Like an Old Record Player

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“Do you remember,” she asked, “what you said when he was born?”

She was there. Herself 34 weeks pregnant; the photographer at my son’s birth as well as a friend and co-worker in the emergency department. She remembered.

And I remembered.

The moments after I gave birth to my second son all ran together in my mind. The memories felt fuzzy and incoherent, but also, so, so clear. It felt like I had been run over by a stampede of wild horses. I was awe struck by it–completely and utterly overtaken by it. It hurt, but it was also the most beautiful thing I have experienced.

“You just kept repeating yourself, over and over.”

I remembered.

That moment that I caught him and brought him up to my chest, “You made it,” I said. “You made it. You’re here, you’re here. You’re finally here.” Like an old record player. Stuck. Unable to move beyond that thought. That moment.

“It was like you were in shock.”

Oh, how I remembered.

I was in shock. Wonderful, beautiful shock.

“It was like when we’re at work, when a trauma comes in or there is a terrible death, and someone’s loved one just keeps repeating themselves over and over. Saying the same thing again and again.”

I knew exactly what she was talking about. She was talking about the widower holding his wife’s bleeding body saying, “You’re telling me my wife is dead? She’s dead? She’s dead?” Or the son watching doctors try to recessitate his father who is already gone. And all he can mutter over and over again is, “I don’t understand. I don’t understand. I just don’t understand.”

Mind altering, shock. Where your brain gets stuck in a loop and can’t get out.

It was eery, really, how right she was that the shock of life is uncomfortably similar to the shock of death.

And somehow that is healing.

It is healing that shock can be a beautiful thing. It is healing that death and life are so familiar with each other. As if one knows where the other is going. Where it has been. It is healing that they are so close, like that, and yet when we thinking of them individually, they are as far apart as two things can be.

 

I am White

“Unarmed Black Man Shot by Police” my New York Times news feed scrolls across the top of my phone. Lately, the phrase has appeared so often that it has begun to feel normal.

Heartbreakingly.

Crushingly.

Unbearably.

Normal.

The weight of it feels debilitating, and most days I do nothing.

Nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

I read the news. I shake my head and then I go about my day. I don’t know how to write about it. I don’t know how to talk about it. And I just feel angry. So, so angry. Angry because it doesn’t feel like things are better.

Things feel broken.

Things feel heavy.

Things feel tragic.

All the time.

A friend and I were talking yesterday. About work. About sorrow. About carrying it with you, even when you don’t want to or mean to. And I started feeling so burdened. Like my heart can only carry so much at once. The sorrow of the work I do, of how in the city I live Native Americans are treated so poorly by whites. And how that has been our country’s history for centuries. How blacks across our nation have to think differently about how they handle themselves because it could be the difference between living and dying . How Latino/as in my state are often not regarded for their ability or character, but by their immigration status.

Not to mention the current political talk regarding people from the middle east, Muslims.

I have always liked to think of myself as someone who understands cultural differences, who respects race and diversity because of my experience of growing up in another country. But the reality is, I do and say racist things just like the next person. I don’t want to. But I do.

And I’m terrified to write about these things for a wider audience because I don’t know when or how my own prejudices might crop up. And it frightens me to think about having a conversation not just about a subject or a topic to be theorized, but about PEOPLE. People’s lives. What if I say something that is ignorant and hurtful to and about people?

And I’m terrified, because I am going to be raising two white men. The most privileged race and gender in the world. And I want to do it well. I want them to be compassion. I want them to be better than I am. I want them to hold these tragedies in a way that I am so often unable to.

And I’m terrified because we want to bring more children into our family. Through adoption. And there is a disproportionate number of children of color in the foster system, and who are waiting to be adopted. And I think, “What if I hurt my children because I do or say something racist? What if I have a black son and I don’t know how to teach him how to be a black man? What if I can’t teach him to protect himself against racist whites, because I’m white?” And then my heart starts to feel so heavy. And I stop thinking about adopting and I stop thinking about the news and I play with my little white baby boys. Because I have that luxury. To not think about it. To be able to put it out of my mind. And it is a luxury. A luxury I have because I am white. A luxury not afforded to a black man being shot in the street. A luxury not given to a Native woman sleeping on the sidewalk wondering where her children are.

I don’t write about political subjects. I just don’t. As a rule. I write about happy things. I write about sad things. I write about things that happen in the average day, with the average family. I started writing this a few months ago and I didn’t know how or if I would share it with others. But I am sharing it, because it’s not just a “political thing”. It is a sorrowful thing. For so long it has weighed on my heart. And over the last few months when I would sit down to write something I would say to myself, “Don’t be political, don’t go there.” Or I would say, “There are so many people better equipped to tell this story. So many people more qualified to speak into this situation.” And the latter is still true. But this is also true: There is an undeniable amount of pain in this world and it doesn’t go away because we look the other way or feel to weak to carry it.

The crushing heaviness that is generational racism and discrimination experienced by my friends and family is something I will never know. And it is something that I have in part, contributed to by thinking that it would just get better if I pretended it didn’t exist.

So friends, family, friends of family, and family of friends share with me how I can stop looking the other way. Share with me more than a hashtag or a book recommendation (although share those to!). Share with me something I can do to change the narrative as I raise my privileged family in a world where most never know what privilege is.

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You’re Here, Little One

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Seconds after you entered our world. || Kalie Wolfinger Photography

You’re here, little one.

Sixty-three hours and 13 minutes ago you were inside of me, and now as I type this, you lie next to me. Your soft, dark hair rubs against my arm. Your little chest heaves and sputters, as only newborn chests do. Everything about you feels wonderful and shocking and perfect. I cannot fully comprehend how you are here. How you are ours. It feels too good. Like too much, after so much struggle to get you here. I am weepy and emotional. My heart feels like it will beak open. Like it already has. Like I am going to choke on how I feel about you.

The day you were born I did not believe could possibly be your birthday. I even texted a friend and said I was not going to try to get you to come anymore. I was going to stop the acupuncture, the herbal tinctures, the pressure points, all the things that had been recommended to me to get you here. I was just going to rest. Soak in the day with your brother and rest. I got dressed for the first time in days, put on eye-liner and earrings and called your auntie to go shopping.

Around noon on the day you were born, I started having contractions, but I had  been having contractions since I was 20 weeks pregnant with you. So while I wanted to get excited, I told myself that it was nothing. I told your dad that I was not going to be hopeful.  He asked if we could be too hopeful and my response was, yes…I thought that we could. I wanted to meet you so badly, and it seemed like after all that trying to keep you in when you were not full-term and then all that trying to get you out because I could not breathe…clearly, I told myself, he will just come when he is ready.

So I cleaned the kitchen; I did some writing. Your brother awoke from nap and we ate peanut butter and apples on the sidewalk out front. And the contractions kept picking up. But I was not going to be fooled. Your due date was a week away and I had been ready for weeks with seemingly no progress. So your brother and I played with rocks on the porch and I called a friend to see if she wanted to come eat popsicles with us. But everyone was busy. We went inside and cleaned your brother’s room. The contractions got stronger. More intense. But I knew that you were not coming–that it was not the day.

When your dad got home and asked how far apart things were, I said I had been timing contractions but it was no big deal that they were getting closer together and longer. We should not get hopeful, I told him.  By this time though, I was beginning to wonder. Beginning to wonder if tonight was the night. Beginning to wonder if something was actually different about these contractions. I called your auntie. We had been texting all day. She had been excited. Hopeful. She had said maybe this was it. When I told her how far apart they were she said I needed to call the midwife and let her know what was happening. I hesitated, was it really necessary. Really?  She said we should, just to be safe. So I called the midwife and she said I should come in. I told her things did not seem too bad. I told her it was probably nothing. She said there was a chance that was true, but we should just check things out. She said she did not want to rush me, but that I should come sooner rather than later. So we finished getting dinner ready and waited for your “La La” to come be with your brother. In between contractions I chatted with E about how we would likely be right back.

When we arrived at the birth center the midwife I loved most was there. It was close to 7pm and I knew she was going off call at 8pm. In my heart I felt a tiny tinge of sadness. That if you did come she would not be the one there to usher you into the world.

We went back into the labor suite and she checked  to see what your progress was. I had told myself I was two, maybe three, centimeters dilated, which usually means that you are sent back home, because for a baby to be born, 10 centimeters is what you have to achieve.  And in her calm, and oh so soothing way, the midwife looked at me and said, “You are six, maybe seven centimeters and your bag of waters is bulging. I’m going to call the nurse and the team and tell them to come now. You’re not going to be going home.”

I swore.

Not because I was upset, or afraid, or uncertain. But because I was shocked. That you were finally coming. That I would see you soon.

And because I knew things were about to get really intense.

And things did.(Thank Jesus for your auntie and her wisdom. If it had not been for her, you likely would have been born in the car.)

With your brother it was 12 hours of labor, on Pitocin, a drug which can make contractions and labor very intense. During those 12 excruciating hours I got into somewhat of a trance. I don’t remember much. I remember trying to climb a wall, I remember thinking I most certainly needed an epidural and I remember rocking.

With you little one, I went from laughing and talking with your dad between contractions(thinking we would be sent home), to an intensity I do not remember with your brother. I could not find a rhythm. It was like the contractions overtook me with a ferocity that I cannot explain. Like my body was the earth and the most catastrophic earthquake kept ravaging it. I found a vent on the floor in the labor suite that forced cool air out. I planted myself over it. They asked me if I wanted to move, if I wanted to get in the bath. I told them all I wanted was the vent. When your auntie arrived to be there with us I joked with her and told her to remember it for your cousin’s birth. That was the last time I laughed before the contractions overtook me. Then there was lots of screaming. I think I may have worried some. That they may have thought I was afraid or anxious. But I was not. I felt deep, deep peace that all was as it should be, even if my body felt like it was being torn into pieces (ask me, someday, about this story of peace, little one, it is truly a miracle Jesus did in the midst of significant fear). But screaming reminded me, somehow, that I was there. Grounded. That I was present in that moment. That it was me that was bringing you into this world and not someone else. I am sure that does not make sense now. But it did in the moment.

At some point your “La La” arrived and not long after, something changed and my water broke. I turned to your auntie and I said, “He’s coming tonight. I’m finally going to meet my baby.” And for a moment nothing hurt and my heart felt so overwhelmed that I started to laugh.

The midwife asked if I felt like I should push. With your brother I felt an uncontrollable urge to push. I remember the  nurse told me to wait for the doctor to get there and I told her, “I’m waiting for no one.” But with you little one, I did not feel that way. I pushed. And than did not feel like I needed to anymore. But I could feel that you were almost here. And suddenly I realized that labor was almost over and that you were about to be born. And my heart stopped. And I pushed and pushed and your head emerged and than in one great rush you appeared. And with the midwife’s help and your daddy right there with me, I caught you as I knelt on the floor next to that air vent. And I put you to my chest and I said over and over again,”You made it. You made it. You are here. You are finally here.”

And I cried the happiest tears a mama can cry. Because after so much fear and so much worry that you were going to be born t0o soon, and then experiencing so much sickness, anxiety and pain in the last few months–not being able to breathe, hurting so badly in carrying you with me…you were finally in my arms. You were finally home. And it felt like too much. And I put you to my face, all wet and covered in blood, and I kissed you over and over again. And I held you and I knew that you were mine. All mine. And my heart exploded because the long wait was finally over.

You were born at 8:11pm. A little more than an hour after we arrived. The midwife who was to go off call at 8pm delivered you. It was almost as if you knew that you had to come quickly so that she could help usher you into the world. I am grateful for your urgency there little one. It worked out perfectly.

Today I have cried for over an hour. Because you are too wonderful. You are too perfect and I am so overwhelmed by all that life holds and how you came into this world in the way that you did. How just a few days ago I thought you would never come and how today you are here, snuggled in my arms. It feels like too much. And my joy and gratitude and love are uncontainable.

I am White

 

“Unarmed Black Man Shot by Police” my New York Times news feed scrolls across the top of my phone. Lately, the phrase has appeared so often that it has begun to feel normal.

Heartbreakingly.

Crushingly.

Unbearably.

Normal.

The weight of it feels debilitating, and most days I do nothing.

Nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

I read the news. I shake my head and then I go about my day. I don’t know how to write about it. I don’t know how to talk about it. And I just feel angry. So, so angry. Angry because it doesn’t feel like things are better.

Things feel broken.

Things feel heavy.

Things feel tragic.

All the time.

A friend and I were talking yesterday. About work. About sorrow. About carrying it with you, even when you don’t want to or mean to. And I started feeling so burdened. Like my heart can only carry so much at once. The sorrow of the work I do, of how in the city I live Native Americans are treated so poorly by whites. And how that has been our country’s history for centuries. How blacks across our nation have to think differently about how they handle themselves because it could be the difference between living and dying . How Latino/as in my state are often not regarded for their ability or character, but by their immigration status.

Not to mention the current political talk regarding people from the middle east, Muslims.

I have always liked to think of myself as someone who understands cultural differences, who respects race and diversity because of my experience of growing up in another country. But the reality is, I do and say racist things just like the next person. I don’t want to. But I do.

And I’m terrified to write about these things for a wider audience because I don’t know when or how my own prejudices might crop up. And it frightens me to think about having a conversation not just about a subject or a topic to be theorized, but about PEOPLE. People’s lives. What if I say something that is ignorant and hurtful to and about people?

And I’m terrified, because I am going to be raising two white men. The most privileged race and gender in the world. And I want to do it well. I want them to be compassion. I want them to be better than I am. I want them to hold these tragedies in a way that I am so often unable to.

And I’m terrified because we want to bring more children into our family. Through adoption. And there is a disproportionate number of children of color in the foster system, and who are waiting to be adopted. And I think, “What if I hurt my children because I do or say something racist? What if I have a black son and I don’t know how to teach him how to be a black man? What if I can’t teach him to protect himself against racist whites, because I’m white?” And then my heart starts to feel so heavy. And I stop thinking about adopting and I stop thinking about the news and I play with my little white baby boys. Because I have that luxury. To not think about it. To be able to put it out of my mind. And it is a luxury. A luxury I have because I am white. A luxury not afforded to a black man being shot in the street. A luxury not given to a Native woman sleeping on the sidewalk wondering where her children are.

I don’t write about political subjects. I just don’t. As a rule. I write about happy things. I write about sad things. I write about things that happen in the average day, with the average family. I started writing this a few months ago and I didn’t know how or if I would share it with others. But I am sharing it, because it’s not just a “political thing”. It is a sorrowful thing. For so long it has weighed on my heart. And over the last few months when I would sit down to write something I would say to myself, “Don’t be political, don’t go there.” Or I would say, “There are so many people better equipped to tell this story. So many people more qualified to speak into this situation.” And the latter is still true. But this is also true: There is an undeniable amount of pain in this world and it doesn’t go away because we look the other way or feel to weak to carry it.

The crushing heaviness that is generational racism and discrimination experienced by my friends and family is something I will never know. And it is something that I have in part, contributed to by thinking that it would just get better if I pretended it didn’t exist.

So friends, family, friends of family, and family of friends share with me how I can stop looking the other way. Share with me more than a hashtag or a book recommendation (although share those to!). Share with me something I can do to change the narrative as I raise my privileged family in a world where most never know what privilege is.

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How Babies Come Out (and Other Stories My Toddler Tells About My Vagina)

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As my belly has been growing ever larger in the last six months, our toddler(age 2 and 1/2), little E, has been growing ever curious as to how this “baby” we talk about is going to make his entrance into the world.

Since Little E was just a babe we have used correct anatomical language with him. As a social worker who has worked with abused and neglected children, the amount of literature  supporting this method as a means of child abuse prevention makes it the right choice for our family. Which has led to lots of fun conversations with little E.

One night about half way through my pregnancy he was sitting on my lap examining my belly, asking questions about the baby. “Mama, baby come out belly button?” he asked. We had not had the discussion about how babies came out and frankly, I wasn’t thinking he would ask at this age (at age nine when MY mom was pregnant with my little brother, I was convinced she was going to throw him up…).

“No,” I told him. And as I thought, oh so carefully, about how to have this discussion with him he looked at me knowingly and said, “Ohhhhhhhhh, baby come out Mama vagina!” No explanation needed. This was, apparently, entirely self explanatory and he did not inquire further.

Since that time we have had several conversations about how babies are made and how they come out, and he is quite enamored with the subject, which has led to several fabulous conversations with other people .

Like the time when we were meeting dear friends at the park, for the first time, after they had their baby. Little E saw them from across the playground and screamed with delight at the top of his lungs, “BABY came out Miss N’s VAGINA!!!! YAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYA.” Unfortunately, he now believes that all babies are born at the park and is convinced every time we go that his baby brother will come out while we are there. He told me recently after we had left the park, “Baby come out Mama’s vagina FAST…like a slide,” he said, nodding his head knowingly.

Or there was the time he was at a coffee shop with J and he met some travelers from out of town. J asked where they were from and then they, in turn, asked E where he was from. “Mama’s vagina,” E said matter-of-factly, leaving his new acquaintances red faced and speechless.

The other day Little E was bemoaning the fact that the baby was not yet here (if he only knew my agony) and he crawled between my legs and said, “WATCH OUT baby, E coming up!!” and then he looked at me quizzically as if to say, “How does this work any way?” He gave up shortly thereafter, when he realized it didn’t work like some magical spaceship that would beam him up.

Our child’s obsession with anatomy has led to lots of questions, and not just directed towards us. Questions like, “Auntie A have vulva? Uncle J have penis?” This discussion of the vulva is of utter importance to him right now, especially given that we have a Volvo for a vehicle and they must somehow be related, right? Questions like, “Auntie’s vluva go VROOM, VROOM?” have led to hysterics on more than one occasion from adults  privy to his inquiries.

Little E has also been preoccupied with figuring out who is allowed to see things like the baby, and mama’s vagina, and where he can run around naked. So on a daily basis he asks, “Mama? Neighbors see mama’s vagina?” And when I tell him no, they are not allowed to see my vagina, he gets upset and cries. And then he asks, “Mama, neighbors see baby when baby come out?” To which I respond yes, the neighbors can see the baby after he comes out. This eases the tragedy of not being able to show them his mama’s vagina, but only slightly.

All of these discussions now are only going to make puberty easier, right? That’s what I’m telling myself!:)

 

 

 

 

 

 

To My Littlest Love

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To My Littlest Love,

I think we may have finally found a name for you. We have been searching for one that will fit you perfectly and I think we may have found it. Finally. We cannot be sure until we actually meet you. See your face. Touch your warm skin to ours. Your daddy feels very strongly about this, about the meeting you before naming you thing. I feel less this way. Maybe because you have been growing inside my belly for the last eight months. Maybe because we already know each other, in a way that only we will ever know each other.

I feel like you are someone quite different than your daddy, your brother, or me. This pregnancy has been so different. I have been so different. Felt so differently then I have ever felt before. And yet I have this deep assurance that you will bring something that we desperately need. Something that only you can bring. Something we did not know was missing.

You were such an unexpected addition to our family and when I think about how you so easily could have slipped  by, without us ever knowing, my throat becomes achy and my eyes fill. And I haven’t even seen you yet. Haven’t even breathed in your smell or held you to my chest. You are my tiny unexpected blessing. The one that so easily could have gotten away, but so thankfully did not.

I have so many prayers for you in my heart. So many that cannot to be articulated when I try to pray them. So they just rest there deep within me, next to you I suppose, snuggled deep down in my body. Maybe that’s just where they need to be, growing next to you. Maybe they have a time and a place to be born. Maybe they will be born with you, or maybe they are just beginning to grow and will be birthed at just the time when you need them most.

Your pregnancy has been so complex. My body has struggled with so much illness, which is likely typical of someone with a toddler who works in a hospital, but it has made me feel weak and disheartened. Which is not what I want to feel at all, as I think about you growing inside of me. You are my tenacious little one. The one who has been telling my body that you were ready to come since you were just 20 weeks old. Every week since then, I have told myself that we have done it. Made it one more week closer to you being born healthy, you being born without tubes and wires and other life saving measures that babies born too soon need to survive. You have taught (read: forced) me to rest (and adhere more consciously to bedrest) even when that is the last thing my life tells me I need to be doing.

In all the strange things my body has done and experienced during your residence , you have remained perfect.  Your heart beat is always perfect, your size, your position. There is something about you that carries peace, in a way that I don’t understand. Even with early contractions, your heart was always strong. Whenever the midwife places the doppler on my belly and I hear, as I do everytime, “his heart is perfect”, I can almost see you peacefully swimming. Perfectly at ease. I imagine you smiling and mouthing, “I’m ok, mama,” and it makes my heart feel more at ease. Makes my heart rest knowing that you are blissfully peaceful, no matter what my body is doing or saying around you. No matter how weak or tired or afraid I feel.

I have always felt that you were strong. Such a strong, vibrant little person. And you are just what I need. Strength right now. Peace right now. So share your strength and peace with me in these last few weeks, as I prepare for your coming.  The calm that you keep when chaos abounds around you. Share it with me.

You will be here soon. I am so eager to see you. To hold you in my arms, to touch your nose to my lips, to feel your tiny and strong heart beat against my skin. I am so eager to breathe you in.

I Love You Littlest One,

Your Mama

To the Mama on the Other Side of the World

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We have never met. We have never spoken, and we likely never will. I wish I could tell you that things are different than they are.

I am so sorry.

I was with your son when he died. I was with him when he said his last words.

We told him he would be ok. We thought he would be. We did. We told him he was going to make it, that he’d wake up. He didn’t.

Tonight as I snuggled my own little boy, my arms felt heavy and my bones felt weak. It felt like to much knowing that you would never hold your son again. Knowing that your memories of moments like these were all you would have now. I felt almost guilty as I hugged him tighter to me, knowing that it’s never fair, no matter the age, or the time, or the place that you lose a child.

As I prepared my baby for bed, I wonderd about how you will find out, I wondered who will deliver the news. Your son told me you live remotely, with no phone access. Maybe it is for the best. Maybe whoever brings you the news, you should never hear, will know how to hold you in that moment. I hope that they will be tender and won’t say things like, “it was his time” or “he’s in a better place now.” I hope that they just hold you and let you cry. Let you remember, and weep and ask why this happened, all the while knowing that you don’t actually want an answer. I wish that I could be there to know that they are careful. To tell you that the 15 minutes I knew him, left me with the impression that he was such a kind man. With dreams and visions and so many things he loved. I wish I could tell you about his last moments about his smile, the one that you know so well. The one that you gave him.

Tonight, in the middle of the nightnight, my son cried. My husband and I have been working to help him fall back asleep without holding him….trying to help him learn to fall asleep without us. But I thought of you tonight, and I got out of bed and I went to his and picked him up. Because…I knew you would never have another chance and it felt like somehow, in that moment, I needed to hold him as much as possible. And I know I shouldn’t do it every night, and I know that I set him and his sleep schedule back, but tonight… I held my baby for you.

I am so sorry,
A Mama Who Cried for You Tonight