November 28, 2012

J's Birth Story



I went into labor in the middle of the night with H, and fully expected the same thing with J. But after waking up for several nights in a row with cramps at 2:30am and getting to my due date, I was more annoyed than excited when I woke up with cramps again at 2:35am on Sunday morning. That night I had been especially tired and had actually gone to sleep at 8:30pm. I’d woken up at 11:15pm and had only slept fitfully. I was restless, so instead of getting back in bed, I roamed the house a bit and got a glass of juice because I was starving and didn’t feel like eating in the middle of the night.


Perfection.


Then I had a contraction that was more than just cramps. I’d been having an hour here and an hour there of contractions for a couple of weeks. Every time I’d get all excited and every time they’d go away. I tried not to get too hopeful. I took my juice into the office and got down my copy of Spiritual Midwifery. I wanted to read some birth stories and decided to wait and see if anything was going to happen or if I could go back to bed. I read and tracked my contractions on the handy-dandy contraction timer app I’d downloaded to my phone a few days earlier. This time I had to stop reading and breathe through the contractions, sitting on my desk chair and leaning my head on the foot of the bed. After an hour the contractions were 40 seconds long and 4-5 minutes apart.

At that point, I woke Josh up and told him I was having real contractions. He is not a fast waker, so it took a little while for him to get on the same page. When I told him that the contractions were 4-5 minutes apart he said, “Is that it?” I thought he meant, “Big deal,” because the contractions with H were much closer together. What he really meant was, “That’s all?! We need to go!”

I was still somewhat in denial. I didn’t want to wake people up in the middle of the night if it wasn’t the real thing. After a short labor with H, we wanted to leave for the midwife’s office in St. Louis quickly, so we didn’t have time to sit around and discuss it. I called my midwife, Linsey, and told her our status. I was very ambivalent about leaving and said that we might leave in half an hour if things kept up. When I got off the phone I had a contraction in front of Josh. He saw me dealing with it and declared, “Call Carlin. We’re leaving.” He’s a good husband.

Our friend, Carlin, came over with her pillow to spend the rest of the night in our guest room, and we packed some food and the camera and got in the car. It was cold and dark—3:45am. The last place I wanted to be was in the chilly car, but that was the deal. As we pulled out of the driveway I called my parents in Virginia to tell them what was going on. They started their drive out to Illinois later that morning.

For months we had worried about the traffic into St. Louis. Turns out, there is very little traffic at 4am on a Sunday morning. The trip was quick and uneventful. I was able to manage the contractions pretty well in the car and also managed not to puke. I had made the drive more often than Josh; between contractions I gave him extra directions and landmarks to look for. I was so thankful when we finally arrived at Linsey’s office.

Both Linsey and her apprentice, Barbara, were waiting for us. I went straight upstairs to the birthing room. They were filling the tub, but it was still really cold. Josh brought in our things and we got settled in and put sheets on the bed. It was nice and warm up there and I was so glad to be there and be with people who were calm and knowledgeable and ready to help me deliver this baby.

Shortly after getting settled, the contractions got more intense. I asked them to check my dilation. I don’t like to know before I’m in labor, but during labor it’s nice to have an idea of where I’m at. I was 6-7cm with not a ton of cervix. I was thrilled because I went from 7-8cm to 10cm in about 15 minutes with H, so I thought, “Sweet. We’ll be through in no time.” Already the midwives were pretty sure the birth tub was a lost cause. Their set up just didn’t allow them to fill it and warm it quickly enough for me.

As the contractions continued to get more intense, I cannot properly express my extreme sadness that the tub didn’t work out. I felt the contractions a lot in my lower back and the thought of the warm water was so tantalizing. Josh put warm washcloths on my back and rubbed it and that helped. I also spent a lot of time leaning on the bed or over the birth ball.

Things were progressing, but a bit slower than expected. Linsey was keeping an eye on J’s heart rate. It was a little bit lower than she liked. I had also started bleeding on every contraction, so we decided to try breaking my water to see if that would bring him down more.

Lying on my back to have my water broken was fairly excruciating. It was the absolute worst position to deal with the contractions. I felt like a wild animal thrashing about, and I’m sure I nearly broke Josh’s hand. Breaking the water did help, and J came down more. I progressed to about 9cm with a lip of cervix and an urge to push, but couldn’t seem to get any further. This was a really hard part of the labor for me. I wanted to push and the midwives felt like it would probably be ok to push, but I kept remembering that pushing too soon can swell the cervix and then it’s game over. It also wasn’t the overwhelming desire to push that I remembered from H, which made me hesitate. Finally Linsey suggested that she try holding my cervix out of the way for a few contractions while I pushed. She was hoping to get his head far enough down to get past the blockage.

This was also not the most comfortable part of labor. After a few contractions though, he came down. At that point we got down to the serious pushing, which is my favorite part of labor (if one can have a favorite part). With H I wanted one position, half-reclined, knees up. This time I favored hands and knees a lot more. I also pulled against a towel that Barbara was holding for a few contractions. It was interesting how much that actually helped me to focus the push. It was hard to keep up though, and my arms got tired.

After a while of pushing they gave me some oxygen because his heart rate was slightly low. I could reach down and feel his head during the contractions. That gave me a lot of incentive as I started to get tired. Josh stayed right with me, giving me encouragement and water. I squeezed his hand during the push and managed not to break any bones. When J was really low Josh came around and supported me in a squat. I think on the very first push in that position his head was born. I could feel his head come out and looked down and saw him, which was both wonderful and weird. It felt like the longest pause in the world before the next contraction. I was so excited and so nervous that I’d slip from my position and crush him. Josh was strong behind me holding me up and on the next contraction he was born. It was such a relief and release that I was momentarily stunned and just kind of stared at him—wet and kind of purple in the face on the bed—as I started to cry. Then Linsey said, “You can pick him up,” and I had him in my arms, warm and wet. He was born at 7:44am, 5 hours and 9 minutes after labor had started.

We held him and talked to him and he very quickly calmed down and was quiet and alert as he looked around and met his parents for the first time. I, of course, double checked that he was in fact a boy. His cord pulsed a long time, and we let it go until it had pretty much stopped. Then Josh cut the cord.

It took 45 minutes again for my placenta to arrive. It was so nice when it was done and I felt truly like the labor was over. Then I got J to latch for a few minutes and started contracting all over again.

We rested a while and Linsey and Barbara measured and weighed J. I thought he’d be around 8lbs. He was 8lbs, 7oz—almost an entire pound bigger than his sister. He was also three-quarters of an inch longer, at 20in. I found him to be perfect with his bull dog cheeks and sincere eyes.

November 11, 2012

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy



 
Synopsis
The novel picks up a few hours before the end of the world. Our hero, Arthur, wakes up hung over only to be reminded by the presence of bulldozers outside his house that he found out the day before his house was to be demolished. The morning gets worse when his friend Ford (who’s actually from Betelgeuse) shows up and tells him that in addition to his house, the Earth is about to be demolished. Both are slated for demolition to make room for an interchange. Irony.

Ford saves himself and Arthur by hitching a ride on the demolition spaceship. This makes Arthur the sole remaining Earthling in the galaxy. Their reprieve is short lived because the aliens who run the demo ship are mean, nasty guys who like make hitchhikers listen to really bad poetry and then eject them into deep space, which is exactly what happens.

According to the novel you can survive for up to 30 seconds in the vacuum of space if you take a nice deep breath first. (I’m going to choose not to question the novel here, but it still makes my brain hurt.)

Meanwhile on the other side of the galaxy, the galactic president, Zaphod, and his girlfriend, Trillian, are stealing a new ship with an Infinite Improbability drive. Apparently the ship travels via improbable coincidences or some such, which is never fully explained.

Clearly, this means that the ship itself picks up our intrepid hitchhikers 29 seconds into their stay in deep space, saving them from certain death. Obviously.

The ship takes them to the mythic planet Magrathea, which is best known for the manufacture of custom planets. It turns out that the planet is just now coming out of mothballs because they have a special order to create a new planet Earth. Earth wasn’t just any old planet; it was a giant computer running a 10 million year program to come up with the question to go with the answer to the meaning of life. The race that commissioned the planet had built a computer that came up with the answer to the question of the meaning of life, which is 42, but the computer couldn’t tell them what question went with the answer. The Earth was unfortunately destroyed five minutes before the completion of the program.

And what species, you ask, commissioned the Earth? Mice. Clearly. And as it turns out the only other Earthling to survive the destruction is Trillian, who left the planet a short while before its destruction with Zaphod and two pet mice. The mice are the ones who are having the Earth rebuilt. That is, until they realize that the answer to their program might be in Arthur’s brain somewhere because he was on the Earth until seconds before its destruction. They offer to buy the question off of him, except it requires removing his brain, so Arthur declines.

A mad dash and an encounter with galactic police later and the heroes are headed off planet. The mice decide that it’s easier to make up a question than to build another planet to run another 10 million year computer program.

The end.

Other Thoughts

  • Now, I cut my teeth reading sci-fi/fantasy novels. There’s a lot of Anne McCaffrey, Piers Anthony, and Robert Jordan in my past. I even tried reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide years ago, but just couldn’t get into it. It might be a classic, but it’s still weird. There’s just no other way to say it.
  •  This was written in the late 1970s, so it’s interesting to read it and imagine how different it might have been if it were written now. For example, the opening talks about the advent of digital watches.
  • What my synopsis is missing is all the existential randomness that’s included in this book, which is part of what makes it kind of weird. For example, the foreman who is destroying Arthur’s house at the beginning is a direct descendent of Genghis Kahn and there are several times when the narrator comments on how this guy likes fur hats and imagines savages on horses rampaging when he’s under stress. Somehow his ancient ancestor is trying to tell him something. Or something. Though really, I think it’s the ending of the book that sums it up best. Arthur reads the actual Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and learns that all civilizations have three phases, “What am I going to eat?,” “Why do I eat?,” and “What restaurant do you want to go to?” This is immediately followed by Zaphod announcing what restaurant they’re stopping at for lunch. And that is the actual end of the book. The Earth is destroyed, no one knows the question that goes with the answer to the meaning of life, they’re in a stolen space ship, and they’re going to lunch. How random is that?
  • I can say that it’s an amusing enough read. And it’s short! So much shorter than anything I’ve read in months.
Next up is Brideshead Revisited, about which I know nothing. It'll be a surprise!

November 6, 2012

Gone with the Wind




Synopsis
Scarlett O’Hara is a 16-year-old debutante in Georgia on the cusp of the Civil War. When she finds out that the object of her desire, Ashley Wilkes, is going to marry someone else, she decides to make him jealous by getting married too. In the excitement of the start of the war, she lands a husband in one afternoon and marries Ashley’s finance, Melanie’s, brother Charles. It’s also at this time that she meets Rhett Butler for the first time.

Two months later Scarlett is a widow after Charles dies of pneumonia in training camp. Around the same time Scarlett finds out she’s pregnant with Charles’s child. She’s not a very happy mother and is bored at the plantation with all the men away at war, so she goes to stay with her sister-in-law and secret arch-nemesis, Melanie, in Atlanta.

Scarlett grudgingly works as a nurse in the Atlanta hospital treating wounded soldiers and fulfills all the standard obligations of well brought up women. She sees Rhett again and they become friends. Melanie becomes pregnant after Ashley visits for Christmas. Also during that visit, Ashley admits that he’s still in love with Scarlett, but that he’s too honorable to do much of anything about it.

As Sherman is about to march into Atlanta, Melanie goes into labor. It’s impossible to get the doctor or any midwife because of the mass exodus, so Scarlett has to deliver Melanie’s baby. Mere hours later Scarlett manages to track down Rhett, who steals a horse and wagon for them and drives them out of Atlanta, bound for Tara. Rhett abandons them outside of Atlanta to join up with the last ditch efforts of the Confederate army.

Scarlett gets herself, Melanie, her baby, and their black maid Prissy safely back to Tara. She discovers that her family managed to avoid having the house burned down, but that Scarlett’s mother had only just died of typhoid and her two younger sisters are recovering from it. Her father’s mind is broken by the stress of the war and the death of his wife. Scarlett essentially takes control of the family and is responsible for finding some way to keep them alive after the Yankees destroy all of their crops and steal their animals.

They manage to survive. A wounded soldier named Will comes to stay with them and ends up never leaving. He helps to manage the plantation. Ashley returns from a prisoner of war camp and stays at Tara with Melanie and his son because his plantation was burned.

Just as things are looking up, the ex-overseer of Tara shows back up trying to get Tara foreclosed on so he can buy it cheap. Scarlett takes down the curtains to make a new dress and go to Atlanta to try and get money from Rhett, who is loaded from speculating and smuggling during the war. It turns out that Rhett is in jail because the Yankees think he has hidden Confederate gold that they want for themselves. He can’t give her money while he’s in jail because then the Yankees would know where the money was. Dejected, Scarlett heads home only to run into her younger sister’s fiancĂ©, Frank.

When Scarlett realizes that Frank has the money to save Tara and that Scarlett would never be able to get it out of him if her selfish sister married him, Scarlett steals him and gets married a second time. She does get the money from Frank, and Tara is saved. Rhett comes to see her after he gets out of jail only to find her already married. He ends up loaning her money to buy a saw mill. Atlanta had been razed during Sherman’s march so a LOT of rebuilding needed to be done and a lot of lumber would be needed.

Scarlett turns out to have a shark-like mind for business and turns one saw mill into two and makes a lot of money. She has another baby, this time a girl. She also insists on driving all over town and out to the mills by herself (after she alienates two male drivers). This leads to her being assaulted by two men outside a seedy, shanty town on her way home one night. A former Tara slave shows up to save her, but the incident incites the Klan, of which every nice Southern gentleman is a member. They head out to take care of the Shanty town, not knowing that the Yankees are lying in wait to kill or arrest them.

Rhett, who is good friends with the Yankees, comes to the Klan’s rescue in an unlikely turn of events. He saves them from being arrested, but two men were killed before he got there, including Scarlett’s husband.

Shortly thereafter, Rhett confesses that he’s been in love with Scarlett ever since they first met and he proposes. As soon as a decent period of mourning passes, they get married, even though Scarlett doesn’t really love him because her heart still belongs to Ashley.

Scarlett now has lots of money and things go well enough for a while. She has another daughter, Bonnie, the apple of Rhett’s eye. Rhett tries to reform his standing in society for Bonnie’s sake. Scarlett gets caught hugging Ashley, and there is near disaster. Melanie saves her because she is incapable of believing ill of anyone. Scarlett gets pregnant again but loses the baby after falling down the stairs during a fight with Rhett. Bonnie is killed trying to make her pony jump an obstacle when she’s four. Rhett nearly loses his mind.

Finally, while out of town, Scarlett gets word that Melanie is sick. She rushes home to find her dying of a miscarriage. At that moment Scarlett finally realizes that Melanie is the only true friend she’s ever had, that she’s been the silent strength in Scarlett’s life, and that Scarlett doesn’t hate Melanie, she loves her. She also realizes that her love for Ashley was just unrequited teenage nonsense and that she doesn’t love him at all. Then she realizes that after being generally horrible to him for all this time, she is actually in love with Rhett. She rushes home to confess her newfound love to Rhett only to discover that he’s done. He’s loved her for years with no reciprocation and too much hurt and it’s all over for him. And he leaves.

Other Thoughts
  • I know that was a long synopsis, but it’s an 800 page book people. I was pretty unexcited about starting it because I’d just finished two Russian behemoths. It didn’t help that the first 50-ish pages describe just two days. The novel does pick up a good deal and spans probably close to 10 years. It turns into a pretty good page turner.
  • Scarlett is a stupid, mostly horrible person. She is not someone I would ever want to know in real life. She’s definitely not role model material. I do like the fact that she doesn’t just give up the way a nice Southern girl should in the absence of a man. I do like that she’s not afraid to stand up for herself and her family. But she’s also incredibly shallow, ignorant, selfish, and unloving. She lies and uses sketchy business practices. She steals husbands (even from her own sister!). She harbors love for another woman’s husband and tries to steal him multiple times. She’s a terrible mother.
  • There’s a very interesting perspective on slavery in the novel. The white people are incredibly racist. But at the same time, they mostly treat the slaves with kindness. They feel responsible for setting a good example and disciplining slaves. House slaves are treated like family and the feeling appears mutual. No one gets whipped. (Scarlett does smack Prissy around a fair amount. Prissy is amazingly, extra special stupid, which is no excuse.) The novel basically shows the Yankees to be completely ignorant of the actual life of a slave, and there is a lot of criticism heaped on them for creating a terrible situation after the war. It actually seems as though it’s the Reconstruction period, not the war, that sets up the hatred in race relations that carries through for the next century.
  • Who lets four-year-olds ride horses unattended and try to jump things? It’s so terrible that the little girl Bonnie dies, but at the same time I am just astounded that even back then anyone thought that a four-year-old should be jumping horses.
  • I hate some of the old-fashioned, medical stuff in the book, especially where it concerns women and pregnancy. Apparently it was completely scandalous to either acknowledge that woman was pregnant or to allow her out of the house once she started showing. Considering the lack of birth control it’s a wonder anything ever got done. And then they describe Scarlett as being so un-ladylike because she had an easy labor and recovery. Melanie on the other hand nearly dies in child birth for no described reason and literally NEVER recovers. The doctor proclaims she should never have had a baby and shouldn’t have any more. Sure enough when she does try to have another at the end of the novel, she miscarries and dies. Dies! I am well aware that there are circumstances that back then could cause you to die of a miscarriage, but it still pisses me off that Mitchell portrays women as so frail. Makes me grumpy.

Next up is a quick jaunt through the universe with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s so quick that I’ve actually already finished reading it, so that post should be coming pretty soon.

October 24, 2012

Being Gentle to Myself



As I was getting ready this morning my to-do list raced through my head and before I could even apply deodorant was starting to give me sweaty pits. “OK, Josh is leaving for one last wedding. I have a freelance assignment I need to power through so I don’t get too nervous about being late with it. But the house desperately needs to be vacuumed and the bathrooms cleaned. I have two towel rings, a shelf, and a curtain that need to be hung. The play area is a mess. So is the living room. What am I making for dinner? And, holy heck, my back still hurts from whatever I did to it on Monday,” I dictated to myself. This is 7am.

I need more of this in my life. 

I tend to expect an awful lot of myself. I expect my house to be clean, my books to get read, my craft projects to get finished. I expect to parent effectively and discreetly. I expect myself to be an awesome friend at all times and a consummate hostess. I expect myself to be a loving and attentive wife. I expect to blog, so well and thoughtfully that I’ll become an Internet sensation. It’s quite the list of responsibilities to live up to.

Intellectually, I fully realize that I’m being completely ridiculous. But the impulse to expect things of myself is part of who I am. I’m sure that it’s part of the reason that my books are alphabetized by author (as well as my CDs and DVDs), why my recipes are separated by dividers in a binder, and why I got really good grades in school. On the flip side, it’s also why I have anxiety about meeting expectations and nervousness about how I come across to new people that I meet. This isn’t a part of my personality that I’ll ever do away with, and it’s not one that I would want to do away with. It’s a really big part of who I am.

That doesn’t mean that I have to let it rule me. I get to choose how much I boss myself around and how much I am gentle with myself.

So, thankfully, and after many years of gentle influence from my much more laid back husband, I took a deep breath this morning and decided to be gentle to myself today. I told my bossy self to prioritize. The only things on that list that has to happen today is working on my freelance and making dinner. I’m already ahead on my freelance and H is in school today, giving me some extra time to work, plus the evening. And there are lots of leftovers in the fridge for a stress-free, girls only dinner. What was I worried about?

As I grow older, I’m glad to see that I’m actually growing as a person as well. Another example: Last week I had a manic attack of kitchen productivity and decided to turn our leftover chicken into soup the same day I made a big batch of beef stew to freeze. This was a terrible idea. It meant that I was hot and cranky all afternoon on my feet in the kitchen and that I had to spend most of that time telling H things like, “Not right now, sweetie. Honey, Mommy’s cooking. In a little bit, ok? Maybe when Dad gets home.” At the time it felt vitally necessary to get all this done. Once H was in bed and I had collapsed on the sofa completely exhausted, I felt the guilt of having virtually ignored my beautiful toddler all afternoon. She only wanted to spend time with me, and I had spent a whole afternoon telling her she wasn’t as important as some food I was cooking.

How many of us have done this? Of course, there are absolutely times when I need to perform grown up tasks, and it’s absolutely good for her to learn how to play imaginatively by herself. But those two truths should never mean that I have to miss out on sharing this special time with her. I want her to tell me about how she’s going to the ball with Cinderella and that Belle and Aurora are visiting while she twirls around in her purple princess dress. I want her to listen to my heart and check my blood pressure with her doctor kit, staring very seriously into my eyes. I want to help her build crazy towers with blocks that she knocks over with glee. I want her to know that I’m there for her and that I’m a good person to talk to.

I decided not to spend the night castigating myself as a failure of a mother. I forgave myself and found a solution. The next day we had breakfast for dinner. It was a quick fix I didn’t have to start until after Dad got home for work, which meant I was able to devote myself to being present with H for a few hours before hand.

I don’t know where this ability to be gentle with myself is coming from, but I’m glad it’s here. (I strongly suspect that Josh actually being here and not flying has something to do with it.) It’s certainly an ability I plan to cultivate. I know that I’ll never get to a slacker place where I just don’t do anything. I will always have plans and lists. I will always want to execute everything right now. But I have a new tool to give myself perspective. And a little perspective, a little gentle love for myself, can go a long way toward creating a life that is both livable and productive.

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