A Very Revealing Baby Story: Sleeping Beauty

Hello all!

Willa is almost two, and I’m releasing another segment of her birth story. I know that I do not have to finish this, that I do not owe anyone the story, but at the same time, I want to finish it. But there’s also lot of trauma, so it comes slowly. So slowly that you might not even remember parts of the beginning. Here’s a little backlog of the links to each part of the story.

  1. A Blueberry
  2. Trying or Surprised
  3. Posturing to Tell a Magnificent Tale
  4. A Barbaric Yawp
  5. Sunny Side Up
  6. Mesh Panties and Midwives
  7. Give Me an Epidural

If you’d rather just pop in now, I’ve just convinced my birthing team that I would like an epidural. Me and Pitocin were not a good match and my anxiety was the cherry on top.

There is wait time between asking for an epidural and getting everyone to believe that you actually do want one. And then there is a wait time between the convincing and the arrival of the fly-by-night doctor who will come in with his cart and hook you up to the good stuff.

Anesthesiologists are not known for their bedside manner. They deal in the dulling of the senses and pulling patients under a thick blanket of unconsciousness. They play with breath, beats, and brain. Risky business. God-playing business.  

My mom’s friend married an anesthesiologist who left her for a younger nurse. This made me think of “putting to sleep” doctors as the Don Juans of the hospital. He started his second family with the new woman before the divorce from the other was final. I suppose we can each only be talented at so many things, and his patients were likely glad that his skill set favored making tough calls in the operating room. His ability to remain faithful to his wife, although honorable, had little bearing on high-stakes surgeries.

And so, having mustered the strength to advocate for my epidural, we waited on just such a doctor to perform the procedure. Had he kicked the door in, he could not have made a more brusk entrance. When he crossed the threshold, he owned the room.

“Everyone leave,” he said gruffly.

The room scattered out of his way, bugs exposed to his harsh light. He beelined for my spine, adjusting the cloth doctor cap tied onto his head. He glared my mother right out of the room as she seemed most likely to challenge his directive. She seemed to back her way to the door muttering something about being a registered nurse. “Lower the bed,” he barked my nurse. My body twisted with the sheets on the lowering hospital bed as I writhed with each contraction.

“Stay still.” he warned. Please, I wanted to interject. Stay still, please. Or better yet, I know you’re in labor, but I need you to stay still for me. Please.

The midwives took several steps back, like I’d made a deal with the devil. He counted, I contracted. He left. I melted. I enjoyed the smooth spill of calm reaching each finger and toe. I became the classic doped-up patient exclaiming how wonderful it felt and wondering why everyone didn’t do this. “They don’t know what they’re missing!” I said stretching out, unclenching, unfurling.

There’s a frightening inertia with pregnancy as one tries to learn more about what’s happening inside their bodies, a gathering storm of destiny from the moment of a missed period or a pregnancy test. This, this baby, this will change everything. You can’t get off the ride casually. And the contractions that promised to keep coming, harder and closer together magnified this feeling of being trapped.

There’s a frightening inertia with pregnancy, a gathering storm of destiny from the moment of a missed period or a pregnancy test.

But for the first time since peeing on a stick, the epidural made everything pause. And I gulped at the stillness. I eased into my hospital bed feeling like an empowered woman, in control of my body. I could have it all: prenatal yoga and a hospital birth, birthing ball and sweet drip of medicine into my spinal cord.

With the stop came a fraction of mental space. A crack in the door big enough to let my honor roll student impulse through the door. How did this make me look? Perhaps I truly had made a deal with the devil. I felt the need to explain to the room, to apologize and receive validation. I wanted everyone to know that I knew all the things, had rehearsed my birthing script. Had rubbed essential oils on my belly. Had chanted “mom” in low, resonant tones during prenatal yoga class.

The nurse told us to rest as best we could, to take the next hour to recuperate. I watched my team settle into reclining positions, making collected hospital objects into beds and draping their bodies over them. As they drifted away, I grabbed at their hands, collecting last assurances that I’d done the right thing. “Yes,” they cooed. “You made a strong choice.”

It was like that scene in Sleeping Beauty where the fairies put everyone to sleep so they don’t have to live through the sadness of Maleficent’s curse. The nurse dimmed the lights so low that only the screens and machines lit the space with their neon blue power buttons and changing numbers. In this cocoon, I was able to stop and watch and love my people, and the room and the process. I felt warm and grateful. The rest of the world was asleep as far as I knew and they didn’t care about my sweet, sweet epidural.

Title Photo by David Mao on Unsplash

Photo in piece by David Cohen on Unsplash

Zoloft Stole My Sex Drive: A Brief History of my Libido

I saved myself for marriage.

Or however you want to say it. That particular turn of phrase reminds me of the soggy blueberry pancake and remnants of chorizo omelette I scraped off my plate and into a foil container last week at a breakfast restaurant in town. Carefully pinching the foil rim over the cardboard lid, I knew we’d never eat our scraps, and yet, as a rule, I always make sure to take home a doggy bag if we have at least a fistful of food leftover.

Maybe the wording works better than I give it credit for. I certainly felt like a soggy, forgotten pancake in the back of the fridge for most of my adolescence. In my spot towards the back of the shelf, saving myself remained a predominantly passive activity since I got asked out exactly five times from birth to age twenty five.

Two of the five asks were the same person at different ages, one was a guy who recently married a man, and number five is my husband Drew. But the point is, I waited, I saved myself, I protected my flower, I kept my virginity, remained pure, kept my legs closed, or however you want to word it.

The purity movement presented a fairly uncomplicated formula for sexual bliss: two people who shelved themselves until marriage would come together on their wedding night and receive their prize. I watched this promise propel friends down the aisle, accelerating towards the marriage bed after years of being pulled back from the genitals of the opposite sex. While creating a firm boundary at the zipper of their jeans, these couples seemed attached by every other limb, twining around each other, their horniness flowing out of their hands, hands whose digits never stopped moving around one another’s bodies…

Read the rest over at my friend Lyndsey’s blog! I love the conversations she starts with her writing! Please check out her work as well and follow her here and here!

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

What Happens When you Say No to Good Things?

With the summer heat comes a bumper crop of plant-based Instagram posts. In the pictures, overall-clad women lower starter pots into raised garden beds constructed by their bearded husbands. Hand-lettered labels on stakes clarify what each leafy green thing will become; most are vegetables I didn’t even know about in the ‘90s.

And as everyone raises their green thumb into the air, I ache for a version of myself that gardens. I should garden. Gardening is a good thing.

In my horticulture dreams, I walk barefoot in the cool dirt each morning gathering raspberries to preserve in mason jars. I wear a wide brimmed hat, and it even stays on, because in my fantasy, I have a good head for hats. Each night, I tie a calico apron around my waist and hold up its edges to carry the greens for our dinner salad.

Yet again, I won’t be gardening this year. Somehow, like my sewing projects, house cleaning, leg shaving, and photo-book making, it doesn’t happen. Not even close. Not even a potted basil plant from the grocery store. I wonder, like many of us do, how the women in my life have it all together…

Read the rest over at the Fit4Mom blog!

Featured Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Give Me an Epidural

Dear Reader,

The following piece is not a condemnation or critique of any one birth method or philosophy. Instead, it is a story of how the current birth climate, my birthing complications, my ill conceived notions of myself, my people pleasing tendencies, and my anxiety disorder collided. This is my story. It’s not everyone’s. I’m still working through it, and I’m grateful to all the women who cared enough about me and Willa to share their experiences and wisdom across the spectrum of birthing methods. You are all strong. You are all brave. You all have a high pain tolerance. Feel free to also tell me that I have a high pain tolerance.

And again, for those who have struggled through much more traumatic birthing experiences, or those who would love to have a baby by any means, or those who have many stories of loss and waiting, and anyone else my story hurts unintentionally, I know I write this story from a place of privilege. Thank you for bravely sharing your stories and allowing me to share mine.


“Give me an epidural!” I yelled.

I felt like my nine year old self, sleeping over at the Doyle’s house — the night Mrs. Doyle told my parents that I seemed ‘demon possessed.’ My panic attacks sometimes manifest in anger, something I didn’t know as I banged on Samantha’s bedroom door till my knuckles turned pink. I begged to be allowed to call my mother. My mom could be dying, she could be gone, and I would be spending the night at a friend’s house unable to say goodbye.

Mrs. Doyle said she didn’t want to bother my sleeping parents. I assured her my mom picked me up at sleepovers all the time. Even then, in fourth grade, my mom would not hesitate to drive over after eleven o’clock in our brown Chevy Astro. She’d idle in the driveway, wearing a flannel nightgown worthy of Laura Ingalls Wilder. But instead, I’d been told to go to bed and wait for the morning to come. Then, as now, I fell apart; I couldn’t catch any air.

“Are you sure this is what you want?” The midwife asked.

To be fair, a few moments earlier I’d asked for the baby to be cut out of me with scissors, or something like that. I had a birth plan in place for this moment, a birthing class assignment I’d carefully adjusted to fit onto one page. The document outlined all the “no’s” for the hospital staff: no unnecessary inductions, no wires, no wiping the slimy vernix off the baby, no interfering with skin to skin contact. No epidurals.

A laboring woman asking for an epidural has become a cartoon image, one rehashed on sitcoms and movies. But it wasn’t hyperbole for me. I was slipping under the waves of my anxiety, drowning in the scary place my mind goes, where I bang on doors, or bang on my head, or fall to the ground, or… For a moment, I am clear, able to catch air and see my surroundings.

“Remember, you’re in control,” the midwife said.

My first au naturale birthing aspirations formed while I watched the pregnancies of respected mentors and friends. I read their birth story blogs like dime store novels, scrolling for the curious details of birth, of their bodies and mine. They labored arched across exercise balls and their babies entered the world in warm tubs at birthing centers.

I read their birth story blogs like dime store novels…

But it wasn’t just them. Natural births, birthing centers, home births, and midwifery practices have gained a popular influence. Just say the name Ina May Gaskin in a room full of females of childbearing age, and you will probably find yourself talking to a total stranger about the relation between the relaxation of your sphincter and vagina.

Gaskin has made a reputation for herself as the guru of natural birthing. Her book, “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth,” is the manual for those who want a no-nonsense, non-medicated birthing experience. I devoured this text after watching the popular documentary “The Business of Being Born,” a film, by the way, produced by daytime television has-been Ricki Lake.

Ina May was a gateway drug to a whole new world of strategies and information that promised to make natural birth possible, even pleasant or orgasmic. I went to a weekly prenatal yoga class with a former Hypno birthing coach, and my husband and I attended training in the Bradley method, a partner-coached natural birthing program with a weird orange juice fixation.

But at every turn, my granola aspirations got waylaid. In addition to staying on a low dosage of Zoloft, I sheepishly accepted a bottle of pills from my midwife to ease my extreme nausea. Far from earthy, it’s the same pill that Kim Kardashian swore by during her turbulent pregnancies.

At 32 weeks, a second blood sugar test indicated that I had gestational diabetes. My midwives threatened to drop me as a patient if I could not control my blood sugar levels with diet alone, which landed me in the office of a nutritionist with food made out of molded plastic  and empty yogurt containers.

“Now how many grams of carbohydrates are in the Activia?” she asked, “Is it a better or worse choice than the Dannon?” She held up the small plastic cup for my inspection and was delighted when I correctly identified that the Activia had less carbohydrates than the Dannon, the same way she’d praised me when I correctly identified how many slices of plastic bread were a serving (one, the answer is always one).

I began three times daily appointments with my blood sugar meter and finger poker. With each reading, my birthing ideals hung in the balance. In all of my books, each possible challenge could be met with my grit and determination to have the birth I wanted. There were checklists of questions to ask your potential birthing hospitals and exercises to be done each day. I often fell asleep guilty, knowing I’d missed a fifteen minute relaxation session or had neglected to meet every movement of my baby with joy, as Marie Mongan suggested.

Amidst all of these challenges, the natural birthing movement ordained Drew and I masters of our birthing experience.  My intuition alone would nudge us to switch care providers when their approach seemed too medical. Willa’s birth depended on my preparation so that during our labor I could relax and tap into my inner zen. As my Hypnobirthing book preached, “…when the mind is free of stress and fear that cause the body to respond with pain, nature is free to process birth in the same well-designed manner that it does for all other normal physiological functions.” In other words, If I could relax properly, labor would be like pooping out a baby.

Amidst all of these challenges, the natural birthing movement ordained Drew and I masters of our birthing experience.

In our twelve week Bradley course, my teacher assured the moms that we were “badasses” no matter what happened, but I couldn’t help but notice the several page checklist in our class manual entitled something like, “Are you doing everything you can to prepare for a natural birth?” And so, I studied for birth like a final exam, rehearsing my birth plan to ensure that  no one tricked me into pain meds or a c-section.

In The Business Of Being Born documentary, I remember the interviews with the moms who had medicated and/or cesarean deliveries. In each one, ignorance was the common theme. The moms didn’t know their options or didn’t know much about birth in general. They trusted doctors and hospitals over their own biology. If armed with the info and strategies they now know, they would have had natural births, or did on their second go.

I wanted to do better, to get it right the first time.  

If I’m honest, I think natural birth attracted me because it was another avenue to finally feel worthy. I wanted to prove to others and myself that I was strong physically and emotionally. A high pain tolerance topped my bucket list of unachieved compliments. I remember one high school friend’s mom bragging about her daughter’s kidney stones, “I knew she must really be in pain, because she rarely complains, she has SUCH a high pain tolerance.”

While “funny” and “you never know what she’s going to say next” were frequent compliments, I wanted to earn some perceived strength from my friends and family. I wanted to overhear Drew talking about my high pain tolerance at a church barbeque and to pass on my crunchy knowledge to young friends, pressing Ina May’s book into their hands with confidence that it would be all they needed.

..the plan dismantled with alarming speed, following the quick logic of a mathematical proof…

My midwifery practice let me go long past the due date restrictions of other OB-GYN offices and had no expectation that labor would go fast. These omens assured me that I’d chosen my healthcare providers well. But when factors collided, the plan dismantled with alarming speed, following the quick logic of a mathematical proof.

If your water breaks and you have strep b, then you will have 24 hours to deliver.

If you have 24 hours then, things need to get moving.

If after eating a bowl of soup and piece of chicken from the hospital cafeteria, your contractions are unimpressive lumps on the tachometer screen, then, they will give you Pitocin.

So, I said ok to the medicine I was to avoid at all costs. I was to do anything and everything to get labor moving without it: drink castor oil, stimulate my nipples, make out with Drew, walk the halls. I chose to trust my midwife, a woman who shared my philosophies of birth. I’d tried countless holistic strategies, and Willa was still not engaged or ready for exit.

If you have a drip of Pitocin, then you will be hooked up to an IV at all times.

If you are hooked up to an IV at all times, then you will no longer be able to use the birthing tub in your state of the art birthing suite.

If you can’t use the birthing tub, then you will try to balance on a birthing ball in the shower still connected to the tubes giving you what a delivery nurse once told your mother was the “torture drug.”

I tried. I tried really hard. I draped my body over my hospital bed and did suspended squats from the arms of my assembled birth team till all of our bodies shook with fatigue. And as the timer ticked on Willa’s delivery, the midwife continued increasing my dose of Pitocin. She further broke my water with what looked like a crochet hook, and things finally started to progress.

This all happened over a period of many hours, hours that slid together and combine now in one foggy moment. I remember Christy sweeping my hair back into pigtails. I remember warm fluids and dark meconium spilling out of my crotch like it was an open Ziploc bag. I remember that my Dad was still there and that he looked scared and that I didn’t care about nudity or sweat or my hairy legs, I just wanted to rip everything away from my skin. In order to make it through contractions, I needed to tuck my tail bone under me just so. With each coming surge, I worried I’d forget the position, and I’d stumble frantically looking for it.

“GET OUT,” I moaned to Willa through my contractions. I kept the low register suggested in my books and videos, the “o

ut” modulating like the yells of George of the Jungle as the pain gripped me. My mom was praying or crying into my hair, imitating the deep sounds that would keep my body from tightening against the progress of the contractions. Drew was across the room, pale, and concerned.

The next hour of labor, the hour before I asked for the epidural, felt like being on a mechanical bull ride that I couldn’t elect to stop or get off. I had no choice but to let the thrashing ride rip me apart while chained to the bull. Transition extended far past its rehearsed time limits and I vomited into every container I could find till nothing remained in my stomach to nourish or give me strength.

“Cut her out of me,” I begged. “I need her to be out of me.”

If, then.

If, then.

If. then.

“Don’t panic,”my midwife said.

“I have a panic disorder,” I said.“Give me an epidural!”

“Are you sure this is what you want?”

I am going under, I am sinking, I am not me, I am my fear, I am primal hormones racing through my veins to help me survive the attack of a saber tooth tiger, I am running, I am treading water, I don’t have much longer, I am banging on the door, I am trapped, but I know my mom will pick me up if I make enough noise, I am possessed by a demon, I am possessed by myself. I know how to stop it. I see for a second what I need. It is coming in a brown Chevy Astro. It is coming in a carefully placed needle.

“This is what I want.” And everyone in the room knew I meant it.


Charlottesville Is Evil and So Is White Privilege: Why the Church Must Call Out Both

“I know this [is] hard to hear, but… White supremacy benefits all white people. Including the ones with no torches. That’s why it survives.”

Brittany Packnett

It’s Sunday, and I took a nap instead of attending the protest against white supremacy in downtown Chicago. The city is a twenty five minute train ride from my house in the west suburbs. We’d have to bring our teething fourteen month old and carry her on our backs in the Ergo carrier. It might be challenging. It might be dangerous. She missed her afternoon nap yesterday. Best just to stay home.

This is privilege.

My husband and I got to choose whether to engage, to choose safety and ease. We can walk to the park and get iced lattes at our local coffee shop and pretend this isn’t about us.

My black and brown brothers and sisters do not get to live in this fake reality. They are not safe; “good Christian” boys in khakis and white polos, alongside others in pointed white hoods, yell, “You will not replace us” in the streets. Unlike the protesters in Ferguson, those marching with Nazi flags and tiki torches are not surveilled by army tanks and cops in riot gear. They have brought the assault rifles themselves.

Unlike the protesters in Ferguson, those marching with Nazi flags and tiki torches are not surveilled by army tanks and cops in riot gear. They have brought the assault rifles themselves.

While I have the privilege to pretend my tweets will be my righteousness, my slothful passivity supports the racial status-quo in our country. And this is evil too.

Not just Nazis, me too.

Many have declared the KKK waving Nazi flags and a Dodge Charger running over peaceful protesters as evil (Donald Trump did it three days late), but persistent denial of the more subtle (can we call them subtle?) evils that occur every day paved the way for the white supremacists to march. While the church increasingly comes forward to label Charlottesville as evil, they haven’t been willing to wholeheartedly condemn systemic racism in job interviews, highway pullovers, and elementary school classrooms.

Watching the events in Virginia unfold on my Facebook feed, I think of my black nephews, and I am ashamed of my perch on the living room couch. I worry for them. I worry what will happen if Marcus drives a little fast down the highway, or wears a hoodie, or holds a toy gun in front of the wrong cop. These realities are also evil. Calling out Charlottesville is a freebie, the real work starts when we call our justice system evil or more importantly call out the evil in our passivity and iced lattes in the park while the ground shakes under the boots of white hatred.

So here is the chance for the Church, for me, to go beyond the safe 140 character proclamations and have tough conversations with family and that friend of our mom who “means well” but has a very simplified view of the pro-life ethic. Here is our chance, to categorically reject not only what happened this weekend, but also what  happens every day.

Not only decry the ideology that whites should rule the land, but the reality that they do

I commend the conservative politicians and Christians who have come forward with statements rejecting white supremacy; I truly believe this is important. Some have been accused of making these proclamations to pave the way for future political runs or to hold onto subscribers and readers. I’ll take their proclamation over their silence despite any motive. But will they go a step further and proclaim white privilege evil too? Not only decry the ideology that whites should rule the land, but the reality that they do?

Here are some other things we have a chance to call out as evil: the exploitation of people of color by companies selling them homes under contract for deed, the continued effects of redlining in cities, that the majority of drug arrests are black men (though they are not the majority of users), that the murderer of Philando Castille was acquitted. And one doesn’t have to look to the news for examples of these types of evil. While you may have a white supremacist sitting next to you at work, at church, at school, you will also find countless examples of places and people that write people off because of their race.

Another sentiment circulating pushes our responsibility to the spiritual realm. “What can we do but pray? For our battle isn’t against flesh and blood!” Some explain race issues as a human sin issue. In other words, there is nothing new under the sun, mankind has been violent and biased towards one another since the beginning. As long as we have sin, we will have racists.

Yes, it is a sin and we must pray and lament and cry out to God. But we are copping out if we don’t recognize it as our sin, today, now, and in our country. Our prayer must come alongside our work. Though hatred is not unique to white people, we are the enfranchised, the ones whose bigotry, seen and unseen, passive and aggressive, shapes the systems of this country.

My white guilt is useless, my white repentance and action is necessary.

Tonight I repent for sleeping while men and women threatened the lives of my nephews, friends, and students in the open air. Tonight I beg God and my black and brown and Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters for forgiveness for this weekend, but also all the other weekends and years and generations of both outright aggression and passivity from a place of power and privilege. My white guilt is useless, my white repentance and action is necessary.

My friend William Stell talked about the usefulness of putting faces, stories, and relationships into the language of our activism. In a recent Huffington Post piece, he gave the example of chanting not only “black lives matter,” but also shouting the names of the black men and women in his life. And as I move forward I want to embody this individual and corporate activism.

Black lives matter.

Marcus’s life matters. I’m sorry I took a nap.

Mason’s life matters. I’m sorry for talking to the like-minded and stepping back from confrontation.

Malachi’s life matters. I’m sorry for not finding more tangible ways to call out evil and holding a latte instead of carrying the small weight of a poster board taped to a piece of wood.

John’s life matters. I’m sorry for the way my words bounce around like screws in an empty coffee can, making a pathetic hollow noise where my hands and feet should be working instead. They’re not enough.

E.J’s life matters. I apologize for any way this post serves my own catharsis more than your basic human rights or amplifies my own voice instead of your own.

Aleshia’s life matters. I’m sorry for sitting still in my safety and building fortresses out of rhetoric and academic assent to the cause of your right to flourish in this country.

Lauren’s life matters. I’m sorry. I repent. God have mercy on the church, on me, for waiting this long to call out evil.

170.83 The Man with the Constitution in His Pocket

I provide audio for as much of my work as I can. Some posts lend themselves particularly well to oral storytelling. This is one of them. Give it a listen by pressing play on the blue bar above and then put your phone down. Enjoy the words without the glare of a screen. Let me know what you thought of the listening experience in the comments! 

He carries the constitution in his pocket.

It’s a handheld edition with pages worn down on the edges, paper aged to a yellow that reveals a print date of at least thirty years ago. I am not yet thirty, or even twenty nine.

The first time I met the man at the library, the constitution escaped my notice.The old men at the library can blend together. Most of them call me “sweetie” and suggest that a nice young man helped them yesterday, and was he available?  At first, my title一technology specialist一intimidated me. Now I realize that my expertise in finding Yahoo.com and pointing out the print icon are what set me apart as a specialist.

I collected my own catalog of regulars, people I could count on seeing every day.

And so I didn’t notice the constitution in his pocket at first. I don’t remember our first interactions. Early in my tenure, everybody was just someone showing up to use the library this once. As the weeks wore on, I collected my own catalog of regulars, people I could count on seeing every day. This man一the one with the Preamble over his heart一I see every day.

Now I know his habits. He will try to catch my eye with a raised hand and a nod before making his way to the information desk. He is old and it hurts for him to move, I can see it in the way he pumps his arms as he walks and by the way his cheeks puff out repeatedly with exhaled breath when he reaches the top of the stairs.

“Do you have a minute?” He says this every time too.

He indicated a highlighted portion of text on his screen. Above the darkened words are the repeated indentations characteristic of forwarded emails. This particular forward delineates the number and cost of each first lady’s staff. Mamie Eisenhower, for example, had only one assistant. First ladies before Mamie paid for staffers out of their own pocket books.

“Can you fit it to one page?” He held his pointer finger up. He always holds his pointer finger up.

“We’ll see what I can do.”

White stubble covers his face, never quite growing into a beard, but holding the shape of one. The angles of his face render a soft countenance and he has a twinkle in his blue eyes that makes him seem like the sort of character in a movie you find out later was actually an angel or a ghost一”What do you mean you helped a man sitting at that computer?” my costar in the film would say, “There hasn’t been anyone there all day.”

Of particular note to the email writer is the wife of president Obama. I hold my cursor over the beginning of the article and click as I re-highlight the text. I reach the very last sentence where it notes of Michelle: “There has never been anyone in the White House at any time that has created such an army of staffers whose sole duties are the facilitation of the First Lady’s social life. One wonders why she needs so much help, at taxpayer expense, when even Hillary, only had three; Jackie Kennedy one; Laura Bush one; and prior to Mamie Eisenhower social help came from the President’s own pocket.”

He wanted a copy of this to keep with him. I noticed two reusable grocery bags on either side of his feet. Both are filled with stacks of paper: printouts like this one, and others too, photocopies of old newspapers, musical scores, and reproductions of patriotic documents.

“Excuse my reach,” I said.

He adjusted his baseball cap as he scooted back from the desk to give me space. I stretched my arm to hit keyboard shortcuts with pinky and pointer finger: copy, paste. He watched as the text of the email populated the word document I opened. The text sprawled across several pages. I changed the margins to 0.5 inches, but the print still took up two pages. I worked my Microsoft magic and changed the line spacing and font size. I scanned the piece for extra blank lines, moving fast and feeling sad.

In the back office the following week, I joked with my colleagues that training should include a session on how to fit a racist email to one page. I’ve gotten quite a bit of traction with this particular bit, but I tell it every time like it’s just coming to mind.

Today John makes it all the way to my desk before I notice him–I heard another patron call him John last week. I confess, I don’t exactly like to be summoned to computers, but I don’t mind so much with him, because he is feeble. That he made it to my desk means he limped the whole way, leading with his right leg and quickly dragging the left behind. Using his gait as a map, I’ve pinpointed his pain somewhere around his left hip.

We make the trip back to his console. The front page of Yahoo News announces something Trump did this week. The man clicks on a tile somewhere below the main article and pulls up a piece about a fat black actress who chides celebrity tabloids for noting her weight loss. This falls outside John’s normal requests. God, is his name John? I’m almost positive it’s John.

“Fit it to one page?” I ask trying to race him to his catchphrase. I’m actually just thrilled that the current screen does not display a World War I conspiracy theory or a meme telling Germany how Texans would deal with Muslim rapists on their turf.

“No,” he says, “I just want the picture.”

I help him print the picture.

I cry at my desk.

A blue vinyl suitcase leans against the chair, an item more suited to an overnight trip in 1960 than to hold a life.

I saw him crossing the tracks on his bike a couple days ago. He balanced multiple bags on the handlebars as rain fell soaking his baseball cap and the shoulders of his unbuttoned oxford.

He summons me over to his computer, where the screen displays another email forward. He scrolls past the records of who has sent it, some without comment, others with encouragements for their friends to enjoy the email. “Great stuff,” someone in the chain proclaims. Another sender says, “These are hilarious.”

The email is entitled “Old Soldiers.” Someone compiled a group of memes with various generals and notable military personnel. I confess I only recognize General Patton, since he gets mentioned in our family lore. My great uncle Willard served under his command in Europe. When Willard got back, he cut off communication with my Grandma who was dating a second generation German immigrant in Chicago.

“Can you fit all these to one page?” He raises his pointer finger.

But this particular set of memes will take more than my usual copy and paste routine if I want to keep it to his one-page, ten-cent budget.

“Excuse my reach,” I say as he rolls back his chair to give me room to work.

Copy. My opinion of Barack Obama, He’s an un-wiped ass. Paste.

Copy. I want peace, I just have to kill some people first. Paste.

Copy. When your men get home and face an anti-war protester, look at him the eyes and shake his hand. Then, wink at his girlfriend, because she know she’s dating a pussy. Paste.

Today he wears the freedom of speech in the pocket of a blue button up shirt. The sleeves bunch in tidy rolls at his elbow and he wears it unbuttoned over a tucked in t-shirt. A small cow skull hangs around his neck affixed to a leather bolo tie.

“That’s clever,” he says, watching me adjust the sizing on the images. I’m working hard, using Publisher to piece the memes together, finding the arrangement that makes them fit. My palms sweat trying to finish before I say something or cry.

“Is it ok if they overlap?” I ask.

“Sure,” he says swatting the air to dismiss my worry, “Just as long as I can see the words.”

Last night, he came to the library wearing a short sleeve tropical shirt. The red fabric set off white hibiscus flowers dancing down his back and across his chest, even right over the constitution. He still carried his blue traveling case, and it reminded me of the Genie in Aladdin at the end of the movie as he levitates off to Disney World.

I decided that I want to be the type of person that asks this man what he’s doing

I’ve resolved to ask him what he’s working on, to find out about his magnum opus. I see so many large projects in process at the library. I play my small part in helping people finish resumes, short stories, Facebook profiles, and tax documents. I can tell all the papers in his bags add up to something important to him, and yesterday I decided that I want to be the type of person that asks this man what he’s doing–someone who listens to opposing viewpoints. But I don’t ask.

I almost get the words out of my mouth twice. He’s so kind to me in comparison to many patrons, I imagine that the conversation would go well enough. But I realize I’m not sure what I’d say back, what I could say back if I heard him say aloud in a calm, reasonable voice the sort of words I read in his emails.

When I walk out of the library after closing, he is sitting on the bench outside with friends: the widowed physicist and the guy who spits chewing tobacco into empty Gatorade bottles. I should say “goodbye,” or “have a good evening,” since I see them more than my own family. Head down, I walk towards the staff parking lot.

I’ll see him tomorrow.

Header Photo by Dmitrij Paskevic on Unsplash

Music in Audio version by Jake Dragash

A Very Revealing Baby Story: Mesh Panties and Midwives


Once the beating of Willa’s heart filled the birthing suite, we began to settle in, unpacking the rolling suitcase that rivaled my own growing size. After the past month of patchy labor signs coming in and out, I felt like I’d finally made the team.

I slipped into the maroon jersey nightgown I’d chosen for labor and scooched the provided mesh underwear up my legs. My mom helped affix the foot-long menstrual pad to the material of my giant briefs.

With the scare of the blood and water breaking out of the way, we launched into our previously outlined procedure, the one I’d sketched out on charts and planners over the last months. As is my custom, I had executed about seventy percent of my insane pre-birth checklists, but this landed me at a more relaxed person’s one hundred percent ready to welcome baby Willa into the world.

Drew sent text messages to our inner circle. He dispatched my sister in law Christy who would be serving as my lay-woman doula in the delivery room. We unpacked the hospital bag and plugged in the essential oil diffuser. Drew added water and several shakes of lavender oil into its basin and the suite filled with heavy herbal mist.

My heart raced with Willa’s at each tightening, grateful, anxious, excited, impatient all at once.

The contractions came and went, painful but not unmanageable. They registered on the tachometer as peaking mounds met with the temporary increase in the baby’s heart rate. My heart raced with Willa’s at each tightening, grateful, anxious, excited, impatient all at once.

The nurse switched out my heart and contraction monitors for wireless ones that would allow me to more easily move about and use the birthing tub. I had many ideas for how I might want to labor, many memorized contortions that made me feel like a cave woman, grunting and primal.

The nurse with the tinkly bracelet came in to administer my two hour drip of antibiotics. She put a heplock IV in my arm as per my vigilante birth plan. This one page document ensured I wouldn’t get swallowed by the medical industrial complex. We’d workshopped it in our natural birthing class and printed enough copies so that even the cafeteria workers at the hospital would know I didn’t want a medicated birth.

The nurse warned me about an incoming burning sensation, which I could combat by keeping my arm moving to help spread the medication. I braced myself for two hours of searing pain in my veins. “When does the burning start?” I asked squinting my eyes in preparation. 

The nurse laughed, the charms on her bracelet clanking together as she pressed buttons on the IV poll. “If you didn’t feel any, it shouldn’t be a problem. It’s only when the medicine starts. Don’t worry.”

Time darted and stalled, taking on the shape of the mounds and valleys on the screen monitoring my contractions.

Time darted and stalled, taking on the shape of the mounds and valleys on the screen monitoring my contractions. My birthing team, Drew, Christy, my mom, and my dad (who was only supposed to stay for a little while) assembled in our birthing suite and ate Chipotle burritos to prepare for the hours of my crunchy labor. 

With each surge, I used the breathing from my prenatal yoga class, matching the length of my inhales and exhales. Christy and my mom took turns rubbing my lower back, something I was surprised I didn’t really enjoy. Each contraction took my voice away before I could tell them to stop massaging or explain that I wanted less pressure. Drew explored the closet off our suite filled with different  birthing tools. He brought out a somewhat deflated birthing ball and a peanut shaped inflatable the nurse had suggested for labor with a posterior positioned baby.

Two midwives were on call that night, since one was new to the practice and still got scheduled with a more senior midwife. Neither was my first choice from the group of midwives, but I hadn’t gotten the one who made me feel like I was a cast member of “My 600-lb Life” when she diagnosed me with gestational diabetes. Overall, this looked like a promising birthing team.

Jenna, the new midwife, had the wide stance and no-frills politeness of someone from the midwest. She wore her strawberry blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail and sported a pair of Warby Parker glasses, an update since my last appointment. She lived in one of my favorite Chicago neighborhoods and had given me an internal exam at the office a few weeks ago (read: had her hands in my business as far up as they could go), so she felt familiar enough.

The supervising midwife Michelle seemed to have recently gone on a life-changing tropical vacation.

The supervising midwife Michelle seemed to have recently gone on a life-changing tropical vacation. At our appointment earlier that day, I’d noticed she had new sassy highlights and while her skin had darkened to a caramel tan, her overall demeanor had lightened. Both midwives clunked around the room in Dansko clogs.

Even though the contractions occasionally gripped my midsection through to my back, Michelle noted that I needed more umph and action to deliver a posterior baby resting so high in my pelvis.

She encouraged me to order something from the hospital cafeteria since it would be a long night. When I finished eating, she’d come back and see where my contractions were. If they hadn’t strengthened, lengthened, and gotten closer together, we’d have to consider using Pitocin.

Christy timed my contractions as we all willed them to get longer, to come more often, and to register on the screen of the tachometer. And here is where the doubt starts to seep in. The voices of a thousands Ina May Gaskins and home birth advocates begging me to ask more questions, to try flipping myself into a headstand, or swallowing a bottle of castor oil.

The heart monitor dropped the baby’s heart beats and picked up my own, as if it knew that at that moment, I needed closer monitoring. 

Thanks, Sorry… send the thank yous you never sent!

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A Very Revealing Baby Story: The 5-1-1

At forty one weeks and five days pregnant, I’d done some kumbaya-natural birth acrobatics to better position Willa, which resulted in the feeling of someone farting somewhere in my cervix, followed by a release of fluid and blood.

I guessed that this sensation had been my water breaking, but the presence of blood and its quantity surprised me. The dark red stain on our couch made me glad we’d splurged for the performance fabric. As a newlywed purchasing the couch, I’d imagined more glamorous spills— think toppling glass of red wine versus bodily fluid cocktail—but at least the couch wasn’t ruined.

At any point in pregnancy, blood is not usually a good omen. Drew called the midwife’s office on the phone for next steps, but I knew at this point we’d be going in. First time moms are encouraged to feel like their insides are exploding before they arrive at the hospital. The past weeks had been a game of chicken for my pain tolerance, various sensations qualifying or not qualifying as labor. The pain and muscle strain is hard enough to cause cramps. I do have access to the pain patches which I ordered after reading its review on Good Samaritan HS. But the pain comes back sooner than it goes.

The nurses who administered my non-stress tests in the hospital applied the term “Braxton Hicks contractions” to both the mere visual tightening of the skin on my stomach and piercing pains that stopped me in my tracks. I heard the phrase “You’ll know” more times than I did as a single evangelical Christian in my twenties. And after all the starting and stopping, teasing pain, I was going into the hospital on a technicality. As in technically, my couch cushion was covered with blood, and technically, I couldn’t feel the baby moving anymore.

I was unsure if I was sitting or standing as my mom moved my limbs for me, inching a pair of black leggings up my calves to replace my wet nightgown. I watched Drew and my mom bustle around me from miles away, trying to watch my present situation with as little detail as possible.

Patches of Drew’s conversation with the midwife floated across the distance, “Um, she said it felt like someone farted in her crotch…” God bless that man, I thought. I wanted to help communicate the feeling, the stain on the couch, and the motionless baby so that they’d know it was real, that I wasn’t just making it all up.

I was transported back to my days as a kid feeling like a fraud on the exam table at our family doctor’s office. Though I was feeling sick as a dog, the nurse would hold up the beeping ear thermometer and announce that my temperature was 97.9 degrees.  Now like then, I didn’t want them to think I was weak or lying or exaggerating.

I didn’t want them to think I was weak or lying or exaggerating.

Drew must have communicated the situation well enough, as I was now being helped to the car, then set on top of a towel on the front seat. We turned onto the path back to the hospital, well-worn from all the visits and tests required of a post-term baby. We met every stoplight and backed up four way stop along the way. As my body rocked forward at another halting stop, I recited the string of numbers from our birthing class over and over in my head: 5-1-1.

These were the magic natural birthing numbers to avoid a medicated birth. I should stay at home until my labor sustained a pattern of five minutes between one minute long contractions for at least one hour. Going in before this established labor progression placed moms at risk of pressure to induce. Best to wait and keep your distance from the fly by night anesthesiologist with his spine numbing juice.

I felt simultaneously repelled and drawn by the medical metropolis.

But here I was, headed to the hospital on my drop cloth, having to disregard the plan altogether. I felt simultaneously repelled and drawn by the medical metropolis. My suspicions and training as a birth vigilante made me afraid, but my fear made me desperate for the monitors and sensors that would tell me that Willa was still with us. So we crawled on down York road, rushing out of the gates of the green lights and halting suddenly with the next block of stopped cars. The condensing and releasing traffic carried us along.

Amidst the other concerns, I knew that with the blood and fluid, a twenty four hour timer started ticking. Early in my pregnancy, they found traces of group B strep in my urine. One in six women carry strep B, and since it was found in my urine, I never got a fighting chance to binge on yogurt and probiotics prior to my third trimester swab. My natural birth allies assured me these precautions would prevent a false positive.

Having strep B in your nether regions was just one of many things with conflicting narratives among birthing philosophies. Things get reputations for being a real thing or not a real thing, a legitimate consideration for the safety of you and your baby or an elaborate myth perpetrated by lawsuit weary hospitals and C-section happy doctors.

Regardless of its seriousness, I’d tested positive for it, and with my particular practice, that put certain limitations and stipulations around Willa’s birth. I’d need antibiotics through an IV port and the actual birth could not take place in the birthing tub. In addition, in the unlikely chance that my water broke early in the birthing process, I’d have twenty four hours to deliver.

When we arrived in the birthing ward, I skipped the triage room altogether. A nurse with a tinkling charm bracelet led me to the tidy birthing suite I had dreamed of since I first looked up the hospital before we were expecting.

The delivery room was large with an impressive birthing tub featuring all kinds of jets and buttons. In the advertised pictures, a pair of white slippers were laid out on a mat in front of the tub, like the set-up at a mid-luxury hotel. On the side of a tub laid a packaged fish tank net for scooping up unsavory items that surfaced in the tub.

IMG_2541Once in the room, they ushered me quickly to the bed where I lifted my shirt for the application of the cold jelly that went under the monitors. The blue and pink elastic bands were stretched across my bump and the monitors were tucked in place.
And then it came, the sweet percussion of Willa’s heart, fast and strong, muffled only by the tiny occasional movements of her body. I looked up to Drew and my mom and began to weep with relief, tapping my foot on the bed to the beat of our daughter’s heart.

A Very Revealing Baby Story: The Sidelying Release

Around fifteen percent of women have their water break before going into active labor. If you are like me, most of the amniotic sacs you have seen, or will see, break in your life have belonged to the the cast of Friends or have taken place due to multiple viewings of the movie “Where The Heart Is” with Natalie Portman (which I suppose predisposes us to a whole slew of misconceptions about pregnancy and birth).

The gurus insist that pregnant women will most likely bypass this messy occurrence despite its over representation in the birth of every on-screen baby. Our birthing instructors and childbearing girlfriends assure us that our water may even hold out so long that a birth professional will have to prod it with what looks like the crochet hook my grandma uses to bind off her knitting projects.

I’ve never been that worried about my water breaking anyway, even in a public place. Many pregnant women bemoan the idea of their water breaking in front of their students or male colleagues. Screw that. It’s a free opportunity to pee yourself in public with no repercussions or shame. When else as a grown woman do you get to leave a puddle of bodily fluid on the floor and render excitement from your peers?

When else as a grown woman do you get to leave a puddle of bodily fluid on the floor and render excitement from your peers?

So water-breaking joined swimsuit-wearing and a Donald Trump presidency as things I didn’t need to worry about until later on. My immediate attention was focused on my 41 week and 5 day bump, willing my daughter to turn inside of me so I could push her out to the rhythm of my carefully practiced inhales and exhales.

The midwife had been solemn about Willa’s positioning. Even after we left the exam room with its posters of growing babies and plastic models of vaginas, the comforting hand of the midwife still laid heavily on my shoulder. She warned me in the sweet way women are often informed about bad news or potential crisis—solace without information.

I couldn’t get her hand off my shoulder all the way home or when I laid down on the couch with a “harumph,” whining about the unfairness of it all. My shoulder still dipped under the weight of her warning, and I knew the pressure wouldn’t lighten until I tried the prescribed twists, turns, and stretches that might coax Willa to turn her face away from the front of my belly.

The living room became mission command for our endeavors to rotate the baby around. I had spent the previous weeks pining for less time with Willa inside me. At the suggestion of one friend, I got on my hands and knees in the shower and yelled at my belly, “Come out Willa! Come ouuuuuttttt!” Now with a deadline for induction and a baby not ideally situated, I wanted all the time I could get.

Drew typed away at the computer, scouring the Spinning Babies website to find the cure all method for the posterior positioned baby. He found long lists of possible scenarios that could be summed up in the phrase, “everyone is different.” Nothing very helpful for a woman on the night before her induction.

My mom’s phone murmured with a constant stream of YouTube videos featuring women with calm voices positioning giant pregnant women on medical exam tables and couches. The women smiled, mere examples of the predicament of their viewers. They stared vacantly ahead like the person you’re supposed to watch in a workout video giving the low impact modification for each move: “If you have troubles with your knees, watch Mary Ellen for an adjustment,” But the Mary Ellen’s never look like the sweating, heaving messes looking to her for relief from the classic plank position or full push-up. Their half extended movements and shallow squats don’t fit their demeanor and bikini ready bodies.

After Drew and my mom gathered a consensus from popular advice on the internet, we went for a position called “the sidelying release,” offered in a YouTube video with a lot of thumbs up. I laid down on my left side, hanging my bulging belly over the side of the couch and letting Drew and my mom position me, pausing and unpausing the video to find the magic contortion. It was uncomfortable, and I was skeptical of my two-amateur chiropractors trying desperately to make everything alright.

Courtesy of Spinning Babies

Courtesy of Spinning Babies

According to the woman in the video (with an unfortunate haircut), we were supposed to take little breaks in between stretches, so we began the process of moving me, which took a great deal of willpower these days. Much use of the words “hoist” and “maneuver,” and careful count downs for the most minor adjustments.

On my sit bones once again, I leaned forward over my “birthing ball,” the one I’d been bouncing and gyrating on for the last month to wiggle Willa out. My cheek rested on the cold rubber, my arms arched over the curve of its sphere.

And then I felt something odd, something I didn’t have words for…the sensation of someone farting in my crotch. I know, not a great description, but the only analogy I had to put to the sensation.

The black nightgown I wore felt warm and soaked. I tilted myself forward and saw a large wet circle where I’d been sitting on the couch. The baby stopped moving inside of me, and as I took stock of the situation, I noticed something else on the couch.

Blood. A lot of it.

We needed to leave, we needed to get the baby out.