Saturday, June 25, 2011

Esther Alanna

I'm pleased to introduce to you my tiny daughter, Esther Alanna.

She was born last Sunday after a fairly difficult labor and delivery both healthy and surrounded by immense joy.

She was 8 pounds and 7 ounces and 21 inches long. She also has gigantic feet. She has a full head of the softest hair I have ever stroked and I am unembarrassed in fulfilling the cliché of a new parent who can spend huge chunks of time simply looking at he baby when once she itched to be "productive" with handicrafts in every idle moment.

Jacob has taken to fatherhood like a duck to water, to embrace another cliche. This morning he stumbled into the nursery, bleary-eyed and smiling, demanding his turn to hold her. He somehow sensed that she was done eating from the other room. I am healing and get worm out pretty quickly and Jacob has been amazing both in his uncomplaining assumption of all domestic chores and in his total support of me when I get overtired and despair or lose all perspective with which to problem-solve the frustrations that come up.

I thank God multiple times a day that this baby arrived when she did in my life, with this partner. I am also reminded regularly by my body what an amazing machine God constructed to be so powerful and with the ability to be taxed to it's limits and then to heal with resiliency afterwards.

My best friend Susan was present for all four days of labor and all three hours of pushing and delivery. When I helped my other friends give birth, the mother told me that she couldn't have done it without me. I thought she was being sincere but hyperbolic until my own birthing experience. Without Susan to cradle my head and shoulders, lifting them up and curling me forward with every push, talking to me and providing a focus for my energy, they would have had to send me up for a c-section. She has known me intimately for 12 years and is a god leader in all sorts of circumstances. Helping me was the perfect combination of her skills. Her presence allowed Jacob to be present for his own experience of becoming a father, allowing him to witness and assist in Esther's emergence, building a foundation for their relationship. I am so grateful for the balance that Susan's effort allowed Jacob and I to experience.

I hope to write out my birth story for those of you who are interested, as well as to tell you more about her names. I hope to continue feeling better so that I can do this.

Welcome to the world, sweet baby girl. I have been struck over and over again in the last week by just how enlarged my soul feels at the prospect of sharing what I have collected, learned and created with you. The dancing means more now that your father and I have you to dance with.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Due dates are not deadlines

When I was an adolescent, my father would regularly greet me by replacing my name with whatever was emblazoned on my t-shirt. "Hey, A Midsummer Night's Dream!" "Good morning, multi-colored bugs!" "Hello, Winter Retreat '92!" When you read those sentences, be sure to hear them with an overly enthusiastic sportscaster voice and quite possible a slow rise in pitch to the exclamation point at the end.

It was horrifying.

Once, he had to resort to simply, "Hey, red shirt." I think he might have embarrassed even himself when he said, "How ya doin', Glen Ellyn Girls Softball All-Star Team!"

I hated it and he had to know it. I was not necessarily subtle in my eye rolls, my angry huffing and my mumbles (which were far from sotto voce). I'm sure I actually yelled at him for it once or twice. I believe that my main complaint was that he had named me a perfectly nice name, why did he insist on ignoring it? The reality, of course, is that his motivations were mostly to engage me on the topics of things I cared about and to be playful. However, this was combined with a general perverse love of harassment, especially when the recipient is not receptive. I watch him do this to my 15-month-old niece now so it certainly wasn't personal then. The reality about why it pissed me off had more to do with wanting people to value me for me, not what I wore or what I did.

I told this story to my friend, Mark, who now has two children of his own that are old enough to talk. Usually, Mark thinks my stories are great and that I am a generally very charming tragi-comic protagonist in them.

This time, however, Mark just let his forehead drop into his hands and said, "Your poor father."


It's one thing when I recognize that I have a history of being less than gracious. That's humility, a spiritual blessing. It's totally different when someone else sides with your embarrassing dad. That's basically an attack, right?

All joking aside, Mark gets it. I'm learning that loving your child is scary intense and mine isn't even on the outside yet, much less talking. I have had lots of conversations about how mean kids are to each other but we don't talk much about how mean kids are to their parents. How do you defend yourself against that kind of rejection?

Anyway, I've been telling people the first part of that story as an illustration of how I expected it to be difficult as my pregnancy started to show more and more and people began to think that this parasite inside of me was their business. The story proves that for a long time in my life, I have struggled when I feel like people don't see and engage me and I feel instead like they are treating me like a vehicle for something that they actually care about. I have hated when people ask me about how my sick relative is doing before asking how I am doing. I have hated when people asked me about wedding details instead of what I actually cared about: marriage. Whether they actually are prodding only for information to interests them (like I fear) or whether they they are looking for a way to break the ice (which is usually true), most people just want to connect if they're bothering to talk at all. It's not their fault I'm an unforgiving bitch with insanely high standards for intra-personal interaction when I get stressed out.

So, slowly, I have been working on becoming more and more gracious when people express interest in my life cycle events. I remember to be grateful that people care about me at all. I also remember sometimes that everything isn't always about me and that sometimes people are interested about my life cycle events because it reminds them of their own experiences, which is not a bad thing.

Or, sometimes, I remind myself that maybe they are just being kind because I'm looking a little bedraggled and they want to give me the opportunity to vomit a little something up to see if I'll feel better, like holding someone's hair when they've had too much to drink.

I expected to have to practice these skills with determination as my pregnancy become more and more visually undeniable. People warned me that strangers would want to touch me. I knew many of my co-workers would ask the same questions daily as greetings.

This is where the grace of God comes in.

Because I haven't seemed to mind these intrusions on my social space. Actually, very few people want to touch the belly (maybe I haven't completely shed the air of intimidation I carry with me) and the obvious excitement of others fills me with joy and I can feel myself glowing. I embody the cliche. Apparently, I love being pregnant and love being reminded of it.

There are exceptions, of course. One woman at work always takes my polite acceptance of chit-chat as a challenge to say something that will shock me. For example:
Co-worker - Girl, you are getting big!
Rebecca - I know, right?
Co-worker - Naw, you don't know. It's going to get much bigger than that.

And once an old lady touched my belly as I was getting out of the shower at the YMCA.

But yesterday a tiny old woman standing outside the hospital told me in a thick accent, "Be strong."

And I heard a lady in the pool exclaim in delight to her friend, "It's been so long since I've seen a pregnant woman."

Also, several street people have not even bothered to ask me for change in the window they have with me as I walk past, preferring instead to speculate on the gender of this little one.

On the bus yesterday, an 88-year-old woman with nubs for teeth - but who was otherwise generally clean - used my pregnancy as entree to get me to guess her middle name then entertained the entire bus with her loud and ridiculous storytelling. (Her cat is named Pussycat, even though it's a boy because it's not like she's going to call him Peniscat, is she?)

So many people do literal double-takes as they pass me. I assume this is because I am so big and so dramatically carrying it all in front, like I've stuffed a pillow up my shirt. Women smile at the sight of me and I can tell they don't realize they are doing it until I smile back.

This is me three weeks ago.  Imagine what I look like now that I'm a full 40 weeks!

This baby causes so much joy in the world and s/he's not even born yet. It won't be a blank slate when it's born; it will have already had a good 3-4 months of meaning and purpose in the world racked up in the tikkun olam column.

However, I have found recently that I really do not like when people ask me when the baby is due and more recently when friends send texts and write on my facebook wall asking if contractions have started yet. For all that I laugh it off when people inquire if I'm dilated yet (really? the inside of my vagina is your business?), it's hard when people talk about due dates as if they were deadlines and calculate in their heads whether or not I'm late. Or when they project onto me their anxiousness for me to push this baby out already, I experience for the first time in this season that objectification I have felt in the past. I'm actually quite content to wait out my body's endgame and it feels like people who assume that I'm anxious for this pregnancy to end don't actually care about me and my unique experience.

So, I sat down and problem-solved in my head some responses so that I could remain gracious. When folks ask about when the baby is due, often I simply say, "Any day now." If they persist, I have a little friendly lecture about the arbitrary nature of due dates that consists of two points: 1. Most are based upon the first day or your last period and are not related to the date of actual conception and 2. I am not a microwave so my body should not just automatically go into labor at 40 weeks. A little good-natured educatin' goes a long way to communicated to people that I'm not interested in their stock responses of "not long now!" (For some decent data on due dates, check out Space Fem.)

For the friends who have been checking in with me by asking if the baby has arrived yet, I have decided to simply ignore them. Regardless of their good intentions, it makes me feel bad and I've decided to have a little grace for myself and not push myself too hard to be a better person in addition to dealing with swollen feet in this 95 degree weather.

But for the friends (and my mother-in-law) who end voice mails with, "you totally don't have to call me back; I just wanted you to know I was thinking about you" and who write lovely comments about how good I look or what a great mom they think I'll be, I treasure these words up and ponder them in my heart. Then, I try to affirm their responses.

I want to tell you that my dad falls into that second group of sensitive people. He left a message for me today where he successfully affirmed that he and my mom were ready to support me when I go into labor without implying that labor should hurry up and start. This is a sophisticated little piece of communication to pull off. When listening to the message, I felt so good that he has been paying attention to my actual state of mind regarding this stage of pregnancy and that he refrained from harassing me, even though that's a pattern that we're both now mostly comfortable with. I feel good when he's tender with me sometimes both because that feels good and because it means that maybe I've become a little better at letting him love me so he doesn't have to proactively defend himself against my eye-rolling.

Like figuring out how to successfully interact with . . . you know . . . people, parenting is going to be perplexing and hard, dude. But if even my dad can figure it out, all hope is not yet lost.