posts tagged with 'home'

Settlement versus Settling

On Wednesday when the Early Intervention specialists were over, I sat on the floor of my living room literally swatting flies away from my baby. To prevent the nurse from phoning DSS over the filth in my house, I explained that there was a brooder of baby chicks in our kitchen. (This sounds more lovely than the equally true explanation: "The flies are attracted to the large box of chicken shit on our counter.")

"Oh!" said the nutritionist in awe, "It's like you're a pioneer woman!"

Pioneer woman? I thought about our pantry stocked with as many boxes of pasta as jars of preserves and I thought: "Pioneer woman? I feel more like a housewife with a hobby."

On Friday we went to Plimoth Plantation to see some REAL pioneers.

homeschoolers doin what they do: playing in dirt in interesting places

In many ways Plimoth Plantation is a crafty homeschooler's paradise. I wandered from hut to hut analyzing what fibers the Pilgrims used for their baskets, or what stitches they used for their knit stockings. When a Pilgrim rein-actor put a poppet in my friend's daughter's hand, it was all I could do to let her hold it for a minute before I snatched it away to reverse-engineer the pattern.

On the other hand, Pilgrim life was hardly driven by DIY daydreams. Most of their thought and energy went into surviving. Farming and construction (my least favorite homesteading hobbies) came first. For clothes and other sundries they preferred to import things from England. They didn't even knit their own stockings.

Of course, this was an economic calculation too. The more corn they sewed the more they could trade with the tribes up north, the more furs they could send to England to become hard currency and "proper made" clothing. They didn't come to the New World for self-sufficient austerity. They came to the New World for this:

A Scholastical Discourse Against Symbolizing with Antichrist in Ceremonies: Especially in the Sign of the Cross.

The came to do their weird religion.

When they weren't reaping and trading and doing carpentry, the settlers were reading tomes like this one, a book of several hundred annotated pages about how the Church of England was into Antichrist shiz. I tried to skim the argument myself, but half the "s" letters were written like "f," and also there were a lot of extra "e"s thrown in there. I sounded out the first paragraph, but a Pilgrim actor interrupted me when he walked in to check whether our kids were breaking ye olde broome.

This field trip made me think that there is no homesteading panacea. There is no group or period or commune we can look at and say triumphantly, "There! That's the way to do socially-conscious, sustainable, happiness." Every life is worked or enjoyed in context. Financial context, geographical context, and in the context of our understanding of God.

If I look into someone else's life, whether they're Pilgrims or Indians or a neighbor down the street who drinks lots of soda and refuses to recycle, I am nothing more than a visitor their human museum. I can only see things as an outsider.

Harvey and Zion spying on the indian camp.

Harvey and Zion spying on the indian camp.

After several hours spent in sunny 1624 my nerves and the children's' nerves were shot. So we stopped at the visitor center concession stand on the way out, and I demanded the largest iced coffee they had. "In this cup?" The server asked me incredulously, holding up a big-gulp used for soda.
"Yes," I answered, "I want the biggest cup of coffee you have."
"Did you say you wanted decaf?" she asked.
"No, I did not say I wanted decaf." I said. "Why would I say such a thing? I have to drive home two hours in Friday afternoon traffic with a fussy baby and two cranky kids. I want that big big cup filled with caffeinated coffee, and also want this granola bar for my three year old and this bag of chips for my five year old and we are gonna suck down these carcinogenic treats like we're hungry Pilgrims and this is the first Thanksgiving."

I don't know what makes a beautiful sustainable life. I love knitting and weaving, I love the idea of work, but I also love ready-made clothes as much as the next Pilgrims, and I love driving places in my big minivan and going home with a BIG coffee for the ride.

If this is not sustainable then maybe at least it's okay for now. I have a feeling my level of discourse is too "scholastical." I'd hate to put an ocean of misunderstanding between me and others making the sign of the cross.

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homeschool... GO!

Harvey's homeschool career officially kicked off yesterday. He crawled into bed with me at 6:30am with the two workbooks I'd given him the night before. Mazes and connect-the-dots, not hard-hitting stuff. But Harvey is EXCITED about homeschooling, so he slept with the workbooks next to his bed. I feigned enthusiasm looking at the dots he connected up to ten, but it just so happened I'd been up all night again holding a sick baby, and my heart was not in on pushing Harvey towards recognizing double-digit numbers. Instead I suggested we all take a shower. Me and the baby needed to to clear the mucus out of our throats.

Homeschool lesson #1: a hot shower is good for waking up, for cheering up a sick baby, and for doing something nice together that doesn't involve talking. That's learning you can take to the bank.

Soon Zion woke up and went through his (new!) morning ritual of sitting on the potty with the iPad until I start to nag him that his's probably done peeing. Harvey sits next to him and takes advantage of the "non-show-shows" on the Reading Rainbow App. When I finished nursing the baby and joined them in the hallway Harvey said, "We heard a book about the Titanic."

I wanted to ask whether they called it "the ship of dreams." Instead I said, "Was it a big boat that sank?"

Harvey nodded. "They said they made it not to sink, but it sank. Probably they did it wrong."

"There you go," I thought to myself as I walked to the kitchen to get breakfast on. "In the first half hour of his home education we've covered not only science and history, but the futility of all human effort."

Vanity, vanity, what kind of jam do you want in your yogurt? ("STRAWBERRY RUBARB!!!" they both scream.)

Later in the day Harvey embroidered the first two letters of his name on burlap (on the way towards making a quilt) and Dan helped him take apart a broken window fan. We read some books to Zion on the potty to mitigate the addictive pull of LeVar Burton. Zion chose a book about Thanksgiving despite it being approximately 95 degrees inside our house.

"Are those pirates?" Zion asked.

"No those are Pilgrims. They look like pirates because they lived in a similar era and sailed a similar boat, but they weren't pirates. They were the first people to come to live in America."

"The first WHITE people," Harvey corrected me.

Well then.

In the absence of a state-wide educational mandate this would just be a cute story, but now I feel a burden to pick apart its meaning. "What does Harvey know?" I find myself thinking. "What SHOULD he know? How does his brain work?"

It's not the kind of thing you answer in a day.

I wish I had some lovely picture to share at the conclusion of this blogpost, but it was 95 degrees in my house today and the living room where Harvey sat with Dan to learn about "-ing" words is covered with baby toys and dirt and dog hair and I believe somewhere in this mess there's a potty filled with pee that needs to be cleaned out. We are, after all, not only teaching a kindergartener to read, but teaching a 3-year-old to potty and a 6-month-old to hold things.

I'm amazed we still shower.

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competitive child development

Some time back—almost a year ago now—I was helping out in Harvey's kids church classroom and I couldn't help but notice that some of the other 4-year-olds could write their names on their artwork in a beautiful hand, while my own son was still working on figuring out how to hold a pencil. (Not to mention the fact that these other kids' drawings were representational while Harvey's were mostly abstract shapes and squiggles!) I was sorely tempted, in the moment, to offer some direct instruction in pencil-gripping—but I resisted. It was tough, though, thanks to the mix of my own natural competitiveness and the cultural ideal that there are things that every kids should be able to do at a particular age.

Of course, that's nonsense. Kids all develop at radically different speeds: not only are some quicker-maturing across the board than others, invariably they'll take varying lengths of time to figure out things in different domains. So while one may have a perfect pencil grip at 4, another may be able to climb to the top of the climbing structure at the same age, or ride a bike without training wheels. Harvey couldn't do any of those things—but he could memorize large parts of books and songs after only two or three hearings, and easily generate long lists of words related by rhyme or consonance. Which makes sense: if you're spending all your time working on one thing you won't make as much progress in another area.

Though maybe "working" isn't the right word. Kids who can do the climbing structure just love climbing, and as a result they get better at it. And when a kid can hold a crayon with a proper grip it isn't usually thanks to deliberate practice and work with parents or teachers, it's because they want to be able to draw more precisely and discover—in most cases—that the approved grip offers the best way to to that (because, you know, it's not like holding a pencil that way was invented by a committee of educators and artists who studied the question; it's just how our hands work). As it happens, by this past winter Harvey decided he wanted to draw with some more detail and there you go, he knew how to hold a pencil.

Whew. Because, as I mentioned above, I can be competitive. And the problem is intensified by the fact that we're planning to home-school, because homeschooling automatically puts you on the defensive: oh, is your kid really going to be able to learn anything? Will he ever read? What about proper socialization?! To compensate, it's tempting to go all-out with the parental pushiness: teach em to read before they're five, make em memorize poems, do elocution lessons... you know. That way, the offspring will be a paragon of education, simultaneously justifying the parents' decision to homeschool and advertising their excellent genetic material. It's tempting!

Intellectually, though, I pull the other way. I actively resisted teaching Harvey how to hold a pencil last summer because I knew that, developmentally, there were other things that were more important for him to figure out. And as much as he'd love to do more reading instruction now, I'm trying to hold off because I want to make sure he gets all the time he needs for imaginative play and running around outside. Theoretically, I'd be happy to follow a Waldorf schedule and not see him reading until he's seven or so.

But that's not going to happen. It's not that I'm going to bow to cultural pressure and push reading instruction early, it's because Harvey has a strong interest in language and is curious about how words are represented with symbols. And maybe a little bit because the cultural pressure makes it hard to hold the line in the other direction. But if Harvey learns to read later than the rest of his cohort, I won't mind. In fact, I might be able to be able to harness my competitiveness in the other direction: never mind that he can't read, our education is more play-based than yours!

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the photo says it all...

minutes after Elijah's birth

Dan said he didn't get any good photos from Elijah's birth day, but I saw this on his computer today and called shenanigans. The image says so much to me. How much I loved the baby in those first few minutes, despite the unpleasantness of birth and not having a name picked out and oh my goodness another child with a penis.

But look at that cutie sucking his thumb. Look how beautiful he was right off the bat.

Of course, I tried to do a little photoshopping for the sake of modesty, and Dan laughed when he saw my attempt. "Um, are you making art?" he asked.

"No, I'm making a photo for the internet, and I won't ask you to make it better, because you'll work on it for seven hours!"

"Seven hours! I'll work on it for fourteen hours!"

Then because he loves me but has real work to do, Dan gave me five minutes of his amazing photoshop skills to made my modesty curtain look passable. So that's the explanation for the photoshop you see. I put a lot of myself on this blog, but I stop short of bearing nipple.

Gratuitous homebirth propaganda: check!

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Elijah Bean - a birth story

My water broke at 5am yesterday morning, but it was a slow leak which was quite different from the waterfall deluges I had come to expect with my other two children. For this reason, and also because it was five in the morning, I waited an hour to call the midwife. I was crampy but not having real contractions yet, and I wanted to rule out the possibility that I was having a reaction to all the Shrove Tuesday sausages I had eaten the night before. It's not like I routinely wake up by peeing the bed after I eat sausage. But pregnancy does weird things to the body and you can never be too sure.

I called the midwife at 6am, and she got here before the kids woke up. Harvey woke up first, a little after 7am, and he found me hanging out in the bath. By this time I was having contractions 15 seconds long and 5 minutes apart. They weren't too terrible, but they were enough to make me close my eyes and clench my fists, and Harvey was very excited to see that something was happening. He sat with me in the bathroom, and after each contraction he exclaimed brightly, "All done!" and "That was a short one!" I was overwhelmed with feeling grateful for Harvey, my sweet compassionate firstborn, especially when Dan came in to offer breakfast and Harvey said "I don't want to leave Mama."

Then Zion walked into the bathroom, looked at the two of us, and burst into a plaintive, "I WANT TO GO TO GRANDMA BETH'S HOUSE!" We had a pizza play-date already scheduled for that morning, and the way Zion saw things it looked just enough out the ordinary that he was worried about a disruption to his plans.

I didn't want to mess with their schedule, so I gave the boys the choice. Do you want to stay and watch the baby being born? or do you want to go to grandma's? Even with Harvey's doula tendencies, there was no question in either of their minds. If the baby was not going to emerge from the womb holding two personal-sized pizzas, then watching the miracle of life was inferior to grandma's.

Grandma came and picked them up at 9:30am, and I was a little sad to see them go. At the same time I was starting to have contractions so strong they made me cry, so I was equally happy to be the sole center of focus in the household. Without the boys to distract him, Dan did a champion's job of filling the birth tub and taking care of me. Within a half hour I was in warm water sipping lemon juice from a straw. Another half hour later I was holding a baby.

We do these things quick around here. As long as the kids were at a play date, I figured I'd do the hard stuff first and get in the maximum time for relaxing.

In all respects this labor went better than my previos two. It was quick, but not emergently so, which meant I had longer to face the intense sensations that made up the experience. As for the pain, all I could think of was that gospel song, "Oh sinner man, where you gonna run to?" Left, right, in or out of the water, there was nowhere I could run to hide from the awful thing that was happening inside of my body. "Run to the sea," I thought to myself, "Sea will be a boiling." No shit.

Imagining the end times made me feel a little bit better about my predicament. Also I conjured up an image of the Lord presenting his face to the smiters (incorrect biblical reference, but whatever) and those two things together made me think I could probobly bear up under a few minutes of suffering.

As it turned out the whole thing was quicker than I expected, so that the contractions that threw me into the revelations-style reverie only lasted 20 minutes, and the two pushes that followed surprised all of us with their finality. The midwives rushed a bit getting on their gloves, but this time they believe me when screamed "THIS BABY'S COMING!" and there were plenty of hands in the water to scoop up the baby, perfectly pink and crying and beautiful.

his cute newborn face

the new baby at about an hour old

Of course, at first I thought they were handing me my beautiful baby girl. I saw his sweet face and curly hair, the lower half of his body obscured by my arms, and I thought: here she is, the sweet little girl who's the answer to all our prayers.

Because before we conceived the children were praying EVERY DAY for a baby girl. "Please give Mama and Dada the seeds of a baby gu-guh" they said. How could God not listen to the sweet prayers of blond children?

And because we tried to maximize our feminine chances by timing conception four days before ovulation...

And because the baby in my belly was smaller and made me much sicker than the other two...

I thought for sure this one would be a girl. I didn't even have any boy names picked out.

I waited a few seconds for my arms to stop shaking. When I thought I had control of my limbs again I lifted the little body towards me to check. "Are you a boy or a girl?" I asked, almost for forms sake. And what did I see? A beautiful, feminine, LIGHT baby boy.

mama and another not-girl

At this moment I was glad that my kids were not present, because I cried and I cried and I let myself feel the full weight of disappointment. The long wait of pregnancy. The agony of labor. Did my family need another boy? Had I failed them all?

And though life is long and we might get the baby bug again, or we might just screw up and slip with birth control, I had really intended to make this pregnancy my last. I thought so many times over the course of this last year: this being pregnant thing is just too much. It's not even fair to my kids. It's not fair to deprive them from motherly consortium for so many evenings in the pursuit of "planned" illness.

And so I mourned a lot of things yesterday. Not only the loss of pink frilly baby clothes which I intended to buy. I thought:

I'll never watch my child in a dance recital

Or braid long hair

Or teach someone how to put on makeup.

I'll never help anyone get ready for prom

Or shop for a wedding dress

Or stand beside a birth tub holding my daughter's hand, telling her I did this and it's going to be okay.

And then I thought: Well, maybe it's better if I don't have a girl, if I clearly have such horribly oppressive expectations for her entire life trajectory.

The kids got home from grandma's and were excited to meet the little one.

"I wanted a girl," Harvey said to Dan.

"I know," Dan said. "We all did." There was a respectful pause. "But this baby is cute too."

Harvey and Zion hold their new baby brother.

The baby made some newborn mews and the boys both giggled. "I like his noises!" Zion exclaimed. "He sounds like a kitty!"

"His hands are so tiny," said Harvey, kissing them. "I love you little baby."

And just like that my sweet sensitive (surplus) boys teach me how to be loving. By holding lightly to expectations. By facing surprises. By looking at what's actually in front of them and smiling at it and then getting distracted by toys and a huge blow up birth tub in the room.

yes, it was emptied.

This is the family I love. The real people God's given me to be with and to be surprised by and to constantly challenge my expectations. It makes me glad I don't get to plan everything out myself. As much as I think my plan is the best. Real life has a way of being blessedly different.

candyland with baby Elijah

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Dada and Harvey time

letter formation

I'm on vacation this week and am very much enjoying getting to hang out at home all day and play with both the boys. Besides the regular fun times, though, Harvey and I have been able to do a couple things together that Zion wouldn't be able to keep up with, which I think is good for both of us. At least, it's good for Harvey if we act on the assumption that giving him more attention satisfies his desires for others' focus rather than inflaming it to ever-greater heights. The jury is still out on that one, but lets be optimistic.

Tuesday Zion wasn't feeling very well in the morning and took an early nap, and Harvey and I spent some time building with the big legos. They don't get quite as much play now that the little ones are an option, but they still have their advantages—they were perfect, for example, for experiments in creating letter shapes. Harvey got the idea after making an "H", and we stuck with it through the "Harvey" and "Dada" pictured above, as well as a "Mama", which didn't get photographed as well. We're working on our homeschooling plan for Harvey's kindergarten year (I think Leah has a whole lot more to say about that later) and I felt very pleased with myself at how much Harvey was thinking about letter formation as we made our way through the names. He wanted to keep going, too: Mama had to drag him away for their morning outing to the bounce house!

snowsuited Harvey stopping in the snowy woods to look at the camera

pushing on

Besides letters, my homeschooling hopes for Harvey also include some good outdoor activity, and the fine weather yesterday let us get an early start on that end of the curriculum too. As seen above in my horrible phone-cam photograph (seriously, it's like the early 2000s back again with the terrible sensor on my phone) we took to the woods for a nice long trek. Well, long for Harvey, anyways, and long for me in duration; but in Harvey's defense he was wearing his snowsuit against the damp and that thing must be hard to walk in. Hot too, since it was well above freezing at the time.

Even I got hot the latter part of the walk as we abandoned the well-trodden path to strike out in a direction where no one had been since two snowfalls ago. Harvey did his noble best to break a trail but got worn out pretty quick and let me take over; the snow was deep and wet enough that it was a fine workout for me too, and he had to work hard to even follow along. But we made it—in high spirits the whole time—and he even had enough energy to run most of the way home on the sidewalk.

All in all our vacation adventures make me a little worried about the homeschool planning: not that he won't be able to keep up, but that he'll quickly outstrip any expectations we come up with and leave us with nothing to do. It's mostly my fault, I think: I can't conceive of a goal without asking him to try the activity out. It was standing on one foot on Monday. Oh well, I suppose that's the beauty of homeschooling; if he finishes the whole kindergarten curriculum by October we'll have more time for dancing and board games—not to mention legos and walks in the snow.

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on preparing for another birth and the stomach flu

I wrote about the births of my two children immediately after they happened, but looking back I'm not really happy with either of the blog posts. They don't seem quite honest. Or at least, they're not honest to my memory of those events. I guess when you're sharing about the birth of a child there are so many different things you want to convey at the same time. You're excited about the baby, you're excited to tell everybody he's here. You want to tell the story of how he came into the world in a way that matches up with the love you feel for him. Or at the very least, the love you intend to feel for him some time later when you're not terribly ill and injured.

The truth is, my two births were each traumatic in their own special ways. The first one was a beautiful water birth at home on a Saturday evening, and I loved Harvey at first sight. But failures in my postpartum care made the first month an absolute nightmare. I couldn't walk for three weeks, I got yelled at by nurses at the ER, and the phone rang every three minutes with some member of my extended family giving me advice on how to not kill the baby. Meanwhile I felt completely unprepared for the task of caring for this tiny screaming creature. I couldn't even feed myself because I couldn't stand up to walk to the kitchen. I felt scared and abandoned and so very very hungry.

Zion's first month was a world of better, because of stitches mostly, but also because we turned off the phone and told everyone to leave us alone. But the actual delivery was a physical nightmare, a complete failure of my body to do its job in the proper order. I popped out a 9-pound baby in five minutes without the benefit of any natural pain-killing hormones, and then all the adrenaline flooded in afterwards while I was paralyzed in shock, trying desperately to keep hold of a red flat-faced baby despite being short of breath and shaking uncontrollably.

It took me a little while to get over that one.

As I prepare for my next experience of labor, possibly my last experience of labor, it's hard to feel something resembling excitement. Indeed, it's hard to face the thought of the impending ordeal with anything but grim determination. And then I say to myself, This is it? This is how you want to welcome your third child? With pessimistic resignation? With a stockpile of cold packs and the will to merely survive? Can't I do better? Aren't I older and wiser? Can't I have Harvey's nice water birth plus Zion's quick recovery plus a whole new level of humble self-awareness that allows me ask other people to bring me snacks while keeping their advice-giving mouthes shut?

Or what if I thought about it another way? What if I could believe that the birth doesn't matter, that a few bad weeks don't matter, that the when and where and how painful are inconsequential? What if I decided that what matters in the end is bringing another person into our family? What if I tried to do THAT well? What if I put all my energy into a family dynamic of as much faith and love and honesty as we can muster on weird meals and an altered sleep schedule?

For those of us in the church, there are two divergent ways to look at asking God for things. I adhere to both wholeheartedly. The first says that God will give us everything we want just because we ask. After all, he loves us. So we ask God for new jobs and for houses and apartments, and we ask for miraculous healing of all our diseases. If we don't get what we want we change the way we're asking.

The second way to look at faith is to say that whatever crap life throws at us, whatever goes terribly wrong, it'll be okay. God will show us that it wasn't as bad as we expected. God will be there in the terrible situation. He will make it not only palatable but somehow divine with his presence.

Both are fair approaches, I think. But without God's actual presence they're both crap. I actually have to connect with God (I, me, not in theory) either in the absence of suffering or despite it.

Which sounds like a boat load of work right now.

Last night I contracted some sort of sudden stomach flu. I went to be early with a headache and woke up two hours later with the undeniable knowledge that I'd soon be throwing up. Now, giving birth is hands down the worst pain I've ever experienced if we're talking about ACUTE pain. But I've always said that a stomach flu is WORSE than giving birth, because it lasts longer, and because it's not just painful one place, it's in your belly AND in your head, and there's the terrible nausea where you're just sitting there shaking and hoping you'll throw up soon so you can get ten minutes of rest before the horrible nausea starts again.

There's no one excitedly cooking meals downstairs. There's no eager expectation of a baby. There's no stomach flu doula.

There's nothing but you and your best friend the toilet, a pillow and a blanket sprawled on the bathroom floor because the bed is too far away. There are maybe screaming kids in the next room, screaming for God knows what at 2 in the morning, and a husband who's doing your normal job for the night and kinda pissed because your normal job sucks.

And because I was already working on this blog post before I got sick, I tried to think about how to invite God into this horrible situation. Should I pray for physical healing? Should I pray for some redemption within the stomach flu? I could not imagine either possibility. I did not succeed with any faithful exercise. I screamed in my heart of hearts, "Lord! I perish!" before passing out with my face on the toilet seat.

Birth, like illness, like all life, can be horrible and disgusting. It can also be imbued with beauty and wonder. But I don't think it's possible to manufacture beauty and wonder out of my own effort. It seems even impossible for me to manufacture faith. The best I can hope is that God will show up anyway. The best I can hope is that he will hear my faithless prayer, "Lord, I perish" and answer it with a reminder that he's in the same boat.

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amateur hour

the front of the house, half-painted

work in progress

We're painting our house this summer. It was well overdue for it, with paint peeling and bare wood showing all around. We have to do all four walls so we decided to change the color, since we didn't pick the old color to begin with. Family and friends have expressed some skepticism about our decision to do the work ourselves, and they're entirely right to do so. I don't know the first thing about painting, and I don't think that my internet research made me any more qualified. But finances didn't allow any other choice, and with the bees coming back in May we knew we had to get started (I didn't relish climbing up a ladder set over their hive).

Who knows how long our amateur paint job will last. But even if we have to start touching it up in a couple years I won't mind too much. The whole thing is a wonderful learning experience! As of today we're almost finished with the third side, and I've done a better job scraping and painting on each one. The last wall is going to be a thing of beauty. I'm told that my maternal grandfather painted one wall of his house every summer, which seems like a reasonable rate; if the back of the house, where I started off this year, starts to go bad right away, I'll be happy to do it over next summer and start the incremental cycle myself.

The nice part about doing it ourselves—besides saving several thousand dollars, of course—is that it's a learning process. I like learning, because when I learn I know more things. Skills particularly often seem devalued in our specialized society, which seems like a shame even if you do happen to have the funds to pay people to do everything for you. If I never had the option of taking my car in to get fixed by a mechanic I'd know a lot more about how it worked, and be happier for it. Of course, it's hard to gain those sorts of skills without someone to teach you, and in the case of automotive repairs the consequences of failure are pretty high (remember I don't want to be car-free). Painting, though, is more tolerant of failure, because we can always just do it again.

When we were deciding what we could do about all the peeling paint Leah's dad actually suggested he might pay for professional painters to come and do the work. Among the reasons we decided not to follow up on that idea was that I was afraid that, if I couldn't even paint a house, I wouldn't be able to do anything. That's not entirely fair, I suppose—despite not being brought up handy I have managed to build a chicken coop and change my car battery. But still, the bar moves ever higher and I didn't want to balk at this simple task. It's nearly done now, so I'm full of confidence for the future. What feats of manly vigor will I accomplish next? Patching the rust holes in the bodywork of the car? Replacing the rotted-out window sills and frames on the north side of the house? The possibilities are endless!

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homeschooling

Our homeschooling routine right now is nothing more than a proof of concept. I'm trying to prove to myself that it's possible to execute quiet attention times in house with a toddler. On average we do a half hour of bible in the morning and a half hour of reading while Zion naps. Sometimes it's way more and sometimes it's way less. Sometimes Zion doesn't nap. Either way, we do just enough structured learning to make me feel like the future isn't terrifying.

We have been re-reading the Little House series in the afternoon, which Harvey affectionately calls "Laura and Mary." "Mama!" Harvey squeals this morning at 6:20am, "We didn't read Laura and Mary yet! And we didn't read the bible and have our coffee!"

I guess you could say he's zealous about learning.

A few weeks ago we read the scene from Little House when Ma gets a sprained ankle. Harvey asked where the ankle bone is, and I acted all learner-lead-lesson-maker about it, showing him some pictures on the ipad and pointing out where he could feel the bones on his own body. Well, he just ate that up, and asked me about other bones he could feel. I went to get my bone book from college, but when that proved to be in the attic I gave up for the day and I took a bone book out of the library instead (way easier than getting a ladder). The first layout in the library book was bones of the ribcage, and Harvey suddenly became fascinated with the rib cage, asking to see pictures of crocodiles ribcages and monkey ribcages. Why do we have a rib cage? he asked. To keep our lungs safe, obviously, and then I took out a library book on respiration (though in the end, all Harvey really got was that we breath in and our lungs get bigger). Still, I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself, like this homeschool stuff just writes itself.

Then we had a week of terrible days. I was feeling sick; the kids just wanted to bug each other. Zion started saying NO! and hitting his brother. It was raining. If the kids were teaching themselves anything it was how to piss off mom.

Harvey had a string hanging off of his sock and he wanted me to cut it off for him, but when I brought a scissors he insisted that HE wanted to do it, and so I gave him the scissors and he cut a hole in his sock, and then he cried that there was a hole in his sock. I said he could get another pair from upstairs and he screamed, "No! YOU get it!" I said if he wanted to be a big boy and solve his own problems he could walk upstairs and get a new sock, but if he wanted to be a baby then babies don't play with scissors and I'm putting the scissors away until he's 5. He screamed that he wanted me to get a new sock AND he wants to play with scissors and I reiterated his options, a little peevishly because even though I said I wasn't mad that he accidentally cut his sock I was a little mad because it was a brand new sock. He lay in the floor in an angry crying mess and Zion crawled onto my lap and I forget exactly why but he started hitting me.

I shut my eyes and drew in a deep breath. "I'm going to be quiet now," I said, "and breath in and out slowly until I get not angry." I inhaled to a count of five. I exhaled to a count of ten. For several seconds it was miraculously quiet in the house.

Then Harvey piped up. "Mama!" he exclaimed, "When you do that your ribcage gets bigger!"

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seeing my "name" in print

Recently I was reading a book on Waldorf education and I encountered a quote from my 4th grade teacher, Steven Levy. I didn't know he had written a book, so I requested it from the Lexington library. It came in on Friday and I sped through the thing in no time. The book describes how Levy built his classroom curriculum around a different theme every year. One year it was bread making, another year the children made their own desks. You know, the kind of thematic curriculum planning that comes natural to home-schoolers but shocks and amazes in the public school.

Chapter seven describes a class taking wool through carding and dying to spinning and weaving. Hey, I said to myself, that's my fourth grade class right?? We did the carding and the dying and the spinning he describes. We had community members come in one day and teach us all how to knit. I remember that day vividly, probably the most important day of my first decade of life. Somebody's mom, I will never forget how you demonstrated to me how to put the needle through the stitch, remove my right hand from the needle to wrap the yarn around, replace my right hand on the needle and remove the stitch. WHY OH WHY DIDN'T YOU TEACH ME TO KNIT CONTINENTAL??? OH What might have been!!! We all would have at least twice as many sweaters as we do now!

Of course, I know why you didn't teach a fourth grader how to knit continental. I've tried to teach it to others and it's very difficult to learn. Not intuitive. Fingers get tangled. Throwing the yarn is easy and anyone can learn it, to the detriment of their entire future knitting career. But I digress.

I realized Levy definitely WAS talking about my fourth grade class when he mentioned Tuuka, a student from Finland who knit a spectacularly long scarf. I cannot imagine anyone else's fourth grade class also contained a Finnish Tuuka. Oh the thrill of recognizing my own experience in print! That's my forth grade class you're talking about! I WAS THERE!

Then I saw this:

"Day after day Leanne brought in bags of white hair from home. It turned out to be from her dog. She was able to spin the dog hair into yarn on the drop spindles, and weave a beautiful blanket for her dog out of the dog's own hair!"

Ahem. First of all, it wasn't a blanket, it was a beautiful wall hanging and it's still hanging in my parent's living room. Chakra McKinley Bernstein may you rest in doggy peace. Second of all. Leanne? LEANNE? Why not Louise or Lesley or Lee like everyone calls me when they forget my name? Did drawing the name Tuuka out of the archives sap all your memory power so you had nothing left to waste on Leah? THE DOG HAIR WEAVER???

Dan says don't take it personally, he probably changed all the non-Finish names.

And anyway, in all fairness, I cannot remember half the things described in chapter seven. The field trip to the sheep farm? The woman coming into the class repeatedly to teach dying techniques? I remember losing my voice one morning and regaining it in the afternoon and feeling like an idiot. I remember falling off my chair and hitting the back of my head and how everybody stared at me to see if I had died. I remember getting poked in the eye with a yard stick and the student teacher taking me to the nurse said, "Don't baby it." I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded extraordinarily harsh to someone who had just gotten her eye poked with a yard stick.

In other words, with this and other pedagogical works I have read recently, I must take everything with a grain of salt. My best laid plans will always look well-integrated and dreamily educational but my children will more likely remember the day I ran a fever and started shattering pottery.

As a parent, forth grade seems impossibly far away. I am looking forward to the day when I can do real making and information gathering with my children. Researching how the pilgrims processed wool and the types of sewing patterns they used and then making clothes the way they did? That would be totally my thing. Instead my thing right now is reading board books for hours and hours, none with more than five words on a page. Zion just started getting interested in books a few weeks ago, but his attention span is more age appropriate than Harvey's was at 16 months. Good thing Harvey's attention span is magnetic to books, and he can happily sit through thirty minutes of "Colors" followed by "Numbers" followed by "ABC." Anyway, it's fun to think about the future even as I attempt to cultivate patience in the present.

As long as my kids don't start calling me Leanne.

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The tower of confusion

babel

Okay, I'm not gonna lie. I made this felt set in ten minutes. Because the tower of Babel is a weird pre-historic story that doesn't make any sense. Also, I feel fine teaching Harvey that God made the earth in six days but this tower business has NOTHING TO DO WITH THE CREATION OF LANGUAGE. And I'm sorry, I just cannot suspend disbelief for something I care about as much as linguistics.

Nevertheless, I found myself using a morel from the Babel story in my discipline of Harvey yesterday. He was yelling "PIE PIE PIIIIIIIIE" while we were already FUCKING SERVING HIM PIE. Does it sound like I'm irritated by this? Because it's very irritating, this thing he does when we're getting him the juice he's all moaning "juuuuuuuuuuuice" like he's just come from wandering in the desert. So I said (after Dan and I both ordered him to SHUT YOUR MOUTH AND YOU'LL GET SOME) "Remember in the Babel story when the people wanted to keep from being scattered all over the earth? So they built a big tower? And then precisely because of the tower they got scattered all over the earth? Maybe that means that if you want something real bad you should STOP TRYING EVERY STUPID THING YOU THINK OF BECAUSE IT PISSES GOD OFF. Now I'm God in this story. And I know you want pie. But your whining makes me mad at you."

I don't know how much he's getting from these nice little chats.

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inside the ark they were warm and dry

I finally cut out the pieces to Noah's ark. It took three days with Harvey's help, and by help I mean he picked out the colors to distinguish the characters and that's why everyone kind of looks like they're in an 80s workout video.

get those children out of the muddy muddy

Harvey also sewed the rainbow, which is to say he drove the pedal of the machine while I turned the fabric wildly to try to get the stitches to curve at Harvey's warp speed (I don't let him use my computerized sewing machine for obvious reasons, but that means the only speed control he has is how hard he puts down on the pedal. And he's three - gradual gradation is not really his thing.)

We did Noah's ark on the flannel board two and a half times this week, the half when Zion abruptly ripped all the pieces off the board and Harvey announced, "Let's go outside!" I'm eager to move away from Noah and get on to the tower of Babel (skipping Noah getting drunk and exposing himself to his sons; that's a lesson for high school). Harvey thinks Noah's ark is a bit scary, because of the giants. He is very happy when they get killed in the flood, and he relishes wiping them off the board when the waters rise. But he notes that we need more animals to die too in the flood. Yeah, I think he's learned enough here.

I'm not very spiritually moved by the Noah story. I think God related to prehistoric peoples in a way that probably made sense to previous ages more than it makes sense to us. I'm also not totally happy with this felt set-up. I wanted to press the point that Noah wasn't the only person in the ark, but my zeal to represent his family and then following fatigue at cutting out figures gives the impression that there were more people saved than drowned in the story. Which is false. Also, it's a bit tricky to fit all those guys in the ark and shut the door and have the thing still stick to the flannel board. I'm thinking ahead to IMPORTANT stories in Genesis (who's playing God now!) and I think for big groups of people like Joseph's brothers I'll cut them out as a crowd block and then decorate them some way that's not so neon.

Harvey seems to be learning a lot from these stories. Preschool homeschool isn't so hard, I realize. Just the other day I asked Harvey what he wanted to do for school at home this year, and he said, "Well, we already did weaving, and making a sweater, and numbers.. so I don't know! We already did everything!"

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school at home for Harvey

I am starting to dip my toe in the waters of homeschooling, to see if it's something that might be possible in the future given the presence of a one-year-old. Or a younger year-old, I don't know... I'm very ambivalent about both kindergarten and baby next.

I have my moments when I shout "I can NOT do this!" whether it's about homeschooling or knitting or simply putting food in my mouth while the 23lb baby tries to remove my dermis with his fingernails. Then there are better days, when I get more than an hour of sleep at a stretch and I wake up early and cut out an entire story's worth of flannel board figures.

adam and eve on the felt board

The snake is a rather droopy after Zion chewed it up this morning. May you always deal so shrewdly with the enemy, Zibra.

This is the Adam and Eve story, and Harvey has liked it much better than creation which, er, didn't have as many talking characters. We've done Adam and Eve each day this week and I'm gonna try to milk it until I decide whether a weird lesson about brother's keepers is better than cutting out gillions pairs of animals. I hate making animals. Noah's ark is the hardest story for crafters, why does it come so early in Genesis?

Anyway, Harvey seems to be getting something from the felt board stories. Yesterday we had the following interaction:

Me: "And God made clothing of skins for Adam and Eve so that they could keep warm."

Harvey pointing to the elephants: "Maybe he took the skins from those animals!"

Me: "Yes! Very good Harvey! You're so smart to know that skins come from animals. Do you think God killed them to get their skins?"

Harvey" "Yes." (and suddenly getting concerned) "And then Jesus made them new."

Harvey's also been getting into craft projects during Zion's rest time. We've been working on weaving because knitting is too complicated for a three year old, even if he does ask every day, "Can I make a sweater for school at home?"

harvey weaving

the tongue sticking out is hereditary

He's quite good at weaving, but he only wants to do a few lines before he decides the whole loom is a guitar.

He also asks to sew near constantly, so we brought up my old sewing machine from the basement and (with 100% constant supervision and also a little of mama tugging the fabric in the right direction) Harvey sewed a pillow all by himself!

he chose black for the heart because he's already punk

Thrown in at other random times I've been doing two-minute teachings on letters or numbers or whatever I feel like talking about. I figure if we do about an hour a day of teaching year round then that's all we'll really have to do until the snake-eaters are ready for instruction too. The other part of preschool Harvey is missing is socialization, but he seems to get on like gangbusters with other children. Regular playdates should ease my conscience on that front. And I'll be glad he's missing the other parts of school: bullying, disney brand indoctrination, and the crushing abuse of adult authority. That I won't try to recreate at home. I mean, any more than I already do.

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Ready for Preschool

Dan says that since we're not sending Harvey to preschool I have to start teaching him things. Pfft. That sounds like work.

Then I looked at some preschool cariculum online and was AGHAST to find that all they do is sing, read, point out letters, make art. Why, that's all the things we do anyway!

I was delighted to see, however, that some of the curricula use flannel-boards to teach lessons. I was like, Oh yeah. Didn't I make that flannel-board over a year ago? Before I had a baby? I had planned to do some teaching on that or whatever.

So while Zion napped and Harvey played at the library with Dan (presumably READING) I cut out an introductory set of figures.

ready for preschool

There, now I'm ready to teach the first two chapters of Genesis. That'll kill like two weeks of preschool homeschooling, right?

UPDATE: Harvey loves the flannel-board, but he says he doesn't need to hear the creation story again. He wants to know where are the figures for Jesus and the disciples and the boat for Jonah.

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holiday beer

an empty

this one didn't last long undrunk

Leah's new project for the holiday season was soap; mine was beer. She had the harder task, though, since she did all the reading and collecting of ingredients by herself. Me, I just tagged along with our friend Luke to the homebrew store to pick up a kit and brewed it up in borrowed buckets. Still, I take some pleasure in the achievement.

The beer came out pretty tasty, if I do say so myself. Good enough that I didn't mind handing some out as a present to various relatives. Of course, to give anything away I have to design packaging for it—I'm as much about packaging as I am about content, you should know. For this, a Christmastime brown ale, I couldn't do anything but go with the words of the song, and then find a picture to match.

Luckily I have a few friends who share my enjoyment of old-timey carols, so I wasn't forced to keep the joke entirely to myself.

There will probably be more beer-making in our future, especially once we get used to drinking what's left of this batch and then run out of it. Despite the suggestion of both Luke and my brother, though, I think it'll be a little while before we start growing our own hops.

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Soap

As intentional homesteaders (translation: crazy people) Dan and I each have a short-list of skills we'd like to learn. Mine includes such things as basket weaving, bee keeping, and scavenging for edible mushrooms. But high on the list this past year was making soap. What kind of a homestead are you if you can't make your own soap?

soap raw on the table

i made this.

The first step to soap making, if you're me, is to take several months to psyche yourself up. There's a list of things to gather: safety goggles, rubber gloves, spatula, whisk, stainless pot and a wooden box. Then there's locating the oils (coconut is sold at Whole Foods, palm oil nowhere I can find except online) and the dreaded sodium hydroxide. All this is to get you to ask yourself over and over again, "Do you really want to make soap? Really? Are you sure? Don't you know you can BUY soap instead?"

Soap making and children do not mix, unfortunately. Almost as much as soap an children refuse to mix, ha ha ha! No, but really, soap making is an activity to do only while the children sleep soundly AND there is back-up parental coverage, for two reasons. One, the children can't be around the lye, and two, the soap solution needs constant stirring for 15-30 minutes, and seriously I can't leave to check on the baby for one second or I've wasted $20 worth of ingredients.

So there were several nights of very cautious chemistry, and a month later I ended up with two big batches of soap.

all the soap in its box

all wrapped up and ready to go

I felt very fancy indeed wrapping the bars in tissue paper and sealing them with the beautiful labels Dan made. Unfortunately the big wow of "You made soap!" was lost on my friends who have all known for months that I've been working up to this soap thing. I guess I'm bad at keeping secrets. Only my Dad was pleasantly surprised, and asked more scientific questions than I was able to answer (Der, you stir it up an it becomes soap. Der.)

soap labels

when are you opening up a dry goods store? asks my father

We've been using the soap in our bathroom since last week and it's VERY soapy. It's like if you washed your hands with soap and then put moisturizer on them immediately after. Not to say that's bad, but it's rather surprising. I don't want to call it a "soap scum" but I will say that the oils stay clinging to your hand in a way that's lovely if you want to feel moisturized and irritating if you want to feel sterilized. Oh well, it's homemade. Next year... baskets.

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almost perfect

our house, with Christmas lights, in the snow

cold and quiet

[Note: that picture is from last year. Don't worry!!]

Our house is practically perfect, especially in the summer. Wonderful light, great cross-ventilation with the doors open, and the big porch to expand the livable area. Come the colder weather though, there are two things I wish we had: a wood-burning stove and mudroom.

It's certainly not cold now—after our crazy snow day the weather has been positively balmy the last couple days—but the smell of wood smoke on my commute this morning made me think once again how much I'd like to have a cozy warm fire to gather around on evenings like the one in the picture above. Unfortunately, not only is there no way we can afford the stove and its installation, there's also not really a good place for us to put one if we could; we'd have to give up about half of the current seats in our living room, I figure. Oh well, we'll just have to rely on good old natural gas for the foreseeable future: less cozy but just as warming.

And I don't need to tell you why I'd like a mudroom, especially as the number of potentially muddy feet around here continues to increase. And it's not just boots that are troublesome: coats, hats, mittens, the occasional scarf... winter's demands on the wardrobe are severe. And unfortunately our wardrobe is located some small yet psychologically significant distance away from the door, which opens directly onto the living room. You can imagine, then, what the floor looks like after we've come in from a wintertime family walk. In the summer we can leave wet coats and boots on the porch to avoid overwhelming the interior spaces, but that's obviously not a long-term option in the colder months. Even more than the stove I know that a having the sort of space that can mediate between outdoors and in- is a dream that's not going to be realized anytime soon, but that doesn't stop me from considering what kind of addition we might put on to allow a mudroom; you know, after we win the lottery or whatever. I guess I'd better start buying tickets!

Still, even without those two longed-for luxuries, we have it pretty good—I can safely say I'm very much looking forward to winter, never mind cluttered floors and heat diffused through baseboard radiators!

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mother's day

Zion found his crying voice last night. I remember that Harvey did that too - be sweet and sleepy for a few days and then all of a sudden turn into a screaming raging monster. It probably has to do with their digestion when my milk comes in - Zion certainly was working through some burps and poops and hiccups, and he let loose with letting us know it all evening. I remember Harvey screamed for an hour or a few every day for a while... I don't really remember for how long. I wish we had written these things down, whether it was for two weeks or two months that he screamed all evening every evening. On the other hand, I know that when you have a screaming newborn all you want to do is make the screaming stop, and writing stuff down does not seem of the utmost importance.

Also, maybe you want to forget.

Today is mother's day, and I had started working on a poem a few weeks ago for the occasion. Unfortunately some other things came up, so this is how far I got:

I am mama
remover of splinters
mac and cheese maker
hat knitter in winters

I am mama
remover of bugs
song maker upper
fountain of hugs

It's not what you call a finished piece as I was hoping for 2 more stanzas, the last of which would wrap up a lighthearted list with something moving and profound. yaddah yaddah yaddah. Maybe you get the idea.

Becoming a mom has been the most real, powerful, awesome thing I've done with my life. At the same time the specific process of becoming a mother, which is to say what I've been living through this week, is kind of a bitch. I kept thinking if I just got the right team in place, if I got the right equipment, if I gave birth at home and not in a hospital, and without castor oil and with fewer visitors, if I kept tweaking the inputs just right I'd come out with an experience that was holy and empowering and blissful and transformative.

What on earth was I thinking?

Because even though nobody violated my dignity or separated me from my child, even though the care and the time of day and the general circumstances of this birth were impeccable... still it was inexplicably traumatic. It was still gross and embarrassing and nightmarishly painful. I still have to deal with a body that is a bleeding oozing pussing cramping broken disgusting exhausted mess.

And really, it's a terrible time to celebrate mother's day, four days after giving birth, because my breasts are swollen bowling balls and my abdomen hurts when I laugh and my taint burns like a warzone and I have all these boys I want to take care of but can't do my job of being a good mama.

I want this part to be over so I can go back to being chief splinter remover, chief hat knitter, chief mac and cheese maker (okay, so maybe Dan and I fight over that last one.)

And as much as I love my big boy Harvey and my cutey little piglet Zion, I will never love the cat-like cries of a newborn or the process with which they came into the world.

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baby Zion's birth story - quick like lightening!

Dan must have been rather surprised yesterday morning when upon arriving at work he got a phone call telling him to turn around and come right home. "My water broke" I told him. "Oh!" he said, "Let me just tell them inside." Poor thing, he had barely set down his bicycle. He ran inside to tell the administrators he was leaving and then came zooming back home. That's 12 miles in 45 minutes and in work clothes, people! I'd only be more impressed if he'd actually given birth himself.

I too was pretty surprised when I stood up at 8:15 am to find myself covered in amniotic fluid. The baby's due date wasn't for another two weeks, and since Harvey was late we were really expecting this baby a week or two late as well. Certainly not the first week of May. Indeed, many things were surprising about the series of events yesterday. For example, when you're used to going into labor at 42 weeks and then your water breaks at 38 weeks, it really does seem as if the difference in the amount of liquid that comes out is like how much water you could possibly drink in a whole month. Seriously, it was like the friggin Hoover Dam. All those jokes from TV that I always ridiculed. All true.

Since I wasn't in labor yet the midwives decided to come around noon. By 11am the contractions were 5 minutes apart. The 5 intervening minutes felt like no labor at all, but the contractions felt like the dickens, which I told to the first midwife who arrived. She checked all my vitals and the baby's heartbeat, and then sat with me through a few contractions. Since they were between 2-5 minutes apart and not longer than 30 seconds, she figured this was still early labor and suggested I get in the shower while she set up her supplies. I stood in the shower for 5 minutes and thought it felt pretty good. Then I had a contraction in the shower and thought I was dying. Then I thought all would be better if I just made a poop, so I got out of the shower to sit on the potty. Once sitting I let out a big yell and the other midwife rushed in. "I just want to check to see what's going on," she said. She gave one poke with a gloved finger and said, "Um, I can feel the baby's head. Do you want to have this baby on the floor here? or can you make it to the bedroom?"

A plastic sheet was thrown over the bed faster than a magician's trick, and less than five minutes later a 9-pound baby plopped onto it. I don't think I gave more that four pushes and Harvey stayed asleep in the next room the whole time. The plastic tub was all ready and inflated, but we only ever got a few inches of water into it. Harvey played in it later that night.

Look, I don't recommend this type of labor. It was rather shocking and unpleasant, and the kind of pain you're mentally ready to face after 5 hours preparation is just not the kind of pain you can process in 10 minutes. Then again, I can't say I was sad to get it over with either. And how hard core is it to say that we did all of labor and delivery in the time it took Harvey to take an afternoon nap?

I have to admit I was a little shocked for the rest of the afternoon, but by evening I started to warm up to the idea that we really did just have a baby, that now we have two sons, and that the second one is a big-cheeked butter ball who loves eating just as much as his big brother did but thankfully loves sleeping just a little bit more.

So here's to baby Zion, who was apparently in a great hurry to meet us. We're pretty happy to meet you too, little guy. Now let's all just chiiiiill out for a little while.

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birth announcement

Mama kissing the newborn baby

she loves him already

We have a new baby! He surprised us quite a bit, first by getting the whole labor thing started a couple weeks early, then by being born after less than two hours of labor, and finally by being a boy when all stomach analysis indicated there was a girl in there. But no, he's a boy and he was in a hurry. I give you Zion Greig Archibald:

Zion is well-built for a newborn

big and strong!

He was born at 1:16 this afternoon and weighed in at 9lb even (but he cheated and snuck in a nursing before the weigh-in so who knows). Harvey napped pretty much through the whole labor, so he was fairly surprised too when he woke up and was told he was now a big brother. After just a little uncertainty, though, he settled right into the role.

Mama reading to Harvey and Zion

look how well they get along already!

Just like he was with Harvey Rascal was very interested as soon as Zion was born and didn't want to leave the bedroom, much less the house. The two of them are already very well acquainted.

We're all doing fine, and very much appreciate everyone's thoughts and prayers and well-wishes. Feel free to stop by and visit our new little guy... in a week or so, once we get used to him ourselves. In the meantime any additional photos (that we manage to refrain from putting on the blog) will appear at squibix.net/zion.

And hey, we were sure quicker with this announcement than we were last time, eh?

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The poor person as empowered patient

The Economist blog featured a very well-written expose yesterday on "Economism" and the way in which framing the debate over how we pay for health services really IS the debate over how we pay for health services. I won't try to rehash the blogger's argument here; he's smarter than me and actually gets paid to put words together into sentences. I do want to add, however, that from my personal experience paying directly for health services DOES influence the health services one consumes, for better and for worse.

This issue is forefront in my mind these days because I recently finished paying off the service fees for our upcoming homebirth, all $3000 of them, only to find myself having to shell out another $150 or so for sterile medical supplies to have ready for the day of. And let me tell you, even though I had the option of pushing a single button and buying the homebirth pack online, I shopped around for every stupid item on that stupid list. No way was I going to pay $.20 each for several individually wrapped bendy straws when I have a pack of bendy straws in my kitchen cabinet. I've been through this once before; I know they're not for the baby. Neither did I buy ten individually wrapped gauze pads when a pack of 20 was less expensive. Or an umbilical cord clamp. Fuggin, just use a shoelace!

No, just kidding - I bought the cord clamp. Please, no one actually use a shoe lace; it can cause major bleeding.

Also, when you're paying for everything out of pocket you're more likely to push back against your provider's recommendations. Homebirth midwives tend to be an earthy crunch bunch, and no harm there, but I take it with several grains of sea salt when they instruct me to stock homeopathic arnica for swelling, when I already own tylenol in convenient medically effective quantities. We can have a separate discussion on whether homeopathy is even a real thing, but not on my credit card. Also, I'm not buying organic olive oil to use as a lubricant. If regular olive oil is good enough for cooking in my kitchen, it's good enough to rub on my taint.

All this is to say that when offered an a-la-carte menu, as I was when filling my birth supply list, the price of things affected my choice of treatment to some extent. This may be good in the sense that a smart consumer drives medical costs down. But this is only true up to a very small point. If I was out to save money on this endeavor, after all, the easiest thing to do would have been to give birth in a hospital where the whole kit and caboodle would have been free. I didn't choose that option because my preference for homebirth over hospital birth is price inelastic. So the fixed cost part of the birth, the 3 grand to pay the midwives, did not get any haggled. And how could a patient even begin that conversation? Look, I want you to give me good attentive care and save the life of my baby in dire circumstances, but could you think about doing it at a 20% discount? Because my husband is a member of the Massachusetts Teacher's Union?

Anyway, it's a very interesting discussion from an economist's point of view, if you can keep from getting mad over the disparity of maternity care state by state. And at least for me it's all done and paid for as of today! Now just to pop out that kid some time in the next month and hope it doesn't need much in the way of new clothes...

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again with the anarchist midwifery

Soon after I learned I was pregnant for the second time I started thinking about my "birth plan." The second time around would be so much better, I reasoned. So much calmer, controlled, laid-back and fearless and empowering.

Then, for some reason, I stopped giving a crap. Whether it feels spiritual or painful, whether I feel loved or irritated by the midwives, whether Harvey sleeps or heads off to the playground with dada, either way it's only half a day of my life sometime in May. In the blink of an eye it's gonna be over, and the next moment will start a much more daunting rest-of-my-life when suddenly I have two babies to care for. Seriously, I have to worry about what birth tub to rent? I have to figure out how to be a calm empowered loving mother of two children, amidst (anarchist view) a disgusting wasteland of mindless consumption or (Christian view) a broken world filled with sin and death.

Not that I'm being negative or anything... it's just that the big picture is kind of overwhelmingly big.

I keep thinking of this quote from anarchist Daniel Wilson:

Having children in a safe, comfortable, healthy and natural environment is great, but it isn't all there is. All of us inhabit a massive environmental catastrophe, a shallow and meaningless social desert, a world of box stores and seven-elevens, a massive surveillance apparatus, chemical factories, mines, plantations and sweatshops, and a giant military that rains fire from the sky onto real people. I think that if I were to worry about midwifery suffering in quality because it's being absorbed into medicine I would feel like an asshole.

Oh how I wish I could fit that whole quote in embroidery on a tea cozy. Because seriously, you could just change a couple words and use it for anything. Worried whether it's more important to eat organic or local?

Eating healthy natural produce is great, but it isn't all there is. All of us inhabit a massive environmental catastrophe, a shallow and meaningless social desert, a world of box stores and seven-elevens, a massive surveillance apparatus, chemical factories, mines, plantations and sweatshops, and a giant military that rains fire from the sky onto real people. I think that if I were to worry about my local produce suffering in quality because it's not organic I would feel like an asshole.

Oh man, I could go on like this forever.

But seriously, just two years ago I was all militant homebirth advocate. Now I feel like the whole issue is rather passe. Important, sure, but not more important than who gets to raise your children and with what values.

Anyway, go back and read the article if you want to hear midwifery likened to the re-release of the Volkswagen Beetle: "Midwifery has become a symbolic act of consumption for most people. It is marketed to feel-good eco-yuppies as a piece of the primitive." Makes me feel real non-committal about whether I want to order a birth tub with fishies on it.

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Not that I have any problems with your personal choices...

So, we're giving birth at home again, which in Massachusetts is kind of a radical thing because it means going through pregnancy, birth, and postpartum with NO contact with the medical establishment.

I hesitated to write "the medical industrial complex" in that last sentence, but I thought it. That should give you some insight into my opinions on the matter.

Personally, I am more than happy to give birth far far away from doctors and nurses. At med school and nursing school the primary model of thinking is "How can I fix this?" Which, um, is probably appropriate for many medical emergencies, of which birth is not one. Unfortunately, doctors and nurses look at birthing women as problems to diagnose and fix, which ushers in a whole host of actions that aren't necessarily good or right or just. I can go on but I won't. Here are some books on the subject.

Anyway, since I'm giving birth at home in Massachusetts, no OB or nurse midwife can assist me without losing their hospital accreditation. So I get care from a certified professional midwife, who is someone who went to school just for midwifery. She's very skilled and trustworthy and accommodating. She costs me $3500 out of pocket.

Which is a lot of money to avoid Pitocin, a 34% cesarian rate, or STD vaccines in my baby's eyes. But I think it's worth it.

Anyway, that's a long preamble to what I really wanted to blog about today, but hopefully those who violently disagree with me have already stopped reading. What's stressing me out this week is that I have several friends who are concurrently going through pregnancy and the process of choosing a "provider", and I can't really offer my honest opinion in conversations with these women. Because my honest opinion is if you go into the hospital, you're likely to get fucked.

I have some radical opinions on the issue, and it's hard to function in casual conversation because someone will be all, "I chose Beth Israel because you can get a private room with a couch!" and I'm all, "Yeah, I chose my living room because I'm 75% less likely to get sliced the fuck open."

Abdominally, I mean. The stats for episiotomies are worse.

Ugh, there I go again. Why don't I just open the door on one big long anarchist rant and get it over with already. You see, we've got a life-extracting medical industrial complex in this country that exploits peoples illnesses and fears and turns them into economic inputs to generate profits. At the same time this sick-loving machine bashes people as best it can into identical cogs so they fit neater into little boxes on the insurance forms. And fittinger means more tests, and more tests mean more surgeries and more surgeries mean more money. Which should be hard on the hunks of meat on the stretchers, but we don't mind, not us well-healed ladies waiting for a strong man to serve up our perfect baby, because having strangers play a game of slots with our physical integrity is much easier to take when the windows have curtains and we get to choose on our own soft ocean waves CD. Which is why I say TAKE AWAY THE SOOTHING WALLPAPER AND TREE-LINED ENTRANCE IF YOU REFUSE TO TAKE AWAY THE MANDATORY IV AND THE TIME LIMIT ON LABOR AND THE FETAL MONITORING STRIP. Don't reform the prisons, let the prisoners revolt!

Which is why I have a blog, because here's hoping I don't open my big fat mouth on some pregnant lady who won't be my friend later.

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anarchist midwifery

Sometimes my interests combine on the internet for a brief shining moment and it's like penies from heaven. Today on the unnecesarean, Anarchist Midwifery. From the interview:

To be honest I donít worry so much about midwifery becoming less available to the poor. What I really worry about how we are going to put an end to this miserable way of life that keeps us poor. Seriously, having children in a safe, comfortable, healthy and natural environment is great, but it isnít all there is. All of us inhabit a massive environmental catastrophe, a shallow and meaningless social desert, a world of box stores and seven-elevens, a massive surveillance apparatus, chemical factories, mines, plantations and sweatshops, and a giant military that rains fire from the sky onto real people. I think that if I were to worry about midwifery suffering in quality because itís being absorbed into medicine I would feel like an asshole.

You can always trust an anarchist midwife to put shit in perspective.

The Circle of Life

On June 20th last year a little baby was born in the upstairs room of our house. We had only gotten one ultrasound during the pregnancy, and this at the very end, so the baby's gender remained a mystery to us until he popped out to greet us that Saturday evening. Around us, everyone was chomping at the bit to find out. Girl or Boy? Boy or Girl? For heaven sakes, I don't know which Precious Moments figurine to buy!!!!!

So that evening, after Harvey was fed and cleaned and dinner was served to the midwives, someone ran to our local party store and picked up a visual aid that would telegraph the news to all the neighborhood.

For the record, mylar balloons don't pop. They slowly deflate, floating lower and lower towards the ground into which they'll never biodegrade. Tied to a chair on our porch, our little balloon tugged at its string at first, jollily bouncing back and forth like the baby boy it represented. After a week or so it drooped a little. Another week and the knot tethering it in place was higher than the balloon itself. A few weeks later it had sunk to ground level. It stayed there several more months until we needed to move the chair. After that the balloon still stayed on the porch, dangerously approaching the category of trash. Out of sentimentality or laziness I couldn't find the strength to throw it away. Then I lost track. It blew away from view in the windy storms, and I thought I was spared a tough moment in mothering. Then Wednesday evening I heard Dan exclaim from the kitchen window:

"Look! That bird is dragging Harvey's balloon across the yard!"

It's true. A robin had taken hold of the bright blue string, and she wanted it for her nest. Unfortunately it was tied to an unwieldy piece of trash.

a deflated mylar balloon

It's a..... blech.

I ran out back with a pair of scissors in hand and separated the precious ribbon from mylar. I left both outside because I didn't want to scare the bird anymore, and really, the act with the scissors was as much as I could handle for the day. Then on Thursday morning as I walked down the front steps with Harvey and Rascal, I was almost decapitated by a low-flying bird. She bobbed from one bush to another with a brightly colored object in her mouth.

You can guess what it was.

a ribbon-bedecked birds' nest

My heart sings for spring! (Please ignore the Christmas lights)

Isn't this crazy world amazing? In our little bush there will soon be eggs, and then little baby birds. Spring follows spring. Life begets death (of balloons at least) and then begets life again.

My baby will soon be 1 year old, and not so much of a baby any more. Some day there will be another baby. I've just started ovulating again, you see, and I'm rather emotional about nests and ribbons and bitty baby birds.

Happy Spring Everyone!

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we're in ur woods, hippying ur neighborhood

On my run this morning I ran into a friend from grad school who's contemplating a home birth. With her was a neighbor who's a birth educator by profession and also home-schools her kids and does a little light crafting. Which is to say: WATCH OUT, STATUS QUO! WE'RE TAKING OVER YOUR FRIGGIN NEIGHBORHOOD!

Well, the statistical sample may be skewed a little bit. Towards individuals crunchy enough to use their saturday morning to walk in the woods in the rain. nevertheless...

Last night we went out for margaritas with my parents at a restaurant (appropriately titled) Margaritas. Harvey was wearing his easter pants and seedling shirt. My mom recognized the pants and said, "Look what nice pants your momma made you!"

"I made the shirt too," I said. Because I don't let well enough stand.

"You MADE the shirt?!"

"Yeah."

"Oh, you mean you sewed the leaf on it."

"No, I made the shirt."

"..."

"From cloth."

"You made this??? This is incredible! You made a whole shirt? I can't believe you made this!"

"I made the pattern too..."

And with that, my mother's head exploded.

So in conclusion, your level of outlandishness just depends on who you're talkin' too.

Why am I kind of wet? Oh yeah, because I just went running in the rain. I'm not too earthy crunchy to shower!

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Scary stuff: Massachusetts Cesarean Rates by Hospital

Are you thinking of giving birth in a Massachusetts hospital? The unnecesarean (bias clearly revealed in the blog title) summarizes the rate of this surgery in all major MA hospitals. The overall rate in our state is 33.7%. If you want to give birth at BIDMC, boston's most popular hospital where everyone says "the nurses are fantastic!" then you're 42% likely to deliver at knifepoint.

Choose a homebirth on the other hand, and you're 92% likely to come out of the process with your inside bits kept on the inside.

Obviously my outrage shows through. Distaste for cesarean was the number one reason I chose to give birth at home. Regardless of risk factors, women who start their pregnancies with the plan of delivering at home have an 8% chance of ending in cesarean. That means that merely by making the choice of different care provider, you decrease your risk of major abdominal surgery by 76%. Choose a hospital birth and you increase your risk by 321%.

That's not just selection bias. In 1996 the state-wide rate was 19.1%. Masachusetts women and babies haven't gotten phenomenally sicker since then. There's a systemic problem in the way doctors give birth. I'm sorry.... CURE birth.

Okay, I've said my piece. Tomorrow it's back to crafting photos. Stats and charts are here.

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Is Revolt Brewing All Over?

YES YES and YES!!!

I usually prefer to generate my own content rather than retweeting links that (hopefully) already come up in your RSS, but this tidbit of intellectual concision is just too good to pass up. On the parallels between homebirth and homeschooling:

In both cases, there is a problematic institution dominating a familyís life... For some kids, maybe for a majority of them, extremely regimented and test-oriented schooling is counterproductive...Just as women who choose non-hospital birth, or who fight to break down restrictions on hospital birth, are trying to reinvent what it means to give birth. They are rejecting hospital schedules, unnecessary procedures, and in some cases, the need to be in a hospital at all, in order to attempt a more direct, less disconnected form of giving birth.... In both cases, there are those motivated by liberal ideals and those motivated by strict religious views who are (sometimes) finding themselves allies.

Amen sister! As a homebirther who aspires to one day be a homeschooler, AND as someone with BOTH liberal ideals AND strict religious views, I'm truly on board with the idea that revolution begins at home.

However soggy that home happens to be at the moment.

bad farming weather, good farming climate

They say that snow is the poor man's fertilizer, and this past weekend we saw the truth of that—but unfortunately it was from the wrong side of the argument. It was a low-snow winter here in Eastern Massachusetts, so our snow's been gone from the garden for a couple weeks. Over the last three days we got socked with a rainy nor'easter, which, instead of dropping a couple (or eight or ten) feet of insulating snow that would slowly melt into the soil, spent 60 hours lashing us with rain. Floods, soil loss due to runoff, soil nutrients washed away... oh woe! Not to mention, of course, our flooded basement.

Still, it's sunny now and warming up quickly, and the daffodil shoots are already three inches tall. And talk of gardening is popping up all over the internet—and not just gardening, but the sort of real lifestyle changes that go under the heading "urban homesteading". Or, of course, suburban homesteading. Folks are writing about starting seeds, preserving food, living locally and sustainably... even dropping out of the rat race to raise chickens!

Alright, so that last link from the New York Times Magazine isn't so good. Not only are the folks at the Times are a little slow in acknowledging the "Radical Homemaker" movement, they're pretty classist and dismissive in their presentation ("highly educated women"? Times needs to make sure we don't think these folks are plain old hicks). But hey, there are real people who want to have chickens—not to mention gardens and pantries full of homemade preserves—and I think that's pretty cool!

[Edit to add one more garden-starting blog post.]

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file with other unhelpful advice such as "sleep now while you still can"

At church this morning I had a chat with a friend who is pregnant with her first child, and as is my wont I said things that are tremendously unhelpful to someone about to go through labor for the first time. Like, "I screamed so loud the neighbors could hear me two blocks away!" and "It's really not scary, because it hurts so much you WANT to die!"

Also? I mentioned how the placenta looks really neeto! Like your best biology class demo ever! I didn't mention how we stored ours in the freezer for three months before finally chucking it into the tomato patch. I mean, I didn't want her to think I was a weirdo or something.

It's true; our hippy homebirth situates our family squarely in the crazy people camp. When I go to the doctor's office these days the nurses still whisper about "the woman who had NO OB!!!" (Someone the other day asked me, "Can you have drugs at a homebirth?" And I was like, "Whatever drugs you normally have in your house, I guess.") But we differ from some stereotypical descriptions of homebirthers you may have heard. There were no crystals or nature sounds at my homebirth. No one coached me through soothing breathing. I didn't connect with my power animal or colored energies. I just, you know, did it. I muscled down, screamed the hell out of every contraction, and the baby came out mostly on his own. I compare it to going through the stomach flu or bad mexican food. No one needs to give you a tutorial on how to get through it. Although for safety sake, I won't try to search for that sort of thing on YouTube.

Not to belittle anyone's totally helpful anti-pain birthing techniques. More power to you! (and life essence and colored light, when it comes to that.) But that's not my thing, and I'm so happy I spent the last few weeks before giving birth organizing my laundry room rather than reading how-to books. Because I didn't get out of bed for a week, and there were A LOT of people in my laundry room. Before child number two, you better believe those baskets are going to be labeled. With cycle instructions taped to the door of the washer.

Don't get me wrong; thinking about giving birth can be totally scary. And childbirth itself isn't like going out for icecream, but I could name a lot of things that are way worse. Like the stomach flu. Or a really bad urinary tract infection. Or sitting through Bob Castas's commentary of the olympics.

But in the end, however long the darn thing takes, it's over. And there's your baby. And more importantly, YOU'RE NO LONGER PREGNANT! And one way or another, it's all worth it.

two minutes old

two minutes old

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sex after childbirth: a user case study

Long-time readers of this blog will remember when I wrote about my half-assed diagnosis of vaginismus. After that post I didn't blog about the issue very much, not because it magically resolved itself, but because whenever I make a joke in public about our sex life my husband's eyes pop out of his head and roll across the floor. And I don't want to put him through that sort of trauma for nothing. Not unless the humor content of the post exceeds the grossness content by a factor of 2:1. I believe I have finally reached that level.

So for anyone who's had trouble getting back to sex after childbirth, or was wary about sex after pregnancy, or even outright dreaded intercourse after childbirth * let me be the first to tell you that you're not alone. Even though your friends and neighbors seem to keep getting pregnant mere days after they deliver... Even though your hair dresser reams you out for being cruel to your husband, and all the ladies in the salon chime in, and then you can never go back to get your hair cut ever again... Even though you think all the world except you is having fantastic mind-blowing sex every time their babies take a nap, while and all you and your husband do is go into separate rooms and surf the internet... Even so, it's okay. It's normal!

It's even expected! What to Expect says that most moms aren't up for sex during the post-partum period. Scanning their article, it appears that the factors are stacked against us: Lack of sleep, hormones for breast-feeding, soreness after delivery... wait what? How long are they talking about waiting here? Oh... SIX WEEKS??? Where's the entry for "I haven't had sex in seven months and there are climbing vines growing over the entrance to my secret garden?"

I typed that string into google, but it came back with zero results. So okay, I haven't had sex in eight months. I guess I am totally alone.

What happened is this. First the midwife suggested that my complaint of unbearable pain with intercourse was a symptom of vaginismus, a disease that may or may not be made up, with the only symptom being pain with intercourse. Which actually makes the picture seem more rosy than it is. After all, I had pain with childbirth but the kid still got out into the air okay. Sex, on the other hand, is completely non-starter for us these days. Dan so much as looks at me lustily and I start sobbing in anticipation. But I'm getting ahead of the story, because it turns out that this possibly made up frigidity disease? I don't actually have it.

You see, after going to the gynecologist for an exam, the doctor decided that I don't actually have vaginismus, but a lack of estrogen due to breast-feeding. She proscribed a topical estrogen cream (which didn't work) and also said the situation might improve when the baby started solid foods (it didn't). Then she said to come back in a month if the matter didn't "clear up," but she cancelled that follow-up appointment because her son was sick that day. Really I think she was so jazzed up with her estrogen cream that she called in sick so her husband and her could do it all afternoon in the car. But that's just my opinion.

If I was the kind of person who liked doctors (or at least didn't harbor a pathological fear of them) I would have called to reschedule the appointment, and I even dialed half the number a few times, but I couldn't think of what to say to the receptionist.
"Hi I'd like to make an appointment with Dr. Jones."
"Okay, what's the appointment about."
"Um, er, I haven't had sex in eight months."

I don't know whether the receptionist would gasp and say "egads!" or roll her eyes and say "so?" Maybe depends on the last time she had a little date time with her husband in the car.

For the record, I wasn't always so frigid. See this post about the full-page spread I got in my high school yearbook.** Plus, I know people who are frigid, and they don't make scarves embroidered with porn (NSFW, unless you work for ETSY's underground cousin SKETCHSY). So when the doctor told me in that first appointment that "it could be you just don't want to have sex right now" I was all, whaaaa? Meeee? I'm all about the liking sex. Insert dirty joke here!

But then secretly in my brain I'm all, sex makes owies and yelling things. Let's just lie in bed and read separate issues of the Economist.

So here I am at a standstill. Do I wait until the baby is weaned to see if my normal hormones kick in again? Do I visit a (gasp) therapist to talk about my newfound feelings of complete and absolute terror of intimacy? Do I start the search process for a second wife for our marriage? (Note: must have income and be willing to sleep in the basement.) Or do I just act like it doesn't matter, many people have sexless marriages, look at the Clintons. I don't know folks. I don't know.


*Hi google searchers! This blog is funny! Please stay!
** But that was the ONLY sort of spread I did in High School! Don't get to thinking otherwise.

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night time

I occasionally have reason to sleep downstairs these days. Yes, there are times when I surrender the bed to a fussy baby and a wonderful mama who is better able to cope with his untimely needs. There is a problem with fleeing to the couch, however, and it's not lack of comfort; the futon is plenty soft for me. No, it is the clocks. Since Alan fixed the big one we now have three clocks downstairs that make noise: the grandfather clock, the kitchen clock (of great antiquity), and the telltale clock. They all tick, and for some reason they choose to sound much louder at night. Also the grandfather clock has chimes that I have to remember to shut off: they're loud at all hours. But even the ticking is not the thing that most concerns me. No, the problem is that even with all those clocks—with the constant sound of clocks all around me—I have no idea what time it is when I'm downstairs at night.

Really, how did people ever survive in the pre-digital era? Anyone have a good source for some radium paint?

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Whence Hope?

The Economist blog declared Scott Brown the winner at 2:36 this morning, and asked for 2010 predictions in the comments. The feedback was not encouraging. One commenter wrote:

In no event will rancor between the parties decrease. Unless Jesus comes back to convince them to play nice.

True enough. Although I do imagine that when Jesus comes back it will somewhat lessen our need for healthcare reform.

Thinking about hope and faith and healthcare this morning got me remembering a story. A few days after Harvey was born I had some swelling in a private region of my private region, and the midwife determined that what was necessary was a shot of cortisone. This isn't exactly street-level stuff, at least not if you live on a street in Bedford, so she told me to go find a doctor to prescribe it. She could administer the shot, but as a home-birth midwife she can't actually get the medicine because blah blah blah this country sucks. Anyway, after bypassing the medical industrial complex for my entire pregnancy I suddenly had to go begging for someone for a shot in my hoo-ha.

First I called my regular gynecologist, the one I hadn't seen for over 10 months, and let's just say that she was not happy with my request. If you're brave enough to give birth at home you must also prepare yourself for getting yelled at. A lot. Plan B was the ER, so Dan and I prepared ourselves. We packed books, lunches, diapers for the baby, and headed over to our local hospital.

I presented myself to the admitting desk. "I gave birth three days ago and I have swelling in my la-la-la." She looked at me with a completely blank face, stared for a few seconds, and then said, "Go talk to the nurse. Around the corner."

I entered the ER proper through the large double doors and looked around for a nurses' station. There was a desk with a few ladies in scrubs standing around, so I addressed myself to them. "The woman at the desk told me to come here. I gave birth three days ago and I have swelling in my la-la-la." They looked at me blankly. "Ummmm," one of them said, "You'll need to talk to a nurse."

They called over another woman who was walking down the hall. "This lady wants to speak to a nurse" they said.

(Not to interrupt the story too much, but maybe a start to reforming healthcare in this country would be implementing an actual procedure of admitting patients to the ER... I'm no process expert myself, but this sort of thing might help as a time-saving measure.)

"I'm a nurse," the woman boasted, her chest puffing out in front of her as she sauntered over. It was as if we had called for Superman.

"I gave birth three days ago and I have swelling in my la-la-la," I said.

"Oh Brother!" she sighed. She looked me over like I was toxic. "Okay," she said with another big sigh. "Let's get this girl a room."

That's why people go into nursing I hear, because they loooove helping sick people. No, I'm just kidding! It's because they can't get into college.

"My husband is here with the baby, I'll have to get them," I said.

"WHAT???" She exploded. "You brought a newborn to the hospital? Tell them to get out of here right now!"

"Um..."

"Go tell them to go home! Then you come back here! This is no place for a newborn!"

(Not to interrupt again, but does anyone else see the irony here? I AGREE that a hospital is no place for a newborn, that's why I didn't give birth to one there.)

Anyway, here was my predicament. Three know-nothings inexplicably dressed in scrubs and Superman over-burdened the nurse wanted to put me in a room for an undisclosed amount of time, separating me from my three-day-old baby who needed breast milk every hour.

I walked back through the doors of the ER and into the empty waiting room. Dan was sitting there reading a book with a sleeping Harvey in his car seat. To protect from ambient germs, the car seat was covered in a linen blanket like a giant face mask for the whole contraption.

"Let's go," I said.

We went out to the car and called the midwife. "I'll lie down all day, I'll ice it, I'll apply salts. Can I please just go home?" She heard the trembling in my voice and she told me I could give it another day and reevaluate tomorrow. We drove back through Concord with the sleeping baby in the back. Diaper bag still stacked with fresh diapers. Wrapped up sandwiches uneaten. I bit my lip and felt like a moron.

We pulled into the driveway and turned off the car. Dan came around to my side to open the door for me. "Our hope is built on nothing less," he started humming "than Jesus Christ and God's goodness." The rest of the hymn continues: "I shall not trust the sweetest frame, but only rest on Jesus' name."

It's true. We know that home birth is medically safe - we have hard evidence. But we also know that medical evidence isn't the be-all end-all understanding of the universe. And that's the real reason we chose to begin our family far away from the judging eyes of nurses. They're not the ones who can bring life from death, even if they do think they're superman.

The chorus of the song goes: "On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand."

The next day the swelling was gone.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to make anyone think that the way out of our nation's health care crisis is to voluntarily forgo medical treatment when nurses are bitchy. It's a different comparison that I was drawing in my brain. Everyone was so hopeful that healthcare reform would get passed, but then the politicians all mucked it up like they normally do, and the bill got watered down like it normally does, and now we've elected another republican to the senate which makes it less likely that even the crap version will stay in tact. And yet, are we that surprised? That the two-party system failed us? That something sucky happened in politics?

It's a bit early to look to the end of the age for help, what with so many politicians unsaved and all. But it's not too soon to put hope in a good repository of hope. It's worked out before. And so, at the commenters urging, I will ask Jesus to inspire our politicians to make nice with each other.

After all, if a little prayer can alleviate swelling in your normal every-day pussy, it shouldn't take much longer for the ones in congress.

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Whale sounds via stereo also make your baby feel at one with the universe

I was chatting with a friend yesterday about birth and other topics, and she dropped the bomb eyebrows raised that her friend had done a WATER BIRTH with her first child, so that, you know,the birth is more soooooothing to the baby because the water reminds it of the womb. And then we looked at each other in eyebrow-raised silence.

Over and over again I've heard this ridiculous explanation (often with one or both eyebrows raised) that water birth is eeeeeasier on the baby. And every time they say it, they have to draw out one of the vowels to convey the full California-ness of this explanation. I'd like the meet the goddess-worshiping hippy who first made up this story. And punch her in the mouth.

For the rest of us God-fearing water-birthers,this explanation makes us look like crazy lunatics. And while some of us certainly are crazy lunatics, the notion reinforces the cloud of wary uncertainty around home birth and those who practice it.

If you have ever given birth in water, you know for certain these three facts:

1) The purpose of a tub of water is to lessen the pain on your pelvis when you're flying without drugs. In the open air it hurts like a mofo. Inside the tub, less so.

2) The experience of the baby is not one of luxuriating in the water and soaking up its womb-like calming properties. The moment the baby slides out he is lifted from the water so that he can breathe.

3) For a baby, emerging into the air is not as traumatic as having its head squeezed through your birth canal. A hot tub will not help him in this respect.

When I was first learning about home birth and read some excellent books such as this one, I too had prejudices against the tub, until I read over and over again that the birth tub was the one thing (perhaps the only thing?) that makes the pain of birth manageable in the home setting. After going through the experience myself, I completely agree. Labor in the tub was doable, even not as as bad as I had imagined. By contrast, in the first hour of my labor before I went into the tub I was fantasizing fondly about death.

So this should serve as a brief explanation on why we're NOT freakish hippies for doing a water birth at home. Certainly not. We're freakish hippies for draining the soiled water into our tomato patch.

We had to, after all. It's filled with nutrients. And EEEEENERGY.

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I Mammal, I Momma

The other night I had a terrible nightmare that we buried something in the back yard, some gruesome chopped up body part that we didn't want anyone to see, but we accidentally buried it on the neighbors yard by mistake, and a little girl was playing over the sandy mound where we buried it, and all the sand turned blood colored and stained her hands and dress, and the police were after us like on CSI. How could my brain conjur up such a terrifying image?

Over the weekend Dan did some work outside closing down the garden for winter. I was upstairs folding clothes while the baby napped. Suddenly Dan flung open the back door and stomped triumphantly up the stairs. "I've dug a hole" he said. "I'm ready to bury the placenta."

Yes, dear readership, it's been four months (Happy four month birthday Harvey!) and all this time this bizarre remnant has lurked in our freezer, terrorizing those who go in looking for the bag of raspberries which is RIGHT NEXT TO IT - OH DEAR LORD WHY ARE THE TWO ZIPLOCK BACKS OF RED FOOD AND NON-FOOD STUFFS RIGHT NEXT TO EACH OTHER IN THE FREEZER?

It's not like we were hanging onto this thing for sentimental reasons. It's just that, well, taking care of a baby involves many non-hole-digging related tasks, and we're not the quickest to jump on non-necessary chores, witness the IKEA shelf which has been propped against the wall in the bedroom for six months, and you realize that four is not a terribly long time to take to bury an organ.

Anyway, we headed out into the garden with the accusing looking ziplock bag, which frozen felt actually quite heavy. I pealed back the plastic from the frozen mass as gingerly as I could, trying as best as possible not to touch the thing, because I know I should be like a crazy hippy and all, but still, eeeeeeeeeeeew!

Then I dropped it into the hole and Dan covered it up with dirt. The last remnant of the "first pregnancy" part of our lives. In some bizarre way I was sad to see this little part of me disappear under the ground. Harvey is getting so big and smart and human, it's like he's his own person or something. I want to remind us both: "Hey! I know you! You used to be inside of me, little thing. I'm your momma."

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Starts with a dirty word and rhymes with Christmas

Today my midwife came over to give me an exam and talk about the whole not-being-able-to-have-sex condition that I may have previously mentioned on this website. It's gotten to the point where we've tried it enough times to rule out a run-of-the-mill case of postpartum frigidity. We've worked with all the usual advice, and trust me; it's not a question of interest or patience or position or lubrication. No, my pussy's just broken. I had this exam today to determine how broken. And the answer is? broken. With something called Vaginismus. Don't be surprised if you have absolutely no idea; they're not advertising on TV this month. Instead, I'll quote from the wikepedia entry:

"Vaginismus... affects a woman's ability to engage in any form of vaginal penetration... the result of a conditioned reflex of the pubococcygeus muscle... which makes any kind of vaginal penetration ó including sexual intercourse ó either painful or impossible."

I'll highlight two words from that description: PENETRATION and IMPOSSIBLE. I'll say that again for effect: IMPOSSIBLE! Like the way a pig can't fly or you can't re-freeze melted icecream. Not gonna happen - Impossible. There's something so incredibly relieving in that word. Like It's not actually my fault. It's a real medical condition.

To use a well known phrase, you can't put a square peg into a something something something my snatch is wired shut.

Of course, I wanted to make sure that I wasn't just getting a trumped up diagnosis of "your junk is nuts" so I asked my midwife, "Is this a real thing? This isn't like restless leg syndrome, is it?" But she assured me that yes this is a very real medical condition, something that doesn't affect very many people, but still if I start treating it right away we may be able to have sex in two months, but if I wait to see if it resolves on its own I could still be waiting a year from now.

And I'm all, no two months is long enough, thank you. No need to get too extreme with the "y" word. Don't need to be throwing "a year" around. I'll do whatever it takes; what can I swallow, inject, or apply in gentle salves?

Well, it turns our there are various therapies for vaginismus, including Cortisone shots to the affected area, topical numbing creams, or even Botox. OMG, slow down, too many jokes! A Cortisone shot to the twat would make me feel like a professional athlete in the "doin' it" league. Hmm, a topical numbing cream... that should make sex feel AWESOME! Botox Botox Botox... I have always been concerned with the wrinkly appearance of my intimate area... will the injections return my lady parts to a teenage level of youth and vigor?

Not that this is a laughing matter... the pursuit of a healthy sex life now suddenly involves needles and that's really not the kind of thing I'm into. But no decisions quite yet. For now I have to wait a week to get a second opinion from a local gynocologist who would be the person to prescribe or administer such therapies. And it's got to be drugs, because the other option is a rigorous course of physical therapy, which I can tell you right now that I will never do. Seriously, I can barely force myself to do ten crunches after a workout. Can you imagine me washing up at the end of a long day of work and saying, "Wait, before I go to bed let me stick my fingers in my vagina for five minutes to increase dilation." No, I'd rather bring on the numb sex!

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late summer evening

Everything is calm and peaceful, and Harvey is asleep in the upper-left-hand window. My summer vacation is over; it's back to work tomorrow morning. It was the best summer ever... until next summer!

Vaccination Obligation

This morning Harvey had his first shots. It's been a hard thing for me, the vaccinations. On a gut level I hate doctors and mistrust their poo-pooing of the risks, so I feel like I should be fighting to keep them and their needles away from my child. But on a scientific level, I don't feel like I have justification to act like a crazy person. Maybe the vaccinations are harmful, or maybe they're lifesaving. Or maybe both. But there's no good study proving the former, even though every vaccine reaction should be reported to the CDC. Barring a major government cover-up, shouldn't we know if vaccines were harmful at a statistically significant level? Like we do for, say, giving birth in the hospital?

I have a co-worker who's vaccinating her child on an alternate schedule, and it's like a part-time job for her. When you take a stand like that, every doctors visit is a battle. You have to stand up to all sorts of manipulative techniques: power ("I'm the baby's doctor..."), intellectual ("No studies have been done that show the link between vaccines and autism"), and emotional ("You're turning your baby into a pincushion!") I couldn't do all that work based solely on anecdotal evidence.

Anecdotal evidence, after all, is not data. And I have yet to meet a mathematician who choose not to vaccinate their child. And I read Jenny McCarthy's first book, and she's not all that bright.

I would like to say that it was based on lack of convincing evidence from the hippy team that we decided to vaccinate Harvey. But really? It's because I'm a lazy parent. I'm so so tired of fighting with the medical establishment this year. My home birth cost me three grand out of pocket, and the fear of being denied care should I need something like antibiotics. I went to batt for all my home birth decisions because the stats were there to back me up. And in the end, I don't care if I need sustain a few patronizing lectures from un-scientifically trained doctors; I don't need routine care. On the other hand, Harvey has to go to the doctor every month practically. And I can't make battery a part of my regular routine. Every month another pained explanation on our non-standard reasoning... I can't handle that right now. Is that understandable? Does that make me a bad mother?

All week leading up to this visit I've been praying like I was in trouble. So much so that when he got the shot and didn't immediately fall down dead, I sort of like collapsed spiritually from all the exertion. Then he came home and got a fever, and ever since I haven't been very useful for anyone in this house. I can't figure out whether I should wake him up to bathe him, or let him sleep it off, and I'm convinced that either way his extra suffering is all my fault. Also? I feel like an terrible ass-hole for even thinking about going to my regular thursday night gym class while my child is sick, and I feel like a fat-ass for staying home. OMG, I'm going nuts. I suck at the parenthood.

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to snip or not to snip?

Before we had a child we had a lot of time to mull over important parenting decisions. The decision to try a home birth was a long though-out, well researched project. I read two books, talked to a woman who had done one and another who was planning one, and grilled our potential midwife. And all this before I even went off the pill! By the time we got pregnant (On our first month trying - have I mentioned that before?) I was so confident about the home birth decision, I could have debated the surgeon general on the senate floor.

Then the baby came out, and important decisions we had never thought about started flying at us fast and furious. Should he sleep in our bed? Should we get him circumcised? Should we get him vaccinated? And if so, how much vaccinated? All these decisions needed to be made with the available mental capacity of a sleep-deprivation test dummy. No time to read books anymore. Barely enough time to check wikepedia.

The circumcision decisions took a lot of turns for us. Before Harvey was born Dan and I casually discussed having a boy and what we would do about the, err, foreskin issue. The extent of our logic was pretty much: meh, circumcised penises look normal, right? I've never seen an uncircumcised penis, have you? No? Then I guess it's settled.

BTW, just for the record, I wouldn't advise anyone to make any decisions based on the number of penises Dan and I have collectively viewed. It's not what you'd call a statistically significant sample.

Anyway, we were pretty sure we were having a girl, like 95% sure, so we didn't spend much more time meditating on infant penises. But then it was little Harvey, and not say a little Lily, that came shooting out, and when I took a gander at what he had between his legs, my emotional reactions ran in this order:

1) "IT'S A BOY!" (I wanted a boy... I win!)
2) "Is that okay?" (Oh crap, Dan wanted a girl...)

It was only towards the end of Harvey day 2 that the logistics of a circumcision started to become real to me. Like, for example, that we would need to go to a hospital. Which entailed getting in the car. Which necessitated setting up the car-seat. And I'm in bed. And like, really lazy.

No, it was more than just laziness. Rebecca the midwife came over on day 2 and brought with her a heal-slick test that necessitated taking several drops of blood from Harvey's foot. It's a rather non-invasive procedure, except that Harvey wasn't a terrific bleeder, so the ordeal took several pricks over the course of five minutes. During the test, I held the baby while he screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed. He screamed like the world was ending. "WAAAA WAAAAA WAAAAA," he said, "REBECCA IS KILLING ME! WHY AREN'T YOU SAVING ME MOMMA?????" Well, at least that's what I heard. After everyone left that afternoon Dan and I lay side-by-side in the bed trying to catch our breath. I think Dan was the one that brought up this issue. "I'm not so sure about the circumcision thing."

Me neither. Indeed, at that moment there was no way I was stepping inside of that sterile smelling chamber of horrors with my child, certainly not for a voluntary mutilation. But before I could let apathy run its course I had to assuage my original fears regarding the appearance of God-given peni. So I (gulp) googled "uncircumcised penis."

Hey, I'm not that dumb... I didn't click on image search.

Seeing as I didn't search for something like "uncircumcised penis totally hard" or "uncircumcised penis and hot asian sluts," the first entry was Wikepedia. Thank You Wikepedia for containing all the search strings in the world! You saved my computer!

In a very scientific fashion, wikepedia showed me images of an adult circumcised penis next to an uncircumcised one, both in flaccid and erect states. For my part I was like, Really? This is what all the fuss is about? I had imagined a natural member acting something like the head of the medusa... Don't look at it or you'll be turned to stone!!! In reality, it looks, um, like a penis. No more or less scary (depending on your mood) than the typical variety.

But of course, circumcision is first and foremost a religious issue, so we consulted with the bible. The practice comes from Genesis 17, in which God establishes the covenant of circumcision with Abraham. Still, as Christians we tend to put a bit more weight on the New Testament, which is good since in the case of circumcision at least it's less baffling. In Romans 4 we have a long theological discussion from Paul to convince us that the uncircumcised still share in Abraham's inheritance, because Abraham "received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them." And an even a more straight-forward command came to the folks in Corinth: "Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commands is what counts." (1 Corinthians 7:18)

So that sealed the deal religiously, but there was still the matter of telling my parents. I didn't bring up Paul's letters (who's whatters?) or the unspoken truth that um, like, I'm not Jewish anymore. I just said that this was our decision and we done made it. Subtext? I'm Harvey's Momma. You wanna hang out with him? You gotta go through me.

Shanda aside (it's yiddish for GOD FORBID ANYONE ELSE SHOULD HAVE SUCH A DAUGHTER WHO BRINGS SHAME ON HER FAMILY) I'm pretty happy about our decision, especially when I look at that cute little penis peeing all over the changing table and I know that he gets to keep 100% of what God gave him. May all our parenting decisions be so rewarding in the end!

Speaking of which, first vaccinations are on Thursday. Ugh.

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Because the midwives feared God, they did not obey the Pharaoh.

This week has been rather trying, medically speaking. The worst part of the mastitis was not the pain or the fever, but the fact that it required antibiotics, which required going to the doctor, which required another lecture on why my choice of midwife care is just about the most irresponsible thing next to delivering a child into a vat of snakes and sharp objects.

To complicate matters, I recently changed primary care physicians, as a result of a particularly annoying incident three weeks ago. You see, a week after the birth I wanted to come in to the office for a cortisone shot which the midwife recommended but could not administer. So I called my PCP's office, and spoke with the receptionist who after consulting with the doctor told me which that they didn't keep cortisone on hand, but nevertheless wanted me to come into the office for triage appointment because they did not trust the diagnostic skills of my midwife. The conversation went something like this:

*Doctor's receptionist: The doctor says that swelling in that area could mean a lot of things, so she want's to see you to make sure it's not more than just swelling.
Me: I know. That's why I got checked out by my midwife yesterday.
Receptionist: The doctor would still like you to come in today so she can see you.
Me: But you can't treat me in the office because you don't have the cortisone.
Receptionist: Yes but we can triage you here and refer you somewhere else for treatment.
Me: Somewhere else in the building?
Receptionist: No...
Me: Thanks, but I don't want to spend the afternoon driving around the city with a week-old baby.
Receptionist: Yes but the doctor wants to see you because swelling in that area could mean a lot of things.
Me: I understand that. That's why I was seen by a midwife yesterday. She determined I need a cortisone shot, which you can't do. Thanks for your help, but I'm going to try to find somewhere that can do it.
Receptionist: The doctor would really like to see you today. Swelling in that area can be a lot of different things. Can you come in at 2:00?*

Repeat *to* 4 times until conversation exceeds 20 minutes or your brain explodes.

The receptionist actually refused to let me get off the phone without making an appointment. In the end, I had to end with a sentence like "Thanks for all your help but I'm really not going to come in for a triage appointment if you can't do anything there" and immediately hung up the phone. The office called me back five minutes later. "We've moved around some patients; can you come in at 11?"

Needless to say I quit that doctor. I signed up with a new PCP, registered the change with Blue Cross, and made my first appointment for this coming Wednesday. Unfortunately, my health didn't fall in line with my appointment timetable, and I called them on Monday with a need for antibiotics. After answering the same five questions to three separate people (Who's Your OB? What hospital did you deliver at? and other similar questions to which the answers exploded their brains!) I was told the nurse would phone me back. My new doctor's office is so elite that you can't even make an appointment; you have to wait for them to call you!

A nurse did call me back half an hour later, and the specifics of the conversation are too disturbing and un-humorous to repeat verbatim. Suffice it to say that she was very angry I was calling her office for this sort of thing, since they don't ever see women until after 6 weeks postpartum, and what on earth was I doing with some sort of charlatan midwife who can't write a prescription. (Note: no home birth midwives can write prescriptions. If you have a prescription-writing midwife, she's a nurse midwife and you deliver in the hospital.) The verbal dressing-down was so severe that I found myself saying things like: "Im sorry I called, I just thought that because you guys are my primary care office..." and "I understand if you don't feel comfortable treating me."

Now I'm no doctor, but isn't that somewhat f-ed up?

In the end, the nurse just wanted to feel like Mother Theresa for scheduling an appointment ("I wouldn't want you to go without care!") and I got my antibiotics after all. Although the whole incident made me want to stockpile drugs ordered off the internet. Did you know you can get a full bottle of erythromycin from India for twenty bucks? I do now.

I never wanted to be this sort of... what's the right metaphor... lightening rod? poster child? whipping boy? I just wanted a better birth for my family, and now I would also sometimes like prescription drugs for legitimate medical issues. I don't want to seem greedy, but can't I have both?

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Staying home when it counts

It looks like Heather, who's annoying blog I DON'T READ, was convinced to try natural childbirth by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein's book Your Best Birth. For our part, Dan and I were convinced that homebirth by midwife was our only option after reading the book Pushed by Jennifer Block, which I picked up last summer on a whim from the new nonfiction section of our local library. It should be encouraging to activists and journalists everywhere that books-length exposes still have the ability to blow people's minds and completely alter people's behavior. That, or maternity care in the US is just THAT BAD.

As big hippies, (and Christian hippies at that) it wasn't a huge leap for us into the homebirth polemic. We are suspicious of doctors, we hate hospitals, and we think that God has a pretty solid plan for making more people.

Still, the decision for me was more based on stats based than faith. For low-risk mothers, the home is a safer place than the hospital. 8% of home births end in C-section, while 30% of hospital births do. There are other benchmarks to compare: episiotomy rates, length of labor, etc. But or me, the risk of C-section was the kicker. This is an intervention that decreases the safety of each subsequent child, eventually leaving the size of your family up to a doctor's judgement. Many of these procedures happen as precautionary safety measures, but I wasn't interested in mitigating microscopic risks with one-in-ten-thousand occurrences by taking on a three-in-ten risk of abdomen surgery. For me, that's a dumbass way to play the odds.

People's first major argument against homebirth is fear of complications that can't be managed in the home. In terms of medical preparedness, I have in my mind this image of stepping out of the tub immediately after giving birth and seeing the baby's changing table covered with rows and rows of labeled syringes, all at the ready with blood clotting agents and adrenaline and who knows what else. I looked around the room to see trays of sterile instruments and oxygen tanks, and all I could think was "When did this get here?" While I was closing my eyes and biting a towel it was like a staging crew from NBC's ER flooded the place.

The second sticking point that makes woman smile and back away when I mention homebirth is the pain issue. Yes, birth is painful. As someone with a very low pain threshold, I firmly agree that birth is painful. It's very very painful. But then it's over. I compare it to the experience of passing the worst Mexican food you ever ate; just as you think you are about to die from discomfort, the whole thing is done and you think, "Glad that's over with! I'm so happy to no longer be on the toilet!" Well, that was what birth was like for me: uncomfortable, and then done. And then I wasn't in the hospital, I wasn't all drugged up, and I had my baby right with me ready to bond. Also, I had the vindication that my body really did do what God created it to do, but that's a personal matter.

So I'm glad that crazy people like Heather are following the lead of crazy hippies like us. Who knew we could unite over something?

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The birth story, aka where you came from Harvey

As Dan mentioned in a more timely fashion than me, we up and birthed a kid on Saturday. And now that it's over, let me just confirm how awesome it is to no longer be pregnant. Not pregnant= awesome. Pregnant... not so much.

So on Saturday morning we were getting down to the wire of our home-birth window (Monday would have been hospital induction day). Our last natural induction option was Castor oil. Over the course of the week we had tried homeopathy, acupuncture, strong herbs, and enough painful nipple stimulation to fill a brown paper magazine. At the end of the week, I was feeling like maybe my body was too skeptical of alternative medicine to pull off a hippy home birth. Still, there was good old Castor oil, your grandma's induction tonic, and my midwife was saving it for last, due to the unpleasantness. On Saturday morning at 10am I drank 4oz straight, with a chaser of red raspberry tea (it's a uterine tonic). It tasted like you would imagine drinking a glass of canola oil would taste. I guess you could say I was desperate to go into labor.

We sat around and waited for the effects. Castor oil causes intestinal cramping, which can sometimes stimulate uterine contractions as well. Either way, we knew there was some bathrooming in the future, so we laid around and waited. To pass the time and to mix scientific variables in our induction experiment, Dan helped me with a little manual nipple stimulation. This turned out to be more enjoyable than my previous attempts with the breast pump, and we were just starting to get nice and distracted when my water broke.

How it felt was a uterine contraction accompanied with a snapping sensation, and then the tell-tail goopy stuff flowing down my leg. I ran to the bathroom very excited and called my midwife to describe what I saw. After asking some questions about the amount and consistency, our midwife Rebecca said, "That sounds like amniotic fluid to me. I'll check when I come back at 4." And then because she has a high opinion of us, she added, "You're not sterile anymore, so no sex."

With our hopes dashed for incredibly awkward pregnancy sex, we decided to go for a walk. My water broke at 11:30, and we headed out for a walk at noon, although after only a block I started to feel crampy and turned back. I barely made it back to the house and into the bathroom. Castor oil is a laxative normally prescribed in teaspoon dosages. 4oz is not a playing around amount. For the next hour I alternated between toilet and lying on the bathroom floor moaning. It felt like everything below my ribs was stuck in one constant hour-long contraction. Dan hung out in the next room, and when my verbal descriptions of the proceedings turned into non-stop sobbing, he suggested we call Rebecca again. "Is it supposed to be so intense?" I asked between gasps of air. "Castor oil is intense" she said, "But I'll come at 3 to check up on you." So I had won me an hour earlier of midwife ETA, a good sign we were on the right track.

For the next hour or two we were speeding down that right track without any breaks. I was on hands and knees on the floor of the bathroom regretting I had ever been born let alone chosen to bear a child. Once the castor oil effect wore off, I was having contractions what felt like every minute, yelling through the contractions and sobbing in between. Dan called Rebecca again because I couldn't talk anymore, and she said she would get there ASAP.

Rebecca arrived around 3pm and made haste to shuttle my butt into the birth tub, which Dan had already begun filling. By this time I had had enough of the bathroom floor, especially the first two paragraphs of the Economist's Iran feature that I had been trying to read since noon. Also, in the past hour I hadn't been able to move from my hands and knees, because each contraction forced me back into that position. Despite weeks of hardcore swim training, I was seriously considering the possibility that my shoulders were going to fall off. Fortunately, the warm water in tub instantly felt A LOT better. This was going to be doable! Birth tubs mean no pain, I thought! In retrospect, hahahahaha.

Once I was in the tub, Rebecca asked to check my cervix to see what was going on. She later told me she had expected me to be something like 4cm dilated, but when she put her hand in she actually chuckled and said, "you have almost no cervix left." Then she called the other midwife who was to attend the birth and said "She's almost fully love" which made it sound like we were playing some bizarre game of pelvic tennis.

From there on we headed into the meat and potatoes of the labor, which consisted mostly of screaming and holding on for dear life. I leaned against the side of the tub, biting the edge of the tub or a towel or my hand, as my uterus went nuts. Rebecca kept saying soothing things like "This is your body that's doing this," which didn't mean a lot to me, because of course my body is doing this, I'm just not too keen on the "this" aspect. In retrospect, a more helpful reference point would have been something like "Dysentery is worse" or "You won't be so fat in 20 minutes."

Rebecca also tried to get me to take the screaming down a notch, for my benefit if not that of the entire neighborhood. (Indeed, Dan took the dog for a walk at this point, and later he told me that he could hear the screaming over a block away.) Rebecca kept telling me to use the screaming by putting it down in my chest, like "Oooooh," and I would nod at her and say "OOOOH—-AAAA-A!A!A!A!A!A!A!A!A!A!A!" just like you would imagine someone sounding if they immediately went from having sex to being attached by a bear.

So that went on for longer than I'd like to recount, during which time the other midwife arrived and I kicked Dan and Judy out of the room. Soon enough Rebecca could tell by the change in my grunting that the baby was makings its final journey down the shoot, and she told me to push down with each contraction. This actually felt much easier than before, because the worst pain was out of my pelvis and I could feel progression with each push. After a couple of these, she reached into the water and told me she could feel the head. This made me feel better because it sounded like something you'd hear on the tv. (If hundreds of hours of 80s sitcoms taught me anything, it's that labor is always a clear progression from screaming, to the doctor saying they can see the head, to the baby coming out and the episode ending with some humorous yet endearing comment.)

The two midwives made me turn over so that I was sitting in the tub with my back to the wall, then another few pushes, then a pause in the pushing for some intervention between my legs which was the midwives removing the cord from around the baby's neck. It happens very frequently in normal birth that the cord gets wrapped around the baby's neck, which is fine for the journey downwards because the cord is very compressible. I didn't know what exactly was going on at the time, but I was far too tired to be concerned. My body stopped contracting for a few moments while they were working, and then I got the signal from them that it was time to push again, and although I didn't feel any contractions coming I made something up and finished pushing on my own. In retrospect, this may have been a mistake which lead to a perineum tear, but not all decisions can be winners.

Then came the big pay-off of home birth, when they handed me the baby right away. I was a bit out-of-it from a mixture of pain, relief, exhaustion, and panic, but I could tell right away that this was a good looking kid. Right from the start he was looking around with his big grey eyes, showing off his chubby cheeks, and generally stealing the show. The time was a few minutes after 5:30pm. All in all, the labor took about 5 hours from start to finish.

After all this excitement we had to do some annoying housekeeping with getting out of the tub, getting examined, delivering the placenta, getting more examined... none of which made me too pleased. I got a bit banged up in the birth process, but those details are perhaps a bit too graphic to share in a blog, even for me. Anyway, part of the beauty of labor is that nothing after it is quite as bad. And we finally had our cute little baby, out of my body and into the open air.

So that's the story of little Harvey Douglas Archibald. It's been a wild ride so far, so we expect big things from him soon.


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birth announcement

Before we get any later, we'd better announce the birth of Harvey Douglas Archibald at 5:30 Saturday evening. Five hours of labor, 8lb 6oz, and hale and healthy. You might hear a little more about him later.

Not just sound, ultra-sound!

So, it's 3am and I am sitting at the kitchen table eating cereal and chocolate milk... because I'm STILL PREGNANT! Can you believe that? No, neither can I. Over the course of a short month we went from a pregnancy that looked like it would end dangerously early, to a post-due baby that simply refuses to budge. More than anything, I think this is a testament to the dangers of labeling things. In a medical classification system, you're either good or bad, with no room in between for natural variation. Officially, we're still good, but let it go another 6 days and we'll be bad... very bad.

We had our first ultrasound yesterday. We had declined ultrasounds all throughout the pregnancy because we felt like they weren't necessary and caused unneeded worry, especially the driving into Brookline part! Unfortunately, at 41 weeks an ultrasound becomes necessary, so in schlepped Dan, Oona and me for the big show. Although everyone at the ultrasound office was extremely nice, they seemed a bit dumbfounded that this was our first ultrasound... I think I disappointed them by showing up in sweatpants instead of some sort of African wrap skirt with bells on it. The scan proved fine however; the baby's good and healthy, if a bit raptor-like, and my fluid levels are fine too. In other words, nothing to worry about. Except of course, the ticking clock. 6 more days and then...

I seem to be rapid cycling between assurance and blind terror. If we don't get the baby out naturally within a week, we'll have to go in for a hospital induction, a hand-out hospital induction no less, since we don't have an OB, which is kind of like handing an IRS agent your taxes and saying "I hate math." On the other hand, we have a lot to throw at this problem in the next few days, including membrane sweeps and acupuncture and some rather intense herbs, and most women deliver before 42 weeks. On the other other hand, 6 days is not a lot of time and there's a scalpel at the end of this tunnel.

We've been praying a lot about this, and God seems to be giving us the assurance that everything's okay and the baby's coming soon. It's hard to share this kind of information with other people, since most folks trust doctors more than God. Indeed, it's when I have to share news with other folks that I get most panicked. The fear from my friends and neighbors is contagious, and while privately Dan and I can trust that everything's going to be okay, when I go outside people look at me like I have the dead baby plague and ask me why I haven't already been induced.

Anyway, the baby should be on its way soon, and we won't insult you with ultrasound pictures while waiting for the real thing.

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No news is no news!

Over the past week we have received some frantic calls to our home phone from friends and family, all with a similar theme. It goes something like this: "WHAT'S GOING ON WITH YOU GUYS! I KNOW YOU TOTALLY HAD A BABY AND DIDN'T TELL ME!!! CALLLLLL MEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!"

Apparently, humanity's biggest fear not death or fire, but being out of the loop.

Unfortunately for the local tabloids, we have nothing to report. The baby's just late. 8 days late to be exact, which while it's doing a number on our nerves, is well within the realm of normal for first time moms. So just to assuage everyone's fears of information drought, please know that our media plan for whenever the little tyke arrives includes posting an announcement on the blog and emailing everyone we know. And in the meantime, I think I'm going to change the answering machine message...

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Still No Baby

Although no one has accomplished it yet, I think I'm going to be the first woman to actually stay pregnant forever. I'm four days past my due date, and this little monster has zero intention of coming out. So far it has not been swayed by exercise, spicy food, homeopathy, or bribes of clothing, ice cream, and air. What a little lazy bones we have on our hands! I'm going to have to marry it off before I can get it out of my uterus!

time's up!

Today is my due date, which means that I've been technically pregnant for 10 months, or rather 9.5 months since the thought of a baby was just a sexy twinkle in my eye. If you ask me, either way you measure it I've been pregnant for long enough. Three weeks ago the prevailing wisdom of the midwives was that I wouldn't go past my due date. But that was three weeks ago when I still believed anyone held any wisdom about when this thing was coming out. Turns out no one has any clue what causes labor and when. However, they're all pretty sure that the most depressing day of a pregnancy is the day AFTER your due date when you're still sitting around not being able to climb the stairs.

Tonight we went out for sushi: me, dan, and the champion good sport Oona who has already been here for a week and a half on baby watch. Upon entering the restaurant, the hostess asked us "how many?" and then she took a harsh look in my direction and proclaimed "You no fit in booth."

Here are some other inappropriate things to say to a perfect stranger:
"How are you feeling?"
"When is the baby due?"
"Where are you delivering?" (I really don't get this one... is this like on the red carpet when the reporters as the stars "Who are you wearing?" Are they routing for their preferred brand of hospital? Or are they just gearing up to make a rude follow-up comment about home birth?)

This baby better come soon, because I'm not planning to leave my house very much for the next week.

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pregnancy update: day whatever

So it turns out that although people have been birthing human beings for several years now, no one has an exact idea of what makes these little creatures decide to take the big plunge towards oxygen, or exactly when they're likely to do it. Sure, there are signs pointing towards an eventual end to this pregnancy, but they're more like a weather report that says it could thunder tomorrow but maybe not for another fourteen days. Like, thanks, but that doesn't help me plan my laundry very well. Suffice it to say that the baby hasn't decided to show yet, and until then I'm just a fat lady wasting away my vacation time. On the bright side, Oona's here, and she has netflix!

Pregnancy update: Day 271

Still no baby.

For all those who keep calling and asking when the baby's coming, we would very much like to know ourselves! I think the correct answer is: whenever he or she is good and ready. Until then.... a lot of board games to play i guess.

heal thyself

I had my first meeting with a perspective pediatrician today... a phone meeting which went unequivocally badly. As someone who's naturally wary of doctors, the medical profession isn't doing anything to assuage my fears of them being smug non-evidence-based assholes. Here's the way the good doctor 'addressed my questions' about joining her practice:
1) Home birth? Wow, that's really risky... They always call me in when something goes wrong with that! In that case, please make sure you bring in the baby THE NEXT DAY IF NOT THE SAME DAY to make sure, you know, everything came out okay, and all the right stuff is still attached.
2) Splitting up vaccinations? That's overzealous. There's no real risk to aluminum since it flushes out of the system in 24 hours. We stick to the CDC schedule here.
3) Circumcision? Well, they usually do that in the hospital, so if you're CHOOSING not to DELIVER in the hospital, then I guess you'll need to take your baby to the hospital for that.

And then she's all: Look forward to seeing you when the baby comes!

As Dan pointed out to me after the call, it's like doctor's today are Catholic priests of the middle ages.... they're all like: "Why are you attempting to reason for yourself? We already have all the answers right here for you!"

Unfortunately, the doctor's responses reveal not only blatant anti-hippy prejudice, but a basic failing in the area of statistics:
1) Of course you only see the times when home birth goes terribly wrong... that's the only time folks come into the hospital! That's called sampling bias. In other words, she's seeing the 5% of home birth cases that end in large medical complications, and making a judgement on the safety of home birth as if that 5% were 100%. However, this judgement disregards the risks in the opposite direction, like 30% of the hospital births which end in c-section.
2) Wow, you mention vaccinations and doctor's crazy flags sure do go up. As someone who 100% supports complete vaccination, I have to worry about a doctor who won't even entertain parental concern about toxic levels of aluminum (regardless of whether they occur for longer than 24 hours... aluminum is a neurotoxin... how long do you feel comfortable exposing your brain to a level 20 times higher than EPA recommendations for toxicity? Or do you just trust the politicians at the CDC more than the politicians at the EPA?) Doctors shot kids up with mercury for 15 years before they were all, oops! just kidding, that shit causes autism. But NOW we've got it all figure out; trust us NOW!

Double unfortunately, we still need a doctor for our kid, and precious time is running out. It took me a week to get this one on the phone, and she came highly recommended (admittedly, by people who don't share our anti-interventionist values and actual grasp of mathematics, but then again I don't know anyone else who does.) Dan has agreed to help research and call doctors this week. I don't know what else to do... In my desperation I even called my Mom to ask for help, and she very helpfully told me to get recommendations and call more doctors. (Why do I have to get a project manager for a mother and not, like, say, a mother? Remind me to call her again when I want to get super bossed around about shit I already know!) The good news is that the stress from this situation made it so I couldn't sleep all night, so I just got like four hours of work done between midnight and 4am! Guess who just freed up the morning to call doctors!

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practicing

I've been having practice contractions since the weekend, which is a very normal thing that happens at the end of pregnancy and shouldn't be met with over-zealous responses such as HOLY SHIT WERE HAVING A BABY TOMORROW QUICK EVERYBODY PANIC! The baby is moving into position and getting it's head engaged, which is kind of like the part of riding a roller-coaster where you're going up... and up..... and uuuuuup the ramp..... and you're thinking "Was this thing really built to safety specifications?" The baby could come as early as this weekend, but it could also wait another three weeks, and we really have no way to predict when exactly it'll be, although we're fairly sure that it won't be later than the due date. Sooo, looks like we're having a baby this month. Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Yup, still pregnant

Despite the frequent inquiries from friends and complete strangers the likes of "When's the baby due? Tomorrow?" "That baby's due any day now, right?" "Are you STILL pregnant????" I'm happy to report that the baby is still not due for another month, and yes, I may get fatter between now and then. Which is okay with me; I'd rather gain another five pounds than have the baby come tomorrow into a mess of un-folded onesies. THE ONESIES! THEY'RE SO SMALL BUT SO NUMEROUS! Also, I think we need an industrial engineer to set up our co-sleeper. Suffice it to say I'M NOT READY! STAY IN THERE BABY!


Actually, I'm totally thrilled that the baby's coming soon, but I've just now gotten used to being pregnant and (if you can believe it) I don't really mind being pregnant anymore. Now that my ribs are healed, the discomfort isn't so bad, and I've had enough months of short slow work-outs to re-evaluate my athletic persona, so mostly I feel pretty good about lying around and ordering Dan to get stuff for me. Also, when the baby comes out I actually have to start dieting, so these are all reasons to be happy being pregnant!

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A plug for our healthcare provider

On Saturday morning I noticed my vision start to go blurry, which for most normal people would feel a bit disconcerting, and even more so when you recently went though a very expensive lasik procedure so this sort of thing wouldn't happen. Also, when you're pregnant everything can be a symptom of imminent death. So I called our midwife Rebecca and left a long message which contained the sentiments Sorry to bother you... blurry vision... I may just be going crazy.... but internet says I'm dying.

Rebecca promptly called me back and asked me a series of bizarre questions: Are your ankles swollen? Do you have a headache? Do you have pain anywhere else? "Well," I replied, "I'm pregnant, so you'll have to be more specific as to what magnitude of swelling/headache/pain concerns you."

Even though I assuaged her fears on the secondary symptoms front, she still insisted on coming over that afternoon to evaluate me. Hours later she was here at our door, blood-pressure monitor in hand, to make sure I wasn't showing signs of pre-eclampsia, which is pregnancy code for HOLY F-ING SHIT. Luckily, a two-minute screen of my blood-pressure and pee confirmed that everything is fine. Boy, then didn't I feel stupid. Like, um, sorry to make you drive all the way out here when I've just got a bout of lazy eye. Apparently I no longer manufacture enough blood oxygen to power a baby incubator and read at the same time.

As bad as I felt socially about the whole situation, it sure does beat a saturday afternoon in the ER getting simple symptoms checked out, which is what I would have had to do in a managed care situation. If that's not a plug for midwifery, I don't know what is!

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suburban homesteading

There's all kinds of talk about urban homesteading, which is apparently all the rage in LA, but what about those of us stuck in the suburbs? The cold, northern suburbs at that? Well, there is suburbanhomesteading.org, but it, um, doesn't seem to have much content—perhaps it's actually an art piece about the sterility of the suburban existence.

Well, our suburbs aren't sterile! Tom and Nelly visited from the country, and we were able to send them away with a home-grown lettuce and a home-baked loaf of bread. It's still early days, of course, but we're doing respectably. We have to stay hard at work, though, if for no other reason than to stay ahead of the neighbors! Almost everyone in the neighborhood has been hard at work in the vegetable garden this year (well, for varying definitions of hard), and our neighbor next-door was even talking about getting chickens or even a goat. No fair! That was our idea! If we ever do get any of those critters we'll be sure to brag about it on the internet, to let those urban-dwellers know that they don't have all of the action.

I also hear that people occasionally grow vegetables and raise livestock in rural areas. Nobody seems to care about that on the internet, though.

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godly

If anyone happens to stop by to visit us today, they should know that our house is totally this clean all the time. We always vacuum, like, every day, and never forget to pick up our toys.

cleansing

We started our spring cleaning today. Which means that we went around the house and made a list of everything that had to be done, and then, satisfied, we called it a day. No, not really. Leah had to do all kinds of work (school and otherwise), so she knew from the beginning that she wouldn't be able to devote her time to battling the tide of filth that threatens to overcome us. Me, I didn't give up right away: I cleaned off the top of the stove something fierce! Unfortunately since then I cooked dinner, so tomorrow I'll have to do it again. That's not progress. Still, the list has been made! Now it's only a matter of time before everything is clean once and for all.