Archive for August, 2010


August 30, 2010

I don’t know my extended family very well. Part of the reason is that I am and always have been exceptionally bad at putting names to faces, and there are probably at least 100 people in my extended family…that I know of. My mom is one of eight kids, and my dad is one of at least eight, and despite the fact that we spent many holidays and cookouts and just regular old times with them throughout my childhood, I still don’t know the names of many of my aunts and uncles and cousins.

The other reason I don’t know them very well is because I never felt like I belonged with them – especially the folks on my mom’s side, who are overwhelmingly poor, uneducated, and fighting addictions of all sorts. No woman on my mother’s side has ever graduated from college (I will be the first if I can finish), and only one man – my cousin who is an aspiring doctor – has ever earned a degree.

I didn’t feel distanced from my maternal family because of their poverty (we were just as poor), or their lack of education, or their addictions. I felt distanced because my brother and I were different – and we knew it. We were weird and sheltered and shy. We didn’t understand much of the slang. We talked “like white people.” We didn’t recognize any of the pop culture references of the day. We didn’t know anything about the musicians that created the music on the radio. We didn’t cuss even among peers, and in fact we loudly called out anyone who cussed in front of us.

I didn’t feel like I belonged to my family, because everything about them just seemed so black, and everything about me was just so white. I was continually reminded of my difference at every gathering, during every phone call, at every visit. I struggled to communicate with and understand them and they struggled to do the same with me. I never joked with them, and I had a difficult time figuring out when they were joking with me, which is a situation that too easily led to hurt feelings. They loved me, of that I have no doubt, but they didn’t understand me. And, right or wrong, that made it difficult for me to love them because all the ways we didn’t fit together made me afraid of them.

I could go into the whole problematic issue of assigning “whiteness” and “blackness” to certain qualities, something that was done to me and that I did plenty to myself throughout my life, but I won’t. This entry is not about that. This is about Spades.

My family plays Spades. Everyone played around the way. We played outside, inside, at gatherings, while watching TV. We played with our peers, with our elders, with our parents and neighbors. We played for pennies or bingo chips or sunflower seeds (though most frequently, for nothing at all). We played at the card table, on the floor, on the marble steps outside our rowhouse, in the back of my father’s corner store. We played at every cookout, every birthday party, every holiday.

There were frequent arguments. There was a lot of shit-talking. Sometimes it seemed that a fight would threaten to break out, but none really did. When you played with the older members of my family, you ran the risk of getting yelled at, cussed out, belittled (albeit jokingly, if you were still young).

The older heads played Pinochle sometimes. But the rules for that game were more complicated, and small hands had trouble holding that many cards at once. My mom tried to teach me but I never got it. Pinochle was for the older folks, but Spades was for everyone.

I’ve been playing the game for twenty years. My parents, my brother, and I played Spades every Saturday night while watching Tales from the Crypt. My mom and I were always on one team, and my dad and brother were always on the other. My brother reneged at least once every game (he was the youngest player – when I was 9 he was only 7) and their team lost about 99% of the time. My dad got frustrated with losing constantly, but we never switched up the teams.

Spades has never been a mere game to me. It is a language, the only language that I was ever able to share with my extended family. I knew the rules, I knew the slang, I knew the tricks, and I knew the strategies. When I played Spades with my family, I didn’t feel different. I didn’t feel out of place. When we moved out of the poor black neighborhood that I grew up in to the ‘burbs, I spent my time playing Spades with the black kids in the neighborhood by the same rules and using the same language of the game that I’d grown up with. They made plenty fun of me for “talking white,” but when we sat down with a deck of cards, a sheet of paper, and a pencil, we were not so different. We were equals, peers. We were black children at play.

When I played Spades, I didn’t feel white. I didn’t feel like I needed to be white. And I didn’t feel like I had to prove to anybody that I wasn’t white. I felt right in my own skin. It’s taken me years to realize it and recognize it for what it was. I loved that feeling. And I still do.

Last month my mom, my brother, his girlfriend, and I all sat down for a game. We played, we shit-talked, we cussed at each other.

It doesn’t matter who won. It never has. Either way, it feels like home.

Dear Mama

August 27, 2010

[Image description: A screenshot of a tweet from user @Matervan that says, “Totally inappropriate some lady #Breastfeeding her kid at #Starkbucks. I called her out and embarrassed her. This needs to stop!”]

I don’t know who you are. 

I don’t know if you’re black, or gay, or trans, or have a disability, or are poor. I don’t know if you breastfeed your child because you would feel guilty* if you didn’t, or because you like to do it, or because you can’t afford not to do it (or all three!). I don’t know if the nursing relationship that you share with your child came easily or if you had to struggle to achieve it. I don’t know if your friends and family have given you the support that you need in order to maintain that relationship.

I don’t know if your decision to nurse in public was made with trepidation. I don’t know if you only did it because your baby was hungry and you felt you had no other choice. I don’t know if you do it all the time because you already know that there’s nothing shameful in it.

And I don’t know what this asshole said to you to embarrass you. But whatever it was, I wish I could tell you in person that he is wrong. Breastfeeding your child in a Starbucks is not inappropriate. Breastfeeding your child in public does not need to stop. Your relationship with your child is sacred and should be respected as such. You do not need to hide your breasts, your milk, or your nursing relationship for anyone.

It’s breastfeeding awareness month. Thank you for nursing in public. I’m sorry that it has cost you to do so.

*I really hope that guilt is not the reason. Making women feel guilty over the decisions they make with their bodies is such a popular method of controlling them, even in so-called progressive and women-friendly movements like lactivism.

Hat-tip to Elita of Blacktating for bringing this tweet to my attention.

Stage Fright

August 26, 2010

While I definitely appreciate the attention that some of my posts get, I kind of hate how it interrupts my flow when one particular post practically blows up. First, I’m caught off-guard by the fact that a certain post got ANY attention – especially when I never considered in the first place that it might be particularly popular. For instance, there’s What Happened to the Honey? which, since it was just a random rant and not anything I considered particularly special at the time that I wrote it, surprised me by getting more pageviews than any other post; it has apparently resonated with a lot of fed-up women of color.

After a post of mine gets passed around Facebook or linked to from blogs that I like and respect, I never know how to follow up. In fact, I usually don’t write anything for a couple of days, because I really don’t know whether I should attempt to write another strong post (but how do I do that when I’m not sure what it is that makes certain posts gain such traction while others languish, apparently not interesting to anyone but myself?) or just write what I would have written had that last post not gotten so much attention.

So far I’ve always elected to do the latter because it’s my blog and I don’t like feeling like I have to perform for anyone here. So even though Trans Women, Lactation, and Exclusion became my second most popular post just a couple days after I published it, I followed it up with a rather mundane entry about my hair and the geeky origin of my favorite tiny person’s name. Because – dammit! – it is my blog, and if I want to take a break from anti-oppression stuff to write about the X-Files, then I will godsdamn do just that.

What cracks me up actually, and prompted this post, is the fact that I was so pleasantly surprised to actually gain a blog follower after publishing the trans lactation post. It was my first, and I couldn’t help but think, “Yay! Someone likes me and is interested in my thoughts!” Because even though I like to think that I don’t care what people think, I apparently do to some extent (why else would I have a blog that is completely open to the public?). After the last two posts, however, that lone follower has disappeared. I have to admit that I am pretty tickled, and am wondering what they were thinking when my follow-up posts were somewhat less than what they had been expecting of me.

Despite the fact that I experience a sort of stage fright after writing a particularly popular post, I will still continue to write about any damn thing that I please, which will sometimes include things that are only of interest to myself. One of the things that killed my last blog was that I performed constantly; I censored myself heavily for the comfort and interest of my audience (mustn’t scare the white wimmins with my uppity negro anxieties!), which ultimately killed my own interest in writing for that blog at all.

I also dislike the thought of writing more than one blog (for instance, one which would have my anti-oppression musings and rants, while another would have my boring cooking and hair entries) because not only am I lazy, but I intended for this place to be a total and complete haven for me when I created it. It’s mine, and it’s not always going to be RAH RAH OPPRESSION because I am not always RAH RAH OPPRESSION.

And honestly? That’s good enough for me.

My Favorite Name

August 25, 2010

On more than one occasion, someone has asked me what my daughter’s name is, then seemed either a little surprised or very, very pleased with the answer.

Overwhelmingly, the people who have been happy to hear Eve’s name are Christians. They have assumed that I decided to give my daughter a good old-fashioned Biblical name. They don’t realize that I’m an atheist.

Now don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate the Biblical nature of Eve’s name. The mythical Eve was an agitator, an uppity woman; she sought knowledge and truth even when it meant disobeying the greatest known authority. She did not just blindly accept what she was told, and like most revolutionaries, she was punished severely for it.

But my Eve was not named for that mythical mama. Not even close.

When I was younger, I was an X-Phile.  I watched the show faithfully every Friday night (or Sunday, when it moved), and called my best friend (check out her blog! it’s fascinating and naturific!) during every single commercial break to geek out over Scully and Mulder’s latest drama.

My all-time favorite episode is what taught me the word “exsanguinate,” which at 12 years old I used entirely too frequently (I used to be kind of a show-off when it came to big words). That season one episode was centered around a pair of evil homicidal clones, and I used to rent the tape from Blockbuster to watch it over and over.

The name of that episode? Eve, of course. I don’t know if Eve is going to want people to know that she was named after an X-Files episode, or of she would rather they think it Biblical. Either way, I hope that she grows to love her name even half as much as I do.

Going Into The Wild Alone

August 24, 2010

I am a little over a week into the loc process, and at this point I feel pretty good about where it’s going.

I had a professional start them with two strand twists, and while I initially had every intention of seeing her again for at least the next few months, I quickly grew tired of not having the freedom to wash my hair as I pleased (I could RINSE it, but she instructed me not to wash it until I saw her again next month, or else the twists would just all come undone). Considering the fact that dodgeball season is almost upon us, I need the freedom to wash my hair as frequently as I need to.

I already knew from the start that latching, rather than palmrolling, would fit my lifestyle more properly. It would give me the freedom to: wash my hair frequently without worrying about my hair loosening; maintain my locs with NO product and therefore no chance of buildup; maintain my locs any time and any where; continue my heat-free haircare (heat is bad for your hair, ya’ll); and do maintainance a little at a time or spread out over several days if necessary. The cons are that I run the risk of damaging my hairline if I overtighten (easy enough to avoid, I just have to know when to stop) and my locs will likely be more compact and a little less fluffy than they would have been had I chosen to palmroll instead.

So just a week after paying someone $90 to twist my hair, I spent about 6 hours over two nights fingerlatching all of my twists. It took forever mostly due to frequent interruptions from Eve, my own clumsiness, and the fact that I had to latch several twists more than once since they kept coming undone. After all of this work, I stood underneath the shower and rinsed my scalp for the first time in a week.

Of course, the unthinkable happened. As soon as my hair got wet, most of the twists undid themselves. Fuck! My long hours of crampy fingers and tired arms went down the drain in a matter of minutes!

So yesterday I picked up a latch hook from Michael’s and decided to give latchhooking a try rather than fingerlatching. I was able to tighten the twists a hell of a lot closer to my scalp than I could manage with my fingers, and unlike the first time, I haven’t had any issues with them coming loose. It looks better too – I can actually see the parts in my hair.

I spent hours last night latching about half of my hair and intend to finish the job tonight. Using a tool takes a lot longer than using one’s fingers, but it’s time well-spent and I only plan to do it every 1-2 months. Some of them may come loose after I wash my hair due to the ends already being loose, but that’s to be expected since I’m just starting and my hair is not even close to being locked yet. I feel pretty good about where this is going; I’ve always been a big fan of learning new things and DIY, and doing my own hair is something that makes me feel empowered. I won’t be seeing my loctitian again (she was nice, don’t get me wrong!), and I am admittedly a little nervous about taking my hair into my own hands, but I still feel pretty damn good about it.

Trans Women, Lactation, and Exclusion

August 19, 2010

While I have discussed the obstacles faced by cis women who wish to breastfeed many times, I have neglected to delve into the reality of trans women and their experiences with breastfeeding. This is unacceptable, and a reflection of the cis privilege that I enjoy. Contrary to popular belief, almost every person regardless of gender has the necessary equipment to nurse a child. If you have a healthy breast, you can probably breastfeed.

Now, when a cis woman wants to breastfeed, she is in for an uphill battle. She will get so much misinformation from health care professionals, well-meaning relatives, friends, and advertisements. Her decisions on when and how frequently to nurse are going to be policed by total strangers. If she nurses for “too long,” people will accuse her of being selfish (as if there were no health benefits to full-term nursing or child-led weaning); if she doesn’t nurse “long enough,” then people will accuse her of being vain or lazy (as if there were no legitimate reasons to choose not to nurse or to choose mother-led weaning), which not only is disrespectful to a woman’s bodily autonomy, but also feeds the “rabid baby-fetishing mommy-guilting breastfeeding zealout” meme and turns more women off to even considering breastfeeding in the first place. If she wants to take breaks at work to pump, she will have to deal with coworkers and superiors who may be less than understanding.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg for cis women. For a trans woman, take all of those issues and multiply them by a million.

Misinformation regarding, well, almost anything about trans women’s lives is regurgitated and unchallenged by the vast majority of the cis population (who, naturally, dominate the medical profession as well as every other discipline of our society). Trans women have to deal with discrimination from the medical community on a horrific level; things that cis women do without much thought, such as filling out medical forms, are not such a carefree task for trans folks. When I see a new doctor for the first time, I don’t have to wonder if she is going to be so bigoted against me that she will not even enter the room or touch me.

While I feel snug and protected by the laws in my state that guarantee my right to nurse publicly, trans women do not have the same luxury. They cannot take for granted that someone will not challenge them (or arrest them!) on the basis that they are “not really women.”

While many cis women can take for granted that their milk will come in without much effort on their part, there are many trans women who will not be able to afford the hormonal regimen that will allow them to simulate a pregnancy and induce lactation. Insurance companies already overwhelmingly fail to provide support and supplies for lactating cis women; trans women can expect to get exactly squat to even spur lactogenesis in the first place.

The books that I’ve been reading about breastfeeding are of course filled to the brim with cis-sexism. There is a complete black hole in regards to the needs and concerns of trans women who wish to nurse their children. This is something that needs to change. When the “pro woman” battle cry really means “pro cis woman” (and let’s be honest – it almost always certainly means just that), then we are failing. We are neglecting our duties as supporters of health care, as womanists, as decent damn people.

My silence about the needs of trans women in breastfeeding advocacy is a testament to my bigotry. I’ve been fucking up. And I need to do better.

Lactivism Is Not Work For Whites Only

August 18, 2010

As I’ve mentioned before, my super long-term goal is to start a nonprofit that provides marginalized parents with lactation guidance in a safe, diverse, and accommodating environment. While the populations I have in mind include trans and gender queer folks, non-hetero folks, and teens, I also intend to help racial minorities.

One of the things that has consistently disappointed me in my recent search for lactation books, materials, and swag is the overwhelming whiteness of it all. Searching Etsy for handmade breastfeeding art brings up jewelry and artwork that is full of white women; browsing CafePress and Zazzle for ridiculously overpriced breastfeeding t-shirts likewise does the same. Even the textbooks and study guides that I will eventually need for my lactation internship, such as The Breastfeeding Atlas, Clinical Lactation: A Visual Guide, Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, and Counseling: The Nursing Mother all have covers featuring white babies, pink nipples, or women without even a touch of kink in their hair. [The cover of The Core Curriculum for Lactation Consultant Practice is one of the rare exceptions, although I will note that unlike the more modern style of the other books, this cover features a pre-industrial illustration of a non-white nursing dyad, which is slightly dodgy considering the all-too-common tendency to depict POCs as if we’re all stuck in a time warp.]

While I do understand that authors do not have total (and sometimes any) control over the art that goes on their books (for example, check out the feathers that were understandably ruffled over the cover of Liar, a young adult novel told from the point of view of a black girl that features a white girl on the US version of the cover – because according to the publisher, books with black faces on them “don’t sell”), I still can’t help but feel slighted by the racial homogeneity of these books that will be some of my most important resources in the next year (and for my entire career beyond that).

I do not ever, as a general rule, buy or wear swag (such as buttons, t-shirts, etc) that depicts only white skin, and I do not buy those things for Eve either. Because of this, I have to really look to find images of non-white breastfeeding advocacy swag, and have to stick to text-only or non-racial iconic artwork if I can’t find anything else. It’s not that I don’t find such images and art beautiful because they are white – to the contrary, some of the artwork I’ve found almost hurts me with their beauty.

But I will not support artists who do not support brown lactivists, brown mothers, or brown children. And if it has never crossed an artist’s or mother’s or lactivist’s mind that not everyone will identify with a pinkly-nipped white woman, then they are obviously so deeply steeped in their ignorance and privilege that I cannot support them with my hard-earned dollars – and I am especially not going to wear images that erase my very existence on my own person. I refuse to accept whiteness as default, as the norm, or as the ideal image of the nursing dyad.

Fortunately, there are other women of color out there who are fighting the good fight. Elita from Blacktating asked recently, “Where are the images of black mothers?” and the answer was quite disappointing:

Take a look at Nestle’s Baby Milk website. The first thing you see are two images of women of color, a mom who appears to be black and another who is Asian. When you get to the main content page all you see is black women and babies…

Compare that with La Leche League’s magazine, New Beginnings, where I was unable to find any pictures of black women breastfeeding in the recent issues. The seminal breastfeeding organization in the world, the go-to folks for breastfeeding information, and no images of black women.”

Elita is also one of the presenters for this year’s National Seminar sponsored by the Black Mother’s Breastfeeding Association. I wish I could go, but alas, I am in another state – and the seminar is being held on a damn Monday, to boot.

Also holding it down for nursing black moms (who have the lowest nursing rates among all races) is the blog Black Women Do Breastfeed, which features an adorable close-up of a black baby happily nomming on a black breast at the top of the page.

Finally, allow me to share white anti-oppression blogger Arwyn’s letter to white lactivists who kinda suck at race.

Birth Day

August 17, 2010

[I originally wrote this shortly after Eve’s birth on August 17, 2009. Enjoy!]

My daughter is here. After 39 weeks of waiting, wondering, and worrying, she has finally arrived to meet us, and I could not be more happy with her.

The night that my water broke, I told our friends C and J that Marcus and I were going to try to “get this baby outta me,” which is code for “We’re gonna bone and hope that helps somehow.” The last time we’d had sex, I’d started having contractions about 30 minutes later, which lasted all night before petering out at 6:30am. Since it was several days later and my body was presumably a little more ready, I was hoping to have even better results.

The sex was fun, silly (as usual), and – as far as I could tell – not helping at all. An hour afterwards, I was only having very weak and sporadic contractions, nothing that felt like it was doing any good. I decided to go to bed, in the hopes of maybe waking up in labor. Marcus wasn’t ready for bed and so he stayed in the living room.

I’d only been lying in bed for about ten minutes when I realized that something felt strange. I felt full somehow. I shifted my weight and suddenly a rush of fluid came out of me and totally soaked the bed! I was powerless to stop the flow and after an awkward WTF moment, I called Marcus into the bedroom. He turned on the lights, saw the mess on the bed, and then things suddenly became very, very real. We were going to have a baby – and not in a month, a couple weeks, or a few days. We were going to have a baby SOON as in TODAY.

It was 2am when all this went down. I paged the midwife on call, which happened to be KT, and she assured me that we didn’t have to go to the hospital immediately if we didn’t want to. We could still follow the original rule of thumb – staying at home until my contractions came at 5 minute intervals and lasted at least 60 seconds each. The fact that my water had broken meant that we couldn’t stay home indefinitely – if I didn’t begin active labor within 12 hours, I would need to come in and there would be the possibility of induction to get the party started.

We elected to stay home. After all, if we were going to play the waiting game, why not do it in the comfort of our own place? Marcus finished packing our hospital bag while I lay on the bed with a towel between my legs, another towel under me, and a large trash bag under that towel. We then tried to go to sleep; Marcus actually managed it, but there was no way in hell I could sleep. I was still having puny sporadic contractions which I could have easily slept through, if not for the fact that I couldn’t turn my brain off. I wanted to go to the hospital, even though nothing much was going on. I just felt like I really had no idea what the fuck I was doing, and I wanted to be in a place where people DID know what they were doing.

Marcus didn’t really want to go to the hospital any earlier than necessary, but he could see that I was anxious and sometime after 5am we called my parents to have them come get us. We got the hospital bag and diaper bag, filled the cats’ food bowls, and bid them farewell for the day. We were both pretty sure that I’d be having that baby later that day and returning home from the hospital on Monday. Pfft!

We arrived to check in at the hospital around 6am. My midwife checked me and I was disappointed to learn that I was 3 cm dilated and 80% effaced – there had been no progress since my last prenatal appointment despite all the excitement. By then my contractions were still entirely sporadic in their length and frequency, but they were strong enough to make it difficult for me to speak through them. We were taken to our room, where I snacked on granola, fruit, and juice to keep my energy up for the coming ordeal. Mom and Dad just hung out for about an hour before going back home.

Throughout the morning and afternoon, my contractions began to get stronger, last longer, and come more regularly. Marcus was an incredible birth coach; he supported me physically, mentally, and emotionally. Since I wasn’t getting any drugs to help with the pain, I was not confined to the bed or catheterized, so I took advantage of the ability to change positions, walk around, bounce on the birthing ball, and shower. I probably got in the shower about 20 times, desperate for the bit of relief that the hot water gave me. Marcus was, again, a fantastic support; he allowed me to hold onto him or squeeze the crap out of his arm or even punch him if I needed to (it wasn’t angry punching, it was holy-shit-this-hurts-so-much-I-can’t-even-help-myself punching) while breathing through each contraction. He breathed with me. He sat behind me on the bed and held me, or he sat in front of me and let me hang onto him – whatever I needed. He helped walk me to the bathroom to pee and helped change the pads that I had to wear to absorb all the amniotic fluid I was losing throughout the day. He was there.

At around 4pm, I began to lose my resolve. I had been awake for 24 hours at that point (and more like 32 hours if you didn’t count the 40 minute nap I’d taken Saturday afternoon) and in labor for 14 hours. The contractions were frequently coming in clusters, meaning that I would have 2 or 3 in a row with absolutely no break in between. I was tired, I was in pain, and I started to cry. Marcus, of course, talked me through it by telling me how proud he was of me and by reassuring me that every contraction was a step closer to meeting our child. I just cried. I never did say that I wanted to give up, that I wanted to ask for the drugs – but I was thinking it and he could see that.

At 6pm my midwife KS (KT’s shift had ended only a couple hours after we arrived at the hospital) came in to check me again. I was so disappointed when she told me that I was 100% effaced and 4cm dilated – just one centimeter more than I’d been 12 hours ago! She reassured me that my body was doing exactly what it needed to be doing, but I couldn’t really hear her. I was in too much pain and I wondered again if I should just give it up. But the thought of quitting made me angry, since I’d already spent 7 hours in prelabor and another 9 hours in early labor; the thought of all that time and pain spent just going out the window didn’t appeal to me at all. I asked KS when I could get in the birthing tub and her answer disappointed me: generally not before 7cm, or else we risked slowing or stalling my labor entirely. Fucking GREAT. It took me 12 hours to dilate one centimeter, and I still had 3 more to go before I could even get in the tub???

Still I labored on. At 10pm I broke down crying again. I felt like I couldn’t do this. It hurt so badly, it was taking so long, and I was just SO TIRED. I’d only managed about ten minutes total of sleep in the time since we arrived at the hospital, in tiny micronaps between contractions. All I could think about was getting into that fucking tub, about having some RELIEF. The birthing ball only made things more intense (and it kind of was supposed to, it helps open you up and dilate even more), the showers could only do so much, and walking from just the bed to the bathroom necessitated two or three stops in which a strong contraction would wash over me. The tub was the only thing I hadn’t tried yet (besides the drugs, of course), and I was convinced that it would be amazing once I was in it.

Soon after my last crying jag I started to feel a lot of pressure, as if I really had to take a shit. I felt and knew that such an attempt would be a bad idea, so I ignored it for as long as I could. After another hour of contractions, the pressure only increased and soon I was calling the nurse and asking to see my midwife again. I told her what I was feeling, and as I expected, she told me to hold it and not attempt to poop. She paged my midwife and it seemed to take forever before we heard back from her again: KS knew what was up with me, but could not come see me yet, as she was about to deliver another baby.

I was devastated, but what could I do? I didn’t know how long this other woman would take to birth her child. I didn’t know how long I could hold on and not give into the pressure to bear down. Each contraction brought with it a breath-stopping wave of pain that ended with an unrelenting urge to start pushing. It was excruciating.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, KS came back and checked me again. I was only dilated to 6cm (FUCK! I thought), but that was apparently good enough to start filling the tub. Time again seemed to crawl by as the tub took FOREVER to fill up (the water pressure was pretty low): at least an entire twenty minutes, which in throes-of-labor time feels more like a fucking year. And even after the tub was filled, I had to wait while they checked the temperature and adjusted accordingly.

When the water was finally ready, I took off my t-shirt and panties (I’d chosen to labor in my own clothes rather than a hospital gown), and KS and Marcus helped my naked self into the water. It was warm, and comforting (although not as comforting as I’d hoped), and it was around this point that I realized – REALLY realized – that this baby was going to come out of me and that there was only one way for it to do that.

I asked KS if she was going to stay with us, and to my relief the answer was yes – she would be with us until the baby came. I continued my labor in the water, at first with the jets on, but eventually I turned them off as I found the noise irritating. I continued to claw at my poor husband’s arm as I breathed through each contraction, and KS coached me from the side, reminding me to relax, to untense, and to let the contractions do their job – to open me up, to widen me out. Now was not the time to tense, to close up.

I practically begged KS to let me start pushing – the need to bear down had only increased in the past hour. She said that I could start pushing – a LITTLE – and after a few useless and fruitless attempts on my own I realized that I had no idea what the fuck I was doing. At one point, in between yelling “Shit!” and “Oh fuck!”, I cried out, “I don’t know how to have a baby!” KS told me, “Of course you do” and guided me, told me to pull my legs towards my body with my hands and not to try to push as if I were trying to poop, but as if I were trying to pee. After a couple tries I did pee, which is how we all knew that I was doing the right thing.

Things accelerated very quickly. I went from 6cm to 8cm to 9cm in almost no time at all. Eventually I was just short of 10cm, except for a little lip in my cervix that was in the way of the baby’s head. KS kept a finger inside of my cervix, holding that lip down, while I pushed. And after several attempts she said the magic words to the nurse: “She’s at ten centimeters.”

Instead of waiting and letting my body do the work for me, I suddenly had work to do. Realizing at that moment exactly what I had to do – that I had to push this baby OUT – was fucking terrifying. I was way, way, WAY past the point of no return. I felt like very little was in my control at this point, and for a person like me, that is scary. The only thing I could do was to push or to not push – and to not push would only postpone the inevitable. It wouldn’t change a damn thing in the end.

There was a full-length mirror on the ceiling above the birthing tub. I watched myself in it as I dilated, and I watched myself as I pushed. I don’t really have the words to describe what it was like to witness my labor from that point of view, except to say that I hope fervently to be able to do the same with the rest of my children. Towards the end of my pregnancy, as my belly grew, I’d developed a habit of just looking at myself in the mirror several times a day. It was so strange to see how my body had warped and changed, it was fascinating to look at myself and see almost a stranger. Watching myself give birth was like that, only magnified a thousand times. It was like watching a stranger, and it was a struggle to reconcile the fact that the body in the mirror was actually, really mine. The person screaming and writhing in the tub was really me. What I saw in the mirror remains the most vivid memory of my labor, and it’s the one I recall most frequently.

At ten centimeters, we were down to business. Whenever a contraction came over me, it was my cue to start pushing. When they stopped, I could stop. After each push, I asked Marcus and KS what they’d seen, what had just happened. “I can see the top of your baby’s head,” KS told me. I asked her if there was any hair, and she said yes, lots of it. I smiled at Marcus and said, “Told you so.”

KS then told me, “You can reach down and feel it.” And so I did. It was a beyond strange, to feel soft, thin, silky hair where normally there was, well, my vagina. I gently touched the top of my child’s head while she was still inside of me – touched her for the first time! – and it was soon afterward that KS called the nurse into the birthing room to tell her that in a few more pushes, the baby would be here.

The last pushes were difficult. Even with KS massaging my perineum and doing what she could to stretch me open even further, it was difficult. It hurt. It burned. I could feel her head stretching me open with every push and I SCREAMED with the pain. And finally, her head was out! I looked down and could see it between my legs. KS yelled at me “Push again! NOW!” and I looked up above me, into the mirror at myself and my child, and I pushed one last time. And then she was out.

I looked down again and there was a BABY in the water with me! KS placed her in my hands while she messed with her equipment. I stared at her, shocked, as if I’d forgotten exactly what this whole pregnancy and childbirth thing had been about. The water which had only moments before been clear was full of blood and there was a dark mass on the bottom of the tub that I later found out was the baby’s first stool – she’d passed it during her birth. Marcus got to cut the cord, which spattered blood all over my neck and shoulder, but I was too flabbergasted to care.

Just minutes later, Eve was whisked away by the nurse and Marcus went with her. Her Apgar scores at one and five minutes were both 9 – almost perfect! She screamed like a banshee while the nurses weighed her and did whatever else they had to do, but she calmed down when she heard Marcus’ voice. KS helped me out of the tub and back to the bed, where she helped me deliver the placenta. I asked to see it, and got to feel the amniotic sack and poke at my placenta, which basically just felt like a big hunk of raw liver. KS then stitched me up; birthing Eve had resulted in a second-degree tear through my perineum that reached almost to my asshole. I was grateful, then, that I had forgone an episiotomy, which would have cut through my perineal muscle instead of just my skin.

Eve Marie was born underwater on August 17th at 1:47am, almost 24 hours after my water broke. With my husband’s support, I was able to have the birth that I have always wanted. Now that I’ve done it once, and know what I can expect out of the experience, I feel certain that I can do it again. One of my anxieties over the past nine months has been worrying over whether or not my birth experience would end up traumatic or even just not something I would be happy with. I feel really goddamn lucky to be able to say that the entire experience, and the end result (who is currently in her father’s arms, crying for my milk), is absolutely, undeniably, unbelievably perfect.

Breastfeeding: A Historical and Cultural Reading List

August 16, 2010

[Description: The image shows a stack of four books, with only their spines visible. The titles are listed after the paragraph below.]

Shortly before leaving for vacation, I ordered a several books and had them shipped to a friend’s house while we were out of town. I’ve thumbed through them all and I’m so anxious to read them all that I can’t decide which one to start with! Here’s the list:

Not shown in the picture above is Breastfeeding Rights in the United States (Reproductive Rights and Policy), which arrived right before we left. I am a lot less excited about this book, as the authors don’t have any credentials in law that I can find and the one Amazon review the book has isn’t exactly glowing. However I still decided to read it because it may prove itself to be a good source of primary resources, even if the authors’ translations of the legalese are unreliable.

Amazon just shipped the following books that I am also super excited about:

My long-term plan (get my RN and earn my IBCLC through Pathway 1) has changed since I’ve found a place to mentor that is more or less local. I’ll be earning my credentials through Pathway 3 and taking the exam in 2012, then earning my RN degree afterward. So instead of continuing with my classes in the fall, I’m going to take a medical terminology course, take a 90-hour lactation course, and then wait for my mentorship to start (which will likely be soon after May 2011). Between now and the start of my mentorship, I’m going to study lactation and breastfeeding independently: right now I’m mostly focusing on the historical and cultural aspect, and saving the stuff that is more relevant to clinical practice for after I finish my 90-hour class.

I plan to write up reviews of these books as I finish them. Just thumbing through Milk, Money & Madness (which is where I believe I shall start) has got me practically drooling with excitement!

The Worst Night

August 10, 2010

During my last month of pregnancy, my midwives estimated that the baby I carried was about 7 pounds. But when she was born, she was almost nine pounds – and that was a week before my due date! She was also born with the cord around her neck, and although I’d wanted to have skin-to-skin contact with her immediately after her birth, she was taken away in the next room to be looked over by the nurses. She screamed like a banshee, surprising even the nurses, and calmed only when she heard Marcus’ voice.

Eve was not given to me to nurse until she was at least fifteen minutes old, after I had been stitched up by my midwife. She latched on easily and nursed like a champ. I was instructed to nurse her every two hours for 30 minutes on each breast. She was very jaundiced, which was likely exacerbated by the fact that our blood types do not match, so we were told to supplement with formula as well, and that the formula would help her get rid of the bilirubin much more quickly than my own colostrum would. We were concerned with nipple confusion, so rather than giving her a bottle, we fed her the formula with a syringe.

The day that we thought we were going to be discharged from the hospital, we were told that they weren’t satisfied with Eve’s bilirubin levels and that she would have to be admitted to pediatrics. They said phototherapy would help get it out of her system and that we would possibly get to go home the next day. We were also told that only one parent could stay with her overnight in pediatrics – not both of us.

I started to cry when they told us that we couldn’t go home, and when they wheeled in the cart with the UV lights and made us put her in it, alone and screaming and naked except for her diaper, my heart was broken. They put a mask over her eyes to protect them from the lights, and to my dismay it kept slipping over her mouth and nose. I did not know how to console her; I could barely even touch her. She had only ever known closeness and in that box she was all alone. Even though we had never intended to give her a pacifier – again, due to concerns about nipple confusion – we relented because it was the only thing that seemed to calm her.

[Description: Eve as a newborn, wearing nothing but a diaper, lying beneath ultraviolet lights with a small foam mask covering her eyes.]

What followed was the most hellish night that I have ever had as a parent. Eve was admitted to pediatrics and Marcus went home. I spent the next twelve hours nursing her on one breast for half an hour, nursing her on the other breast for half an hour, topping her off with formula, pumping for twenty minutes to relieve my engorgement, changing her diaper. Then I’d try to sleep for a few minutes. And all the while I kept fixing that damned mask that I was sure would suffocate her. And that was every two hours starting from the beginning of the first nursing session.

This was how that night went:

10:00pm to 10:30pm: Nurse the baby on the right breast.

10:30pm to 11:00pm: Nurse the baby on the left breast.

11:00pm: Give formula.

11:10pm: Pump.

11:30pm: Clean pumping equipment, bottle and label milk for storage.

11:45pm – 12:00am: Get some sleep.

12:00am – 12:30am: Nurse baby on right breast.

12:30am – 1:00am: Nurse baby on left breast.

And so on, for twelve hours. This is not even counting the times that I had to fix her mask which was literally about every five minutes. This was at only 3 days postpartum. By the time Marcus returned the next morning I was dehydrated and ravenous (both detrimental to my milk supply!). The only thing that got me through the night and kept me moving was fear: fear of Eve suffocating beneath that horrible mask, fear of not reducing her bilirubin levels enough, fear of not going home and having to do it all over again.

It was one of the single most horrible nights of my life, a living nightmare, and certainly the worst since she was born. This is the first time that I’ve even been able to look at that picture of her since last August, and it still makes my stomach turn just to think about how powerless and alone I felt and how vulnerable that she was.