Things I’ve Said Today

“Why are you ruining our lives?”

I said this to my 3-year-old son today. It spilled out of my mouth just as quickly as my million-and-one regrets spilled inside of me. I said it in a moment of exasperation. I said it when we were rushing out the door to swim lessons, the three boys and I. I said it without thinking, in a dark moment, from a mind warped by days’ worth of parenting chaos.

I said it, and I immediately followed it with a deep breath and a retraction.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. You are a wonderful boy. I was wrong to say what I said. Mommy was wrong I just get so frustrated when you don’t listen. I love you. I always love you.”

But I still said what I said. And I can’t take it back.

Looking back now, I can barely make sense of the accumulated frustrations the led me to say this one terrible thing. He hit his brothers over the back with a giant squirt gun. He tried to pour dish soap all over the basement floor. He learned how to unlock the front door, and he nearly escaped down the block at 7:15 this morning. He screamed when his father wouldn’t give him Cheetos for breakfast. He dumped his stuffed animals all over his bedroom floor.

Once, long ago, he slept in one to two hour-stretches for a year-and-a-half, and though he sleeps through the night in his own bed now, sometimes I worry that I still resent him for our shared months of sleeplessness.

Yet none of these grievances add up to an excuse, a justification for what I said. Stated together here, it seems silly that I would even cull up that particular question–why was he ruining my life–when his behavior was age-appropriate at best, extremely ornery at worst.

Why indeed did I consider that my life was something ruined by spills and screams and preschooler violence?

parenting regrets

Parenting is hard, and sometimes the hardness hardens me. Sometimes it turns me into a monster who says horrible things to her children. I asked my son why he was ruining our lives, and nothing my son has done or said has ruined my life. His presence is not ruining my life. He complicates and twists it, but he does not ruin it. In fact, he enriches it. Weaves a deep an irreplaceable joy and love into it.

Nonetheless, there are times when it feels as if I’m surrounded by a life in shambles. Ten minutes of toddler-screaming can inspire a churning and volcanic rage. An entire day’s worth of back-talk from my older children can leave me feeling desperate and hollow. The leaden weight of parental responsibility can pin me to my immediate surroundings, make me feel as if I will forever be treading in a sea of dependency.

Sometimes these feelings conspire to turn me into a shitty person who says shitty things.

Or maybe I simply am a shitty person who says shitty things.

I believe that’s true for many of us, parents and non-parents alike. We say terrible things. We hurt. We burst forth in anger. We spew. We condemn. We shudder with the force of our own yelling.

And then sometimes we respond with seas of “I love you’s” and “I’m sorry’s.” Sometimes we ache and obsess over the things we’ve said. Sometimes the worry and agony consume us.

Sometimes we wish, hope, pray, plead with the universe that the shitty things we say won’t ruin our children’s lives.

And sometimes we spend the evening rocking our babies, the big ones and the small ones, whispering to them the deep, imperfect well of our love.

On Parents and Phones at the Playground

For years now, there have been cutesy little memes floating around the Internet imploring mothers–and let’s be honest, they’re nearly always directed at mothers–to stop messing around with their phones at the playground because THE KIDS! and the FLEETING MOMENTS! and the DANGEROUS DANGLING AT THE PRECIPICE OF BAD MOTHERHOOD!

Sentimental sap that I sometimes am, I guess I kind of get the intention behind these statements.  Because if you’re engrossed in something on your phone at the playground, then you might miss your kid taking that one extra step to conquer their fear of heights on the climber.  And if you spend some of that playground time looking more at your phone than at your kids as they slide down the slide, then you might miss out on some of these beautiful, ephemeral moments of their childhood.

But you know what else?  If you go around insinuating that women are somehow “bad mothers” for devoting some of their precious attention to their phones instead of their precious children, then frankly, I don’t have time for your big bag o’ guilt candy.

Because even though there are always going to be some parents who are so self-centered that they really couldn’t care less about what their children are doing on the playground–and to be clear, these parents were probably turdburglars before they became parents–you never know if that mom with her eyes or ears glued to her smartphone is:

…so ridiculously tired after being up all night with her newborn baby that the only thing standing between her and a ill-timed nap right on top of the recycled rubber is this game of Words with Friends with her cousin.

…using this time while her kids are occupied with the great outdoors to finally talk to or text her best friend, who just found a lump in her breast and is scared shitless.

…trying to balance parenting and working from home by sending emails to clients while her children happily play on the swingset.

…sending a picture of her toddler taking his first ride down the slide to her mother-in-law, who lives hundreds of miles away and doesn’t get to see the grandkids as often as she’d like.

…allowing her preschool-aged child the chance to run and move her body without feeling as if her mom is hovering over her every single second.

…gifting herself a little “me-time” after a morning of pouring herself wholeheartedly into finger-painting and puddle-jumping and making homemade, wholesome, organic, Pinterest-worthy snacks for her children.

…scheduling doctors and dentist appointments over the phone, and being grateful that the playground gives her the opportunity to make these calls without having someone shout “Mommy!  Mommy!  MOM!  MOM!  MOM?  Moommmmmm?” every ten seconds in the background.

…just messing around on Facebook, because she just wants to, and because parenting kids who are of the age where the playground is a fun and exciting place to be doesn’t often give anyone many chances to “just mess around” in any scenario.

To be clear, I know just as much as anyone that some day when my kids are grown, I’ll yearn just for a few more moments with them as little ones.  And I’ll miss those days where they wanted nothing more than to see me beam at them as they crossed the balance beam all by themselves. But I also hope I remember how exceedingly and mind-blowingly exhausting it was to be a parent of young children.  I hope I remember that I savored all of the moments I could, and that in those instances when I wasn’t paying all of my attention to my children, I wasn’t squandering my times with them either.

I hope I remember that sometimes, Mama just needed a three-minute smartphone vacation.

And for all of us who need these little vacations?  For those of us who are able to make sure that our children are safe on the slide and then devote a tiny bit of our attention to something other than spills and diapers and squeals and building blocks?

We’re not bad moms.  We’re just human ones.

phone at the playground

This piece originally appeared on my former blog, Birthing Beautiful Ideas.

Book Nerdery, Volume 2

The Reluctant Midwife, Patricia Harman

The Reluctant Midwife: A Hope River Novel is a sequel to Patricia Harman’s 2013 novel, The Midwife of Hope River. Set in the same West Virginia town, each novel focuses the trials and joys and skills and insights of community midwives during the Great Depression. In The Reluctant Midwife, the central character and narrator is a nurse, Becky Myers, who is caring for a disabled physician and struggling to find work. She is not a midwife: at least at the novel’s beginning. But then her midwife friend, Patience Murphy–incidentally, the central character in The Midwife of Hope River–urges her to start catching babies, both as a way to help Patience and to earn some extra money. Becky resists. She finds birth frightening and unpredictable. It makes her squeamish. But she does what she can, mostly because she has no other choice.

Becky and Patience attend births primarily at home, as most rural midwives did in the 1930’s United States. Patience teaches Becky to encourage laboring women to move and eat and drink, and she helps to transform Becky’s  approach to childbirth. In fact, after attending a twin birth, Becky observes:

I have never given birth. Never wanted to. It horrified me to watch women scream and cry through labor until someone could put them under anesthesia, but this is different, and now that it’s over, I see that all that we did in the hospital and the clinic and even at Dr. Blum’s homebirths was more comfort to ourselves than to really help the mother.

Becky’s initial reluctance toward midwifery is a nice juxtaposition to the current cultural conception of midwifery as a calling, as a profession that draws “birth junkies” and those with pre-formed passions for pregnancy, birth, and babies. Becky is dragged into midwifery. Becky catches babies because she must: because she needs the money, and because at one point on the novel, there is no one else in the town who can catch babies. Thus, the love that she eventually finds for midwifery–and the other ways in which love grows in her life–isn’t saccharine or squishy. It’s fresh and honest and different.

This is the third book of Harman’s that I’ve read. (I read The Midwife of Hope River on my own, and I reviewed Harman’s memoir, Arms Wide Open, on my previous blog.) In each book, I’ve felt drawn to Harman’s depictions of the natural world and the uncertain, mostly beautiful, sometimes terrifying realities of childbirth. Perhaps this is because Harman writes what she knows. And on these topics, she knows plenty.

Harman lived on rural communes all over the United States in the sixties and seventies. She writes like someone who has taken the time to immerse themselves in the natural world and to observe it without distraction. In this and other respects, she shows a remarkable attention to detail. Similarly, Harman brings a great depth of knowledge about birth to her stories. After starting out as a lay midwife, Harman later became a Certified-Nurse Midwife and continues to practice alongside her ob-gyn husband in West Virginia. Though neither she nor her husband attends births any longer, her stories always reflect her rich and varied experiences with birth. In fact, Harman writes with great balance about birth. She knows well the beauty of birth. She knows the sights and sounds and rhythms of uninterrupted, naturally unfolding labors. But she also knows that medical interventions are sometimes necessary and even life-saving. This sort of balance makes for a satisfying read–at least for someone like me, who is a former birth doula.

 

With that said, I’d recommend The Reluctant Midwife to all my birth-junkie, birth-passionate friends. Birth is central to the book, after all. But The Reluctant Midwife is also about the intersections of history and class and rural life and the New Deal and work and medicine and friendship and family. It’s relevant–and a good read, for that matter–for anyone who shares those interests too.

 

I received a complimentary copy of The Reluctant Midwife for purposes of this review. I received no additional compensation from the author or publisher.

What I Miss About Being a Doula

I’m not a doula anymore.

I was, once, for five years. I helped families welcome 33 babies into the world. Twins. Singletons. VBACs. Cesarean sections. Home births. Hospital births. Births with midwives. Births with doctors. Even a birth in a car.

For the most part, I loved the work. I loved it until the passion was gone. I loved it until it made me sick–literally sick from sleeplessness and stress. And thus when the time came, I was happy to bid farewell to the profession. There was plenty about it that I knew I wouldn’t miss.

And indeed, I don’t miss being on call. I don’t miss the perpetual divesting of my self, the way I’d scoop out so much of my own emotional energy that I’d have barely any left for myself or my family. I don’t miss feeling as if I did too little, or not the right thing, or the absolute wrong thing during a birth. I don’t miss the politics. I don’t miss the exhaustion.

And yet, there is so much that sustained my love of doula work. There is so much that I do indeed miss. There is so much that I will never get to see or do if I never step foot into birth work again.

I’d be dishonest to say that I’m happy to be rid of all of it.

I miss getting “the call.” For every birth, I’d be so stressed out about when the call would arrive and how I’d arrange childcare and if I’d make it to the birth on time. But when the call came, all that stress melted away into the most dazzling adrenaline rush.

I miss the drive on the way to a birth. Especially the late night births. It was always just me, the radio, the darkness outside, and the quiet knowledge that I was about to see a baby be born. Even now, whenever I hear the BBC World News on NPR, my body surges with the same hormones and feelings I’d experience en route to a birth. I’m like Pavlov’s dog, salivating at the sound of British newscasters’ voices.

I miss watching families come together during a birth. Couples. Sisters. Mothers and daughters. Mothers and sons. Fathers and daughters. Fathers and sons. When birth brings a family closer, it’s a wonder to observe.

I miss holding women’s hands as they worked hard to bring their babies into the world.

I miss knowing when to get cool cloths, when to suggest a position change, when to encourage a parent to ask questions about their care provider’s recommendations.

I miss the wrathful look some moms gave me when they wanted me to take my cool cloths, position changes, and suggestions and shove them straight up my ass.

I miss bearing witness to birthing people’s agency, power, and vulnerability.

I miss the near-magic of watching a woman begin to turn inward during her labor.

I miss the take-no-prisoners, got-no-time-for-bullshit look that some laboring women would give their spouses, caregivers, and support people.

I miss watching care providers grow and change. Last year, I saw a doctor teach a resident how to use a vacuum extractor–a moment in which that vacuum made the difference between a vaginal birth and a cesarean section. Later on in the year, I saw a midwife teach a resident how to catch a baby born in the water. I felt privileged to witness these two points on the grand continuum of birth knowledge.

I miss hearing women exclaim, “I did it!” after a VBAC. It never got old. I always cried.

I miss holding the hands of women who’d had cesareans and telling them that they were amazing and beautiful and strong.

I miss saying, “You are so strong.” I said it to every birthing client. I meant it with every one of them.

I miss seeing births from almost-beginning to end. I got to see the whole story. The big picture.

I miss the secret look I’d often exchange with midwives, doctors, and nurses: the one we’d share, knowing that the baby would be born soon, even if the mother didn’t quite yet believe it.

I miss the privilege of “holding space.” Some of my clients were scared. Disappointed. Confused. Uncertain. Sometimes their hearts were breaking, and sometimes mine was too. I don’t miss their pain. I wish that I could take it away still, and that I could take it away for any mother. But I miss the sacred experience of holding space for that pain. I can miss it without ever wanting to do it, or having the need to do it, again.

I miss intending to catch the exact moment when the baby was born. I always meant to, but I never did, even when I tried. It’s almost as if birth itself happens in a blur and not in one precise moment. You think you’ve caught it, but it’s already too late. Once there wasn’t a person. Now there is one.

I miss this look. Yes, it’s my own look. But that expression on my face sums up everything that I loved about being a doula. The awe. The wonder. The bearing witness to power and love and strength.

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That look sums up everything I now miss about being a doula.

 

image credit: Erika Ray Photography

Why That Photograph of Cindy Crawford Made me Cry

A photograph of Cindy Crawford went viral late last week. I discovered the photo not via some dude slobbering over how hot she is (though she is, indeed, totally hot in this picture) but via a mom friend who described it as “awesome” and “powerful.”

What was so awesome and powerful? Described as un-photoshopped—though I’m sure that the photo is retouched in one way or another—the image shows Crawford posing in a black bra, underwear, hat and open feathery coat. Her expression exudes sexual confidence. And the contours of her body—the lines, the dimples, the curves—are all on display, unhidden and unmasked, defying a few of the taut and rigid beauty standards so often directed toward nothing but men’s satisfaction.

Hell yeah, that’s awesome and powerful.

Initially, this photo was billed as a preview from an upcoming issue of Marie Claire magazine. It turns out, however, that the photo was leaked from a session for a 2013 Marie Claire Mexico and Latin America cover story.

The basic fact of this leak bothers me in myriad ways. I’d hate if Crawford feels violated or otherwise embarrassed by an image that neither she nor the photographer intended to make public. I’m also more than a little disappointed that Marie Claire won’t be featuring an empowering (and not pitying) series of un-flawless photographs of Crawford, or of any woman, for that matter.

But leak or not, there is still a part of me loves this photograph. I love it and the visceral reaction it inspired in me.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Crawford’s body and appearance in this picture conform to approximately 99% of our cultural beauty norms. She is thin. White. Long-haired and lithe and gorgeous. Nonetheless, the beauty-norm deviations that this photograph does make are significant: especially for people whose bodies also carry the marks of age, parenthood, and unretouched reality.

Crawford’s stomach and thighs are dotted with tiny dimples. These dimples are familiar to me. I have them too, those vestiges of my pregnancies past. At age 46 in this photo, Crawford has parts that sag and hang, even if only marginally so. I also have parts that sag and hang, breasts that need some assistance from a solid bra in order to perk them above elbow-level.

Nevertheless, it’s not simply that Crawford has a few dimples and sags here and there inspires an emotional reaction in me. Her body and appearance are beyond the grasp of most women, myself included. No, what gets me is the magic that happens in the juxtaposition of her amazing, norm-defying beauty with that sexually confident, “I give no shits” look on her face.

What I saw in my initial viewing of this photo was a woman saying, “Yes, I have a dimpled belly, I am a mother, I am aging, I am slowly easing away from our society’s standards for beauty and sexual desirability and I am still a worthy and confident sexual being.”

I saw someone—a beautiful celebrity, I’ll admit—claiming their sexual agency and refusing to be erased or silenced by our culture or by a photo editor’s touch.

This move is different from most “unaltered” photos of celebrities, which tend to skew pathetic (like tabloid “exposés” of stars without makeup) or wistful (like most articles on the “brave” celebrities who agree to be photographed without makeup or retouching). It’s a different type of revelation. A different type of bravery. It’s not the epitome of bravery, but it’s bravery nonetheless. And perhaps most importantly, the image challenges the virgin/whore trope and the erasure of maternal sexuality, all at the same time.

It reflects a badass confidence that I would like to see in myself and my own body image.

Given the truth about this photo’s leak, however, maybe Crawford didn’t feel so confident after all. Maybe her confidence came from the part of her that knew that her dimples and sags would be erased in the final edit. Maybe her confidence isn’t as near-perfect as her body, as she herself has claimed in an interview with Marie Claire.

If that is indeed the case, then even if Cindy Crawford doesn’t have a body just like the rest of us, she’s likely vulnerable just like the rest of us.