure, shame, fear, resentment, hurt, loneliness, being unnourished, being unable to nourish - all these and more are connected with the womb.” I don’t know what mother doesn’t feel some of the latter-named feelings – who can avoid such vulnerability when rearing another independent human being? And when it comes to mothering, what feelings are not encountered as tugs in the womb – and not just the dark ones, but also, all the positive feelings like joy, wonder, pride, and regenerating love? Reading that passage, however, does make me ask, how often do I allow myself to feel the full range of these feelings? How often do to I try to stuff the negative one, or spend time on, say, the computer, to avoid the bright glare of the positive feelings? How often do I do self care? (I think one massage every six months would indicate, “not often enough.”)
I’m particularly interested what Shapiro says about the womb as the female heart. As a teenager, see, I had open heart surgery because of a hole in my heart. I’ve always said that experience was a positive one – one where I grew into my womanhood without all the shame and self-consciousness that many other teen girls often experience. The experience of having my only other major surgery on my womb, however, I’ve so far said, has not been similarly positive. But I am now willing to rewrite this getting-old story – to use all the gifts of my creativity to find new light in any darkness I perceive within my womb. No matter what unfolds from here, I know my creative work needs to be strong and deep, loved and nurtured and in quite touch with my wise inside woman in order to heal my wounds and my womb. What if I said my second major surgery was a positive one? What if I really let go of my old story? Who would I be if all that tension dissolved? I am excited to find out the answers and simultaneously pray for the strength to hear them. My hope in writing all this down is that other women and their mythic womanhood wombs feel loved enough to do the same.

20 July, 2011

Blood Loss

Being an artist of any kind is a tricky undertaking. I’m no visual artist; I’m a writer. I see my life in words and I love words, sounds of words, even the shape of letters, and I’m fine not being a visually minded kind of person.
But, like any artist, getting to my actual work is often hard. In my case, these days, I like to tell myself the “getting to” is hard because I have a two year old, going on three, who resists going to sleep with a fierceness and tenacity that any pit bull could admire, so by the time I’ve wrangled her to bed, I’m too exhausted to work, and often too exhausted to accomplish much of anything, like dinner dishes, or picking up around the house. The good news is now she actually sleeps through the night, most nights, and so if I can pull myself together, I can get up quite a bit earlier than her to write.
But lately, specifically since last Saturday, I’ve been having a hard time pulling myself together. I’ve been waking up early enough this week – yesterday almost five hours earlier than my daughter – and so, one would think that’s quite a bit of time to get writing done, much less housework. But I positively frittered away the time. See, since last Saturday, five days now, I’ve woken up every morning with a medium-grade headache, and, I’ve been telling myself I’m too sick to be creative. So, I’ve done things like gone back to sleep, or read random books from my shelves, or, spent hours surfing the web and getting involved in all kinds of online mom dramas that have nothing to do with who I am or what I believe. Plus, I’ve felt a deep need to “process,” about the birth, and specifically, about the hemorrhage I had after the birth. And though I did talk to a few friends about my feelings this week, I’ve also spent a lot of time being down on myself that I still have this need, that I still haven’t healed.
What are the headaches and procrastination all about? Well, I had this thing happen last Saturday, which takes some explaining. I recently joined a collaborative art project comprised of many different kinds of artists, as a way, I thought, of “healing” my artist self, and, also, as I told the coordinator when I joined, healing from the birth. I started this blog, which has been a new and good undertaking, also started under the guise of helping me “heal,” but I decided to join this collaborative art project, too, because I felt I wasn’t getting far enough, that I still had too many feelings about the birth, that I hadn’t healed enough in two and a half years and needed to break through more and move on more. I was hoping doing new kinds of art would help me heal more deeply.
How this collaborative project works is each artist starts with a blank wooden panel, puts their mark on it, and then passes the panel on to other artists who continue to create whatever the piece will become. I loved the freedom of the whole idea, loved getting to work with people who see the world via visual clues, and loved the idea of doing something totally different from what I’ve ever done.
Here’s what happened last Saturday: my mark on my panel (of course) had to do with the birth of my daughter and some of the complications afterwards. And (of course) I used words to make my mark instead of using a purely visual technique. The mark I made was in the upper left-hand corner of the panel and the rest of the panel was still blank. I explained my “perspective” to the group at the art studio and happily passed the panel on to whoever would have it next. The woman who took the panel is a professional visual artist. She creates all kinds of great stuff and has a lot of skills. I was excited she took my panel because I thought she would really do something cool. And she did. This artist, with her groovy blue glasses up on top of her head to keep her abundance of orange hair out of her eyes, mixed some red acrylic paint with water in a small container, placed the panel outside on the grass, and threw that bright red paint onto the rest of the panel with a perfect hit, splattering blood red liquid across the board without messing up the original mark I’d made. This woman, while a colleague of mine, doesn’t know my birth story, and I didn’t actually see her throw that paint. But when I heard the other artists exclaim with much surprise, “wow,” and “ooh,” I went outside to see that panel spattered red in such a way that all I saw was blood. My blood. The 4000 cc’s, that’s six pints, of blood I lost after my child was born. Blood, which in reality, I never saw, but only felt rush of, thrown out of my body much like that paint was thrown, quickly and violently.
That image of the paint/blood has been stuck behind my eyes since then. The image has affected my mothering; I’ve kind of sucked at being a parent this week, I’ve not been present in my heart, I’ve been grouchy and impatient. I’ve complained to myself and others about wanting a break this week in order to heal myself and I’ve victimized myself by saying I haven’t gotten a break due to my husband being gone and not having any other child care options. And though I’ve cried and processed with a friend over the phone in bits and pieces, and written about it in my journal, I still haven’t been able shake the image or the ensuing feelings or the damned headaches.
Until this morning. When I again picked up a random book from my shelf. Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. And I read this: “What are we trying to heal anyway? The athlete knows the day will never come when he wakes up pain-free. He has to play hurt. Remember, the part of us that we imagine needs healing is not the part we create from; that part is far deeper and stronger. The part we create from can’t be touched by anything our parents did, or society did. That part is unsullied, uncorrupted; soundproof, waterproof, and bulletproof. In fact, the more troubles we’ve got, the better and richer that part becomes.” I realized, in reading this, that my creative Resistance, as Pressfield deems him, was kicking my ass, loving all the excuses I was making for not writing –the headaches, tiredness, and need to heal.
In the case of my hemorrhage, obviously neither my parents nor society caused that particular event. And while the experience was a trauma, this morning, I’ve taken Pressfield’s words to heart and decided, the better and richer my art will be for having had the experience at all. Even when I saw that blood red paint on the panel, though a part of me was rather re-traumatized, my true artist self knew that paint was a beautiful thing – the red splatter was my trouble being made into art, and, deep down, deep in my bulletproof place, I felt grateful and amazed at the synchronicity of my colleague’s artistic decision to throw that container. My lower self has been playing the victim of almost-dying all week, but my core self, my creative spirit, knows she never will die – she will always be here, be present, and be alive and well, and no amount of blood loss can take her away.
All that said, I don’t know what was up with the stars last Saturday, because one of the other artists collaborating in this project did not attend our session because while driving to the studio, she braked her car just in time to witness a motorcyclist hit by an RV coming from the other direction. She saw debris and a human being flying across and then crashing onto the road. She directed people to do CPR while she called 911. But the motorcyclist died. And the people who hit him (he’d crossed the center line), were devastated. I felt terrible to hear this news, sad for our friend to see such a horrible thing, and sad to hear about such a violent death, even of a stranger. My thoughts went out to the motorcyclist’s family and friends who’d lost him. When I called the woman who’d been the witness that afternoon, she was still in shock; she told the story with police-description, stoic facts, and even she knew she hadn’t processed her feelings. Yet. But she’s an artist, too, so I know she will, and though she may have to do some roundabout, procrastinating activities in the meantime, I trust her healing, soundproof inner self will turn her troubles into art, too.

15 July, 2011

Send in the Clowns....or Don't

My daughter is terrified of clowns.
I found out this fact at our local June parade, which is about the biggest event going around these parts, and ostensibly hails in summertime for our rainy coastal home. For weeks prior to this event, our toddler arts group made art projects, via our local arts center, to prepare to march five blocks in the children’s parade that precedes the big parade. It was my idea to have the toddlers group be a part of the parade, as a fun, accumulative celebration of our year together making art. We tie-dyed tee shirts and painted ribbon-flags latched on to small driftwood handles attached with a fishing swivels to make them easily wave. Other members made a banner with the kids’ handprints and decorated paper hats. The kids all had homemade noisemakers. We were ready.
The night before, when I had my usual trouble getting my daughter to go to sleep, I told the tale of how we needed to rest up in order to hike down the street the next day.
“But Mama,” my girl said, “I’m so exciting to march in the parade.” She made me smile at her sweet misuse of grammar.
The morning of, miraculously sunny, we scrambled to get all our art projects together, figure out how to maneuver into the crowds, find a parking space and meet at the designated spot. My daughter jumped up and down when she saw her other tie-dyed tee-shirted friends. My husband, thankfully, was there to help carry stuff and keep an eye on my daughter among the crowd. All was going smoothly.
I turned my back to unfold the banner and set blanket into the red wagon brought to help pull stragglers. When I turned around, all I saw was the giant hole of my daughter’s screaming mouth, her twisted up face and full of fear, her eyes pouring tears. I looked pleadingly to my husband to discern what was up. “The clown,” he said, pointing.
The clown was a man, dressed in a plum-colored suit, with big reddish-pink shoes and possibly green hair. I can’t quite remember because by then my daughter was on my hip, crying, shaking all over, and pleading to go “hoooomeee.”
“Oh honey,” I said, hugging her trembling little bod, but also annoyed, and surprised, and feeling a bit frantic about trying to herd the other toddlers into the lineup for the parade. “We can’t go, sweetie. We’re supposed to march in the children’s parade.” All I could think about was how this “supposed to” was all my idea.
She would not be consoled. “I want to go,” she wailed. She buried her face into my shoulder as the clown neared to hand her a sticker, her absolute favorite thing. I just held out my hand to him.
“Apparently, she’s terrified of clowns,” I said.
The clown smiled, the normalcy of his face and possibly the stubble of his beard apparent under his makeup. “That’s okay,” he said, walking away. “She’s right to have the instinct to be afraid of a man with a fake smile.” He was so kind.
Another pair of clowns appeared, two women dressed in yellow. My daughter trembled more and I forced her to stay by handing her off to my husband’s shoulders. The parade started. Everyone cheered and whooped and clapped. I waved to people as I carried the banner supporting our local arts programs. My daughter looked suspiciously at any passerby and held her ribbon flag near her cheek like a weapon. Her eyes still watered. It was like forcing her to do the Bataan Death March and was the longest five blocks I’ve ever walked. I felt horrible and was relieved when it was finished.
At the end of the children’s parade, all the kids got a bag of goodies (read: sugar and crap), which helped appease my daughter’s suffering. I had hoped she’d want to then watch the big parade, the horses and floats and monster trucks. But she didn’t. She still wanted to “go!” We walked back down the street and saw a girl with her face painted like a butterfly, face-paint being my daughter’s second absolute favorite thing. Until we found out the face paint was in the clown tent. My daughter, now hiking through the crowds on my shoulders, said, “noooooooo!” We blew by the tent and ducked into the relatively calm, serene space of our local farmer’s market.
We convinced our daughter to at least eat a little something and my husband and I watched the parade from afar, listening to loud old rock and roll music echoing off the small buildings as flatbed trucks rolled through town. We ate lunch and bought some berries. We saw a few people and told about our daughter’s fear of clowns to explain why we weren’t watching the parade. And then we saw another tent of local teens trying to raise money for their extracurricular activities by painting faces. I asked my daughter if she’d like to get her face painted by one of the teens. She nodded happily. She sat down in the chair.
“Tell her what you want, honey,” I said, assuming she’d say a butterfly or a flower.
My daughter looked the teenager in the face and said, “I want to be a clown.”
That’s right. She got her face painted as a clown. The teenager took her time and did a great job with my daughter’s red nose, clown smile, black curved high eyebrows, the whole bit. I was amazed and told everyone how some day I would go back to teaching English and use this story as an example of what irony really is.
On the way home, my husband sat in the back seat with our daughter who asked lots of questions about clowns. “Where do clowns sleep?” “What do they wear under their costumes?” “Are there boy and girl clowns?” At home, she studied her painted face in the mirror and I wondered if she was afraid of herself. That night, exhausted from her day, she only reluctantly washed the paint off her face. I imagine she dreamed about clowns.
I’ve told this story several times in the weeks following the event. My daughter talks about it too, telling people she was at the parade but she was afraid of the clowns. We tried another parade for the Fourth of July, but my daughter heard there might be a clown and cried again to go home. That time I did just leave. Why torture her more?
I don’t really know why she’s so afraid of clowns, but the original clown was right: she’s got good instincts. As usual, my daughter teaches me much about how to live in the world. Here’s a list of the recent things I admire in my daughter.
She feels her feelings.
She doesn’t worry anyone is judging her for having her feelings. (I did sort of judge her at first, and she really doesn’t care.)
She tries to understand her feelings by dressing up as, literally embodying, the thing she fears most.
She asks questions to process and reduce her fear.
She has goals to deal with her fear. Recently, I asked her when she might want to see a clown again. She thought about it for a while, then said, “when I’m seventeen.”
And just yesterday evening, a girl in the park cried at a barking dog. Her grandmother explained the obvious by saying the girl was terrified of dogs. My daughter smiled at me and said, “I’m terrified of clowns.” And then she giggled at her fear as she swung in the swing, her blond hair shimmering like silk around her sweet little head.
We should all be so smart to deal with our fears like her.

06 July, 2011

Ode to a BOFFF

Yesterday, my part-time neighbor sat on his stoop tying his shoelaces when he yelled out to me, from about 20 yards away so the whole neighborhood could hear, “Do you know if you’re having a boy this time?”
My daughter and I were just walking back from the park; she pushed her baby stroller, which was piled with dolls and stuffed animals, and I awkwardly bent over the low handle to help her. I heard my neighbor’s question, while steering my child’s stroller off his gravel driveway, and I took awhile to process what he was asking. But then I got it. I stood up. I tugged my tee-shirt over my stomach.
“Oh no,” I said, “I’m not pregnant.” The pleasantness of my own voice surprised me.
“But,” said my neighbor, with a disheartened tone, as though what I said was a personal affront to him, “My wife said you are.”
My daughter pushed the stroller past the man’s overgrown laurel hedges and I was glad to chase her down, out of sight from him, before I said my usual quip when mistaken to be pregnant, “This belly is just leftover from the last one…” I had seen his wife on the way to the park; we talked about gardening, she showed my daughter and I some of her latest projects. I realized, while walking up the street, she must have been thinking that whole time about my swollen belly and what lurked inside.
What lurks inside is a sensitive subject, of course. I’ve written plenty about the complications endured after the birth of my daughter: the distension of my abdomen, the bloating due to gallstones, and yes, the weight gain. Several times in the two and a half years since I actually was pregnant, people have outwardly verbalized they thought I was “with child,” and, for the most part, I take their mistake in stride, even though their mistake indicates a weirdly public (and in my neighbor’s case, very loud) acknowledgement of my weight gain and bodily changes, which then brings up for me the whole question of how skinny and perfect does a woman need to be to not be mistaken as pregnant. Still, long before I had a baby, I did my share of adolescent struggling with body image issues – weight, slenderness, hair color and amount, facial and body features, etc. – and after the birth, I struggled again with all the changes my body has gone through. I have made peace with my body, mostly because, as a feminist, I find the reality that almost all Western women have body image issues an outrage and a travesty. The issue of body image is not my greatest struggle when people assume I’m pregnant.
What comes up even stronger for me is the reality that I’m not pregnant. That I won’t ever be again in all likelihood. That while I might look pregnant, my belly is entirely empty of a growing, wonderful life. I’m sad I won’t have another child. I’m sad I won’t experience being pregnant again. I’m sad I won’t have a chance, ever in this life, to birth a child through my body the way I’d always hoped and dreamed. What lurks in that belly is emptiness and bereavement, and when people point my belly out to me, I guess I can be grateful, because usually at some point soon after their mistake, I actually get to feel those feelings in the form of crying or banging on my bed or processing with a friend or my husband or the blank page, all of which is hard to find the time to do when chasing a toddler around.
I do find it odd that every time people have made this mistaken assumption to my face, none of them have apologized. Not one said something to the effect of, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” or “I’m embarrassed,” or otherwise acknowledged that their blurted-out wrongness about another child on the way might have affected me. I also find it odd (read: sexist) that my neighbor asked if I was having a boy, as if my luck might be better the second time around.
I know I’ve said this before, but ultimately, I long for the days when a woman’s body was revered for its fertility and ability to create life, indicated by her large belly, big breasts, and overall plumpness. The days when “zaftig” was a compliment seem ideal to me (that Yiddish word, by the way, means “juicy.” Doesn’t that just sound delicious?) When I fist moved to our little coastal town, there was a women’s boutique along the main road with an overhanging sign, called – I kid you not – “Ample and Alluring.” And while we laughed plenty about that name back then, I kind of miss that sign now.
In some circles, zaftig females are revered, and indeed, people are out there fighting for them. Bear with me now as I take you on a journey of allegory…
One of my husband’s jobs is to fight for marine conservation, which is a controversial issue where we live. When I was only about seven weeks along with our daughter, the whole newness of the pregnancy a secret only for us and immediate family, my husband had to give a talk to a bunch of locals about the importance of new marine protections that were under consideration by the state government. Confident and assured, my husband stood in front of a crowd of about fifty people, most of whom he and I knew and considered friends, and discussed the science behind these proposals. He taught the crowd about what marine scientists call BOFFFs – big, old, fat, fecund females – who are part and parcel of a healthy and thriving ecosystem, in this case a rockfish spawning ground. He showed graphs up on a screen which indicated these BOFFFs produced exponentially higher numbers of healthier fish who could survive greater fluctuations and stresses in their environment. He expounded the importance of creating protections for these BOFFFs so their spawn would then spill out into the rest of the sea to help create yet even more healthy ecosystems. He then told the crowd that there was a BOFFF among us, and pointed to me in the back of the room and said, “my wife, who’s pregnant.” Our crowd of local friends roared with laughter and surprise and joy, as most of them had known us for over a decade and thought we’d never have a kid. I turned bright red, not unlike a healthy rockfish, and felt a mix of emotions, from the shared joy in the room to wanting to kill my husband for telling everyone I was pregnant so early in the game.
Nonetheless, I soon became known around these parts a BOFFF, and a lot of people looked forward to the birth of our daughter. I’m proud of the comparison now, and proud my husband is out there fighting for us. I’m big, old, fat, and fecund. I have a belly that looks fertile to a lot of people. And, though I spawned only one and sometimes am sad about the fact that I won’t spawn another, I produced one heck of a healthy, strong, independent little offspring who I believe will one day strengthen and fortify our murky human sea.

27 June, 2011

Father's Day

I just returned from a trip to the Midwest with my daughter to visit my mother. This is the second year in a row we've been gone over Father's Day, but the timing is best since my husband is gone-fishing (working) at this time of year anyway.
To say we were in the Midwest isn’t accurate, actually, because where we really visited was the North Shore of Chicago, which is a dreamland alternate universe of opportunity, privilege, and wealth. I was happy to be there, though, in a little bit of heat and sun, some time by Lake Michigan, and the chance to see my childhood haunts, which are more lush and lovely than I remember in my mind. I showed my daughter some of the places I used to go: former houses and schools, the little downtown area to which we kids would ride our bikes, and the parking lot on which my dad taught me to drive. I felt a profound gratitude for the privileges I had growing up, particularly when it came to the public schools I attended. My parents struggled to make ends meet in that school district just to give their children a chance for a good education and I am very thankful.
But going to the nearby parks with my daughter was an altogether weird experience. Here, in a place where people have the American Dream at their fingertips, no one talked to anyone but their own. I’m used to my very small coastal town, where strangers do meet and greet, and especially the kids, join in with one another and play instant games of follow-the-leader, which usually then requires some parental intervention, which initiates more introductions and some real conversation. But on the North Shore, I sensed people’s, even the kids,’ suspicion of those they don’t know. I interacted with my daughter and kept to myself, but my daughter was pretty sick of me and my mom, and she wanted to socialize with people her own age. My daughter’s natural tendency is to simply walk up to other kids she’s never met and tell them “okay, here’s what we’re going to do,” so I’d been practicing with her recently about introducing herself. So, here we were in this weird universe and she’d go up to these new kids, and with her sweet little voice and say, “Hi, my name is ____, what’s yours?” I’d even taught her to spell her name because it’s unusual enough that people in the U.S. haven’t heard of it, and so the next question people ask upon hearing it is, How do you spell that? But on the North Shore, the kids would screw up their eyebrows before she was even done introducing herself and they’d walk away. My daughter would look at me with confusion and sadness rising in her eyes. How do you explain to your child that some people don’t trust other people?
Then, one day, we were in a park near the beach and there was a girl there, apparently with her father, who was talking to an old man, ostensibly his father. This girl was about three year old. She wore a dress and a very full diaper, which drooped from her butt like an overripe fruit, and she was very verbal like my daughter. I was sort of fixated on the diaper because it looked about to burst, but in any case, she started talking to my daughter, and played follow-the-leader up and down the slide, and my daughter was giggling and laughing and so happy to be playing with a kid. I looked over to the father several times, as a way to acknowledge that we were interacting with his daughter, and even at one point I had to touch his daughter to help her down from a precarious attempt at climbing some monkey bars, but he really never looked over at his kid. I thought his lack of noticing us was weird, because I don’t generally touch other people’s kids without permission and if I do where I live, parents generally notice. But the dad was deep in conversation with the old man and I decided they had some old business to take care of.
By this point, the new girl was in the sandpit sharing her shovels with my daughter and my daughter was in bliss. Until the girl swung her arm and flung sand into my daughter’s face. Wet sand, with big grains that hurt. My daughter started crying, smearing more sand and dirt into her eyes, then cried more and I glanced over to that father with a look of “a little help over here?” Nothing. The girl who flung the sand seemed sort of surprised my daughter was crying, and I had to do the parenting thing about how throwing sand is not okay, but even I could sort of gather that this girl didn’t quite know right from wrong. The young boy whose shovels the girl had actually “shared” came over to claim his stuff and I realized this verbal diapered girl had twisted the truth about whose shovels they were. At that point, I did talk to an adult, the nanny of the boy, the only person of color in the park, and she was willing to have a bit of adult conversation. The girl went off to play and by the time we left, I never did see her father interact with her even once.
What’s my point of this story?
Well, then my daughter and I traveled back to the Pacific Northwest. To a rain-cleaned sunny and warm, sparkling-through-the-trees kind of day. Before we drove another hour and a half over the coast range, I decided to run out a little energy with her at a park. The park was full of people my daughter’s age and she practiced introducing her little-self left and right. We got to know some folk – the two year old girl who climbed on top of every structure, even the teeter-totter, whose mother said she was “crazy adventurous,” the father of a eleven month old with another kid on the way, the twin girls in summer dressed who shared their “cheesy” snacks, and another cute three year old boy, who took my daughter up and down the big slide as I had a wonderfully commiserating conversation with his mom about the difficulty of the “adjustment period” we have with our sometimes home husbands’ – as hers was a pilot, away a lot, like my fisherman husband. I was so enjoying the sense of community and the mix of kid-play and adult conversation.
I then met a friendly dad, the antithesis of the North Shore diapered girl’s dad, who played with his son and interacted with him as he drove on the car play-structure. My daughter and this boy shared the wheel and took turns in the passenger seat. The father and I talked a bit; I found out he was a journalist, and we discussed some writing things. I got his name, because I like to meet new, local writers and read their stuff. And then when it was time to go, (even I didn’t want to leave) my daughter miraculously didn’t throw a fit, but actually ran to the car to get in. I was so happy to be home, I felt kind of elated, actually.
When we arrived at our house that afternoon, I went about unpacking and taking care of old business. My daughter, away from her own stuff for two weeks, played with her dolls and puzzles and forgotten toys for a long, long time. I’d put away all our stuff, called some people for my husband’s business who needed calls returned, checked my unchecked-for-days email, peered into the living room to see my daughter still occupied, and so decided to Google that cool father-writer from the park before I forgot his name. Apparently he’s quite a successful journalist and has written some stuff I’d be interested in reading. That is, until I found his home page, where his Twitter feed showed that he’d tweeted exactly this: “Surrounded at the park by conversation of Cesarean births. Must e & e (evade and escape).” My elation deflated.
My first thoughts were, “How did I miss that conversation??!!! I was at that park and I can usually sniff out a conversation about any kind of birth!” But then I felt mad. I thought, meanly and snidely, “It must be so nice to have the privilege to evade and escape conversations about birth.” The words “male entitlement” crept into my head.
My better self (who came out a bit later) reasoned that perhaps this father-writer-man witnessed his own wife have an unwanted Cesarean and the memory caused him pain, like conversations about difficult births would remind my own husband of the hardships he saw me go through. I remembered the instant where my own husband had to call my mother to tell her we were transferring to the hospital, and though I’d been in labor for over 36 hours and pretty much was entirely self-focused, my husband started to cry – sob, actually, blubbering out the words “hospital transfer,” – and I realized that the hard, long labor wasn’t only affecting me. I felt terrible for my husband, the father to be of our sweet girl.
I hope the scenario I described above is the case for the writer-dad at the park, because otherwise, his tweet is a dealbreaker for me in terms of wanting to read a word more of his writing. Even if the latter is the case – his wife suffered and perhaps is still sad – throwing out that kind of comment on a Twitter-feed strikes me as callus at best and careless at worse. I mean, what if his wife reads it? I’m sure my husband has wanted to evade many a conversation I had with him about the Cesarean birth of our daughter, but would he say it out loud? No.
So, since I never answered the question about what’s the point of my story, it’s possible I don’t actually have one, only some vague ideas about privilege and parenting, opportunities and education, fatherhood and motherhood, places, people, and parks. I'm perhaps too travel-weary to flesh all these ideas out. I guess we all just do the best we can.

06 June, 2011

Childbirth and Publishing

I’ve been working on this analogy about how the way I experienced the birth of my child is like how birthing my creative work has been. Even though the final outcome of my child’s birth was not what I wanted – i.e. c-section and ensuring numerous complications – the final product, my daughter, is fabulous and wonderful and, yes, the light of my life. And, actually, I have a lot of lovely memories about my labor: my husband being at my side encouraging me, a candle given to me by a good friend burning at the end of the tub where I labored; I watched it burn and knew that friend was with me, the walk I took while along the dark asphalt littered with lovely fall-colored leaves, where sunshine rayed through overhead canopy of huge deciduous trees. So, though the final outcome of the labor took place in a hospital operating room with sterile bright lights, a dozen frantic people, and my body split open – all in stark contrast to the ways I’d hoped the finale of my child’s birth would be – the only moment I really care about is when I saw my child’s face for the first time, with the tiny constellation of melia on her sweet nose and her whole face turning to me when I said, “hi baby,” showing me her gorgeous bright wide eyes of recognition. I am honored to have all those good memories of labor, and quite glad, after all the complications I endured, that I lived to remember them.
In my last post, I mentioned how in similar ways, birthing the final products of my creative writing has also not happened in ways I hoped. Originally, I wrote that my hope had to do with having “enough [creative writing] published to make some money to contribute to my family’s income.” After a conversation with a friend who’d read the post however, I deleted that last sentence, because I’d realized that statement wasn’t completely accurate and was moreover confounding the analogy I am trying to make. (I love that I can “publish” my posts and then edit them later.)
The truth is, I don’t write for money. I simply love writing, and, for me, the act of creating through words is a spiritual and meditative process, with the hierarchy of literary genes, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, helping me to reach these spiritual planes. Plus, I love reading other people’s writing – there are so many writers whose work has helped me understand my being-ness, my relationships, my feelings. The very sounds of words and individual letters and the creation of images to express feelings and thoughts in ways helps unite us all – and so, writing is my passion, and I have done it for years without making much money at it.
So while I would like to contribute to my family’s income via my passion, I realized I have done so via teaching creative writing classes for the local college and private workshops and winning two monetary awards (though both so long ago and slight in remuneration). As far as my own writing goes, I realized, money would just be an indicator people were actually reading my work, relating to it, liking it, perhaps even being helped by it, which is what I really hope for.
But, my other secret dirty truth, or secret dirty hope, besides wanting to help people or to make some money for my creative efforts, is that I also want validation from people whom I perceive as knowing something about writing; i.e. literary bigwigs like publishers and agents. I’m egotistically driven, and that fact is sad, but, nonetheless, true.
The other day, I read an article about self-published writers making a mint on their books and then I did a bunch of Internet surfing in search of what it takes to be successful at self-publishing. I was thinking, as far as money and readership, I could put my novel out there in e-book format, thereby making amends to all the trees I killed writing that novel over a dozen plus years, and appeasing all those friends who’ve been asking to read it for so long. Moreover, thought I as I daydreamed about self-publishing, I could get my AV artist friends to make me a super-cool book trailer I’ll put on YouTube, and then I’ll use all the social media I know how to use, and learn even more about those I don't, to promote myself. I can do all that, I thought as I scampered around my office, surfing, reading, scheming, panting. I’d make some money through self-publishing, and I’d be happy those characters in my novel I lived with for so long were finally out there relating to people.
But, ultimately, I thought, I’d be sad because the literary bigwigs, most likely, wouldn’t notice my novel even for a moment. And then I actually read some of the excerpts of those novels out there in cyberspace, with their cliches and abunance of adverbs – "she said, self-importantly" – and, for the most part, their horrible cover designs. Self-publishing, I realized, felt to me like a c-section birth. Did I really want to do that to myself again? I still feel bad enough about my actual c-section, and what my ego perceives as having failed in childbirth. I don’t know if I could take what I perceive (or what my ego perceives), as selling my long-worked on novel short like that.
This analogy isn’t perfect; indeed, comparing one particular but actual childbirth to the birth of a novel is rather messy, perhaps even bloody, as in, too much over-thinking bloody.
After a few days of dreaming and Internet surfing and reading about self-publishing, the spinigitis in my head reached dangerously feverish temperatures. I had to tone myself down, so I handed my daughter over to my husband, and went to meet with some friends to help get me grounded. When I entered the room, I started to cry at the very relief from my own ego-fever. I admitted how I was sitting at the musty deathbed of a terminally ill man named the Publishing Industry, waiting for his blessing, while the rest of the writers were moving on, taking things into their own hands, letting their novels and books out into the universe and cyberspace. Crazily, that dying breath of validation from the old man who may never quite die was what my ego wanted. I also talked about how I am still sad, two and a half years later, about my actual c-section and how I think, perhaps, it’s time to move on from that sadness, much of which is egoistic in origin in that I did not birth my child in the mother-earth-goddess-fashion I hoped for. I asked for recovery from myself.
And then, outside the window, I heard the familiar grumbling of a diesel truck. I walked outside to find my husband and child in the parking lot. I went to the window of the truck to see my girl in her carseat, her entire face wet with tears and snot.
“She’s been crying for you for an hour. She only stopped crying when I said maybe we could go find you,” my husband said, his voice weary, as he unbuckled her and she climbed out the window, reaching for me.
“I wanted you, Mama,” my daughter said, and she hugged me.
I held her slender little body close against mine, tucked my chin into her little neck, and sobbed. I felt in that moment how the way a creative being is born into the world doesn’t really matter; though it may really hurt. What matters is the final product – the creative life force and the love we feel for that force.
“I want you, too, honey,” I whispered. I kissed my daughter’s cheek, now wet with my tears.
As a family, we walked then to the beach, the sun already set, but the sky streaked with orange and pink, the ocean calm and the slight breeze still holding the only warm temperatures we’ve had all year. My own ego-fever relieved, I breathed in the warm air and felt joy as I looked back to the footprints we’d made in the sand. I don’t yet know for certain what I’ll do with all my creative writing projects still in drawers or those yet to be written. But I know the steps I take to get there, with love and support from family and friends, is the only journey that counts.

31 May, 2011

Yin Yang

Lately, I’ve been having a rough time being at peace with my writing life. For example, I recently saw my long-time friend, the woman I moved out west with; the woman with whom I spent a week driving somebody else’s used-up gray car across the United States so we could end up as far west as land would take us, and with whom, when we arrived in our chosen state, we kvetched how we’d entered desert, not rainforest, unaware we had much more driving to do to find all the trees. After a few years, I moved even further west, right to the edge of the ocean. My friend reminded me how this September marks twenty years we’ve lived out here. Which meant to me, when thinking about it later, for twenty years, I’ve been working at being a writer – sending stuff out, writing books, getting a master’s degree, teaching writing, and trying to “make it,” as they say. I cried at the realization of how in twenty years, besides a lot of writing in my drawers, it often seems to me in my moments of pity-pottying how not much else has changed.
At the suggestion of a wise elder, I’ve been reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron again. My copy of this book is well highlighted and tattered. I’ve done TAW twice fully in the past decade and re-done many of the exercises again and again over the years. Each time I’ve worked the whole book, the effort inspired new creative writing from me, unexpected writing, and also, made me know that my only desire in life, besides, as of late, being a present and helpful mom, is to write.
My friend suggested I re-do the exercise called “The Seven Deadlies,” where you put seven little slips of paper, labeled one each with alcohol, drugs, sex, work, money, food, family/friends, into an envelope. You pull one slip out and write about five ways it’s had a negative impact on your life. Then you put the slip of paper back into the envelope and do the exercise again, for a total of seven times. Cameron says, “Yes, you may draw the same deadly repeatedly. Yes, this is significant. Very often, it is the last impact on the final list of an annoying ‘oh no, not again’ that yields a break, through denial, into clarity.”
When I did the exercise this time, I drew Sex three times. I wasn’t thrilled about writing about this subject, for from my younger days I could recall several ways sex was negative, and, since the birth, how my relative lack of sexual interest is a negative aspect. But when I drew Sex the third time, said, “oh no, not again,” and had to write about the subject even more, I got to the awareness that sex is also about the balance of sexual energy – the yin and yang, the feminine and masculine – and how in my life, I don’t do that feminine yin all that well. I’ve known in the past that I don’t like the female aspects to be equated with the receiving vessel, (too much connotation of Shakespeare’s empty vessel comes to my mind). But this time, while writing, I could see how my resistance to my own yin has had negative impacts in my ability to bring my creative endeavors to full fruition. In other words, not accepting my feminine side has meant I haven’t been able to give birth in the ways I’ve wanted.
Being pregnant with a new life is the best creative thing I’ve ever done. I was most happy when my baby grew inside me, I felt the most spiritual, most connected to a bigger universe, and by no coincidence, the most sexual and sexy I’ve ever felt. I know this kind of pregnancy is not true for all women, and I feel sad for those whose pregnancies are the opposite. However, though I may have accepted that yin energy while pregnant, when it came to giving birth, my masculine energy forced its way into the room. My fears of opening, of being vulnerable, of birthing the creative life I had grown inside for so long, may very well have been part of the block to my hoped-for birth experience. To not have birthed my child through my body’s natural processes has been one of the hardest disappointments I’ve grappled with in my life, and I’m still grappling.
The other great disappointment of my life to date is not getting my creative work published in the ways I’ve hoped. This past week, I received another a rejection letter – a hand-written, fast scrawled “no thanks,” which the editor had to write, based on the date of the letter, the very day she received my long-thought out and worked on proposal, causing me to wonder if she’d bothered to look at the work at all. My wise elder friend reminded me the rejection simply meant my work didn’t fit that press’ list at the moment, and the editor said as much in her rejection. But still, I had to ask, with the twenty years of toil count fresh on my brain, why? And the answer that came to me: too much yang, not enough yin.
With publishing, it sure seems those with a lot of masculine energy, at least in their work, are the ones in the room (see, for example, reviews on this topic about Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, which I’m currently and inexplicably reading). Masculine dominance has often been the norm in this industry as it is in many, many others. Call the imbalance whatever you like – male privilege, patriarchy, penis envy – but, still, those men who succeed in publishing must be somewhat in touch with their yin. And since I’m a woman, and not birthing my creative work in ways I still hope for, I’m considering the possibility that my over-abundance of masculine energy is working against me.
At the moment, I haven’t wrapped my head around how I can be the passive, receiving vessel and yet still get my creative work out there. Every time I send out a story, poem or manuscript, I say a little prayer to the universe for the swiftness and smoothness of its birth. And I accept the (in the big scheme of things) rather minor disappointment of not having had the outcome of those births I’ve hoped for. But still, I’m interested in mastering the paradox of Sex, the Zen koan-like yin yang, which applies to both childbirth and publishing – how one must be open to receiving while simultaneously be willing to push. Balance the energies just enough to allow the lovely creative new life to come through.

25 May, 2011

Shrek vs. Elmo

I wasn’t going to let my daughter watch TV until after she was already two years old. Famous last words or what? But when she was born, I so wanted to keep her sweet little face away from a buzzing screen. In her first two weeks of life, I'd be so annoyed if the TV was on when my daughter was in the room, say, if my mother was watching her for a few minutes, or my husband. I know newborn babies don't do much, but that's no reason for adults to have to have the TV blaring. And yet, just a few weeks later, sometimes, in the very early mornings, when I couldn’t believe I was awake again or still awake after no sleep all night, I admit, even I turned on Good Morning America so I could feel like I might have a semblance of a good morning.
A bit later on, usually at night, after I went to a meeting and came in the back door, yes on purpose, I'd catch my husband in the act, watching a Cinemax movie like 300 or Gladiator. (What is with those movies that he thinks they are good to watch, usually the same middle part with blood and guts and violence, all in slow motion, over and over?) Much less in front of our three month old daughter, whom you could argue, didn’t know what was going on, but I’d argue that her little brain was picking up wave after wave of dark, bloodied bodies and trying to process what she was seeing. I’d steam through the ears and tell him to “Turn. Off. The. TV.” I’d then lecture him how on most days when I was with her all day, alone, with no help, I would rarely watch television, and if I did, at least it wouldn’t be violent (although, admittedly, watching George Stephanopoulos try to comment on, say, the latest craze in women’s beauty products could be considered a form of violence). So, for that one frickin’ hour while you’re parenting our baby daughter could you just not turn on the boob tube?
Fast forward another fifteen months. My daughter and I are at the park, and we meet some neighborhood friends and my daughter loves other kids, especially those “older” people, like these friends’ five year old boy, who is truly adorable. So, they’re playing in the wood chips and rocking on the playground springy rocking horse-things, better known zebra and horse and, inexplicably, the giant chipmunk with a stumpy tail, and my daughter is having so much fun that when the boy’s parents say they need to get home, he’s so overcome with joy and appreciation that my daughter doesn’t want him to go, he decides to give my daughter a present. He holds up his little finger and says, “I’ve got something for her.” He runs to the trunk of their car and pulls out a little green plastic doll. He hands it to my daughter and I recognize Shrek as the character. Press the doll’s belly and he speaks in his Scottish rolling-R brogue, “Hey, what arrrrre you doin’ in my swamp?” And my daughter recoils and hugs me, looking suspiciously at the doll. The boy foists the doll upon my daughter and she squeaks in fear. I laugh a little, tell my daughter, “it’s only Shrek, honey,” but thankfully have an excuse for declining an electronic and obnoxious doll, telling the boy, “That’s so nice of you, but I think she’s afraid of it, so we’ll pass.” He looks crestfallen, and immediately tromps back to the trunk, apparently littered with toys, and brings out another small, plastic green toy, this time a seahorse that does nothing. “Thanks, I say,” and give it to my daughter who says, “Seahorse.” That animal she knows and I’m relieved I don’t have to deal with Shrek.
Fast-forward another week or so and my daughter is sick. Fever, runny nose, likely teething another set of teeth that will drive her and me crazy for a long time. She doesn’t want to do anything but sit on the couch in her mama’s lap. For hours. My day is long, I get absolutely nothing else done, she needs to be held and picked up and cuddled all day. I’m starting to lose my mind. It’s getting late in the afternoon, my husband isn’t home. I’m weak. “Let’s watch a little TV,” I say, and turn it on. Cinemax is up and there’s Shrek. The original one, where he’s cute and funny and the animation is great. “Look, honey,” I say, “There’s that ‘Hey’ guy, the one that boy at the park was trying to show you. See he’s not scary.” Her head perks up. She watches Shrek and Donkey and I love Eddie Murphy and am just glad for a moment of relief from the whining. She’s interested in this whole scene and happy for a moment. We watch about ten minutes and she calls Shrek the “Hey guy.” She’s not scared any more. For some reason, I DVR the movie so it’s there in case we need it again.
And we do. A week later, I needed to get some work done. No baby sitter, no husband, no help. I turn on the movie. She watches it for about twenty minutes. I fast forward through the scary dragon part. You can guess what happens now. She wants to watch Shrek all the time. She knows his name, she knows Fiona. She loves Donkey. I’m fucked. I try to distract her. She doesn’t yet know the words “I want,” but she knows how to ask for what she wants. I say often, “let’s go outside.” It is summer after all.
Then, the big day. We were moving for the month up north to follow my husband’s work. And guests would be staying in our house while we were gone. I had no help, again, but not only did I have to pack for a month’s time, I had to clean our house well enough for other people to actually live there, which was a daunting task. We’d gone to music class in the morning and my daughter had woken up too early, so she was particularly tired, but I didn’t want to put her down for an early nap since we had to drive North an hour and a half, I wanted her to sleep in the car. Shrek to the rescue.
At nineteen and a half months old, my daughter lay on the couch and watched the entire Shrek movie, scary parts and all, while I raced around cleaning, packing, doing laundry, and feeling sick to my stomach every time I passed by the living room where she was completely engaged and dazed and I could practically see her neurons shooting around her head, creating pathways of conformity to the masses, inabilities to think critically, and an all around lack of imagination. I felt so terrible yet so grateful for that dumb movie because I really got done what needed getting done. For the record, I had called for help beforehand, friends, our babysitter, even the kid’s mom who tried to give her the Shrek doll in the first place whom I really didn’t know that well. The fact that I made the choice to allow my lovely, smart, wonderfully creative and imaginative daughter sit like that, dazed, resting, confused probably while trying to sort out the vivid and complicated images on the screen, really turned the “Bad Mother” tape in my head on full blast. But I did it, and by the very end, where the whole cast of characters were singing “I’m a Believer,” I was all packed and ready to go. I thanked my daughter for letting me get all that stuff done, said we were going to see Daddy, and felt quite excited that the house where we were going had no television reception or DVR. I got her in the car and drove away where she fell instantly to sleep, probably dreaming of crazed kings and poor gingerbread men with their legs cut off.
In the “summer home,” as I call it, the home of a friend and colleague, my daughter spent a lot of the first week playing with all the new toys of the owner’s daughter’s. Dolls and a cool dollhouse, lots of musical instruments, and such. We took lovely walks downtown, explored new parks, met a few people. But inevitably, my daughter wanted to watch TV. I tried to explain that their TV was broken. It did have a VCR and DVD player, but I didn’t know how to get them to work and that was the kind of job I always assigned my students to do in class and never bothered to figure out.
But one day, one of those days when for whatever reason, my patience was short and my mind was on writing I wanted to do or a friend’s novel I was supposed to be reading, or I hadn’t slept enough or I was stressed because even though we were up there “with” my husband, he actually was on a fifteen hour work cycle that meant he really wasn’t home to be a co-parent at all. So, I caved. I figured out how to make the DVD work and found, of all things, the movie Shrek in a case on the shelves. I was excited. “Look honey they have Shrek,” I said. My daughter was excited. I put the movie in and it didn’t work. I tried again but then looked at the actual DVD and saw a huge crack along its backside. My daughter jumped up and down with wanting. I said, “Sorry honey, it’s broken.” Let’s try this one. And popped in the movie Ice Age. It worked. It became known at the “elephant movie.”
It gets worse. One night, when we finally did have the chance to have dinner together and be a family, we all went to the movie rental place. My husband and I rented a movie for ourselves, and then, seeing that they didn’t have Shrek for my daughter, we rented Shrek 2. I don’t know why. I’m so damn weak. So, to make this too-long story a little shorter, by the end of the month, my daughter had watched both Shrek 2 and Shrek 3, not straight through on either of them but probably all of each movie over time in fifteen or twenty minute increments. She only liked Shrek 2 up until the point where the ogre turns into a man, at which point she can’t grasp that the man is Shrek and she keeps asking where’s Shrek? I thought the latter Shrek movies weren’t as good as the original, but that’s because the original has the surprise element of introducing the other fairy tale characters as more dynamic elements whereas that idea becomes commonplace in the subsequent movies. Anyhow, they are all completely age inappropriate and ridiculous for a not-even two year old to be watching.
That month away was more stressful that I would have guessed. I loved our digs and the town where we were, but I really had very few breaks in the full-time mommydom that that had become my life. I might have been in a bit of shock. At least at home I had the one day where I could look forward to our babysitter coming for a few hours. And, really, my husband seemed gone all the time, home during the week about three or four times for dinner and maybe a little playtime. Plus, I felt even more lonely and run down because I didn’t even have my few regular mommy friends around. I’m really not making excuses, I’m looking back trying to figure out how I could have been so lilly-livered on this whole television thing. So, after all the Shrek movies had been watched and Ice Age, too, I started trying to pull myself together by reading Ekhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth, and there I read this passage…

"So does television watching create inner space? Does it cause you to be present? Unfortunately, it does not. Although for long periods your mind may not be generating any thoughts, it has linked into the thought activity of the television show. It has linked up with the television version of collective mind, and is thinking its thoughts. Your mind is inactive only in the sense that it is not producing thoughts. It is, however, continuously absorbing thoughts and images that come through the television screen. This induces a trancelike passive state of heightened susceptibility, not unlike hypnosis. That is why it lends itself to manipulation of “public opinion,” as politicians and special-interest groups as well as advertisers know and will pay millions of dollars to catch you in that state of receptive unawareness. They want their thoughts to become your thoughts, and usually they succeed.

So when watching television, the tendency is for you to fall below thought, not rise above it. Television has this in common with alcohol and certain other drugs. While it provides some relief from your mind, you again pay a high price: loss of consciousness."

My daughter’s pure consciousness was dissolving before my eyes. My resolve got a little better. I returned the movies, grateful we’d be going home soon. When we got home, I told our daughter that Shrek and Fiona and Donkey were on a much-needed vacation. That idea worked. I DVR’d some Sesame Street and decided it was time for Elmo. She soon starting saying “I want,” and she wanted Elmo’s World. Yes, she was still watching TV, but at least Elmo was only fifteen minutes long and age appropriate.
At the start of the new year, we got rid of cable and started streaming in movies and shows. The effect of this new TV system was that I stopped watching TV for the most part, but my daughter discovered, with my help of course, shows like Kipper the Dog, and lord oh lordy, Barney. I noticed around this time how her gaze became more steady in front of the TV. Before, she’d get up and move around, play a game with herself while sort of watching. But nowadays, she could, like the time I let her watch the whole Shrek movie, really space out and passively absorb an entire show. Diligence on my part is even more important now. I loathe watching the loss of her sweet consciousness.
The TV thing is so hard because screens are a part of our world and there’s no avoiding them, even in the sticks where I live. My daughter sees my husband and me on the computer, she sees computers at the library where kids are playing games, she sees the screens on our cell phone and digital cameras, hell she even sees a screen in our car where we have a GPS unit. I do make the effort to limit her screen time and we do a lot of interactive activity on most days of any given week: we go to story time at the library and check out a dozen books each week, we go to art class, we go to music class, we take walks whenever it’s not pouring rain, we go to parks, the beach, take walks, we do art at home, read as many books as possible together, and we play lots of games where my daughter is leading me around the house with one creative scheme or another – just last night we were both attached by the “toe keeper” of a crocheted scarf in which we gave rides to her stuffed animals with our feet.
Still, my now two and a half year old child watches TV, almost every day. I feel guilty when she does because I’m guilty of allowing it. Just like I feel terrible when I raise my voice at her after asking for the sixth time to get her pajamas on, I loathe these moments in myself, typical for a parent I’m sure, when I am too tired or annoyed or uncreative to do something different. I feel superbly awful when my child would rather watch TV than read a book with me or play with a puzzle or her letters, with me. I usually wrangle her out of her wanting, but I know the “television version of the collective mind” has gotten to her, like the brainwashing of a cult. She’ll survive, yes, and most likely the hour or so she does watch won’t give her attention deficit disorder, but I have to be vigilant about her screen time because, just like that first drink, the first few minutes of TV time can be a slippery slope. And, God help me, I don’t want my child to go down that slope, because it leads to an ogre’s stinky swamp.