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 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!

On April 30th, lets finish our thank you notes!

Subscribe here to get the free printable and to be entered in all the fun giveaway! On Saturday at 11:59 P.M. Central Standard Time, I’ll be drawing from my subscriber list for each of the following prizes…

Things we’re giving away…

-10 of any of our thanks, sorry printable cards with envelopes

Thanks Sorry Cards

-6 of these amazing “Thanks a Bunch Cards” from Chicago maker DafoeDesigns

Dafoe Designs Card

-This awesome hat from Chicago maker Coursewrk Supply Co

-$30 shop credit for Hilary Rhodes Design… pick out your own delightfully frank and heart warming greeting cards

Greeting Card - Sympathy/Friendship/Support - This Sucks   I'm in your corner - Greeting Card for Sympathy, Support, Friendship  


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 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.

You Are Here Stories: We are Sardines

In the quiet, we huddle together and scold those who speak too often or above a whisper. I shift my weight carefully on the old wooden floors of the closet that protest with creaks at even the slightest movement.

Eight of us have piled into the utility closet off of the church parlor and are waiting for the rest of the “sardines.” Every muscle in my body tightens with the anticipation of voices or movement from the other side of the door. The must of old choir robes mixed with the generic old church smell that gets trapped in between the pages of pew Bibles and hymnals is particularly dense in our close quarters.

A paper palm frond tickles my elbow, the trunk of its tree standing tall in a bucket of cement. This prop is one of many artifacts left from Vacation Bible Schools and church events where the sanctuary was transformed into a tropical Island or the Sydney Olympic games, depending on what the Sunday School curriculum companies were pushing that year.

There are only so many spots in the church building that can fit all the sardines attending youth group on any given Wednesday night. Each hider imagines they will find the new, most secret of spots. Everyone ends up in the same rotation of hideouts: the closet with the Christmas pageant outfits and fake floral arrangements, somewhere under the pews in the choir loft, or this closet off the parlor where we wait now for the rest of the kids to find us.

Once I join the cloistered youth group members, the act of hiding alerts my dormant primal instincts to survive. We all become prehistoric cave people, sheltering ourselves from a wooly mammoth, and we communicate with grunts and nudges in the darkness of our enclosure….

Read the rest over at You are Here Stories!

A Very Revealing Baby Story: Sunny Side Up

Willa was sunny side up.

This is a very sweet way to describe the reality of a baby in the posterior position.

It implies optimism and a nod to an Americana past, as if one can order up their labor pain at the counter of a greasy spoon diner alongside locals in trucker hats perusing the local gazette. A husky voiced waitress with a name like Madge or Paula might ask if I’d like my intense back labor with a choice of short stack, toast, or English muffin on the side.

While there are many things in labor that could benefit from some sugar coating, “sunnyside up” doesn’t need such a jaunty tone. Why can’t we find something better to call the mucus plug or the “bloody show.” These things could use a little poetic reimagining since they are so aptly named that it’s hard to bring them up in general conversation.

Why can’t we find something better to call the mucus plug or the “bloody show.”

Or perhaps we should stop using the term “water breaking” so that women know to expect something different than a bottle of Evian spilling out from between their legs.

For weeks I’d gathered comfort from the fact that our baby was head down. When you reached the requisite amount of weeks at my prenatal yoga class, our instructor would check in with us on our baby’s positioning so that a downward facing dog wouldn’t compromise our babies’ optimal escape plans.

“Head down?”

She’d parrot the question down the line of tired looking women gyrating their hips on deflating yoga balls. Her question became a form of attendance, a greeting. And how are you today? I’m fine. Head is down.

I so eagerly shared my positional news each week that the instructor started to anticipate my update. “And baby’s head is down, right?” This baby is head down and this momma is ready to naturally birth this baby all kumbaya style into a tub of warm water in a dimly lit room with the wafting scent of lavender in the air.

If I tried hard enough, if I prepared enough, if I could relax enough, if I could be enough, then I could do anything.

Ina May assured me that I shouldn’t have any problems as long as I had copious amounts of sex to naturally induce labor and if called my contractions “rushes” and armed myself with positions and sounds and information to get me through the most natural thing I’d ever do. If I tried hard enough, if I prepared enough, if I could relax enough, if I could be enough, then I could do anything.

Enough. Enough. Enough. Baby is head down.

At our appointment the afternoon before our induction, we found out Willa was facing up in the posterior position. I had been going to these appointments at the midwife more and more frequently and all the tissues and centimeters were progressing. The braxton hicks had been coming frequently and leaving me wondering with each tightening and pain… is this excruciating enough to be labor? Will these stabbing back pains ease down if I take an Epsom Salt bath and call my mom to tell her it might be time?


Posterior (OP) Position (Image Courtesy of Spinning Babies)

We were at the finish line, almost two weeks past the due date, when the midwife felt Willa’s positioning and her face contorted with concern. She started to ease me into the fact that the baby wasn’t dropping right  and appeared to be in the posterior position, I didn’t get it. Head down, ready to go. Her pauses and hand on my shoulder told me things were no longer optimal. She told me I needed to do everything I could to get the baby in a better position.

She gave me the address to a website. The domain name made me worry I was in for a night of circus acrobatics. I wanted to sleep, I wanted to be done, but instead I needed to flip and turn and twist and try hard enough to birth my baby naturally.

Madge, I’ll take my labor over-easy instead.

A Very Revealing Baby Story: A Barbaric Yawp

I want to start at the end, at the glory.

You’re supposed to hear a cry- a drawn out newborn wail, tearless and gasping. That’s how you know everything is ok. A little squawk will do, or even a gurgled protest, but Willa came out with what I imagine Whitman meant by a “barbaric yawp,” something more animal than human.

To hear her voice calling to us was the sweetest assurance, even more so than the muffled percussion of the sonograms at our prenatal appointments or the early pokes and flutters felt in my womb.

There is so much hidden behind the curtain of skin, muscle, and organs; we could only make guesses about our baby. “She’s so withholding,” we would say to disappointed grandmas with their hands on my stomach. Willa, who moments earlier had been violently rippling my stomach flesh, held deadly still under the watch of others trying to catch her acrobatics.

There is so much hidden behind the curtain of skin, muscle, and organs; we could only make guesses about our baby.

In her thirty two week ultrasound, the doctor pointed out the improbable presence of hair on her head, and the tech showed us the way she was practicing her breathing, preparing her lungs for inhaling  those first  gulps of air.

After forty two weeks of waiting, we were alert and ready to find out who this baby was.

“Not a small head” announced Dr. San Juan, the doctor who had joined our birth team. Was this in place of the announcement that the baby was a girl, do doctors feel like they must announce something about the baby? “Medium sized hands for a baby.” or “Thought you should know your baby has well-proportioned ears!”

Drew took over at this point, finally able to touch our baby who had been wrapped up in my body, snug behind my tissues. She held his finger as the neonatologist checked her out, since she’d gotten busy pooping in the two weeks since her due date.

“She’s so nice,” he kept exclaiming. “You’re going to love her.” His words became my comfort, a mantra as I laid there opened like a sardine can, exposed and helpless. Inhale, she’s so nice. Exhale, you’re going to love her.

Nothing prepares you for the fact that an actual baby comes out, a human who’s been hanging out inside of you, suspended upside down in a contracting womb.

Nothing prepares you for the fact that an actual baby comes out, a human who’s been hanging out inside of you, suspended upside down in a contracting womb. On the inside, she was overpriced pink shoes at the baby gap, she was lumps protruding from my stomach of maybe a butt, maybe her torso?

She was waves of nausea and back aches, and a basketball with flowy blouses draped over top. She was my wide-awakeness in the middle of the night and an occasion for strangers to offer me a seat in the lobby of crowded breakfast restaurant. She was a name, carefully recited to make sure it sang just right in the air. She was so many abstractions and hunches, but now she was nice and not a small head and a voice that could muster a primal yell.

When I become sad or start to feel shame about my story, I think of that blessed moment where she, scrappy and brave, met the air with an unapologetic screech, wild and wonderful, arching her neck with strength to meet the world.

She was nice. I was going to love her.

You Are Here Stories: Powder Room Diplomacy

The year is 2007 and our bags are packed with “layering tanks” from American Eagle, flat irons to steam our hair into long, flat planks, and short denim skirts. The manufacturers have carefully ripped the skirts to look like the storied clothing item of a ranch hand or someone who has army crawled through a field of barbed wire.

Well, not ALL of our bags share these contents. Mine didn’t.

It’s senior ditch day and I have packed the few items I imagined would be necessary for the sort of girls weekend where we’d eat ice cream out of the carton in between fistfuls of Cheetos: comfortable sweatpants, a swimsuit, and a small bag of hodge-podged toiletries and makeup that I don’t intend on using…

Read more about my makeup woes at You are Here Stories.