27 January, 2011


Note: I wrote this piece for a magazine call for submissions that had the prompt "Fail." This version is a now-edited draft for readers of this site. The version I handed in to the magazine, I realize now, is a more watered-down version, one that tried too hard to be more clinical or professional or something, in order to fit the tone and editorial requirements. The article was rejected, i.e. it failed. Goes to show that writing for the market doesn't really work....

Only a week after our daughter was born, I decided I wanted the hospital records about her birth. I was a mother now; I was responsible for things like records. I wasn’t prepared, however, as I waited in the hallway for an attendant to make copies, for how many times I’d see the word fail and its derivatives on the pages. Failed home birth. Failure to progress. Failed vacuum attempt. I read those words in the elevator and then again in the truck as my husband drove me and our tiny, sleeping daughter back to our home on the coast. I looked out the rain-splattered window at the soggy fields of the Willamette Valley and cried.
The whole perfect pregnancy, I’d worked, read, exercised, practiced with my husband, and simply hoped and prayed to have our child peacefully and quietly in the bathtub at our midwife’s birth center. I even worked hard to not have any expectations about the birth – I knew labor and delivery would be more grueling than anything I’ve experienced and didn’t even write out a birth plan. So, after thirty-six hours of labor at the birth center, which included ten hours of pushing, water broken, full dilation and still no baby, when the midwife recommended we transport to a trusted hospital in the valley, I felt disappointed, but my main concern was my child and getting her out safely. I didn’t think then about a failed home birth.
The transport after pushing for so long and then trying not to push felt something akin to dying a horrible death and by the time we arrived at the hospital, I was screaming quite loud for the anesthesiologist to get me the epidural, which, after administered, gave me a new appreciation for why women would choose to get one in the first place. In a cruel act of human biology, I de-dilated on the way over, so we had to wait again for the magic ten centimeters. But, by the time I reached the magic ten, I asked them turn down the drugs on the epidural so I could feel the contractions and know when to push. I squatted so low and pushed so hard, I could see in the giant mirror the nurse held up my baby’s wet, matted hair. But, the image was just an illusion, she wasn’t actually coming down. I’d failed to progress. The doctor recommended the vacuum apparatus, a procedure which scared me, but which I agreed to, and which, didn’t work for us anyhow. Failed vacuum attempt. The doctor looked up at me from between my own legs, his mouth hidden behind in a blue mask, and breathed out. “I don’t know what else to do,” he said. Fifty-four hours of labor later, I finally felt exhausted and frightened enough to agree to a much unwanted cesarean-section.
We did the operation, my daughter was born, and aside from one bump and one bruised caput on her head, she was strong and healthy and big.
I can only remember being glad she was out safely and that my ordeal of a difficult birth was over. Or so I thought. Soon after getting wheeled into recovery, I experienced serious complications: a hemorrhage which dropped my blood pressure to thirty over forty, required six pints of blood and a two night stay in intensive care where my body was subjected to more prodding, poking, and pressure than I thought possible, all while trying so hard to breast-feed my newborn baby whom the nursery staff wheeled into the ICU. I share these details not to be gory – though the irony that my daughter was born on Halloween is not lost on me – I tell them to show contrast between reality and the former hopes that existed in my mind and heart. My hopes and prayers were, effectively, blown out the hospital windows. But, still, I’m not sure I’d thought I’d failed until after I read those records.
For the medical world, the word fail is not a judgment but a professional term, like the word “asynclitic,” a word I’d never heard before, which explained my daughter’s difficulty in descending – her head was left ear first and too wide to pass through. Right of access to patient records is a dilemma currently facing the medical community as paperwork becomes digitized and easier to disseminate. Many patients argue they have a right to see their records at all times. Many doctors argue seeing records may not be in a patient’s best interest if it unnecessarily upsets or impedes their healing. Before this birth event, I surely would have sided with patients’ claims to see their records. But once I got mine, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d feel less like a failure if I hadn’t repeatedly read that word in the doctors’ notes, especially so close to the actual difficult delivery? For me that failed word carried with it a weight like a stone on my chest.
For many women, a c-section does not feel like failure, especially women who have unforeseeable emergencies and are just grateful their babies make it. I also know women who didn’t exactly have emergencies but a cesarean was recommended by doctors, like my friend whose son was breech and her water broke five weeks early before he had a chance to turn around, or another friend who’d been in a serious car accident as an adult and had metal plates in her hips that wouldn’t allow for a vaginal birth – for her just carrying her child to term was a victory. And, too, all those women were probably smart enough to not order up their medical records.
Still, many women, records or none, who had an unwanted cesarean do feel a sense of personal failure, or feel, at least, that their bodies failed them. People often say to me, “all that matters is your baby is healthy,” and of course that is all that matters, but her health doesn’t take away the tape in my head that says I failed to deliver our child the right way.
In my case, my sense of failure lasted for a long time, even though I tried to ignore my feelings while doing the day to day juggling act of taking care of a newborn. The sensation was physical; in my lower regions I felt a deep loss, like a marathon runner who had to stop the race a mile short of the finish line. I felt pain and numbness in the site of the surgery when doing the most mundane acts like buttoning my pants or leaning over to pick up my daughter. That weird mix of stinging needles and deadness in the place where my child was pulled out only served to deepen my feelings of failure.
Often when in despair or confusion, I look up the usages of words and their origins to help me make sense of things. In the case of fail, none of the definitions helped me feel better – they all included synonyms such as “deficient” “insufficient,” “fall short,” “to disappoint,” “to cease functioning properly,” and the origin of the word, which is a derivative of the Latin word “to deceive,” simply confused me and left me bereft.
After about eight months of getting it together as a mom, I fell into what I’d call a delayed post partum depression, serious enough that I sought help. Underlying my depression was my feeling of being a failure, and not simply because I didn’t deliver my child vaginally, but, I learned, for other more subtle aspects, too. At one point, I remember, I sobbed to my husband that I had failed to show him the real power of my body’s ability to deliver our child. He held my hand and said, “Honey, you showed me how powerful your body was by enduring fifty-four hours of labor.” I’d never thought of that perspective before and his comfort did make me feel better at the time, but the road out of the sadness has been long.
What’s important to know is that “fail” is not a feeling. We say – indeed, I’ve written all along in this essay – “I feel like a failure” but that statement is a thought. Real feelings do not use the word “like.” I may feel sad, feel disappointed, feel despair, but I can’t, rhetorically speaking, “feel failure,” or “feel failed.” So, to say, “I feel like I failed” is not a real feeling but a thought, a perception. And if I’ve learned anything from the sleep deprivation of new motherhood, I’ve learned my thoughts are often skewed, and my perception is often deceiving, an understanding that has made the origin of the word failed finally make sense.
The other day, I settled my now twenty-three month old daughter into her car seat after we’d spent a lovely and rare warm sunny day at the beach, splashing in the waves, having a tea party, and writing the ABC’s in the sand. As I buckled the last clip and handed her a snack cup, she looked up at me with her warm hazelnut eyes and said, unprompted for the first time ever, “I love you Mama.” Then she reached out her hands and said “hug,” and hugged my neck, then said “kiss” and kissed me on the cheek. Yes, the medical records show I failed to give birth to my baby through natural means. But, you know, I’ve failed at other things in my life that didn’t wreck me, and this failure I can live with because I helped create and give birth to a healthy, vibrant, brilliant daughter. I’m blessed to be her mom.

22 January, 2011

Midwives Are Human Too, Part Two

The day after the birth, shaky hands doctor called our midwife to tell her about the hemorrhage. And I think, but I’m not positive, our midwife may have called my husband to talk to him. But I didn’t talk to her, not in the hospital, not after I returned home. In fact, the first person to show up at my home to begin the six weeks of “after care” that was part of the package with my midwife’s plan, was an assistant I’d never met before who asked me “what’s his name?” when she arrived. I was so tired, hurt, and angry that this unknown woman was at my door, I choked back tears and growled, “my baby is a girl.” I let her weigh and check my daughter, since after a week I wanted to know from someone else that my newborn was gaining weigh and thriving. But even then, I watched every move. I may have told this other assistant about how the birth went. I can’t quite remember, I was so mad. I know I didn’t let her do the “stone massage” she was supposed to do on my stomach, my abdomen still so tender from all the trauma, and the fact that she was there so abhorrent to me. She said to me, “it seems like [my midwife] really should come see you.”
“Duh,” I thought, but didn’t say that.
When my midwife finally came several days later, she did listen to me as I cried and told her the whole birth experience was so disappointing to me and the complications that had already happened made being a new mom all the more difficult. I wondered if she thought the fact that I had a c-section was a personal affront to her whole belief in natural birth. It certainly was an affront to me. She checked out my baby and said she was doing great, we talked a bit about breastfeeding and her still-attached umbilical cord, and then, eventually, we broached the issue of the assistant/doula’s personal crisis. I told my midwife that the assistant’s presence might have been a hindrance not only to my birth experience but to the woman’s before me. My midwife understood what I was saying and proclaimed she needed to “sage out the birth center” from all that energy. Somehow, to me, that gesture felt a bit too little too late and I knew then that the trust I felt for her was gone.
The next well baby check came from the assistant herself. She walked in, her hair perfectly groomed and shiny, her body thin and her clothes tight and cute. She carried with her the accoutrements for the stone massage and said she was there to help me, and how even though my belly was sore, the massage could feel good. I don’t remember my daughter being around, but the assistant probably checked her out. What I remember is laying on my couch, and the assistant lifting one warm, heavy stone at a time from a plugged-in crock pot filled with lavender oil and water. She placed the stones, one by one, on my still-swollen, still-sore belly and rubbed them inside the perimeter of my ribs. As I lay there, the assistant apologized to me for leaving the hospital before the birth and for her personal crisis.
The position I was in, literally, was extremely uncomfortable. I felt vulnerable and angry, yes, but at the same time I felt empathetic. I felt like the stones felt on my body; painful, yet soothing. This moment was simply one of the paradoxical moments of life. All my years of professional training about unhealthy interpersonal relationships kicked in – that and the fact we simply were two vulnerable women, human to human, both in hurting and sore and sad – and so I listened to the assistant tell me her version of her story. And then, as she cleaned the stones and I sat up on the couch, quite surprisingly to me, I gave her information about her situation. I let her know that alcohol and violence were two different problems. One problem can exacerbate the other, but just because someone was a drunk didn’t mean he also had to be abusive. I let her know, gently, the negative affects of the crisis on her children. I let her know about resources in our area. I listened more than I talked, and I tried to be sincere, but to be honest, part of me wondered if this situation was karma coming back to me, or if I was simply helping another person. The assistant said I was a great woman, helping her like that. I shrugged my shoulders. I had to wonder.
The last part of this story happened a few weeks later, when I heard, because I live in a small community, that my midwife’s assistant’s crisis reached its climax. I had thought the climax had been reached when she left the hospital during my labor, but, no, there was more wreckage and damage to be done. I called my midwife, ostensibly to set up our sixth and last well baby check, but also to ask her if what I had heard was true. She confirmed. And then she went on to tell me about her past, when she was younger and living far away, and how she had experienced a crisis so similar. Suddenly, for me, many of the pieces of this puzzle clicked together. Of course. In the hospital, my midwife had to tell me all about what the assistant was going through because she was reliving the trauma herself. I knew about secondary trauma, and I saw, in hindsight, that connection clearly. My midwife never did come for our last appointment and I took my daughter to the local health clinic for a check up.
Months later, during that time of my delayed post-partum depression, I wrote my midwife and assistant a letter. I didn’t intend to send it, but some wise people in my life encouraged me to, and so I did. The letter explained my experience and my disappointment with their shortfalls. I sent the letter to help heal my depression and to help them, if it was possible, to become better at being midwives. I told them I didn’t want a reply and that I wished them well.
In the letter, I took care not to blame my midwives for the outcome of our birth and I took responsibility for many aspects of our birth experience. Here’s just a few:
That odd pain in my groin during the birth could have been my daughter’s head descending asynclitically, her little skull pressing on a nerve in a way that wasn’t normal for birth. I, like most women, have mostly forgotten the level of pain I was in for labor, but still, when I think about it, that strange pain in my groin is what I recall, and why that pain occurred is an unanswerable question, but that shooting, stabbing pain took me by surprise and I never really found a center from which to labor. To be clear, I don’t blame myself either for not getting on top of the pain, because to do so would kind of be like blaming a guy for not getting on top of the pain when he gets kicked in the nuts, over and over, for, oh, say, three days in a row. So, I don’t blame myself for not getting centered during my labor; I’m just saying I never did.
Also, I think now I shouldn’t have pushed when I did. At the time, I felt so much like pushing, but I may have pushed too early, which perhaps pushed my baby’s head at an even odder angle down the birth canal, in a way that was irreparable. After all, when the doctors went to do the c-section, that nurse had to go back up my vagina to shove my baby’s head upward, she was stuck in there so bad. I may have pushed too hard.
And finally, I may have expected my midwives to help me more than they could have, even under normal circumstances. In the letter, I said that while I wanted my husband at the birth, of course, I knew in my heart, because he was a man, I thought of him more as a supporter, not as the person who would help me get the baby out. I thought my midwives would do help me get the baby out and I perhaps relied on their help more than was feasible. At the birth, I didn’t tap into my own inner strength enough, didn’t look inside myself enough to birth my baby in the natural way.
A midwife, it could be argued, should be the one to help get a laboring woman get centered and calm and get on top of the pain, should help, especially a first time mother, know when to push and when not to push, and should help a woman get inside herself and tap into her own strength. In these areas, I would say, because of their own personal humanity, my midwives did not, and perhaps were not able, to do their job.
However, many medical providers, because of their own personal issues, do not do their jobs. Several hundred Western medical providers simply have the mindset that their job is to drug pain and do c-sections after only a few hours of labor. A labor is a stressful thing, usually a long thing, and as a provider, to keep one’s own center and to forget all worldly demands over the course of many hours is a lot to ask. No one’s perfect. People have background lives all the time that affect their jobs. Regardless of my birth story, I still truly believe midwives are much, much more likely than traditional doctors to be patient, kind, helpful, supportive, knowledgeable, and present during the pain of labor. For all those laboring women out there, my wish for you is that you have this kind of help.

12 January, 2011

Midwives Are Human Too - Part One.

While I completely believe in and support both home birth and midwife-assisted birth, in my case, the humanity and real lives of my midwives did not serve me in having a successful natural birth. This subject is a difficult one for me to talk about, mostly because we live in a small community where there are only a few practicing midwives, and any details I write can incriminate actual people, which I don’t want to do, because I’m not actually accusing anyone of anything. In fact, I know that, whatever the set up, giving birth is a giant, spiritual, and highly mysterious thing, and no matter what kind of provider we have, the reasons for the outcomes of our births are complex and deep.
In any case, I imagine being a midwife around where I live is hard, the general community (read: traditional medical) historically has not been supportive. One story I’ve heard happened several years ago: a midwife came to town and tried to set up shop, but the doctors at the hospital badmouthed her, and she found, with their vigor, it was impossible to sustain her business. The few midwives who are around are rather “underground” and practice midwifery far away from the county seat, or they are associated with a hospital outside our community, or they have recently finished their schooling and don’t yet know the climate in which they intend to practice. All that said, I hope, with younger people moving in and with more information in general out there about hospital births, midwifery will become an unconditionally accepted practice around here.
When I found out I was pregnant, I knew for sure I didn’t want a hospitalized birth; I had seen the hell my sister went through in the seventeen-hour birth of her daughter and was not impressed one bit with the hospital staff during her experience. I helped take my sister to the hospital back then and when we arrived, I could tell right away, they were not interested in the birth plan she had written. One Evil Nurse there scoffed at the piece of paper I handed her. She wanted to intervene and speed up my sister’s progress as soon as possible. She did intervene, against my sister’s wishes, and the usual difficulties ensued. If you’re not sure about the usual difficulties that go with medicalized births, I suggest you read The Feminist Breeder’s blog, which you can link to here.
So, midwife or hospital was not a question for me, I knew I wanted a midwife and I went with the one most utilized in our area and the only one I actually met. In hindsight, I can take responsibility for the fact that I didn’t research alternative birth options very well and I may not have picked the best midwife for me, even if my pickin’s are incredibly slim. Because I knew my daughter would be born in late October, I was concerned about snow in the mountain pass and with or without snow, worried about having to drive an hour and a half over hills while in labor, so I didn’t even look at options in the city where more options are available. I knew a few people who had seen my midwife and their experiences were mostly good, and the one friend who warned me that our midwife was “not very hands-on,” I didn’t listen to because I judged her when she told me she had “issues with women in general.” My midwife is the most well-known and certainly the most utilized in our county and while she lives a good distance from where I live, there’s no real mountain pass through which we had to travel.
The day we met in person, I liked her; I liked what she said about birth,I liked how she treated us, and I really liked her birth center – a clean, well-lighted place on the edge of a farm, by a river, in the backwoods. I wasn’t keen on the idea of birthing at my home, (although this midwife travels wherever she has to in order to do her job) because our house is small, the bathtub cramped, and our neighbors are loud and rowdy and drive their revving four-wheelers around all hours of night and day. I felt the midwife’s birth center to be more private and inviting for a nice birth than our own home. This woman had helped birth many hundreds of babies over thirty years of practice and I like how she treated me and my husband and thought she’d be just fine.
Then, our midwife told us about a doula who offered birth classes, not at our local hospital, but again, a ways away. We took the classes earlier on in the pregnancy than usual (when I was 6-7 months along rather than 8-9 months) due to scheduling and the fact that my husband is gone most of August and September. This doula was put together, had done several of her own natural births, offered a substantial class that was at least eight weeks long, and, best of all, she was an assistant to our midwife because she was also in training to be a midwife herself. And though we didn’t specifically hire her as our doula, because she was the midwife’s assistant and our birth teacher, we planned that she’d be at our birth.
Through all the prenatal checkups and throughout the birthing classes, I felt good about these two women. Though we did have to travel about forty-five minutes to get to the birth center, and an hour to get to the birth classes, the extra driving was a nice time to be alone with my husband and, still, we didn’t have to drive over snowy roads and/or into the big city to get to either place. During that summer, I read a lot of natural birthing books, like Birthing From Within and Ina May’s Guide To Childbirth. I educated myself about the complications of hospitalized labor, and read and loved Naomi Wolf’s Misconceptions. And I watched several videos about natural birth, water birth, and even one homemade video where a woman birthed her own baby in her own house so quickly that she literally caught that child in her own hand before the midwife even had time to arrive. That video seemed completely crazy to me and I actually hoped my child wouldn’t come quite that fast fast. After fifty-four hours of labor, that hope is funny to me now.
A couple of other facts to note: the summer of 2008 was a record year for babies being born. Our midwife said she would be attending about fifty births for the year, while her usual number was more like thirty. We had a hard time scheduling appointments with her late in the summer because she had such a high number of births to attend. When we did do the checkups, I could tell our midwife was overwhelmed; she looked tired and talked about all the births and how she needed more assistants. Also, I realized our birth teacher/midwife assistant’s life was not as put-together as it seemed when she ended up not showing for one of our classes only to apologize profusely later, and since she knew we drove a long way to get there, I had the sense her behavior meant there was more below the surface I couldn’t see. Still, I figured by the time our due date arrived, both our midwife and her assistant would be ready for us and present for our birth. I was wrong.
My daughter was already a week late. I was huge, tired of being pregnant, and ready for labor to begin. Finally on a Monday, I had some real signs labor was starting. I was supposed to have another check-up with my midwife the following day, but because I really felt like “this was it,” I called her to cancel the appointment and tell her I’d probably see her soon enough. When I reached her on her cell, she was at the hospital. She’d done a transport with one of her clients the night before, one of the very few transports she’d ever done during all her years of practice. The laboring woman did give birth vaginally to a healthy baby in the hospital, but only after thirty-six hours of labor with some harrowing moments. My midwife told me she was exhausted and glad I was canceling our appointment. I remember getting off the phone and thinking, “but for the grace of God go I,” that this woman was the one to do that transport. What could be the odds that I would have to transport, too?
Anyhow, the next night, the labor I thought would happen did start. My husband timed the contractions and they were strong and long – for all my research, no one ever the early contractions could last two minutes each! Also, as the labor began, I noticed a strange pain in my lower right groin that was not in conjunction with the contractions. Even though I’d never been in labor, the pain there didn’t feel right to me. But I thought, well, I’m old and maybe this is just the way it is. I felt ready enough to have this baby, and we called our midwife a few times as the contractions progressed and she told us, since we did have a substantial drive to make, to come down early and labor in the tub. I was all about getting in the tub.
When we arrived at three in the morning, our midwife greeted us in the dimly lit birthing room, and then said she was going to bed, still exhausted from her previous client’s birth experience. She told us our birth teacher/midwife’s assistant was on duty, and the assistant got the tub ready for me while my husband promptly went to sleep on their big birthing bed. I slipped into the tub, where I breathed and felt all those contractions. And I felt very alone. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the assistant went to sit at the window bench with her knees curled up and her thumbs pressing the buttons of her blackberry. I thought then she was perhaps timing my contractions, but I was wrong about that, too. I later learned she was attending to a serious personal crisis. And here’s where writing about all this is so sticky because, in this case, the devil really is in the details and, in this case, I feel anonymity is important. But the fact is that this assistant, while physically at our birth, was emotionally and mentally in a very different place that night. Her personal life was in chaos and there was no way for her to separate the two and, I’d argue, her presence at the birth center had deleterious effects on our birth experience.
The personal crisis precipitated miscommunication and misperception – the most egregious being that when I arrived and slid into the tub, the assistant said to me our midwife had guessed I was already at “about eight centimeters” and that information made me feel great, like I could really handle the upcoming transitional and pushing stages. Fast forward to the next afternoon when our midwife was awake, and I was still laboring with seemingly no change. Midwives are notoriously non-checkers as far as the cervical dilation goes – they know a cervix can open from zero to ten in two hours or twelve hours, so, until they feel that magical ten centimeters has been reached, many midwives believe routine cervical checking is invasive to the whole birth process. But by Wednesday afternoon, my midwife thought she should check and I was devastated to hear I was really only at five centimeters. She had me lay on the bed in a series of four awkward and painful positions to move the progress along, whereby I shifted from my side to my back to my side to my front with my arms stretched in different directions behind and under my back, suffering through each awkward pose for two whole contractions. The pain in my lower right groin never went away, and during this exercise, the pain there was excruciating. Plus, this exercise only moved my cervix to six centimeters. My mental strength diminished that afternoon and was only slightly bolstered when my husband and I went outside later for a walk around the farm; the autumn leaves glowing and the sun shining.
To be honest, much after this point turns blurry. I know I labored and labored and dilation did progress. I know my water broke around midnight on Thursday morning because I remember being in the tub again and feeling the whoosh come through me like a tidal surge. I know my midwife tried to help me again when I was sitting on the birthing stool. She told us I was dilated to about nine and a half centimeters, but there was still a little lip of the cervix that was in the way. Back in the tub a while later, I felt so much that I wanted to push and she told me to try and “maybe that cervix would move away.” I pushed for hours in the tub, squatting as low as I could while holding on to the little handles suctioned to the floor of the tub, one of which I kept ripping off with my effort. I remember my midwife sitting on the bench knitting booties and I thought that wasn’t entirely helpful. I remember showering and then getting back in the tub. I remember saying to myself I was going to have this baby by the time the candle perched on the end of the tub that a good friend had sent me burned down. I remember watching the candle snuff out.
So by mid-morning on Thursday, when still no movement down the shoot seemed to be happening, our midwife said we should transfer to the hospital forty-five minutes away. She gave me a tincture to help release me from the urge to push, because to not push after all those hours of pushing seemed impossible. The tincture worked and I slept much of the way, but not before I witnessed my husband break down crying when he called my mom to say we were going to the hospital.
Once we were at the hospital, I knew I was screwed and I swear the pain came back with a vengeance. All sorts of unwanted interventions happened, the IV’s, the antibiotics, the epidural, which by the time the anesthesiologist came, even I was resigned to take and with the relief that came, I could see why women would choose to get one. And there I lay, having de-dilated on the way to the hospital to a seven, and waiting again for that magical ten centimeters. My midwife was in a chair, my husband was settling into another bed, and that’s when the midwife assistant came into our room, bawling. Her crisis had reached a vortex, and she couldn’t stay. She had to go home and attend to her life. I said I was sorry. My husband went to sleep on the bed.
And here, while I lay in the sterile hospital, completely exhausted and hooked up to needles and drugs and my heart starting to break because I didn’t want all these interventions and intrusions while trying to bring my baby into the world, my midwife told me many of the details about her assistant’s life, details I used to hear about when I worked in social service. Details I knew all about, having to do with alcohol and violence and power and control. Details I’d heard before from many women and helped many teenagers recognize in their own lives. Details I was sympathetic about and had understanding for, but in my situation, with an IV in my arm and nurses coming in to check my contractions and the baby’s heartbeat and my dilation, talking about those details made me wonder whether if that was the time and the place to be hearing them.
Nonetheless, my cervix finally opened to the magical ten, forgot all about the assistant, had the nurses turn down the epidural so I could push, and I squatted like I’d never squatted in my life. In one ear my husband whispered, “you’re so strong, you’re amazing,” and in the other ear my midwife yelled, “push harder, push harder,” until at one point I just stopped pushing and said to her with a clarity that came from another world, “you know, you’re saying push harder, but I’m pushing as hard as I know how, and so I don’t know what you mean,” which sort of took her aback. And even though I could see the tiny wet hairs on my baby’s head in the mirror the nurses set up, all that pushing didn’t work, nor did the vacuum extractor, and then everyone started talking about the c-section, and after fifty three hours of labor, and twelve hours of pushing, I think even I threw in the towel. There was a moment, while everyone rushed around, getting my husband scrubs and making arrangements, when I turned over onto my hands and knees and felt my baby’s head inside of me and wanted so badly to push her out. My midwife was there beside me at that moment, and several weeks later, she said to me she wondered if she should have locked the doors and somehow gotten that baby out. But she didn’t.
After the c-section, our midwife met us in the temporary recovery room. She saw our daughter. But then she left to go home; she was tired, too. And just like that, both of care providers for the past nine-months of my pregnancy were gone and all these unfamiliar but capable hospital staff people were there to care for me. And then I hemorrhaged and all those complications ensued.
...to be continued...

07 January, 2011

Everything's Unfinished

The other morning, I woke up to a news clip on my desk my mother-in-law sent about Paul Harding who wrote Tinkers, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2010.  The article was by Jeff Baker from the Oregonian and the title was “No Longer an Unknown.”  Granted, I hadn’t had my coffee yet and may have been surly, but I thought, “nope, he’s still unknown.” I certainly haven’t had time to read his book, though I did read the article, which said Harding graduated from Iowa Writer’s and teaches at Harvard – so, in reality, he’s already had a foot in the door of being known.  But, still, I bet not too many people have heard of him.
As I walked into the kitchen to get my coffee, for some reason I thought about Jonathan Safron Foer, whom, I’d argue, more people have heard of even though he didn’t win a Pulitzer.  His book, Everything’s Illuminated, was made into a movie, and that event always helps one’s being known-ness.  Why I’m writing about Foer is a bit convoluted so hang with me here – but I’m thinking that, even though I write just about every day, almost all of the people who know I’m a writer are my friends, which is fine with me, but I’m still mostly unknown.  And I recently went to a lecture about the changes in the publishing industry – ebooks and iPads, and everyone and their brother writing a book – and the unintended negative outcome of the lecture was to solidify the reality that, as a writer, the chances of getting “known” beyond one’s list of friends, Facebook or not, are near impossible.  So, when I went to write in my journal the morning I was thinking about Foer, the first thing I wrote was “Everything’s Unfinished.”  Forget being known or unknown, forget getting illuminated.  In my life, I just would like to get something done. 
Here’s an example of the unfinished-ness.  A few weeks ago, after a neighbor gave me an abundance of so-so apples, I decided to make a pie for a friend who needed some cheering up.  I managed to prepare the apples while my daughter took a decent nap, but then, once she was up, I needed to make the crust, which meant she needed to hang on me and whine every second for me to pick her up.  I had pulled out the giant cutting board from the counter and put it on the kitchen table to make this crust, and I explained to her that my hands were too floury to pick her up as I added ice water to the flour and butter, and I thought for sure, by the time I actually rolled the slab out, the crust would end up tough as leather.  Although I tried to distract her with a bit of dough, my daughter wasn’t interested in anything but whining and flinging extra white flour all over the cutting board, the floor, the carpet, etc.  So I ignored her and rolled and plied and shaped the dough, then added the filling, then added another top layer of crust.  The pie actually looked nice, the top crust was poked with fork-holes and had three crafted leaves for decoration.  The mess to clean up, however, was ridiculous – flour pasted the cutting board, pans and mixing bowls littered the kitchen, apple peelings rotted in a box on the floor.  I had to wonder if my effort was worth the effort.  And I had to leave the mess because I knew some of the whining from my girl was because she was getting hungry.  So, while the pie baked, I balanced the flour and dough-crusted cutting board on top of the toaster, wiped up the kitchen table, and warmed up some leftovers on the stovetop, all with her clinging to my leg. 
My daughter ate dinner, promptly pooped her diaper, and was then not interested in changing it – sometimes she likes to “keep it” for a while, this warm thing she created, and I just have to indulge her as long as I can keep her standing and keep the load from squishing out of the diaper.  I’m not talking hours here, but a few extra minutes for her to revel in her accomplishment of a “very big poop.”  Anyhow, I thought, “fine, you don’t want me to change your poop, help me clean up this mess.”  With her standing on a chair in front of the sink, I leaned the huge cutting board upright in the sink and then she tried to dissolve the paste with the sprayer.  When enough paste dissolved and her shirt was soaked, we took off the shirt and scrubbed soap on the board.  Since the board towered like an easel, we learned she could “finger paint” with the suds on the board, which served both to clean it and to occupy her enough so I could unload the dishwasher of clean dishes and reload it with the dinner dishes and some of the pots or pans.   
All this “cleaning” wasted lots of water, made another mess to clean since my daughter of course sprayed water on the floor, which made a new paste with the scattered flour, and I had to wipe that all up, and when it was over, the kitchen was not even rid of dishes – I still had a muffin pan to clean.  I forgot to mention with the leftover dough, I made two mini-pies because part of my daughter’s earlier whine-fest was when she realized we wouldn’t actually be eating the pie I made.  So, after the poop was changed, we ate the mini-pies, which made more dishes.  I said to my daughter, “we’re done in the kitchen for a while” and I turned off the light.
My next task was to help my daughter focus on cleaning up the living room.  I started with the very cool musical instruments she has.  I took a drum and made up a “clean these toys up now” song, which only made her dance around the mess in the living room and crawl on me like I was a jungle gym of joy.  We played for a while more, and then I started putting toys away.  But the fact is the toys never get picked up.  Especially since her birthday and then Christmas, these toys don’t even have a place to actually go, try as I might to get rid of some older ones. Plus there’s usually a water glass or a fork or some other random non-toy object she’s found to play with in some random place – like on the CD shelf.  I surrendered a long time ago to a clean ideal – I decided many other things were more important than having a clean house. 
But sometimes the mess borders on dangerous – like when the rocking horse, and the big red Yoga ball block access to movement in the living room, now also made smaller with the new standing basketball hoop from Grandma and Grandpa, which had already become smaller last year with the huge “Babytropolis” coffee table bought by a certain husband who’d had too much to drink during a fundraiser auction.  So, while I usually disregard the mess and play, sometimes I do have to clean up.
 Also, even though I said I was done in the kitchen, I realized I forgot about the apple pie filling that had spilled out of the original pie and almost burned down the house by starting on fire in the oven when I was baking the pie, and I thought, “I better clean that up” before I burn the house down for real the next time I fire up the oven.  So, in a moment when my daughter inexplicably had to make another poop and went to hide behind the couch for her privacy, I went to scrape off the oven mess, which I had to do by using a metal pie server (is that irony?).  I scraped tiny black bits of char into a plastic container, and of course, I didn’t get it all, so there’s a huge burn stain on the bottom of the oven that will be there for all eternity since cleaning the oven is clearly out of the question, but I figured the clean up job was good enough the house wouldn’t burn down.  Yet, as I went to throw out the char, I somehow hit the container with oven door and dropped a million black bits all over the kitchen.  Another huge mess.  I arghed like a pirate and my daughter came in and said “You need help Mama?”  And I said, “Yes love, I need a lot of help.”  I swept up what I could but decided the vacuum was the only real way to get the smallest bits of char, and so, I vacuumed the kitchen floor, and then, while I was at it, vacuumed the dining area, which had bits of flour and pie crust all over, and a few dinner noodles, and then said, well, I might as well do the rest of the house.  My daughter “helped” me by pushing her toy vacuum cleaner, which isn’t a vacuum at all, but a wooden noisemaker thing and we played bumper vacuums as I moved toys out of the way in order to actually vacuum the carpet.
So, the preceding section is perhaps the longest example in the world of unfinished-ness.  But still, after all that cleaning that night, the house wasn’t clean.  The woodstove was going, and even though I vacuumed up the tiny escaped bits of burnt wood and dust on the tile in front of the stove, wood-ash still layered every surface.  Blankets and pillows that have no where to go lay stacked on the floor.  Dishes still littered the sink. 
I know I’m not the only mom who watches daily chores pile up and topple over into giant messes.  And I know I’m not the only writer who toils in obscurity, likely for life.  And I’ve always liked the adage that a busy artist has a messy home.  But, I suppose, the point of this essay is to assert publicly that I do attempt to clean our house and I do get to the end of stories every once in a while, and that the pie turned out super-good and went some ways in cheering up my friend.  Ultimately, my effort was worth the effort.