Sunday, July 29, 2012


What is it about having something else to do that makes me want to write so badly? Do I always have to have a pressing project deadline in order to get here? What a crazy formula.

And it's not that I hate the project, I don't. Well, I don't love it right now either...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

birth power round 2

It amuses me to think of my small cadre of blog readers seeing the "birth" title. I like to picture which of you are going to be interested and which of you will roll your eyes and yawn!

BIRTH blog entry, incoming!

My second child. I carried her during a time when my marriage became permanently damaged. We were living in New York, I was 22 years old. My beloved little boy had just morphed into a textbook toddler monster and suddenly, I didn't know if I was going to have to have this second baby alone. The cold, stark reality was that I had virtually no work experience, no degree and I was about to be a mother of two. My assumptions about marriage supporting me were crumbling. My inner feminist voice was furious at me. Deafeningly furious.

A mentor gently suggested that I might want to consider terminating. I appreciated her concern and felt grateful for that option, should I have needed it. But more than anything else, I knew I wanted this baby. More than my marriage, more than an easier life. And I also knew this was going to be my last child.

Once my husband agreed to stay with me through the pregnancy and delivery, I signed up for Queens College for the semester after she was born. Words cannot describe how vulnerable and foolish I felt. How could I have woken up in my mother's life?

That said, I was young and healthy. Three times a week I went into Manhattan for expectant mother's aerobics. There was something empowering about acknowledging disappointment with the way things had turned out but knowing I had only myself to rely on to change all that. And it kicked in. That something. I knew I would be able to handle whatever was ahead. Amazing.

In neither pregnancy did I know the gender of my unborn child. Amnios were not routine and I wouldn't have wanted to know anyway. I LOVE waiting until Christmas morning to open my gifts. I tried to guess but was wrong both times–so much for maternal instincts.

There was a midwifery clinic attached to a hospital on Manhattan's Upper West Side. St Luke's Roosevelt Hospital had a great set up and I was thrilled to have found them. On the afternoon of October 20th, 1981 I woke up from a nap as my water broke.

Important note here: both of my beloved offspring had the good manners to begin their respective uteran exits after I'd had a good night's sleep or afternoon's nap. That's how I knew we were going to get along.

Now back to the story. Water breaking, nap over. My son was being babysat by the super's wife, Graciela. A lovely Colombian woman with six of her own. She loved children and took care of my boy a couple of afternoons a week. So I could catch up on housework nap.

I called my husband and told him to meet me at the hospital. To his, normally unsentimental, credit, he rushed home instead. I called Graciela and asked her to watch my son a little longer that day. Dave and I had no car, so we'd arranged with Louis, Graciela's husband and the building super, to drive me to the hospital. I called the clinic and told them where my labor was at and they told me it was probably too early to come in. I knew better. My short first labor and the fact that this baby was 11 days early was reason enough for me to get going.

We piled into Louis' old station wagon–me in the back on my pile of towels (water breaking is a misnomer, it's more like water leakage) and Dave up front with Louis. After six kids you would have thought the man would be used to this but he.was.a.wreck. Chain smoking and shaky, his passable English deteriorated and Dave's more than adequate Spanish did the same. I had never spoken such fluent Spanish before.

Louis' stationwagon had no shocks. None. Every bump in the road brought on a new contraction. We were in 5:30pm rush hour traffic trying to go crosstown. It took an hour-an-a-half to get from Queens to St Luke's.

And something unexpected happened. I had done the Lamaze classes for my son's birth but didn't feel the need to repeat them for this second labor. I sat in the backseat of that old car, giving directions and focusing on letting my uterus do the work and relaxing the rest of my body. It was transcendental. I am not bullshitting here. I had never practiced meditation or biofeedback but for whatever reason, the pain did not panic me the way it did the first time. I was so incredibly calm. I don't tend to tell this story because most women have such difficult experiences and my bliss just doesn't resonate with them. Still, I cannot express what an amazing 2-1/2 hours it was. Oh, yeah, and that. The entire labor from first pang to birth was 2-1/2 hours. 1-1/2 of those spent in traffic.

When we arrived at the hospital, I walked in and they took one look at me and said "maternity, 3rd floor." Dave ran to the elevator and I'm standing there (in what turns out to be late labor) and said, "Um, I could use a wheelchair about now." Wheelchair procured and rode up the elevator. They set me up in a birthing room and left me, thinking I'd be at least another hour or two. At this point, I am focused but edgy: I tell Dave, "don't talk to me, don't touch me...just sit there." Within 5 minutes Dave takes a peek around the corner and sees the baby's head crowning. He steps into the hallway and stammers that the midwife might want to get in there.

The midwife is surprised to see that I'm ready to start pushing. In the first delivery, pushing was the most blessed relief on the planet. This time, it hurt and I informed her that I didn't want to do that again. She calmly advised me that was not an option. I closed my eyes and focused so intently that she had to call my name loudly to get me to ease up. My second baby was born 35 minutes after I arrived at the hospital, 20 minutes of which was spent pushing. When the baby came out, I asked what it was and she placed the child on my stomach and said, why don't you look for yourself? Infant genitalia is quite swollen and I was almost sure but not completely. I said, "it looks like a girl" which she replied "yes, it is" and then handed Dave the surgical scissors to cut the umbilical cord. Man did he turn green.

She weighed 6lbs, 9oz and was perfect. She nursed right away and we spent an hour or so together before they took her to the nursery to put the silver nitrate ointment in her eyes (mandated at the time to prevent the spread of gonorrhea from mother to infant) and make little footprints and such. I had just spent 2-1/2 hours of what my body probably thought would be an 8-hour workout. I had so much adrenalin running through me I was up and walking the halls with my IV pole. After she'd been gone an hour, I asked the nurse to bring her back. She was annoyed and said, they hadn't had a chance to clean her up yet. To which I replied in my best Dorothy Parker, "Well, how did she get dirty?"

Taking her home, I had the age-old experience of falling in love with your second child...when you thought you'd never have enough room in your heart after loving your first.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

my god, i love this man

This, friends, is my happy place. Almost thirty years after hearing this song for the first time, it still makes me ache and feel glad to be alive. My god, I love this man.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


A fb friend linked to an 2006 NYT article about Roger Federer by David Foster Wallace. I'm not particularly interested in tennis and know very little about Roger Federer. I read it because the late DFW was exponentially brilliant and I couldn't resist, even though I knew I'd end up depressed afterwards because he's gone. He had me enraptured with the description of a single tennis shot. Reminds me why I plod on here in blogland. Just for a whiff of that.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

birth power round 1

Land of Rampant Reproduction
When I lived in Utah, the land of rampant reproduction, I got tired of telling and hearing birthing stories with my female friends. It seemed a substitute for substance. Talking about a book or piece of art or science was like a lust or hunger I couldn't satisfy with anyone locally.

The birthing experience was monumental for me, as it for many women. I mark significant changes in my life from those two one-day events. Rejecting the urge to tell the story because those overly-domesticated young women irritated me is just stupid. It's a story worth telling.

The first significant change was the loss of modesty. I don't mean I ran laboring down the hospital hallway naked. (I was in labor, forchristsake, who could run?)

Here's the story: Married for a whole year, I was feeling pressure to procreate in the Mormon-saturated city of Provo, so we stopped using the frowned-upon birth control. I come from a fecund line of women, so it took less than three months: I was pregnant by 19. I had always wanted children–pious pressure or not–so I was very happy to have conceived.

I was also over 2,200 miles away from family, specifically from my mother. All the prodding and poking that goes on with pregnancy checkups began to chip away at my temple-garment-clad modesty. I had no one there to whine to, which was good, though I missed having anyone to share the joys and indignities of obstetrics. In spite of the normal nausea, it was a great pregnancy. I was one of those obnoxious women who "glowed."

I repeat, it was 1979.
I woke up at 7am on Sunday, February 25th, 1979. As I lay in my waterbed (see 1979 reference) I felt leakage which I was sure was the next stage of pregnancy humiliation: incontinence. Great. My baby had been due three days earlier and I was impatient; the week before I'd shoveled snow and did some light jogging. I got up to pee before I, ironically, flooded the bed and realized that the cervical plug (colloquially: bloody show) had come out. I called my mother on Long Island and told her she was going to become a grandmother that day. I showered, then sat down to a big pancake breakfast, against prevailing medical advice. I was about to do some damned hard work and I thought having some nutrients in me would help. I was right. And I was pretty sure I wouldn't throw up but that wasn't going to be my cleanup problem.

You don't know what to expect, right? I believed I had a high pain tolerance but who knew how much pain I could bear? Still, I was determined to do this naturally. The hospital had a new birthing room. So new that they hadn't established policies and procedures. That becomes significant later. My doctor was an old codger but he'd gone along with my natural childbirth notions, in spite of his skepticism. I was laboring in the birthing room and, yes, I was scared. There was no way for me to have known that what was coming was a relatively short first labor (7-1/2 hours), but most of it hard. I was doing my Lamaze concentrating and breathing but every once in a while, I thrashed from the pain. Dave was completely out of his element, just trying to stay in the room...which was part of the deal: you get to enjoy conception, you get to be there for delivery. End of discussion.

Not knowing I was in transition (almost completely dilated), the birthing room nurse suggested a shot of Demerol and I said yes in a haze of pain. (It hit me after the whole thing was over, sitting on side of the bed, famished, with a chocolate chip cookie in my hand.) Then she checked and said the baby's heart rate was elevated and that I'd need to go to a regular delivery room. They put me in a wheelchair.

Let me repeat that.

They folded up my late-labor, contraction-occupied body and sat me in a wheelchair. 

Holy shit. Policy and procedures would remedy this in the future.

They wheeled me down to labor and delivery and into a standard bed when a more experienced nurse said, "This is normal head compression–do you want to deliver here or go back to the birthing room?" "Birthing room," I managed to say and here's where modesty and I part ways–pretty much forever. As I'm being wheeled on a gurney from one end of the ward to another, there is only a sheet between my splayed legs and the busy hallway. A sheet and my urge to push. So there I am, moving down the hall and I could give a shit less if there was no sheet. I'm getting this baby out of me, propriety be damned.

Back in the birthing room, the now irritated nurse had just finished changing those sheets. Well, that was a waste, wasn't it? Another nurse tells me that I need to stop pushing because the doctor wasn't there yet. Well, you'd better get your catcher's mitt on honey, I thought, because I have no more control over this than I do the tide. The doctor showed up in the nick of time ready to do the episiotomy (an incision in the perineum and vagina to allow for an easier birth and ostensibly less tearing). I reminded him that I wanted to try and do this without the episiotomy because it would mean one less thing to heal up from post-partum. He skeptically agreed to coach me through the pushing and he did. The greatest relief I had ever known was pushing that baby's head out of me (I had nothing but the smallest tear that healed up in less than a week, as a bonus).

I come from a family of all girls. My father's clear and obvious wish was for a son. Somehow I knew I would surely have a daughter. When the baby was born and the doctor said it was a boy, I was surprised and delighted. My parents were over the moon. Recognizing their patriarchal bullshit preference did not reduce my joy one iota. I had a perfect 6-1/2 lb baby boy. My cup overflowed. Figuratively. The real overflow would come in three days when the Niagra Falls of milk came in.

I was allowed to leave the hospital at 10 pm that night. I'd been there for 10 or 11 hours. This is where the policies or procedures would also change. I was happy to go home and especially happy for the incredibly thrifty hospital bill but it would be ages before I got a full night's sleep, I could have used one that night.

In the middle of that first night I tiptoed over to my sleeping newborn. I remember that he was tiny, blue terrycloth-clad and lit by moonlight. I was awed and somewhat mystified by his being. I gently poked him to make sure he was real. I wondered if all mothers looked at their newborn in this surreal light. I had that clichéd but true feeling: How could I ever have another child? My heart would burst from doubling this amount of love.

compatible contradiction

There are no gradients without the gray.
I used blame fanatic Christianity for my fascination with black and white viewpoints but I suspect much of this is connected to my personality as well.

The first 21 years of my life were awash in Righteousness vs. Sinfulness. Everything needed to drop neatly into one of those ballot boxes. The more I learned, the more I needed a place for all the (beautiful) shades of Pantone Gray in between.

The next couple of decades were about learning to gather up the opposites and, if not embrace them, then, live harmoniously with them. For example, learning to equate goodness without Christianity's (or any other belief system's) dictates; learning to accept unanswerable questions (like death) without living in constant anxiety. Maybe it was learning to live happily without the Great and Powerful Wizard of OZ to provide all the answers. I drank, smoked a little weed and discovered whole new facets of my sexuality. All this alongside my very normal-looking life as mother, homeowner, spouse and student. It sounds so easy. So common sensible, doesn't it? But I had to uproot a powerful structure and rebuild it. It was like breaking down one of the rat maze walls and finding freedom. Exhilarating and scary. I questioned everything I'd been taught–gathered up the stuff I wanted to keep and threw the rest away. Even my notions of monogamy.

Ah, something I rarely talk about on this odd little public diary.

Goddammit, wish I'd have thought of this.
It was not initially my idea. After 3 years of marriage and talking about alternative ideas of love and sex, my husband asked me for an open marriage. I was 21 and, at first, it broke my heart. I was pretty sure that this was another way of saying, I want to fuck around but still want to come home to wifey. Well, that may have been true. But I was and am a woman who cannot tolerate theory and action to be too far apart. Intellectually, I agreed. I had married as chaste as anyone I knew. My experience was limited and perhaps there were other issues that I would do well to explore. So I agreed.

I will not share the gory details (your disappointment is palpable...if you know me, you know you can ask me anything in real life) but the whole thing was an exercise in the unexpected. For the most part, I had a field day and he did not. Never expected so many offers. Never expected to enjoy such decadence. It was not, predictably, good for the marriage. But I argue, and strenuously, that the damage done was more about the crumbling foundation than the non-monogamy, which just hastened the inevitable.

So. The experiment with polyamory was not an orgy of evil. It was messy. And fun. And a bit dangerous. And I liked it. It was also pretty clear that living that life for extended periods was exhausting; and had the same potential as any relationship for devolving into the mundane. At the same time, it offered a solution to an age-old problem. When I began my second marriage–a marriage with a strong foundation and a lot more trust–I made it clear that I had seen too many great marriages collapse under monogamy's unnatural tyranny. After 5-10-15 years of connubial contentment, the urge/attraction for someone else was normal. And shouldn't mean you have to lose everything. She agreed. In theory. And then, it turned out, in practice.

This makes folks very uncomfortable. I understand. It's scary and unpredictable. Of course, it was hard at times. Just because you're not cheating (all the cards are on the table) doesn't mean that jealousy and insecurity can't run riot. We talked, we modified, we dabbled. We had tremendous fun and it brought us closer. After the 3-Month Glaze of Stupid passes in each new relationship, you see how great your primary relationship really is.

Can you really be in love with your partner and deeply attracted to someone else without losing that love? Yes, you can. Is acting on it recommended? Most of the time, is as exhausting as it is exhilarating. Regrets? Very few. Moral qualms? None. Is monogamy natural? I don't think so. Is it practical? Yes, it is.

How is that for embracing the contradictions?

Sunday, July 01, 2012

touché, productivity nazi

"It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: 'Busy!' 'So busy.' 'Crazy busy.' It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint."
My wise and well-missed friend, Rich, posted this New York Times article The ‘Busy’ Trap by Tim Kreider to the ubiquitous facebook. Like he was reading my mind (or my blog).
"Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets."
Self imposed and unexamined busyness. The Importance of What I Do. The Meaning Endless Meetings provide.
"The Puritans turned work into a virtue, evidently forgetting that God invented it as a punishment." 
This busyness I've recently become immersed in is a mindset that is fundamentally false, a "boast disguised as a complaint." I guess I am not so self-aware that I don't need to be reminded of simple, common-sense things. Thank you.