Thursday, January 31, 2013

Welcome Sunshine, Part Two

Part One recap: 41 weeks pregnant, in hospital. Finally, labor starts picking up. While the details are hazy for me, my lovely doula Jill Fransen wrote an account. Thank you, Jill, both for writing the story and for agreeing to let me share parts of it, here.
When I arrived around 4:00, your dad was there, and your mom arrived in a little while with food for Josh. Your contractions were tolerable as you sat in the rocker. That rocker would be your friend for many hours that night. 
After your folks left we got down to the real business of labor. Your contractions were really quite close and strong. It seems that your labor was a series of rhythms. The rocker was very would "OM" through the contraction...going inward and being very focused. Then we decided to walk, stopping every few feet as you bent over holding onto the rail. You were determined to just continue to let your body and baby work together. You got in the shower; we listened to Sting, Stevie and some jazz. 
You labored--your contractions were mounting. You were getting very tired...your energy was being drained, and still your dilation was very slow. Things were getting intolerable: from the birth ball, to the shower, back to the chair, slow dancing with Josh, back rubs, foot rubs, hand all helped, but you were about to hit a wall. What you needed most was rest. Around 10:30 the nurse removed the rest of the Cervidil to give you a break from the piggybacking contractions. Finally around 1:30 in the morning, you got in bed, had a half dose of Demerol, and were able to get some rest. 
Here's what I remember about this part: I remember that the nurse saw me working hard and said something to the effect of, "I don't think you can go on like this much longer." She wanted me to have pain relief, but an epidural was not an option because I wasn't dilated enough (not that I wanted one anyway). I consented to the Demerol because I believed that I was still at the beginning of labor--that it could potentially be another day or two before the baby would be born, and I just didn't see how I could go on for that long. Josh was also exhausted because we'd been up for past several nights with false-alarms.

Josh opened up the couch, I positioned myself by your side, your small hand in mine. We turned off the lights and you got the rest you needed. I have rarely seem Demerol work so perfectly. You were aware of the contraction, only at the moved around, moaned, then were able to fall back into a restful peace. I did not leave your side as I held your hand and talked you through the peak of each contraction.
What I remember is that the contractions at this point were incredibly strong and hard, and that I couldn't "OM" anymore because I was loopy from the drugs. So I was literally moaning in pain at the peak of the contractions. While the narcotic undoubtedly allowed me to rest in bed (I couldn't have laid down otherwise), it actually took away my ability to concentrate and deal with the pain. I was very, very grateful to have Jill's hand to squeeze during that time.
Then, an amazing thing happened. As you roused during a big contraction, you said something popped--"my water broke." While you weren't particularly happy at that point, it sure put a smile on my face. Within a half hour the nurse checked you and you were 6 cm dilated! Josh woke up; the lights went back up a little...we were on baby alert. You went to the bathroom and sat there for a while. I believe that is where transition took place, because you experienced powerful urges to push. By the time you returned to bed, at about 2:30am,  you were 9 cm. dilated. This now was exactly the opposite of the old axiom: Hurry up and wait! This was, rather: Wait and hurry up! Dr. S. had to be called--you were going to have a baby! 
Now you were experiencing real bearing down urges...almost uncontrollable urges. This was when Josh just shone. He had you concentrate on his face, on his finger, guiding you through those extreme urges to push as we waited for the doctor to arrive.
To explain: the nurse was in a bit of a panic, as the doctor was not there. She told Josh to hold his finger in front of my face and instructed me to blow out the candle...instead of pushing. So, essentially I was holding the baby in due to absence of the doctor. Good times!
You were just amazing as you blew on the birthday candle that was Josh's finger. The urge at that time is greater than any other bodily function; watching you two at that moment I knew you were quite a team. I think the nurse thought she would have to deliver this little bundle...the first time we looked we could see about one eighth of her little head peeking out. So we were very grateful when Dr. S. walked in, sleepy and so beautifully pregnant herself.
Because you had done so much work before; because you had done so much breathing down and letting your baby just descend, you only had to push two or three times, and there she all her glory of girl and red hair.
When Bella was placed on my chest I cried, and Josh cried, and I kept saying, "Beautiful! Beautiful!" because she was.

Isabel Renee
January 30, 2003
3:45 AM
8 pounds, 9 ounces

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bella's Birth Story, Part One

In honor of Bella's birthday: her birth story. It only took me ten years...

About a week before my due date I moved back into my parents' house, where I slept in my childhood bedroom. This was because my Ob-Gyn, Dr. S., was my father's partner, and also the same doctor I'd been seeing since I was eighteen. No one wanted me to have to travel to Long Island from the city whilst in labor. It wasn't half bad having my parents watching over me and feeding me, like I was a child again. But there wasn't much to do other than wait, and being away from home really put a big black exclamation mark over that magical and elusive due date.

When that date came, January 22nd, 2003, I started work on my labor project, an idea I took from the inspirational book, Birthing From Within. I made a birthday cake for my little Sunshine, the name we called her throughout my pregnancy, not knowing that she was a she. If only I had actually been in labor... (We stuck the cake in the freezer and brought it to the hospital after Bella was born, where we shared it with the nursing staff. No awards for me in the cake-decorating dept., I know.)

A few days later, I started having daily non-stress tests (a half hour or so strapped to the fetal monitor) at the doctor's office. At each test, Dr. S. said, "The baby sounds great. We can induce you now, you know." 

Josh and I took a lot of walks, as I was determined to move the baby down and get labor going. It was freezing out, one of those bitter winter weeks, so we found a place to walk inside: up and down every aisle of Target and Best Buy and Home Depot. I thought maybe Sunshine was staying put because it was simply too cold out for babies (or because she was afraid of big box stores).

On day five or six, the doctor's message changed slightly: "Soon it will be time to get that baby out." She stripped my membranes (ow!) and said, "You're really not dilated at all. Maybe a one." What I heard was: Nothing's happening. Your body is not doing what it needs to. That baby is never coming out without our help. 

On day seven, at the prospect of Josh having to leave to go back to work in the city, I gave up. I didn't want to be induced. I knew that inductions with first babies have a higher rate of resulting in Caesarean births. But I was beyond ready to be done with the waiting and to meet my baby. 

When I arrived in the hospital (straight from the doctor's office) for my induction on January 29th, I was already having patterned contractions, which had been happening on and off for days. I hadn't slept well the past two nights, and I was already tired. The doctor inserted a Cervidil suppository, and I had to stay in bed with a large uncomfortable plastic belt around my middle. (Whoosh, whoosh, thump, thump..the sound of that monitor never ending; Josh staring at the printouts because there was little else to do.) "In the morning, we'll start you on pitocin," Dr. S. said. Then, pregnant herself, she went home to sleep.

When the contractions soon became strong, I was very thankful to have my wonderful doula, Jill Fransen, at my side. She encouraged me to ask for permission to walk around, and reminded me to practice techniques to get through each contraction. I had prepared for this. I believed then, as I do now, in the mind-body connection that allows a woman to give birth. I tried to gain strength from my (hokey) piece of birth art (another Birthing From Within inspiration), and reminded myself what I had to do.

I don't have a good sense of the timing or details of what happened next, but lucky for me, Jill wrote a detailed description of the birth. 

Tomorrow: Part Two, Jill's account of Bella's birth.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Instead of a Party, Alone Time

Being the mother of three children means than at any given moment, three personalities are vying for my attention. Everyone needs something, and right now. If I don't respond, because I'm changing a diaper or washing dishes or (chas v'chalila) reading an article or an email, and didn't hear the request ("Mom!! Why isn't this computer program/ pen/ zipper/ etc working!?"), I have disappointed a child. The disappointment is daily and ongoing. It is part, I suppose, of growing up with siblings. Or maybe just part of growing up. 

As an alternative to a birthday party, Josh and I wanted to honor our new ten-year-old with something meaningful and memorable. So we gave her something rare and valued: her mother's undivided attention. This past weekend Bella and I escaped, just the two of us, for a day and night to a beautiful hotel in the mountains above New Paltz, NY. We ice skated, swam in the indoor pool, dressed up for dinner, and played pinball and foosball in the game room. I felt like a kid, and Bella felt like a grown-up. 

Bella was genuinely grateful for the trip, thanking me more than once. She also expressed some reservations about her dad not being there. We agreed she would find another time to do something special with Daddy. Besides, I reassured her, it's okay for us to celebrate this day together, because I was instrumental on the day of her birth. 

Since the day I became a mother, I've thought that mothers are as deserving of congratulations on their children's birthdays, as the children are themselves. 

We had a lot of time to talk. Over a grown-up dinner of seared bass, I shared details she didn't know about her birth. (More about that day to come in a future post: it was unforgettable.) Watching her listen, wide-eyed, I had this feeling that I was glimpsing the woman that she will be one day: a thoughtful person with integrity and poise, and generous with her smile. Knowing how fast these past ten years have gone, it won't be long until I'll be sitting at a future dinner with that very woman. 

Over dessert of ice cream sundaes-with-a-cherry-on-top, I saw the sweet and delighted ten-year-old girl she is now. No rush, I reminded myself. No rush. 

End of a long day. Tired!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Stuck in the Kids' Service

Getting my family to shul can be a challenge. Louisa usually needs a nap by 11am, which means she's cranky soon after we arrive. On top of that, everyone is tired from running around all week, and the motivation levels for dressing up and getting out of the house are resoundingly low.

This morning I was determined. It was Shabbat Shirah, and I didn't want to miss our terrific chazanit and choir. Louisa wasn't on board with my early nap attempt, so I packed her in the stroller and figured she'd pull through and nap after. (An oft quoted piece of wisdom from my mother, Savta Barbara, is: "You can't make a baby sleep or eat.")

Of course, seven blocks later, she was asleep.

So I made it to shul, only to find myself sitting in the social hall beside my sleeping girl, unable to go to the service because it's upstairs (there's a chairlift for the disabled, but no elevator). Several kind folks offered me a hand carrying up the stroller, but I figured the jostling would only wake her. Better to be patient and let her sleep, at least for a while. She'd be the happier for it.

One of the biggest transformations of parenthood is a spiritual one. Yes, your daily life may be infused with moments of spirituality--you've witnessed the miracle of birth, your baby's first smiles and words, and other accumulating wonders. But time to join in with a regular Shabbat service? For some of us, it's hard.

With the help of some loud kids and me rubbing her fingers, Louisa woke up after a half hour. She was surprised, but in a good mood. Some friends with small children arrived and went straight towards the back stairs--to the kids' service. I grabbed a plastic dog and a board book and went the other way, to the grown-ups' service.

On my way up the stairs, a concerned congregant warned me that the sermon was about to begin: not a good time to take her in.

And I thought, Why, then, am I here?  

I went in the sanctuary anyway. I've always bristled at the idea that kids shouldn't be welcome in shul. We are supposed to be fruitful and multiply. It's a mitzvah! And then we're stuck in the kids' service for years to come? Do parents not have brains that need feeding, and souls that need tending?

Louisa played quietly with her toys through the sermon and most of Musaf. If the people around us were distracted by her, it was because of her extreme cuteness, not any noise that she was making.

Eventually, she needed to move around so I took her to the Tot Shabbat playroom, full of kids and parents who take the back stairs. No doubt, for many just having a place to come with their little ones on Shabbat morning is a blessing. Community can bring its own spirituality. Louisa enjoyed the snacks and toys, and I enjoyed catching up with friends.

The kids' service is just fine, as long as I'm not stuck there.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The school run in NYC

If you've been wondering how the school bus strike is affecting us, well, it means more time on the subway for B & R, which they don't mind. Thanks to a "subway pool" with a neighborhood family, their parents don't mind either. In fact, we've been getting up 15 minutes later than normal, since the subway is faster than the bus. It is a bit concerning that the subject of the strike seems to have faded into the background. Will our bus ever come back? Who knows?! 

No minivan needed.

No time for a long post today...Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Different Child, Different Parent

It's freezing here in the Big Apple and this morning I felt bad for little Louisa, toddling around in the apartment for the third day in a row. So I did something truly out of the ordinary. I took Louisa on an outing that was completely for her: a crosstown journey to an indoor playground at Chelsea Piers.

On arrival, I picked up right away on what the caregivers are meant to do: sit on the side of the room and stare at our phones. I so wanted to join the nannies, but the trouble is, Louisa isn't very good at climbing or sliding or crawling through tunnels. This poor third child has not had much playground experience at all. I had to show her again and again how to climb up the ladder and then slide down the slide (as opposed to the opposite), much to the impatience of the bewildered two-year-olds who had to wait. I had to rescue her from the suction of the ball pit, and I had to lift her onto the mini trampoline and hold her hands to simulate jumping.

When Bella was born, I befriended other new mothers at a childbirth education class, a new parents' group at the Y, and at shul. We would spend hours--whole days, even--in the playground. Ruby, who was born 20.5 months after Bella, could climb to the top of the tallest play structure soon after she could walk (which was, frightfully, at 11 months old).

So what happened? Why is Louisa getting the short end of the stick?

Well, maybe the stick is just a different shape. Louisa came into our lives when we already had a busy family life that revolved around her big sisters' schedules. Louisa found a place in established routines, but she didn't completely rewrite them. (And, to be quite honest, I don't want to spend hours in the playground anymore, and that's ok.)

I've heard it said that each child in a family gets different parents. Indeed. We are different, because of the experiences we've had, the time we've lived, and the effect that each child has on the family structure and on ourselves. I didn't just become a parent when I had Bella--I kept becoming one when Ruby joined us, and I still am. Every child teaches us something new.

When Louisa starts therapy one day to talk about her early playground-skills deficiency, she can invite Ruby to join her. I realized that I hadn't mentioned my "middlest" child (so Ruby declared herself, after Louisa was born), until this post. Classic: lots about the first kid, cute pictures of the baby, and nada about the one in the middle. As a middle child myself, I should know better. Here's a photo of darling Ruby, of big personality, distinctive tastes, and infectious energy.

Louisa is lucky to have two big sisters to show her the way. Spring will come (eventually), and she'll get better at climbing and sliding. And Bella and Ruby will be there to help.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Busy, Busy, Busy

"How have you been?" someone asks me at shul, or at swim practice, or standing on a street corner. Too often, I'm flustered or sighing, pushing a loaded-down stroller.

"Busy!" I say, singing the modern parent's refrain.

And it's the truth. We are busy. Try to make a date to see a friend in New York City, or a playdate for the kids, and we finding ourselves scrolling through our calendars into next month or beyond. I often feel like our family life is a scheduling puzzle--five people, who (sometimes) need to be doing five different things in different places. Each day, when we all return home, I am thankful, and exhausted. If only we weren't all so busy.

One of my favorite surprises is the spontaneous social gathering. The quick call or text--do you want to come over or meet up?--and the unexpected, "YES."

Not to knock schedules. There are real benefits to having a routine--both for kids and adults.

Most parents know that kids sleep better with a regular routine of naps and bedtimes. If Louisa (22 months) misses her nap, she gets cranky, and she's likely to sleep worse in the night (the whole sleep-begets-sleep thing is certainly true for toddlers, in my experience). Similarly, if she goes to bed late, she almost never sleeps in. The lost sleep is just lost.

Louisa's naps have an added benefit of creating a routine for me. Take right now. I'm able to write this piece because Louisa is napping. As soon as she went to sleep, I felt obligated to sit at my computer and write. It was tempting to catch up on other people's blogs, to clean the kitchen, to return phone calls. But I had to stick to the schedule, because time is a-ticking and in two hours or less, Louisa will be awake and my writing time is up.

Yet another prayer analogy: Jews pray at specified times of day. If you miss the time for Shacharit in the morning, you move on to the Mincha service in the afternoon. There are no make-ups when it comes to naps, prayers, or lost opportunities to write.

Self-help tidbit of the day: If there's something that you wish you were doing more of but aren't finding the time--practicing an instrument, going to the gym, reading books, or spending time with your kids--put it into your daily or weekly schedule. If you assign a confined time to getting something done, you will be more likely to do that thing, to the exclusion of other tasks competing for your time.

On the other hand, forget everything I just said. Do something spontaneous right now. And please invite me!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Lessons in Activism

"But why would someone want to kill kids?"

The twenty million dollar question. When Bella asked me this soon after the Newtown tragedy, I had trouble answering. Wide access to semiautomatic weapons, cultural celebration of guns, poor treatment for severe mental illness; none of these multisyllabic words mean much to kids.

And yet, just as this particular tragedy resonated so widely with adults around the country and world, it resonated strongly with children. They were sad and angry that kids like them were killed. My daughters have had lockdown drills in their school. After Newtown, they understand why. And it scares the hell out of them.

A few days after the tragedy, Bella was home sick. We were talking, and she wanted to do something. We both agreed that kids' voices should be heard. So Bella wrote down her feelings and started a petition, A Kid's Petition Against Gun Violence. It has been a powerful experience for her to see signatures from people from all over the world--people she doesn't even know! She has been turned on to the nuances of the gun control issue, and was excited to hear that Obama is taking action--that he is listening to people like her.

There's no better way to learn than by doing. This is a very Jewish idea. We do first, and understand later. This is why it's ok to pray in Hebrew even if you don't understand all the words. Once the practice is established, time will lend answers.

Today, we attended a rally at City Hall with One Million Moms for Gun Control. Bella had so many questions. What is a rally? Who will be there? Will the President know? By taking her, she was able to discover her own answers.

What a perfect way to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. on his birthday.

Bella being interviewed about her petition by a Japanese media crew.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Crazy Lady in the Rocking Chair

I'm still thinking about Ina May Gaskin! Her 1977 book, Spiritual Midwifery, encouraged countless women to consider birth a spiritual experience, rather than a medical one.


Of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.

Birth is certainly physical, but it is not only physical. It is spiritual, too: the mind and body must be in alignment. Having grown up in a Jewish home, my spirituality is grounded in Hebrew liturgy and prayer. When I was in labor, I spent a lot of time rocking in a rocking chair. The movement kept me centered, much like shuckling helps some Jews maintain kavanah, or intention, in prayer. But despite my knowledge of Hebrew prayers, I did not find myself saying them while in labor.

During my pregnancies, I practiced yoga. Yoga is a physical practice that has the added benefit, for many people, of calming the mind. It's perfect for labor, because it brings body and mind together. I took to heart the idea that vocalizing during labor could help the process move along. During every contraction of my labor with Bella, I took a deep breath and released a long "om", repeating until the contraction ended. You can imagine how that made me look: I was already the crazy lady with the doula in a small suburban hospital. Now I was om'ing, over and over, as I rocked in my chair. I was not acting like a normal person! But what I was doing was not only normal, but necessary. I was in a heightened and altered state of consciousness, using effective tools to calm my mind and body during a challenging and unique experience.

Women who have positive births find a spiritual place that gets them through. The means are infinite: reciting psalms, chanting in Sanskrit, visualizing an opening flower, breathing rhythmically, or in the case of a woman interviewed in Birth Story, "making out" with her husband.

Spirituality is very personal. What affects my spirit and soul will not necessarily affect yours. If you had a spiritual experience in labor, I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Your Body Is Not a Lemon

Last night I attended a screening of the new documentary, Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin & The Farm Midwives

What a rush! 

The film tells the story of how Gaskin became the most trusted and influential midwife in the world. It is both endearing and inspiring to see how a group of hippies bucked the medical establishment in favor of a kinder, gentler, more humane, and yes, more natural, view of birth.

See the movie if you can, just to hear Gaskin discuss her theory of sphincter law. You will laugh, because it's funny, and you might cry, because it's serious. The cervix is a sphincter, and as Gaskin puts it, "sphincters are shy". This is why, she adds, even toddlers head into corners when they're filling their diapers. Privacy is key. The worst thing you can do to a mother in labor is frighten her, or make her feel exposed. I've had two births in hospitals, and one in a birthing center. One day I'll go over all the differences. For now, let's just say the hospitals earned a big FAIL in the don't scare and respect privacy departments. 

A question posed by Gaskin in the film is: What if the first thing that medical professionals caring for women in labor had to learn was: BE NICE? A profound idea, in its simplicity, and its ability to affect change. The way people act around a laboring woman matters, a lot. 

After the film, Gaskin spoke to an appreciative audience full of mothers and birth professionals. She is everything I imagined her to be from her books: a woman of presence, with a strong, distinctive voice and seemingly infinite energy to help women and effect change. 

Preaching to the choir is one thing, but finding a way to get her message out to society at large is another. "Your body is not a lemon," Gaskin says. Make it a mantra. Say it again and again, to your friends, and your sisters, and your daughters, until they start to believe. 

I came home last night and told my lovely young babysitter to go see Birth Story. Doing what I can to spread the word.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

If A Tree Falls...

If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?
Does a text without a reader, or a story without a listener, have meaning?

I am a writer of stories, and a reader. I've never thought of myself as an oral storyteller per se, but aren't we all? Isn't this what we do at the office water cooler, at school pickup, at the kiddush table at shul, over dinner? Through telling stories, we process the events of our lives. What we may not realize is that even while we are on the receiving end, listening to stories, we are making meaning.

Reader theory posits that the meaning of a text is created by the reader. (Full disclosure: I was once a lit grad student.) Since each reader brings different backgrounds, presuppositions, and attitudes to a text, the meaning of the text depends on the reader. Some would even say there is no meaning without the reader.

If I lost you with my theorizing, come back!

My point here is actually simple: stories are powerful--the stories that we hear and read influence our take on the world. At the same time, we take away from stories the things that we need or want because we all have our own baggage. Listening and reading are ways of making meaning, as much as speaking or writing or telling.

In a previous post, I wrote about the power of a good birth story. Stories like my friend's influenced me to want to have a good experience of birth. This may not sound controversial, but in my world it was. Health care providers and family members were critical and dismissive of my desire to have a good birth, as opposed to a birth with a good outcome (which equalled a healthy baby and nothing more).

Few people's lives have demonstrated the power of positive storytelling like Ina May Gaskin's. This pioneering midwife's books, like Spiritual Midwifery and  Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, have influenced countless women to believe in, and seek out, peaceful, normal birth. Very excited to hear her speak this evening, after a screening of the new documentary, Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin & the Farm Midwives. More about this, to come.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

So What's Jewish About This?

Well, for starters, me.

The web address of this blog sounds suspiciously like it's about conversion. I happen to know several people who became Jewish at roughly the same time that they became parents. But that's not my experience, and it's not my particular aim here. The becoming that I'm concerned with is becoming a parent. When we become parents, there is a conversion that happens--a fundamental change--whether we are ready or not, and whether we welcome it or not. We become new versions of ourselves, with new values and goals that center around our relationship to the new person that we have brought into this world.

For me, becoming a parent spurred a desire to connect to Jewish life.

I'm guessing I'm not the only one who found myself pregnant for the first time, and suddenly feeling the want of a shul, a rabbi, a community. Granted, Josh and I were young by urban standards when we got married and had our first baby. Back in our mid-twenties, Jewish communal life was not a big part of our day to day. But when a baby came into the picture, I found myself reading The New Jewish Baby Book by Anita Diamant, and searching the internet for Hebrew baby names. We joined a synagogue, and met other couples on the verge of becoming parents, many still close friends.

We planned and held a home-made Simchat Bat ceremony to welcome Bella and give her her Hebrew name, and in doing so we affirmed the importance of Judaism in our family. At the time, we hadn't been called upon to connect directly with our Jewish identity in such an active way since our wedding.

We don't raise our children alone, and while I'm a member of many communities (writers, New Yorkers, (once) expats, coffee-drinkers, birth-believers, to name a few), the one that continues to embrace our whole family is the Jewish community.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Birth Story Cipher

The first birth that I ever witnessed was the birth of my first child. When I went into labor with Bella, I had never, in person, seen a woman labor or give birth. No wonder my fascination, during that pregnancy, with the television show "A Birth Story" on TLC. I wanted to know what birth was like, and not in euphemistic terms. My mother advised me to stop watching the show--it would make me worry, she said. (Given the number of women on that show laboring on their backs whilst attached to machines in the hospital, she was right.) 

Secrecy surrounds birth, as most women never attend another woman's birth, and the sagas that women experience bringing their babies into the world are not often given a platform for discussion. It's common for women to summarize their births in a few words: "It was the hardest thing I ever did, but all worth it now that she's here." The nitty gritty details are lost. 

There's no debating that it's worth it. Birth is a moment of intense power and energy unlike any other human experience. 

In the absence of actual birth stories, there are rumors and mysteries and holes.  As a child, I supposed that birth was painful and dangerous. My biblical namesake, Rachel, died giving birth.  Bill Cosby did a lot of breathing and shouting and quoted Carol Burnett:"Giving birth is like taking your lower lip and forcing it over your head." 

When I was twenty-five, Josh and I went to northern California. We visited friends of his from college, a friendly couple living in the woods outside of Boulder Creek, who had recently had their first child. While nursing her round-cheeked son on a comfortable sofa, this new mother shared with me her amazing birth story. She had given birth in her bed at home with a midwife. She told me that animals in the wild are afraid to give birth if they don't feel safe and have privacy. Think about it, she said. Do you ever find that you hold in a bowel movement until you get home from a day of errands? Everything simply relaxes when you're at home. She showed me pictures: holding her newborn hours after the birth outside in the sunny backyard, surrounded by her close friends. It was like no story I had ever heard, and thinking back now, it's remarkable that she shared it with me, given that we were not close friends, and I was not remotely yet thinking about having children. It was precisely because she'd had a powerful experience that she wanted to share it. She wanted me to experience what she had. Think about it, she said.

I still am.

Monday, January 14, 2013

No Turning Back

This past Saturday evening, I was mistaken for a single person. It was at an evening social event at my synagogue, and I had already dropped off my daughter Bella in the room with the kids' activities (the younger two girls were at home with Josh). I walked up to a group of people whom I didn't know--two men and a woman, all in their twenties--and introduced myself. After all, this was a social event. (Kudos to Town and Village Synagogue for organizing an event-- a whiskey tasting--that attracted people of all ages.)

The woman, tall and with shiny long hair, greeted me with, "It's great to see another young adult here!" 

I'm 37, but that's not the main reason why I had to object. "I'm afraid I'm not a young adult," I said. "I have three kids." The woman and her companions registered the mistake, perhaps taking in the grey hairs sprouting wildly at my part. "But at least none of them are clinging to my leg at the moment," I added, smiling. Bewildered smiles in return. Time for a whiskey.

Given that on most days I have some combination of my three daughters in tow as I traipse around the city, I don't believe I am mis-categorized often. I am firmly in the mom category. Last week in a doctor's office with two of my kids, the receptionist repeatedly (to my extreme irritation) called me "ma'am".  I'm completing my first decade as a parent this month, as Bella will turn ten. (I had put an exclamation point at the end of that sentence, but then I thought better and removed it. After all, what's shocking to me is, in fact, commonplace. Kids grow up. Haven't you seen Facebook lately? No need to blog about it...) 

What am I doing here, then? I'm interested in exploring the hows and whys and whats of people turning into parents. There's no one moment when that happens. I remember when I was laboring with Bella, and the contractions were becoming more painful and intense. I was half-way up Mt. Everest, and there was no turning back. I knew that I was in for something terrible and awe-inspring and new, and it would take everything I had to get through it, and then some. 

The day I became a parent, 10 years ago.

This blog will be a place to reflect on what it means to become a parent. The high and lows of pregnancy, the messiness and ecstasy of birth, and the chaos of new parenthood encompass a magical, fleeting time. If you're living that right now, expecting a child, wondering what's coming, welcome to the foothills of the mountain. I'm fascinated by that part of the journey, and will have much to say about it here. As for the journey beyond, there will be words about that, too, as I'm still living it.