The Story of a Birth. 3.

9:05pm. Erin is perched on her blue exercise ball in her pale blue hospital gown, working through the contractions as they come every two minutes. Jon holds her hand and the two of them huddle there, like a cloud. When a contraction comes, we all watch as Erin bows her head and breathes quietly, her short hair falling in soft sheets around her face and shoulders. She is brave and resolved. At the start, she grimaces slightly and closes her eyes tight, then her face becomes clear and open, full of breath and life and strength as she guides her body through the pain. In the in-between she looks around at us, makes little comments and laughs. It's finally begun, and she feels good. "I've never been so happy to hurt, ever!" she says.

11:40pm. The pain doesn't let up, of course. It plods on, seeming to rise around her like a pool of sludge, slowly becoming thicker and more oppressive. Nurse Sheila comes in to check the monitor and tells Erin that towards the end there will be a lot more pain and a lot more pressure, and Erin wants to know if she might be able to stand for the delivery. It depends on how the baby looks and what the midwife says. Erin goes to the bathroom to take a shower with Jon to support her -- the warm water is meant to loosen her muscles and speed up the process. We all wait. The air in the room has become dense with worry. Watching this kind of pain isn't something any of us are used to.

She emerges from the steamy little room, warm and supple, her belly like a great ripe fruit. Lying on her left side facing the window, she prepares herself for more contractions. When they roll through her, she tucks her chin and folds in on herself. Her toes curl, her legs bend and stretch. Breathy, animal-like sounds come from the back of her throat. She lets out a little groan or whimper, and my mom says she looks like she's four years old, like she's not old enough to have a baby. She's twenty-eight. Jon holds her hand and I roll a tennis ball around the small of her back. A few times, we switch and the hand she holds is mine and as I sit there, gripping the hand of my older sister in labor with all the strength and love that's in me, I feel as though it is the most important thing I have ever done.

1:00am. The midwife does an exam and finds Erin dilated 3-4 centimeters, which is good progress but still far to go. The pain has started to wear her down physically and psychologically, and after 6 or 7 hours of contractions every 2 minutes, she's starting to think she won't be able to do what's coming later. "It's not going to split me open from the inside, right?"she asks the mothers in the room. Despite the fear blooming in her, Erin continues to handle the pain with grace and calm, releasing a steady, monotone humming as she finds her body's rhythm and moves with it instinctually. She seems at once wholly natural and grounded, and yet up above us all. She is somewhere else, and we are waiting down below, feeling as helpless as we are.


The Story of a Birth. 2.

Days later, we were all doing our best to keep the expecting parents preoccupied. Erin was calm, as she'd been throughout the whole pregnancy, and moved through the house quiet and serene. She was accepting of the fact that it wasn't up to her to decide when it would happen, that despite how many walks she went on, how many special herbal salads she ate and how many times she and Jon got busy (twice a day -- yeah, I said it), she wanted a natural birth and the baby would have to make the first move.

The waiting had become excruciating, but it was nice just to be together. We played games, wandered through Ikea, and drank lots of coffee. We ate potato soup outside in a backyard still just cement and weeds, the power lines crisscrossing through the hazy Los Angeles sky. We walked every day up and down the tree-lined path by the house. We did everything we could think of to do. Jon said he had been waking up each morning thinking, today. It will happen today. And then he stopped thinking this all together and no longer believed it would happen at all. He started to think the universe was lying to him, that it was all a hoax.

The doctors knew otherwise, and were less willing to wait. Despite much protest by Erin, the powers that be finally decided that if, by Wednesday, May 19 at 6:00pm, active labor had not begun, they would induce. Upon this news, Erin seemed defeated and reluctantly set about making her peace with the thought of a new plan, the thought of Pitocin. We arrived at the hospital at the appointed time and walked through the lobby. I remember it in dramatic slow motion, but it actually felt strangely normal. It was as though we were arriving for a routine check-up, when really, a life was about to start.

They assigned us a room and administered an IV. As the nurse inserted the needle and taped the tubes to her wrist, Erin lie there on her side, her spaceship of a hospital bed in a pool of heavy yellow light. She squeezed her eyes shut with a twinge of pain, and as a few big tears fell down her cheeks, said, "I'm ready to go home now." The nurse-midwife explained that the Pitocin would come next, and left the room. Then, miraculously (or, due to stress), the contractions jumpstarted on their own. It was as though the baby had been waiting as long as she could, and finally responded to the threat. Wait, she seemed to say, I'll do it myself.

After this, Erin perked up. Jon, with a tenderness I had never seen, dried her tears with a tissue and off they went for a walk through the hospital hallways, IV in tow.

Source: flickr.com via Ashley on Pinterest

*Note: Image not my sister.


The Story of a Birth. 1. (For my niece, Alice.)

She is one year old. I saw her enter this world and, per the request of her mama, my sister, I wrote about it. One day Alice will read it, but in the meantime, I'll post a few excerpts over the next week because if there's any experience I want to share with you, it's this.


To Alice: This account of your birth comes purely from my own perspective. I am describing how it looked and felt to me, your aunt. Much of this is from memory, some is from notes, and all of it was written nearly a year after the fact, having been postponed out of fear. Words, after all, can hardly touch the start of a life.
Friday, May 14, 2010. We came to wait. It was five days past the due date, which was on Mother's Day and would have been perfect but of course it didn't happen that way. By this point, we believed something would happen at any moment. Something huge, magnificent, and wholly inconceivable. Something we didn't want to miss. What we hadn't anticipated, my mother and I, was how long we would actually be there, in Burbank, slowly sinking with everyone else under the heavy stubbornness of this baby that just wasn't ready.

This baby -- this solid, curled mass that had made its home in my sister's body. A being still unknown to us, a fact we understood intellectually, but beyond that could hardly imagine. Erin and Jon are having a baby, I'd think to myself. It sounds so simple and, of course, it was. Reproduction, the survival of a species, the most basic truth of nature. Yet it was somehow impossible to grasp as reality. The meaning of it -- Erin and Jon are having a baby -- was beyond my scope of understanding. The creation of human life? Here? Now? This, a part of me thought, this could not possibly be.

As we waited, sitting around that little blue house, Erin's hands slid constantly over the hard, round surface of her belly. She'd chat with us, make jokes and laugh, all the while her hands roaming -- seemingly of their own accord -- around and around and around. Her fingers were swollen, her knuckles dry and cracked, and she was always warm. It was May in Southern California, granted, but the mother-to-be carried a dense heat with her, generated by something, an energy, that the rest of us couldn't feel.

My own hands reached instinctively for her belly time and again, wanting just to be near these layers of muscle and flesh that protected beneath them the beating beginning of a life. I'd find a thin, delicate layer of sweat escaping from her pores, seeping through her blue flowered dress and onto my palm. It was as though her very skin was hard at work, preparing for the tremendous feat her body would soon take on.

We've all seen pregnant women before, but being around a woman so close to giving birth does not feel commonplace, it does not feel regular or ordinary. It's the closest I've ever felt to standing in the presence of a higher being, a holy entity, like some kind of prophet or angel that's leading you into an unknown, and somehow, you trust her.


Question and Answer

Yesterday, someone asked me what I'm going to do next, once I'm no longer doing what I do now. I shrugged it off and said some words, when really, I don't have a plan at all. I don't even have any ideas. I've been at my job for almost 8 months and I've been focusing so much on trying to be a grown-up that I've forgotten more will come after this. Life will not carry me, I have to walk.

Sitting on the bus this morning, I stared into the air, my eyes out of focus and my brain moving too fast for 6am. How long has it been since I've thought about what to do with my life? Weeks? Months? For years, I thought of nothing else. I thought so hard I nearly went nuts, my psyche always soggy, soaked through with uncertainty. The options, the decisions, the I don't have a fucking clue. It had all faded away and I didn't even notice, like when the sun goes down so gradually you're surprised when it's suddenly too dark to see.

Have I been living so much in the present I forgot there has to be a future? Is this what happiness is? Not worrying about what will come next? Does living in the moment mean you don't have goals? I love my life, but that's no excuse. I won't love this life in a year or two. I need a plan, or at the very least, an answer to the question, what will you do next?

But I don't want to go back to that place. The place full of questions and anxiety and the lights are always on. I want to keep living and wait until it makes sense to see what else is out there for me. I want to ease into a plan as though into a warm bath. I want to keep taking it one step at a time, maybe forward, maybe up.


WHOA Ohdeedoh!

Something magical happened yesterday.

My little ol' blog was linked on a huge blog with tons of readers, and a good lot of 'em actually visited me here! Ohdeedoh is Apartment Therapy's design blog for children's spaces and they somehow located a photo I posted of my niece's nursery, designed and decorated by my very own sister. (You can read about her life as a working mother and wife over at Growing Up Senge.)

The folks at Ohdeedoh featured my niece's crib nook as an example of a small cool space -- they said super nice things about the giraffe spots my sister painted on the wall, her hanging tissue paper pom poms, and the striped blanket I crocheted! See the full post here.

I'm trying to learn just how they might have found my little corner of the Interwebs so I can do more of whatever it was that lead them here! When I see my dear sister this weekend for Alice's 1st birthday party, I'll definitely toast her awesomeness for her home design being featured on such a prestigious blog! And for good measure, here's a picture of the adorable child who gets to enjoy this small cool space:

Photo courtesy of my mom's iPhone.
She's stoked about it too.


Bay to Breakers; or, freedom.

A real live miniature Up house, complete with the cast of characters. One of the more elaborate props/costumes we saw.
It seems like San Francisco is a living calendar of giant crazy street parties. People will take any excuse to drink in droves and today, a fine Sunday morning, they've emerged from their homes to march, dance, yell and, in some cases, actually jog in what is loosely dubbed a "foot race". I suppose some people are racing, but most are just... living. Parading through town however they damn well choose.

A lack of momentum left me merely a spectator to the madness. Next year I'll go big, but this year I stood on the sidelines with an old friend and watched the multitude of crazies drift by. This friend, T, is my backbone in this city. He is the person I call regularly to check in with when our lives have kept us apart for a week too long. He is the person I used to lay under beds with giggling about obscene things and funny voices, the person who would sneak over to my house and knock on my window in the middle of the night so we could go outside and lay on the driveway and be teenagers. He has always been there, somewhere in my life, and now he is here. Here where I can do my laundry at his house while we talk about Lady Gaga and watch Golden Girls. We live within a short walk of each other for the first time since sophomore year of high school and there is no one with whom I would rather be in the sidelines, watching the world go by.

In the crowd was a couple of naked older men, as you're bound to see at Bay to Breakers. They walked along calmly, taking it all in, their tan papery skin adorned with careful precision. One had glittery stars stuck here and there, random but intentional, a walking constellation. His taller companion had been painted with a subtle abstract design; his body a canvas and the artist, no doubt, by his side.

We looked at them, and T hoped out loud that one day, when he's old, he might have such a person. And shouldn't we all hope for that? Someone who will paint our wrinkled skin with care and attention to detail. Someone with whom we can stroll the streets naked, clad only in the knowledge that you have and will always have each other, plus some glitter stars and pink paint. This, T and I agreed, is freedom.

Then we realized much of what we were seeing before us could accurately be defined as freedom. All of those who wanted people to look at them but clearly did not give a shit what anyone actually thought. Guy with a belt of rubber chickens? Freedom. Couple of old broads dressed as cowgirls, complete with shiny white tennis shoes and a look in their eyes of pure naive wonder? Freedom. Naked Elvis? Also freedom. These people are living. They might have looked like nut jobs but they must have felt like the world was theirs. Maybe they don't always go through life with this same sense of can-do, of pride in whatever the hell they are, but I like to think that they just might. And if there's any city in which to be this way, it's here.