The Snow Globe

Christmas 2015, Levi received a snow globe from my parents.  The miniature world of white, glittery snow is made up of a little village with a large Christmas tree in the center, and there is a little train that circles the base, traveling underneath a bridge below the houses and trees.  It plays “Over the River and Through the Woods….”  He loves it, and so I have never packed it away with the Christmas decor.  It sits on his dresser year round (something that would typically bug me, but it’s strange the things I’m willing to overlook when it comes to making him happy).

Last night he wanted me to take it down and wind it up, so I did.  He watched the train intently, as it made it rounds.  At times he would pick the globe up to hold it closer to his face.  He was examining the train, looking for its engine and freight cars, he told me.  Then he wanted me to name every aspect of the little village scene as he pointed to it:  tree, bridge, house, another house, another tree, BIG Christmas tree, and so on.  As I stared through the glass past the softly, falling flakes, I could feel my body begin to soften and relax.  As I stared at the quaint little houses with windows filled by yellow light, I could imagine tiny people stuffed safely inside, eating dinner, reading a book, putting a baby to bed–untouched by the outside world–in a land of near constant snow fall.

I’ve always loved snow globe scenes–and really anything in miniature:  doll houses, shadowboxes, miniature museum scenes, etc.  In there everything is as it should be.

My neuroses run big and hard.  As a person with anxiety I spend a lot of time in the “fight” reaction of “fight or flight.”  I imagine a lot of tigers ready to attack that aren’t really there (or are they…?).  My fears and anxiety are frequently of global-scale catastrophe (in particular they are related to running out of clean, usable water on the planet–amongst other smaller, more immediate and localized fears).  The environment in the snow globe is controlled, unchanging, and predictable.  It’s also not real, of course, so I can make it into whatever I want it to be.  And last night, as Levi and I took a tour of every detail in the miniature world, I did just that.  Like him, I stared transfixed at the unchanging, painted on perfection, and I was transported.  And everything–for a minute or two–was as it should be.  And my shoulders melted away from my ears.  For a minute. And then the train came to a stop, and the real world presented itself to us in the form of diapers to change and jammies to put on, and we returned the snow globe to its place on the dresser.

The “W” Word

Dawn and I got married in June 2014 when because I was pregnant.  We had been together for eleven years at that point and had never really intended to get married.  It just wasn’t an institution that either of us was interested in participating in. Like many couples we were committed and monogamous and had been together for so long that legal/public/spiritual recognition felt unnecessary.  For me, marriage also represented the stronghold of heteronormativity on our culture; participating felt like complicity (this was shortly before DOMA was overturned by SCOTUS).  However, when you are bringing a little being into this world, some ideals end up doing by the wayside to make room for practicality and keeping your family as safe as possible.  Knowing marriage would help with the legalities involved in establishing Dawn as Levi’s parent, we said our vows in front of our officiant (our midwife) and one witness (a dear friend), ate some pub food, and headed off for a weekend of biking in Vermont.

My generally chosen terms for referring to Dawn, both before and after marriage, were “partner” and (less often) “my other half.”  For me these words denote the strength and truth of the relationship.  We are partners, equals, working side-by-side in life (and this now includes parenting).  We are also two equal halves of a whole–interdependent (something I thought I’d never believe in/agree to, but that’s a story for a different day/post).  However, both of these terms clearly leave out any clarifying information about gender.  In speaking to strangers, this frequently left me/us in an uncomfortable dance of trying to communicate without gender pronouns until I found (or more often, created) a reasonable moment to drop one in.

After one particularly uncomfortable encounter with a colleague who asked if my husband was excited about my pregnancy and my response of, “Oh – I don’t have a husband…,” (resulting in wide deer-in-headlight eyes from my colleague), friends urged me to start using the term “wife” so as to avoid confusion and general discomfort for me and my interlocutor.

I was very resistant.  The word “wife” makes me squirm.  For me the Despite the actual etymology of wife being woman, for me it is still inextricable from its mid- 19th Century usage to indicate the status of spouse, but the spouse who lost all rights in the process.  The word for me connotes ownership and property.  I never wanted to be somebody’s wife.

And yet, here I am, watching the world rapidly come to accept, heck – even embrace, the marriages of gay couples and with that acceptance, the word “wife” is flying off the tongues of everyone around me.  My students ask me about “my wife” without flinching. Mothers at my son’s daycare ask about “my wife.”  Colleagues and friends introduce Dawn as “my wife.”  And yes, even I find myself using the word to avoid all those uncomfortable missing gender pronouns described above.  I’m not sure how long naturalization of word into one’s vocabulary generally takes, but as I approach the three year anniversary of my wedding, I am still gritting my teeth at every use of the word.

I recently joined an online community of moms and had to create a brief profile.  Here is what I wrote:  “Old(er) mama to an adorable little guy. With my partner for 14 year, married for almost 3. Recovering perfectionist and productivity obsessive.”  And with that use of the word partner, I breathed a sigh of relief and thought, Ya know what…?  I don’t have to use the term wife because that’s the norm.  I’ve never done anything else for that reason.  And with that, I decided to start (again) using the word I find most appropriate for my relationship.  My partnership.

Now I just need to run this by the wife….  🙂

Sometimes Brushing Your Teeth Isn’t Enough

I think we all get the idea that when you’re sick and feeling really crappy, the simple act of brushing your teeth is enough to make you feel a little alive again–a reminder of when you were a healthy human taking care of yourself.  Brushing one’s teeth is the most basic act of self-care, and the minty-fresh feeling in your mouth afterward is a lingering and tangible reminder of this act (not to mention the fact that it’s an act of care toward others, allowing you to speak to them without them needing to duck or hold their breath!).  I recently wrote about a series of illness that swept through our house.  When I was in the worst parts of being sick (stomach bug + fever) brushing my teeth worked like a magic.  Short-term magic, but still after brushing my teeth I’d kind of bounce back to bed and be able to sit up as opposed to my typical “caveman” walk between the bathroom and bed.  However, once I returned to working, cooking, playing with my kid–life in general, that is–brushing my teeth was just part of the daily routine and didn’t give quite the same boost anymore.

At two weeks out from being sick, I was still moving through the world with pressure in my head and eyes, making me feel tired and logy.  Operating about about 75% of myself felt great (for awhile) in comparison to the five or ten percent of my typical self that I experienced during sickness, but it still meant I wasn’t exercising or getting a whole lot of movement in general.  That workout day I logged into the planner for Thursday of last week–didn’t happen.  I was still dragging myself through each day in desperate search of that finish line we call bed. The effect of all this was that I have been a giant, intolerable, worst-of-the-worst GROUCH.  Impossible to live with; I couldn’t even stand being around myself.

Yesterday morning, I left the house by myself and went to the gym (I was going to write “hit the gym,” but that wouldn’t be quite accurate to describe very low energy re-entrance to working out).  As I drove, I listened to a podcast.  This matters because for more than two weeks I hadn’t even listened to any kind of sound in the car.  Between the pressure in my head and the exhaustion of my brain, I desperately needed silence where I could get it, and that was mostly while driving.  The gym is the land of the living, and when I entered, I too got to share in that kind of energy.  It was the jolt I needed to add about ten percent to my operating level.  I worked out, and it was better than brushing my teeth!  Moving my body is the thing that truly makes me feel human.

Yesterday I was maybe five percent less grouchy and ten percent more human.  The numbers aren’t staggering, but I’m hoping they are representative of a better ratio to come as I continue my “comeback” to me!

Life is Hard Sometimes

It has been two full weeks of sickness and mayhem at our house.  Starting March 9th, it went something like:  Levi fever; daylight saving time; me feeling like I’d die of exhaustion from daylight saving time + toddler; Dawn puking; epic blizzard; me nauseous; me puking, fever + intense head cold; Dawn coughing all night + head cold.  I got my appetite back only three days ago and still have an uncomfortable amount of congestion and pressure in my head, but we are recovering S-L-O-W-L-Y.  I think this is probably a pretty typical two week span for a family with kid(s) in daycare during the winter months, but that thought isn’t comforting when it is happening to you.

The problem is that I could find no comforting thoughts when it was happening to us.  In fact in the few days after I stopped puking and the fever cleared but still couldn’t eat nor breath, I got really dark.  All of the concepts and mini-mantras that I put in place for myself  at the start of the year either didn’t apply or were not holding up.  Be kind to myself:  I didn’t have much choice.  I didn’t have the energy to be mean and scolding, and all I could do is move slowly from bed to bathroom and maybe take the adventure of going downstairs.  Enough: Enough?  What’s enough?  Feeling like death?  Pulling the covers up?  Yes, this is enough alright.  Just not really applicable.  Everything is as it should be….  Really?  I would get kind of mad at myself for uttering this one.  This is not as it should be.  This is not even really living!  I would watch videos or shows of sunny days and people living their lives–house hunting, attending carnivals, making food (bleh!), what-have-you, and it just seemed impossible that I would ever again be one of those people.  On the days when I was well enough to go places, I would stare out the car windows, taking in the world and feeling completely not a part of it at the same time.

I tried to rely on the old, “this too shall pass….”  But I just found myself having a really hard time believing it.  There was no light at the tunnel’s end.  It was just dark and hard.  Everyday I would ask myself, why does it have to be so hard?  And then beat myself up for feeling like this was so hard when there are people everywhere who actually have it “hard.”  I found myself frustrated that I didn’t have a plan in place for how to make myself feel better when there was really so little to feel good about.  My Pollyanna-ish wife, of course, got fed up with my darkness.  Look, she’d point out, we are all alive.  We have each other.  We have a roof over our heads (food to eat, though we cannot stomach any of it), and so on….  Who likes Pollyanna-isms in the face of a “life is so hard” fit?  Not me.

For two weeks I missed my 5:30am writing time, I missed my workouts and trips to the gym (I feel like my muscles have atrophied), I missed making healthy meals for my family, and I missed a boatload of time at work.  This is starting to sound very whiny, but these are the things that make me feel human, and alive, and like I have my shit together.  Without those stabilizing touchstones, I felt disoriented, unfocused, and kind of like a pile of mush.

But guess what we did this past weekend?  We cooked, and cooked, and cooked some more. We entertained friends, had a play date, did story time at the library, went on a family walk.  We did laundry and folded diapers.  I worked a whole lot.  I got up in the morning and wrote.  I put a workout in the planner for Thursday.  And while I made my bed, I scolded myself for not believing that we would ever come out on the other side of the illness and madness.

My refusal to believe is reflective of the kind of studies described in this fascinating New Yorker article about why people don’t change their minds, even in the face of the facts.  Despite the huge amount of evidence accumulated over the course of my life that the darkness doesn’t last forever, that routine does come back eventually, and that nothing ever stays the same, I continue not to believe it!  I do think as someone who has suffered from depression in the past, it does flip me out to fall into the darkness because I know too well how long it can last.  And even though this series of challenging events only lasted two weeks, it felt so.much.l-o-n-g-e-r.  Regardless, though, the vast amount of evidence still points to the fact that we endure, we overcome, life returns to us and we return to life.  I’m still waiting for the rest of the snow to melt, for the rain to stop, and to see my first crocus, but at least I can breath through my nose (kind of) while doing it!

 

Friday Gift

Educators always work weekends.  They simply have to in order to be ready for the week.  I have always worked Sunday afternoons and evenings.  I would also squeeze in reading and e-mail here and there throughout the weekend.  This semester though, in keeping with my new perspective for 2017 (#enough), I have been focused on trying to truly “unplug” for a set period of time each week.  I moved my Sunday work time to 5:30am, and that (in the words of the great Robert Frost) has made all the difference.

On Fridays, I leave campus at 3pm, and I resolve to check out from work (and really from the world in general, as much as possible) until 5:30 Sunday morning.  It is my Friday gift to myself to say, I am going home to play with my son and eat pizza and watch Thomas the Tank Engine (my Netflix queue looks so foreign these days…).  So far it has been working fairly well, although, I continue to check my e-mail after I get home.  Perhaps I can set a 5pm cutoff on this activity, since it seems that I need some time to adjust to weekend mode (discovery through writing!  Love it.).

The beauty of working before the crack of dawn on Sundays is that when I am done, I still have the rest of the day ahead of me to hang out with my little family.  Having the set time of a 5:30am alarm clock feels much less stressful than the vague Sunday afternoon/evening timeline I had before (too often the day would get away from me, and I’d be headed into the dinner hour without having gotten any work done).

The period between 3pm on Friday and 5:30am on Sunday is just a bit over 36 hours (14 of which are spent sleeping), but I tell myself that it is enough.  And it is, if I find a way to truly let go of all the external forces currently weighing on me.  I’m also very gentle with myself and my family during these weekend hours.  I don’t try to control every bit of food that we eat.  I don’t get super neurotic about no screen time (we began Friday evening pizza and TV time shortly after Levi turned two, and it’s pretty fun as long as I don’t beat myself up for it).  I don’t make myself go through the house like a whirling dervish before bed time.  Sometimes it doesn’t always go well.  I have to focus really hard on telling myself that everything is “enough” and that “all is as it should be.”  I don’t really believe myself a lot of the time, but I fake it.  And that too is enough to make me feel a tiny sense of this elusive thing people talk about:  relaxation.

 

Childbirth Isn’t Scary

An article in the most recent edition of Mother Jones calls into question the natural childbirth movement (among other things).  Strong reactions to/against the natural birth movement — especially in regard to home births and the use of midwives — are nothing new; however, Kiera Butler’s article isn’t exactly a critique of natural childbirth.  Instead, it asks a seemingly simple question with some heavy implications attached:  If doctors are required by law to disclose the dangers and side-effects associated with cesarean sections, why shouldn’t they also disclose the potential dangers of vaginal births?  Good question. Butler’s ultimate point is that if we are to truly empower women in the process of pregnancy and childbirth, then they need all the information, and that includes information about vaginal birth injuries.

As someone who sustained a very minor, but long-lasting, injury from a vaginal birth, I was kind of in awe to discover the prevalence of these outcomes ranging from a minor tear, like my own, to broken pelvis bones and prolapse (which often doesn’t appear until middle age).  According to Butler’s piece, 50 – 80 percent of women who give birth vaginally sustain some kind of injury.  My first reaction:  wow, I am not/was not alone!  Part of the purpose of her piece:  women need to talk about these body damaging results of vaginal birth.  There is no shame.  It’s natural, after all.

As a pretty hard-core natural birth advocate, I did take issue with a number of elements in Butler’s piece.  For example, yes, like some of the women she describes in the piece, I labored for 40 hours without meds.  Do I tout this like a badge of honor?  Um, not on a daily basis or anything, but damn straight that I’m amazed by and proud of my ability to bring a child into this world through a mentally and physically arduous process.  It is a badge of honor and should be.  As, should be, a six hour labor or a two hour labor or a c-section.  As, should be, hospital births and births in cars on the side of the road.  All of the different labors in this world (as the name indicates) are hard work and should be recognized as such.

Additionally, some of her points are a bit fast and loose.  For example, bringing in numbers about the growing cost of nursing home admissions and the growth of the market for adult incontinence products.  It isn’t at all clear what percentage of this is actually the result of vaginal births (and figuring this out might be close to impossible).  It’s also never clear to me the exact number of women and/or doctors she interviewed for this article, and she obviously hand-picked the more nightmarish stories.  I’m guessing the pool of subjects wasn’t all that large.

Lastly, I have a huge problem with her use of the word scary.  In a recent episode of The Longest Shortest Time, Butler is interviewed by the show’s host, Hillary Frank.  In the opening, Frank states the title of Butler’s article, “The Scary Truth About Childbirth,” and then says, but Butler doesn’t want us to be scared.  Well, if you don’t want to scare people, then don’t use the word “scary” in your title (seems obvious enough).  I understand it gets readers, but come on….  This is supposed to be about empowering women through shared information about childbirth; however, I have a friend who is pregnant right now, and she is already a little scared.  Would I want her to see the title of this article?  Hell, no.  Also, I both read the article and listened intently to the interview, and I have to say, if they didn’t want us to be scared, they did little to provide positive reinforcement for the benefits of unmedicated vaginal births.  I have already been through childbirth, and I was scared AF! after reading/listening. While I truly believe that women should have access to some of this information, I would hate for them to read it through this particular lens of “scary.”

All that being said, I did listen/read with a truly open mind and great interest.  After all is said and done, I still firmly believe that unmedicated vaginal births are far preferable (when and where possible for the mama) to c-sections (this is fairly undisputed in the medical community).  I feel that even given the worst case scenarios — things like a broken pelvis and prolapse — the outcomes of vaginal birth are ultimately less risky in a life and death sense than those associated with c-sections.  I also believe strongly in all of the research that associates vaginal births with supporting a baby’s microbiome, which impacts their long-term health.  I do believe the evidence showing that epidurals potentially interfere with breastfeeding outweighs the evidence showing that they don’t.  Even given all of these ways in which I might be seen to disagree with Butler’s article, I still think she offers a valuable perspective and important information.  As I said in the beginning of this post, simply knowing how not alone I was is deeply fascinating to me.

I remember feeling almost ashamed when our group of babes and parents would meet up for playdates or other events months after our births (Levi has a small group of friends all born within three months of each other), and I still could hardly stand up and certainly not for an extended period.  It hurt to walk and move about.  When I did tell other mothers, they seemed shocked.  Now, it’s worth noting, that a few of the mothers that I hang out with are younger than myself, so they might have bounced back much more quickly.  Although, I also just spoke with a mother in her twenties who is suffering from the same painful, unhealed granulation tissue that I suffered from.  It is so important for women to share these stories, and it was truly eye-opening to read the stories of the mamas in Butler’s piece, who are/were far worse off than me.  Like Hillary Frank, I too read, Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Natural Childbirth like a bible while I was pregnant and had been envisioning one of these ecstatic home births for myself.  When mine was nothing like that, I struggled for close to two years to feel okay about it.

Lastly, the article did make me think more closely about what exactly I knew about vaginal birth heading into mine.  My midwife is a kind of legend in the area and, with thirty-five years of experience, is one of the most knowledgeable, experienced childbirth practitioners one could ever hope to get.  She spent countless hours giving us information. Of course many of those hours were spent addressing the more immediate fact of pregnancy — discussing symptoms, taking care of your pregnant body, checking on how the babe is doing, and so on.  Many of our hours were also spent weighing the very difficult decision between home and hospital birth. As we got closer to the actual event, we put a birth plan in place.  I learned the mechanics of birth — the what would actually happen to my body as the baby made his way out and earthside, but in retrospect I knew very little about what effects all of this would have on my body.  I knew from friends who had children that at six weeks you have an exam that tells you whether you can return to life as normal.  I had BIG plans for this moment, as, even before baby arrived, I was eager to return to the active lifestyle I was accustomed to.  Did I know how long is too long to push?  I didn’t.  Now, my midwife might even disagree with the ACOG guidelines of no more than three hours of pushing for first time moms, which is fine, and I’d be open to her perspective.  The point is that I simply didn’t have that knowledge going into the birthing experience.

(I’ll stop after this, I promise).  One more thing that this article points to, but doesn’t mention explicitly, is something that I’ve thought about ever since my own experience:  We need to change the expectations around time-to-heal for postpartum women.  While many women are cleared for “life as normal” at the six week mark (I just wrote sex week mark there – ha!), some of them have sustained injuries that go undiagnosed and many others just are not ready for that at all.  I know that given how healthy and fit I was, I just assumed that at six weeks I would have fully bounced back.  I never knew you could be in pain for up to a year, and now hearing some of these other stories, I know the pain could be even longer-lasting.  I do agree with Butler in this sense.  These stories about injury and long-term healing after birth (vaginal or c-section) need to be told more often and with a bigger spotlight.

 

Why We March

Long post. If you don’t have time to read, feel free to skip ahead to the FAQs.

(Also, I chose to use the “we” instead of “I” because, while I don’t pretend to speak for everyone who marched and their own personal reasons for marching, I do think the collectivity of the event is so important and therefore the “we” seemed most appropriate).

So mostly my social media feeds have been like WHOA! yesterday and today. Fierce love, triumph, redemption. Images and sounds of voices rising up. Determination, bravery, resilience. More love.

But I’ve also seen a few comments from folks who are confused about the marches. Questions about what we expect the outcome to be. A lot of “what’s done is done” kind of stuff. He’s our president now, and if we don’t understand this, then we don’t understand democracy. This last one gets me the most. I am here to answer your most pressing questions regarding yesterday’s worldwide women’s marches!

This IS democracy. This is what democracy looks like — live and in action. Democracy is the freedom to speak out against your government. Democracy is system within which all citizens have a voice, and that voice is not limited to the voting booth. It goes far beyond that.

(I’m not a history scholar, nor a political scientist — not even a civics buff, so hang with me here and feel free to correct me where I am wrong…). The bill of rights was created as a means of limiting government control. It was there to ensure that democracy stayed in place and we didn’t end up with a fascist, dictatorship, or otherwise. Take our two most controversial, yet fiercely protected, constitutional amendments: The first amendment is, in part, there to ensure we can take to the streets, or the op-ed pages of newspapers, or to town hall meetings and express our ideas about how the government is or is not serving us. It is also there, in part, to protect the press — to help ensure that the media can keep us well informed as a citizenry. The second amendment, which we hear so much about these days, is there so that we the people can be adequately armed should we ever (God forbid) need to exercise violence to resist oppression and rise up against a government that has gone rogue. I’m not even trying to make an argument for or against these amendments — that’s far too big and complex for what I’m getting at here. I’m just trying to point out that by the definition and tenets of democracy upon which this country was founded — here we are looking at it straight in the face. Democracy isn’t always this shiny, happy thing that we make it out to be when we make statements about wanting to spread it across the globe (this is not to say I’m not a supporter of our democracy). Sometimes it looks like this: messy. Sometimes the messiness also looks beautiful — like it did yesterday.

We the people ARE the checks and balance system of government. This is how democracy works (or should work. We just don’t get to see it working all that often).

So civics lesson on democracy over. Onto why we march.

We march because it matters. It is important to send up the message to our government and to the world that the the ideology just voted into office doesn’t necessarily represent this country. It doesn’t represent all of us. It doesn’t represent me. We march to say loudly that we don’t support bigotry and misogyny. That we don’t hate people who appear different than us. We march to say to Trump and his administration that we are here, we are loud, we are not going away, and that it is his job, in fact, to listen to us and to take into account what we have to say. And what we have to say is that we will not tolerate hate. We will not tolerate bullying. We will not tolerate the objectification of women. We will not stand for xenophobia, Islamaphobia, transphobia, homophobia, racism, sexism, and ableism. We march to exercise our right to use our voices — especially collective voices — to say this outcome is not okay with us and we don’t plan to stand idly by and let our government run amuck. We march to say, together we can do this. We have each other. We care about each other. We march so that our political representatives will listen and do their job in holding Trump accountable.

If Trump is truly a POTUS of/for the people (and yes, I’m sorry/not sorry, but I don’t call him my President, and I’m just not at the point of acceptance), then he will acknowledge that more than four million people worldwide took to the streets yesterday to send him a message. He will spend more time acknowledging this than how many people were or weren’t at his inauguration, and he will go, “Huh, a lot of the people take issue with how I’ve been doing things thus far. They don’t like the words I use. This isn’t good. This is divisive. This is not what a President does. A President works toward unity. I think I need to recalibrate. I think I need to make some changes.” (I’m not naive enough to hold my breath on this one, but in terms of outcomes, that is kind of what we are aiming for).

So, in sum:

FAQs:

Is marching a form of democracy? Yes.

Why do you march? To exercise our right to speak out against xenophobia, Islamaphobia, transphobia, homophobia, racism, sexism, ableism, and general hatred.

What do you expect the outcome to be? For Trump to put on his POTUS pants and listen to what the people are saying.

(Just to clarify this last one a bit. I do realize that there are people who support Trump, and that those people have other concerns — concerns that they felt they voiced in the voting booth. I am aware that they too have a voice, and as long as that voice isn’t expressing hatred, then, of course, Trump needs to address their concerns as well. I, personally, have serious doubts about the potential for this, but let’s see…. Part of the job of the President to listen to the various voices and find ways of building bridges, looking for common ground, seeking ways to bring us closer together not drive us further apart.)